Doggy diarrhea: causes, treatment, and prevention

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Doggy diarrhea: causes, treatment, and prevention

Two apartments ago, I – a pet-less woman – agreed to no pets (especially dogs) in the apartment, but mere minutes after I saw Henry at the shelter, I penned my feelings in an email to my landlord. My email request to adopt a dog was reminiscent of those days as a child asking for things from my parents – chock full of compliments, promises, and groveling. I got my way, and I brought Henry home five days later.

That’s when the apartment started to meet its demise. Henry’s destruction started with my things – books, sofa cushions, and clothes – but quickly moved on to the home’s things – walls, tiles, and carpets. One day, in particular, Henry wasn’t feeling too hot and he defecated in the living room. He didn’t just poop, though. He POOPED – it poured out of him while I wasn’t home and then again while I slept. Same room, two different spots. It smelled terrible, looked terrible, and made me question Henry’s value in the world. The stain never came out, the carpets were replaced, and I never received one cent of my security deposit.

I’ve always heard you can tell a lot about someone’s health by looking at his teeth. If that’s true, dog poop (or dog stool) is comparable to human teeth. While the size of it tells you how big the dog is (or how much he consumed that day), the smell and look of it tells you how he’s feeling or what he ate.

Types of diarrhea

If your dog has diarrhea, you need to first inspect the diarrhea and your dog’s behavior. Yes, diarrhea is nasty to see, smell, and clean up, but you need to look at it to figure out what’s wrong with your dog. Ask yourself:

  • Is it soft and watery? Soft, watery stool usually means he ate something that wasn’t meant to be eaten (which is what happened with my dog Henry) so it’s usually no cause for alarm. But it could also mean he’s stressed, and if it changes in frequency, color, or texture, you should contact the vet.

  • Does it contain worms? Parasites like hookworms and roundworms are sometimes present in dog feces.

  • Is it black and tarry? If it is, there’s a chance he has old blood in his system and he may be suffering from internal damage. He may also have a tumor or cancer. Contact your vet immediately.

  • Is it bloody? Blood in his stool is a huge cause for concern, especially if it’s fresh blood because that means he’s currently bleeding inside. Contact your vet immediately to find out what’s wrong.

  • Is it greasy and gray? He may have eaten greasy, fatty food that didn’t sit well,which explains the color and texture of the poop. (Pro tip: Don’t let your dog eat greasy, fatty foods.)

  • If you’re watching him poop, is he straining or in pain? If his diarrhea is just coming normally with no discoloration or pain, he may just be passing something that wasn’t meant to be digested. But if he’s straining to poop – almost like he’s constipated – you should call the vet because there may be more going on internally.

  • Does he just have diarrhea or is he also exhibiting other symptoms? He probably has acute diarrhea if it’s happening a few times because he’s trying to rid his body of something that doesn’t belong there. But he may have chronic diarrhea if it’s happening frequently or getting worse. Call your vet if the diarrhea won’t stop or if he’s showing other symptoms of illness like vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, or fever.

Believe me, I know inspecting diarrhea is no one’s idea of a fun activity but looking at it and watching your dog’s behavior will help your vet diagnose the problem.

Causes of diarrhea

Diarrhea, like vomiting, is a symptom of numerous doggy diseases. It’s caused by viral infections like canine parvovirus or canine distemper, bacterial infections like E. coli or salmonella, parasites like roundworms or hookworms, or from eating something gnarly like garbage or poop (imagine that!).

Diarrhea is also a side effect of antibiotics. If your pup is being treated for another disease or illness and is on antibiotics, her diarrhea may just be a reaction to the medication. Since antibiotics are used to kill bacteria that cause infection, they often kill both good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract and throw off the intestinal balance, resulting in diarrhea.

Treatment of diarrhea

You can call your vet if he has acute diarrhea or you can just see if it goes away. With Henry, I usually wait before I bug my vet because nine times out of ten, he just ate something ridiculous and he’s just getting it out of his system. However, if it’s chronic diarrhea and isn’t stopping or if your dog is also suffering from other symptoms, contacting your vet is the best option. It’s always better to be safe than sorry and taking your dog to the vet may help you detect another more serious disease.

Before you take him to the vet, you can also try feeding him boiled chicken and rice because it’s non-fatty, easy to digest, and can help get his digestive tract back on course.

If he does go to the vet, expect a physical exam, blood tests, or fecal examination for parasites. Depending on severity of the diarrhea and overall diagnosis, the vet may prescribe de-wormer medication if he has parasites, antibiotics if he’s suffering from a bacterial infection, or fluid therapy if he’s dehydrated. You can also talk to your vet about anti-diarrheal products like probiotics or Pedialyte to see if they’ll help provide your dog more electrolytes and make him feel better.

After he’s home, provide plenty of TLC and allow him to rest and recover. Your vet may also suggest a bland diet for a few days – chicken, ground turkey, or pumpkin – to get his digestive system back on track.

Prevention of diarrhea

Although most dogs are going to get sick in their lifetime – and struggle with the discomfort and messiness of diarrhea – there are some ways to lessen their chances of having the runs.

  • Don’t feed him table food. Not only will it encourage begging, some people food is not good for him and can make him sick.

  • Keep her diet consistent. If her diet changes too much, her poop will, too, and you won’t know if it’s because she’s allergic to the food, doesn’t like it, or because she’s sick.

  • Keep an eye on him. He doesn’t have to be a bubble boy away from all people, animals, and fun but the more you watch him, the more you’ll be able to prevent him from getting into mischief or eating something that isn’t meant to be consumed.

  • Make sure she has plenty of water. Water is the elixir of life. If she’s hydrated, she’s more likely to be and stay healthy.

  • Keep her away from sick animals. And away from contaminated germ-infested items like bowls and blankets. Sickness spreads quickly and if your dog is around a dog that has a contagious disease, there’s a good chance she’ll contract it and all the symptoms that come with it.

  • Stay up to date with vet visits. If he’s current on checkups and vaccinations, you’ll be more likely to catch a disease before it’s too aggressive. And if he exhibits any odd behavior or symptoms, call your vet and voice your concerns.

As nasty as diarrhea smells and looks, it’s usually because an odd item was eaten and needs to be expelled. But since it may also be the symptom of something more serious like an infection, worms, or cancer, contact your vet if your dog doesn’t stop having diarrhea. Owning a pet has a lot of ups and downs (cough, diarrhea, cough) but if you maintain regular vet visits and take your dog to the vet any time his behavior seems off, diarrhea is something that you shouldn’t need to worry about (or clean) too often.

Image: David Baxendale