Anybody who has raised a pet from babyhood to adulthood understands the value of an iron stomach. Just as parents face the grossest situations without flinching, animal owners can tolerate their fair share of disgusting scenarios. It’s all a part of the job.
We don’t become pet owners because it’s easy. We do it for the love of animals, and that means caring for them in sickness and in diarrhea. When your pooch destroys the ottoman with his own personal interpretation of a Jackson Pollock painting, you hold your nose and clean up his mess. It’s a part of the job.
Diarrhea is a common ailment for dogs because they explore the world with their mouths. They’re constantly licking or nibbling on things they shouldn’t and the natural outcome is an upset stomach. It’s why an occasional runny stool is nothing to be worried about. It’s only when diarrhea becomes persistent that a dog owner needs to investigate.
This article explores some common reasons for dog diarrhea and how to treat it. Most importantly, it considers the differences between an upset stomach and digestive problems that require veterinary attention.
Common Reasons for Dog Diarrhea
1. Spoiled/Toxic Food
Spoiled food is the most common reason for dog diarrhea. Like humans, canine stomachs respond to ‘bad’ foods by vomiting or developing dodgy digestion and very watery stools. Provided your pet hasn’t consumed poisonous materials, their diarrhea will pass in a day or two. They are likely having a reaction to something they’ve pulled from the garbage or discovered on the kitchen floor.
2. Dietary Changes
Another common cause of dog diarrhea is sudden changes in diet. Every time you change your dog’s brand of food, his stomach must adjust to a new formula. This can take several days and, while he’s adjusting, some loose stools are to be expected. To prevent these digestive issues, introduce any new foods gradually. Add the new product to the old in increasing amounts until the old food is phased out.
3. Food Allergies
Canines are susceptible to food allergies just as human beings are. We don’t always know why sensitivities develop, but they usually manifest in digestive issues (loose stools), persistent itching and inflammation of the ears and nose.
Common allergies include sensitivities to wheat, eggs, beef, dairy, fish, poultry, and certain types of plants. If your dog’s diarrhea is accompanied by itchiness or inflammation, consider taking them to the vet for an allergy test.
4. Emotional Upheaval
Sometimes, the explanation for dog diarrhea is as simple as a physiological reaction to turbulence. Canines are emotionally perceptive animals. They pick up on our feelings and know if a household is tense or upset. If your pet is stressed or worried by a situation – relocating to a new home is a common trigger – they may develop an upset stomach.
5. Intestinal Parasites
There are lots of harmless explanations for dog diarrhea and there are others that warrant treatment or medical attention. Intestinal parasites are extremely common in animals and, while they are not a threat to life, they can make a pet miserable. It’s why preventative treatments for ringworm and hookworm should be a part of your dog’s routine.
If your dog has been treated for common parasites but his diarrhea persists, visit the vet. Giardia, spirochetes and coccidia can be dangerous if the proper care is not given.
6. Poisonous Substances
We have touched on the effects of eating spoiled foods. Diarrhea may also be caused by poisonous substances such as toxic plants, domestic chemicals (cleaning products) and inedible items (socks, rubber toys, etc). In most cases, a few days of watery stools is nothing to worry about.
However, if you are not certain what your dog ate to contract diarrhea, keep a close eye on them. If they lose interest in their food, become lethargic or begin to vomit excessively, take them to a vet immediately. If your dog eats a substance you know to be highly toxic, call the vet for advice. They can tell you if a visit to the clinic is required.
7. Infections and Viruses
In some rare cases, dog diarrhea is a symptom of serious viral sickness or infection. Viral conditions that cause diarrhea and other digestive problems include distemper, parvovirus, coronavirus and salmonella. Most are treatable as long as the dog receives the right medications. Vaccinations are prescribed to puppies to protect them from viral and bacterial sickness. Ensure your pet is fully vaccinated to avoid these risks to his health.
8. Chronic Illness
Diarrhea is rarely life threatening for dogs. It’s a symptom of physiological upheaval that happens because their body is reacting to a ‘sickness’ of some kind. Often, it’s an inflamed tummy caused by eating from the trash. Other times, it’s a parasite or a food allergy.
Persistent diarrhea can also be caused by organ dysfunctions such as liver disease and certain types of cancer. If your dog’s watery stools continue for longer than a week and have no obvious explanation, he may have an underlying illness. Keep a close eye on him. If he becomes disinterested in food or play, take him to the vet.
Making Sense of Persistent Diarrhea
As diarrhea is a symptom of other illnesses, it only warrants immediate concern if the cause is identified as a serious threat. For instance, if your pet has eaten something very toxic, it makes sense to call the vet. If he’s just got a funny tummy after rooting through the trash, there’s probably no reason to panic.
Diarrhea that persists for longer than four days should be closely monitored. If diarrhea persists for longer than a week without an obvious explanation, seek medical advice. If it is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, treat it as a medical emergency.
- Excessive drooling
- Persistent vomiting
- Sudden loss of appetite
- Disinterest in play/exercise
- Rapid weight loss
- Chronic itchiness
- Pale or tacky gums
- Blood in stools
Home Remedies for Dog Diarrhea
If the vet’s advice is to treat your dog’s diarrhea at home, there are various things you can do to ease their discomfort and support recovery.
If serious sickness has been ruled out, the biggest threat to your animal is dehydration. Persistent diarrhea robs the body of water and nutrients. Your dog needs lots of water and, possibly, a rehydration medicine such as Pedialyte.
If they are being stubborn and rejecting water, add a little (low salt) beef or chicken broth to their food bowl.
B. Provide Plain Food
Your vet may recommend a temporary change of food. Gastrointestinal upsets can be triggered by many different things. Providing very plain, unseasoned meals for a week or so is one way to help your dog’s body fix the problem. When the digestive system isn’t overworked, a dog’s immune responses can focus on eliminating the cause of sickness.
Give your pet foods with only mild, plain flavors such as unseasoned boiled chicken and cooked white rice. You can do this until their diarrhea symptoms improve. Then, slowly transition back to regular meals.
C. Probiotics and Prebiotics
Once your pet pooch is well and truly on the mend, consider supplementing his diet with prebiotics, probiotics, or both. The introduction of ‘good’ bacteria will help his digestive environment get back to normal.
D. Careful Monitoring
You cannot keep one eye on your dog at every single moment, but it’s a good idea to try. Vigilance around trashcans, kitchen cupboards, and other prohibited areas is strongly recommended to make sure they don’t eat anything unsuitable again.
Avoid feeding your dog kitchen or table scraps. It’s always fun to give pet treats but, sometimes, the consequence is a bad stomach. The foods you give may be too rich and indulgent for the canine digestive system. Certainly, if your dog is recovering from a diarrhea episode, do not feed them any ‘human’ foods.