- Diarrhea isn’t that uncommon in a new puppy — There are plenty of triggers that could be the underlying cause. Your vet can help you to diagnose and treat accordingly based on what they see in your puppy’s stool.
- A sudden change in stool can be serious — Common doesn’t mean unimportant. Consult with a vet if you notice loose poops in your pup.
- Keep things clean — It’s best to avoid direct contact with puppy diarrhea when possible.
Puppy diarrhea occurs when your dog is making loose, unformed poops that resemble liquid or that fall apart when touched. There are many common causes of diarrhea in puppies that may not be cause for alarm — and there are a few that require veterinary intervention to resolve.
Our helpful guide will cover the common, non-concerning reasons and other possibilities that require medical intervention. We’ll also show you how to conduct a self-analysis at home so that you know exactly when your young dog should go to the vet.
Causes of puppy diarrhea
There are many reasons why your pet may be dealing with runny poops. Stress, bacterial and parasitic infections, and diet changes are a few of the most common triggers — although, each pet is different and can be triggered by different things.
Consider any of the possible reasons listed below, and speak to your vet if the diarrhea doesn’t resolve or is accompanied by other signs of illness. They can help you come up with a tailored plan and diagnostic process that works to address both the symptoms and the causes of your puppy’s diarrhea.
Dietary changes and intolerances
When you brought your pup home from the shelter, breeder, pet store, or rescue, did you keep their diet the same? For many, the answer is no — as it’s often difficult for pet parents to know what the dog ate before finding them and taking them home. This can lead to an abrupt change, which can lead to an episode (or several) of upset stomach or diarrhea.
Sudden changes in your dog’s diet can be a culprit for diarrhea or loose, watery stools and symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) upset. Fiber intake shifts and food allergies are usually the culprits associated with this specific trigger.
Much like humans, stress is enough to send your dog running to the puppy pads…often. This may be especially true in the first year of life when young puppies may not be fully potty trained yet. Stress is one of the most common causes of diarrhea, and is commonly seen when your dog is around new people, new locations, or new/other bigger, adult dogs for the first time.
After an episode of diarrhea, your puppy’s stomach might be off for a couple of days — and they may experience small amounts of watery stool when it’s time to go #2. Still, check the poop for any sort of dark red blood or black spots, as this could be the sign of a very serious health issue masquerading as stress — such as internal bleeding or related disorders. It could also be a sign of stress colitis, which can be addressed by your veterinarian.
Your dog could have diarrhea from parasites. Common intestinal parasites found in canines include coccidia, giardia roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms. We’ve summarized what to expect with each type below:
- Giardia. Intestinal parasites can wreak havoc on your pet’s small intestine, causing similar effects and symptoms that intestinal worms would (such as hookworms and roundworms). These parasites are known as protozoa — meaning that they are so small, they can’t be visibly seen. Giardia is a common illness and can spread from pet-to-pet or pet-to-surface contact. Signs to watch for include diarrhea, vomiting, and unresolved gas.
- Coccidia. This protozoa spreads by feces consumption, or if your pet comes in contact with soil that has the oocysts (baby coccidia) in it. Symptoms include diarrhea, lethargy, and bloody or mucus-covered poops.
- Roundworms. Parasites like roundworms can be spread from birth if the dog comes into contact with an infected mother dog or infected poop. Signs of roundworms can include vomiting, specks of worms in the dog poop, loss of appetite, and weight loss. You might also see worm fragments in poop or barf if there are high enough numbers.
- Hookworms. Hookworms, much like roundworms, are spread by contact with infected feces. These intestinal parasites cause symptoms like appetite loss, black stool, and vomiting. They can also cause severe anemia, especially in puppies.
- Whipworms. Whipworms are intestinal parasites that can be spread via infected soil or feces. Symptoms can include watery diarrhea, vomiting, and bloody stools.
🚨If you believe your dog has either of these parasitic conditions, seek medical attention. Even small amounts of parasites can have a huge impact on your dog’s health, and yours if they happen to be zoonotic.
Bacterial infections can also cause puppy diarrhea. The two most common to consider are:
- Salmonella . This bacterial infection occurs when dogs consume feces or food that’s contaminated. Symptoms include vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and fever. If you have these symptoms as well, consider seeing your doctor — your dog could transmit salmonella to you without the proper precautions in place.
- Campylobacter . Your pet contracts campylobacter from infected food or dirty water. This means that any street food scraps, puddles, or lakes are fair game. Symptoms of campylobacter include fever, mucus-filled diarrhea, and straining to defecate.
Viral infections can be to blame for your puppy’s persistent diarrhea. Both parvo and coronavirus can spread with pet-to-pet contact — so be sure to watch for additional symptoms like vomiting, coughing, lethargy, or discharge from the nose and eyes. Keeping track of these symptoms helps your vet to make a correct diagnosis.
Toxins or foreign bodies
Foreign bodies can cause diarrhea due to related inflammation, which can lead to changes in your dog’s motility. This can make the digestive process less efficient, which can lead to food passing quickly in your dog’s intestines. This can result in diarrhea, cramping, and mucous in their poop. Your vet can help to remove foreign bodies surgically to help your pet heal quickly.
Recognizing diarrhea in puppies
Luckily for pet parents, recognizing puppy diarrhea is fairly easy — especially in severe cases of diarrhea. You’ll be able to spot the poop from a mile away, as it consistently will appear soft, runny, or liquid with a complete lack of form. You might also notice foul odors associated with it that are worse than normal.
The stool may also have bloody or black streaks in it (which can be a sign of superficial or deep bleeding), white specks (which could indicate worms), or excessive mucus. This’ll be in pretty strong contrast to “healthy poop,” which is typically firm, light or dark brown, and well-formed.
💩 Here’s a helpful guide to dog poop colors and appearance, and what each can mean:
Dr. Dwight Alleyne
If you are noticing diarrhea in puppies, they must get medical attention as soon as possible. Younger dogs can be prone to dehydration when they are having diarrhea. It is also important to collect a fecal sample so a fecal test can be performed.
Diagnosing diarrhea in puppies
This process is fairly easy and uses a variety of clinical and lab testing options. Generally, you won’t need more than a regular vet visit, which is generally covered by pet insurance. (If you don’t have a pet insurance plan yet, now would be a good time to get one. This can save you a lot of money later on, especially in the event of a veterinary emergency).
Your vet might choose to conduct additional tests to ensure that the diarrhea has no other possible causes that could link to disease — such as a compromised immune system, caused by viruses.
Here’s a summary of what tests you can expect if you take your pup to the vet for diarrhea:
- Physical examination. Your vet will conduct a physical examination, palpating (pressing down on) your dog’s abdomen to check for clinical signs of blockages or other problems. They may also conduct a rectal exam.
- Fecal tests. Your pet’s poop may be tested for a range of pathologies, like intestinal parasites and parvo. E. coli, salmonella, and campylobacter may require more extensive testing than this, such as cultures or DNA tests. This is generally done using a third-party lab service.
- Blood tests. Taking your pet’s blood gives your vet a better look at the range of possible causes for your puppy’s diarrhea. This may be covered by your pet insurance, depending on what tests your vet chooses.
- X-rays and ultrasounds. While slightly less common, X-rays and ultrasounds help your vet to determine whether there are structural causes at play, possibly causing your pup’s loose poop.
Treating diarrhea in puppies at home
Once you’ve determined the possible causes of your dog’s diarrhea, you can begin to make a treatment plan. It’s important to note, though, that the suggestions we’ve put together support pups with soft stools too, even if they don’t fit the full criterion of diarrhea (i.e., liquid poops with foul odors). Here are a few ideas to help settle your pet’s digestive tract.*
- Trying a bland diet. Sometimes, a little chicken, canned plain pumpkin, or rice is all you need to firm up your dog’s bowel movements. Even if your pet is experiencing mild intestinal distress, it may be helpful to change to a diet that’s completely bland and free of table scraps. You can usually keep this up until the diarrhea resolves, so long as your veterinary expert is on board with that.
- Keeping stress low. Stress can be caused by various factors in your dog’s life — and it can be a major trigger for your dog’s digestive tract. Keep new people, abrupt changes, and loud noises to a minimum as they heal.
- Ask your vet about supplements. Probiotics and prebiotics can soothe your pet’s gut. Consider asking your veterinarian if this is an option in your specific case.
- Oral rehydration. Hydration is key when it comes to diarrhea in both pets and humans. If you’re looking to double the benefit, you can consider using an oral electrolyte replacement fluid (at your vet’s discretion).
It’s important to note that these treatments for symptoms are for informational purposes only. If your pet is experiencing severe diarrhea, alarming diarrhea (i.e. bloody or worm-specked), or large amounts of diarrhea, veterinary care is key. Please work with your vet (as a general rule) to determine the best course of treatment for your canine.
Medications & veterinary treatment
Medications help dogs who have lost control of their poops. There are three main classes of meds that veterinarians usually give to treat diarrhea:
- Antiparasitics. These are given if your dog’s diarrhea is from parasites, like in the case of giardia or roundworms..
- Antibiotics. If a GI infection is contributing to your dog’s diarrhea, antibiotics are the first line of defense to help clear everything up. Your vet will determine what class or type of medication is right for your dog.
- Probiotics. Probiotics are generally given at any time and help to balance your dog’s gut flora to slow the flow of poop and reduce their discomfort.
- Intravenous fluids. While not a true medication, IV fluids are generally for severe or urgent cases of dehydration and happen with your vet in-office. Your vet can also use IVs to deliver anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medication to help your pet be as comfortable as possible.
- Surgery. If a foreign body is to blame, your veterinarian can offer surgery to remove the body and alleviate your pet’s symptoms.
How to prevent puppy diarrhea
Prevention is the best measure against puppy diarrhea. Here are some top tips to try at home after your dog’s pooping resolves:
Schedule their vaccines
Staying up to date with your puppy’s vaccines prevents them from catching a range of other ailments, and plays a large role in their GI health. This is especially important if you travel often with your pet to public places — such as coffee shops and dog parks — where other illnesses can abound.
Maintain proper nutrition
Book regular vet visits
This is good advice in any situation — and it prevents problems before they occur in your pet. Keeping your scheduled and routine and preventative vet visits gives your pet the healthiest life possible, and is always a good investment.
It’s never fun when your pet is under the weather — especially when there’s poop or stomach troubles involved. Early diagnosis and intervention help your pet to recover quickly and smoothly. Veterinary care should be sought as soon as possible to avoid complications and excessive dehydration in your furry friend.
Frequently asked questions
What should I do if my puppy has diarrhea?
If your dog has diarrhea with no known cause (and even if the cause IS known) — a vet visit is in order. Early diagnosis and treatment is key to giving your pet the best experience possible and lowering their risk for complications (such as kidney dysfunction from severe dehydration).
When should you worry about puppy diarrhea?
One or two rounds of poops are generally nothing to worry about, as this can happen from benign causes like stress. If you see your pet straining or making frequent piles with no end in sight, however, you should seek veterinary care. You should also seek help if you notice anything coming out in your pet’s poop, as that could point to a possible cause or secondary diagnosis.
What are the causes of dog diarrhea?
It can be normal for puppies to have diarrhea in certain cases, like if they are under stress, just went through deworming, could be dealing with an illness, or if they are getting used to a new diet. Keeping contextual awareness top of mind helps pet parents determine what’s normal and what might warrant a vet visit.
What are the early signs of parvo in puppies?
Parvo can look different from pet to pet. Understanding the range of symptoms is key for early detection and support. Common early signs of parvovirus include bloating, loss of appetite, lethargy, fever or hypothermia (or, low body temperature), and loose stools. This can result in frequent blood diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
What if my puppy has diarrhea but acts normal?
If your pet has diarrhea but is acting normal, they could very well be experiencing nervous poops or reacting to a recent diet change, if you’ve just done one. If the problem persists past the next few stools, veterinary care may be needed to get to the bottom of the problem.