When a dog has diarrhea, it’s never a good day — for both the dog and his guardian. One feels uncomfortable and the other, well, has to clean it up. Wondering, “Why does my dog have diarrhea?” Well, we’ve all been there at one time or another and while it’s never a fun situation, there are some things we can do as pet owners to better understand our puppers’ pain and also alleviate their symptoms as much as possible.
Wondering, “Why does my dog have diarrhea?”
“Diarrhea is increased frequency and volume of stool that is typically liquid or loose in form,” says Dr. Callie Harris. “Dogs can get diarrhea in response to an off balance of the good bacteria in the gut. It can be acute — quick onset — or chronic.”
Dogs can get diarrhea for many different reasons. Acute diarrhea is often the result of a specific cause and usually resolves itself in a few days, while chronic diarrhea often is not triggered by something specific and does not usually resolve itself. Both types of diarrhea are indicators of irritation in either the large or small intestine.
“Some [dogs] may only have diarrhea,” Dr. Sarah Nold (DVM) says of the symptoms. “Others may have diarrhea along with other symptoms such as lethargy, decreased appetite and/or vomiting.”
In some cases, the presence of additional symptoms, like vomiting, might indicate a more severe issue.
Now, what are the specific answers to the question, “Why does my dog have diarrhea?” Diarrhea in dogs is actually fairly common, and causes of diarrhea can range from the harmless — like introducing a new diet — to the severe — like an infectious disease or disorder. The key to determining whether your doggo’s diarrhea is a cause for concern lies in monitoring your pupper’s daily poops.
“Intestinal parasites and dietary indiscretion are two common causes of diarrhea,” says Dr. Nold.
But those aren’t the only reasons why a dog could suddenly come down with a stinky bout of diarrhea.
“There are many other possible causes of diarrhea including stress, sudden changes in diet, infections (such as canine parvovirus), endocrine disorders (such as hypoadrenocorticism or Addison’s), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or even some types of cancer,” Dr. Nold adds.
Toxicity, metabolic disease, and even certain medications have also been known to cause diarrhea in dogs as well.
Now that we’ve answered “Why does my dog have diarrhea?” let’s talk about what to do for a dog with diarrhea. Because reasons behind dog diarrhea span varying levels of severity, it might be difficult for pet owners to know when the symptoms are something to be concerned about.
“Diarrhea becomes a concern when it is persistent, recurrent and/or progressive,” Dr. Nold says. “If diarrhea is severe, it can quickly result in dehydration or electrolyte imbalances, especially if your dog is also vomiting or not eating and drinking. Another concern would be if the stool contains fresh (red) blood or appears tarry black (melena).”
According to Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM, author and founder of Association of Pet Obesity Prevention, color and consistency are really significant when it comes to assessing the severity of a dog’s diarrhea.
“Bright red [blood in the stools] is not life threatening [like] horribly smelling black flecks in the stools,” Dr. Ward has said. “The bright red tells me this is coming from the lower, large intestine near the anus. The dog could be straining to defecate and irritated his anus area. But if the dog’s stool smells horribly and has evidence of dark flecks, that is much more serious. It tells me that there is bleeding from the small intestine or a serious ulcer. That dog needs to see a veterinarian right away.”
In short, if diarrhea resolves on its own, then typically a dog does not require a vet visit. However, if the diarrhea is super stinky, has black flecks in it, is recurrent, persistent or progressive, then take your dog to the vet!
Other questions that accompany, “Why does my dog have diarrhea?” are — “How do I treat my dog’s diarrhea and can I treat it at home?” Or — “Does diarrhea in dogs automatically warrant a vet visit?”
“If your dog otherwise seems normal — [he’s] eating and drinking with normal energy — you can consider monitoring for 24 to 48 hours,” says Dr. Nold. “Your veterinarian may be able to recommend a bland diet to try.”
In fact, adding canned pumpkin to a dog’s food bowl can help get puppy’s gastrointestinal issues back on track. But it has to be the real deal — pure canned pumpkin — not the sugary pumpkin-pie stuff; pure canned pumpkin provides dietary fiber. Boiled white chicken is another “bland diet” staple that veterinarians often recommend for dogs suffering from diarrhea. White rice, bananas, white potato, applesauce and peppermint are other cooling foods recommended for dogs dealing with gastrointestinal issues.
Diet aside, Dr. Nold believes smaller dogs might need more immediate veterinary care.
“Small or very young dogs should be seen sooner,” Dr. Nold advises, “as they are more prone to dehydration. An examination and diagnostics — which may include a fecal test, blood work and X-rays — will help your veterinarian determine what is causing the diarrhea so your dog cannot only be treated supportively, such as with subcutaneous or intravenous fluids, but also specifically, such as with dewormer.”
Additionally, dogs that are being monitored or treated for chronic issues should also visit the veterinarian if they experience diarrhea.
“If your dog has a chronic condition they are being treated/monitored for, your veterinarian should be contacted to help determine if the diarrhea could be related to the condition or the treatment for the condition,” Dr. Nold says.
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