Common causes of diarrhea in dogs
A study by the Vaccine Journal showed that 2.2% of dog owners reported that their dog had experienced diarrhea within the last two weeks. Clearly, diarrhea in pups isn’t a rare phenomenon.
Normally, the food your dog eats will make the journey through their digestive system in less than twelve hours, producing a firm stool with a distinct shape. When your dog has diarrhea, the stool will be loose, watery, or have no distinct shape. Your dog is likely to have diarrhea at least once throughout their life.
The reason diarrhea is so common in dogs is because a number of things can cause it, from everyday digestive upset to a life-threatening illness. That’s why it’s important to look for other irregularities in your dog’s bowel movements, as well as changes in their appearance or behavior. While there is no “perfect poop,” there are irregularities that you should watch out for.
👉 Occasional diarrhea is normal, but loose stools that continue for two days or longer need to be addressed by a veterinarian.
Here are some of the most common causes:
- Change in diet — When you switch your dog’s regular food abruptly, their digestive system might object to new ingredients. Slowly introducing new food over a five to seven day period may help.
- Food allergies or intolerance — Pork, beef, chicken, dairy, wheat, soy, and egg are common allergens for dogs, which can result in itching and intestinal tract upset.
- Medication — New medications, especially antibiotics, can cause an imbalance of gut bacteria, resulting in gastrointestinal issues.
- Toxic substance or foreign object ingestion — Ingesting poisonous substances like chemicals, household products, medications, poisonous plants may quickly result in diarrhea and abdominal pain for your dog. Foreign objects, like rocks or toys can do the same. Even eating garbage can cause a case of grumpy guts. If you suspect your dog has eaten something toxic, you should immediately bring your dog to the vet.
- Stress — Just like humans, dogs can experience digestive disruptions as a result of stress or emotional upset.
- Parasites — Ingesting contaminated water, fecal matter, or soil can result in intestinal parasites like hookworms, coccidia, giardia, and roundworms.
- Disease or illness — A number of diseases, including cancer, liver disease, kidney disease, and inflammatory bowel disease, can be accompanied by diarrhea. If the cause isn’t apparent, you should bring your dog to the vet to eliminate more serious diseases.
- Infections — Bacterial and viral infections can cause diarrhea. Infections like Parvovirus or salmonella can cause diarrhea. If your dog is lethargic, feverish, or vomiting in addition to having diarrhea, they may have an infection and need to be professionally evaluated.
How to determine the cause of your dog’s diarrhea
With a number of potential culprits, identifying the cause of your dog’s gut trouble can be tricky. When it comes to diarrhea, you want to look for other abnormalities that can clue you in to the underlying problem.
- Chocolate brown — This is normal.
- Green — This may indicate that your dog has eaten too much grass or plant matter, especially if undigested grass is visible in the stool. This can also indicate a gallbladder issue.
- Orange or yellow — This may indicate liver, pancreas, or gallbladder dysfunction.
- Red streaks — This could mean that there’s bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract. It can be severe and needs medical attention. Check your dog’s rear end for external cuts or tears, which are less severe and may be causing the bleeding.
- Black/tar-like or dark red — This may indicate internal bleeding and requires veterinarian attention as soon as possible.
- Grey/greasy — This could potentially point to a pancreas or liver problem.
The consistency of your dog’s fecal matter will likely be your first clue that something’s wrong. A healthy bowel movement will be compact, moist, log-shaped and able to retain its shape somewhat when picked up.
Bowel movements that take a lot of effort and appear pellet-like, hard, or dry probably indicate constipation. If they’re experiencing diarrhea, the stool will be loose, without a defined shape. Waste that forms piles, rather than logs, is considered mild diarrhea. Bowel movements that are watery puddles are more severe.
- White specks — Rice-like objects in your dog’s fecal matter may actually be parasites, like tapeworms. If you see white specks in your dog’s poop, take your dog to the vet for an evaluation as soon as possible.
- Grass — Grass or plant matter is difficult for dogs to digest, so if they’re eating a lot of it, it will probably show up in their feces.
- Other foreign objects — Eating toys, furniture, wood, and other non-digestible objects may cause your dog to have diarrhea. If you see something that doesn’t look like food in your dog’s stool, it’s likely that they’ve consumed a foreign object.
Frequency and size
Dogs should typically have one to two bowel movements per day. That being said, you know your dog’s digestive habits best, so you should be looking for behavior that’s abnormal for your dog.
- Small, strenuous bowel movements that occur several times without an hour may indicate inflammation of the large intestine.
- Large bowel movements that occur several times without an hour may suggest small intestine inflammation.
How to treat your dog’s diarrhea
If your dog is newly experiencing diarrhea that seems like a simple “upset tummy,” there are a few things you can do to help. If you don’t see quick improvement, bring your dog to the vet for an examination.
- Fasting. To reset your dog’s system, you can try withholding food for 12 to 24 hours. Make sure to provide small amounts of water frequently so that they don’t get dehydrated. Don’t do this with puppies or very old dogs as they need regular nutrients.
- Bland diet and food binders. Rice water or white rice, boiled and peeled potatoes, boiled skinless chicken, and canned pumpkin are all considered food binders that help provide bulk for stool.
- OTC options. Over-the-counter canine diarrhea medication can often help. Some products containing kaolin-pectin are safe, but you should avoid Immodium unless directed by your vet.
- Activated charcoal. If you think your dog has ingested something toxic, your veterinarian may recommend administering activated charcoal for dogs. This can bind to and eliminate some toxins in the GI tract.
When to see the vet
Sometimes your pup will need the help of veterinary medicine and expertise. While there are plenty of harmless reasons that your dog might have a spell of diarrhea, there are also some severe causes. That’s why it’s important to look for other abnormalities, which can indicate something more serious.
If you see any of these other signs, it’s best to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. They can perform an examination, which may include x-rays or blood work, that can appropriately diagnose the problem.
- Blood in stool
- Worms or white specs in stool
- Discolored (orange or black) stool
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- You suspect your dog has eaten a foreign body something poisonous
- Three or more watery stools in a short period of time
- Discolored, pale gums
- Distended abdomen
How to prevent doggie diarrhea
It’s likely that your dog will get diarrhea at some point in their life. And sometimes, it’s unavoidable. Soothing an occasional upset stomach is simply a part of the wellness journey for many dogs. Here are our top tips for minimizing your dog’s chances of tummy troubles.
Ensuring your dog’s diet is healthy and minimizing the chances of a dietary indiscretion can eliminate many causes of diarrhea. In terms of food, you don’t have to buy the most expensive or trendiest brands. In fact, the pet food industry is very unregulated, so it’s best to start with a trusted brand that uses quality ingredients.
If you think your dog is experiencing a food allergy or intolerance, work with a veterinarian to identify the source. You can try a food elimination trial, in which you will start from scratch and slowly introduce certain foods until you discover which one causes a reaction. If you know your dog has a delicate stomach, you can feed them food specifically formulated for sensitive tummies.
If your dog likes to eat furniture, clothes, garbage, or toys, make sure to block off areas of your house in which they’ll have access to them. Put up gates, shut doors, and only allow playing with toys under supervision. If they like to eat sticks or rocks, you’ll have to walk them on a leash for potty breaks — no unsupervised backyard time.
You can’t always prevent diarrhea, but remember that occasional diarrhea is normal and usually nothing to stress about. If it doesn’t pass quickly, a veterinarian can help diagnose and treat your pup’s digestive troubles.