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Dog pooping on grass

The essentials

  • Virtually all dogs have had diarrhea at some point — Gastrointestinal upset such as diarrhea is a common problem for canines.
  • Diarrhea is a symptom of an underlying condition — Eating rotten or toxic food or switching diets too quickly are a few common culprits behind diarrhea.
  • Frequent or violent bouts of diarrhea can be dangerous — Dehydration can result from severe or recurring cases of diarrhea and/or vomiting.

Runny, loose stools are somewhat common in canines — especially if you have a dog who likes to dig through the trash or eat random household objects.

However, diarrhea isn’t a medical condition in and of itself. If your dog has diarrhea, they are always suffering from an underlying issue, whether it’s food-related or another medical problem.

8 causes of dog diarrhea

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.

Many things can cause diarrhea, 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.

Here are some of the most common causes of diarrhea:

1. 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.

You should gradually start giving them larger ratios of the new food to the old food during this time. If your dog’s stomach still objects, stop giving them the new food and call your vet to see what they recommend.

2. Food allergies or intolerance

Pork, beef, chicken, dairy, soy, and egg are common allergens for dogs, which can result in itching and intestinal tract upset. If your vet thinks that food allergies might be the culprit, they’ll likely suggest a limited ingredient diet and tell you to hold off on the table scraps — at least until the particular allergen can be detected.

3. Medication

New medications, especially antibiotics, can cause an imbalance of gut bacteria, resulting in gastrointestinal issues. When your dog takes a round of antibiotics, try to supplement their diet with a probiotic such as Purina FortiFlora to help restore the good bacteria.

4. Toxic substance or foreign object ingestion

Ingesting substances like poisonous plants , chemicals, or medications may quickly result in diarrhea and abdominal pain for your dog. Foreign objects, like bones 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 them to the vet.

5. Stress

Just like humans, dogs can experience digestive disruptions as a result of stress or emotional upset. This could be a one-time event from a particular situation, like a vet visit, or a chronic problem following sudden changes in schedules or living situations.

6. Parasites

Ingesting contaminated water, fecal matter, or soil can result in intestinal parasites like hookworms, coccidia, giardia, and roundworms.

Tapeworms can also enter your dog’s digestive system through ingested fleas. These parasites can manifest in tiny, white, rice-like segments in your dog’s poop — and they may wriggle if they’re still alive.

The good news is that the issue can be promptly cured with a dewormer and by keeping your pup up-to-date on flea and tick prevention.

7. Disease or illness

Several 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.

8. 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.

Two types of dog diarrhea and what they mean 

While diarrhea can be caused by many different conditions, there are primarily two types: large-intestine diarrhea and small-intestine diarrhea. Being able to pinpoint which type your dog is experiencing can help determine the underlying cause.

Large intestine diarrhea — Small, frequent bouts of loose stool — especially with bright red bloody specks — is a solid indicator of large intestine diarrhea. Officially called colitis, this medical condition is usually brought on by stress, parasites, or infections. According to statistics, vomiting occurs in less than 33% of cases .

Small intestine diarrhea — Diarrhea caused by inflammation in the small intestine isn’t as urgent but does produce a large volume of poop in a short period. There won’t be any brightly colored blood or excessive straining, since the problem isn’t in the colon but resides further up your dog’s digestive tract. Dr. Irish warns, “An upper GI bleed is more life-threatening than a lower bleed, but both can be equally dangerous when severe or when present for more than 24 to 48 hours.”

Food sensitivities, tapeworms, and underlying illnesses are the most common causes of small intestine diarrhea. This type is more often chronic than acute and may cause nutritional deficiencies and unintended weight loss.

How to determine the cause of diarrhea in dogs 

A single episode of diarrhea isn’t usually anything to worry about. However, if diarrhea persists for longer than a day or two—or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms—it’s a good idea to take your dog to the vet for an exam.

Bring a stool sample if possible, along with notes on when the problem started and any leads on possible causes, such as if you’ve recently changed their food or you caught them sneaking chicken bones the night before.

Since diarrhea can be a somewhat common issue, it can be difficult to know when to ride it out and when to go to the vet. You should always seek professional medical advice if your dog experiences diarrhea for longer than a couple of days, is acting lethargic, runs a fever, or has pale gums.

Puppies under 9 months old dehydrate quickly, so it’s best to stay on the safe side and call the vet if they experience any vomiting or diarrhea at all.

Treating dog diarrhea 

If you take your dog to the clinic for care, your veterinarian will decide which diagnostic tests to perform based on the type and duration of the diarrhea, along with any other symptoms. They may decide to run blood tests or x-rays, and may also prescribe your dog medications to help with symptoms.

If your dog has ingested something toxic, they may require liquid suspensions such as Toxiban or charcoal tablets to absorb the toxins and might need intravenous fluids to help flush out the poison and prevent dehydration.

Some over-the-counter items like doggie probiotics and kaolin-based anti-diarrheals are okay for the occasional soft stool. But any diarrhea in a small dog, young dog, or any dog with multiple bouts of soft stool in one day should be seen right away.

Dr. Erica Irish

You know you and your dog best. While we recommend always taking your dog to the vet if they’ve had diarrhea for more than a couple of days, you may decide to go earlier or try to let things run their course at home a little longer depending on how they’re acting.

Home remedies for 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.


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

Usually, dog food is the way to go to make sure your dog receives proper nutrition. However, sometimes an upset tummy may call for bland food such as plain cooked white rice or rice water. Boiled and peeled potatoes, boiled skinless chicken, and canned plain pumpkin are all considered food binders that help provide bulk for your dog’s stool.

OTC options

Over-the-counter canine diarrhea medication can often help. Some products containing kaolin-pectin are safe, but you should avoid Imodium unless directed by your vet.

Probiotic supplements may also be a good natural remedy for chronic diarrhea that might be caused by a bacterial imbalance or food sensitivities.

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.

👉Most toxicity cases require immediate veterinary attention—especially if a large amount was consumed. Certain toxic substances, such as onions, can cause life-threatening dehydration and anemia.

Preventing diarrhea in dogs 

Ensuring your dog’s diet is healthy and minimizing the chances of dietary indiscretion can eliminate many causes of diarrhea.

  • If you think your dog is experiencing a food intolerance or allergy, 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 after they’ve been on a novel protein or hydrolyzed protein diet for 8 weeks until you discover which one causes a reaction.
  • If you know your dog has a delicate stomach, you can feed them dog food specifically formulated for sensitive tummies.
  • Sometimes diarrhea can occur as a result of disruptions to your dog’s gut microbiome. Giving your dog a probiotic supplement is the best way to restore the balance of the beneficial gut bacteria that their GI tract and immune system need to thrive.
  • If your dog likes to eat foreign objects such as 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. In fact, it’s an incredibly efficient way for your dog’s body to eliminate toxins and may be somewhat normal. Remember that a single episode of diarrhea or occasional tummy upset is usually nothing to stress about.

If it doesn’t pass quickly, though, you should consult a veterinarian to help diagnose and treat your pup’s digestive troubles.

Frequently asked questions

What can I give my dog to stop diarrhea?

Plain food like boiled chicken or pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) can soothe your dog’s upset stomach. However, if diarrhea lingers for longer than a couple of days — or if you notice any other signs they aren’t feeling well, such as lethargy, seizures, loss of appetite, or pale gums — you should contact your veterinarian immediately to see what to do next.

How long does normal diarrhea last in dogs?

Mild cases of diarrhea caused by a bacteria or something your dog ate usually resolve within a day or two. While a common problem, diarrhea shouldn’t be a “normal” condition. If the issue doesn’t resolve within 24-48 hours or is accompanied by any other symptoms, call a vet.

What if my dog has diarrhea but is acting fine?

If your dog has an upset stomach but is still active and appearing to feel well, you can usually feel free to wait a day or two to see if the problem resolves on its own. Take note of how frequently they poop and what it looks like, and monitor them closely for changes in their behavior.  If they’re still experiencing diarrhea after 24 to 48 hours, it’s a good idea to call the vet.

What is the cost for treating diarrhea in dogs?

The cost for treating diarrhea depends on the underlying problem. For example, if your dog ate something toxic and the poison reached their bloodstream, you could end up spending a considerable chunk of money on an overnight vet visit and intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration. However, if it’s something simple like a new dog food that doesn’t agree with them, it’s a pretty easy solution to switch their food back to what they were eating or consult your vet for a new formula entirely.

Can you prevent diarrhea in dogs?

Tapeworms, rotten food, fatty tablescraps, stress — all of these things and more can make your pup feel queasy. While it’s nearly impossible to prevent your dog from experiencing diarrhea at some point in their lives, you can take steps to eliminate their risk, such as feeding a balanced diet and keeping them up-to-date on flea and tick prevention.