- Poop happens — Your pet can have diarrhea for a number of reasons. Doing an at-home evaluation helps pet parents to book a vet visit at just the right time.
- Hydration is key — Much like diarrhea in humans, puppy diarrhea can cause dehydration. Keep your pet satiated with clean water and ice cubes when possible.
- Don’t wait for it to get worse — If your dog has diarrhea for 48 hours or more, it’s time for a vet visit. They’ll determine and treat the underlying cause.
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 pup should go to the vet.
Common causes of puppy diarrhea
Below, we’ve listed some of the most common causes of loose stools in your puppy:
When you brought your pup home from the shelter, 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 prior to finding them and taking them home.
Sudden changes in your dog’s diet can be a culprit for diarrhea and symptoms of GI upset. Pet owners often find success switching to a bland diet or common dog foods during the transition period as they monitor for improvement. Rice can be a favorite if your pet’s diarrhea is consistent, as it bulks up the stool and lowers your dog’s risk of dehydration.
Try to avoid new food during this phase (if you can). If you have already started your puppy on a food blend, stay consistent and supplement with anti-diarrheal foods (like white rice above) unless told otherwise by your vet.
Much like humans, stress is enough to send your dog running to the puppy pads…often. It’s one of the most common causes of diarrhea, and is commonly seen when your dog is around new people or other bigger, adult dogs for the first time.
When your dog stresses, larger amounts of bile dump into the GI tract — causing general distress and discomfort. This is often exacerbated by your pet’s fight-or-flight response, which prompts the dog to release its bowel contents in preparation to protect or defend itself from threats.
Your dog’s could have diarrhea from parasites. These unfortunate creatures are one of the most common reasons your dog might have mild cases of diarrhea from time to time, often showing up in larger amounts of poop.
- 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 parasite 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 (or abnormal “laying around”), 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, loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Hookworms. Hookworms, much like roundworms, are spread by contact with infected feces. These intestinal parasites cause symptoms like appetite loss, black stool, and vomiting.
- Whipworms. Whipworms are intestinal parasites that can be spread via infected soil or feces. Symptoms can include watery diarrhea, visible worms in the poop, 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.
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 water. This means that any street food scraps, puddles, or lakes are fair game. Symptoms of campylobacter include fever, mucus-filled diarrhea, and straining.
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 coughing, lethargy, or discharge from the nose and eyes. Keeping track of these symptoms helps your vet to make a correct diagnosis.
Recognizing diarrhea in puppies
Luckily for pet parents, recognizing puppy diarrhea is fairly easy. 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.
If you notice that your dog is having diarrhea, begin counting the occurrences and tracking the frequency. Keep a careful watch for other problematic signs and symptoms that could point to a deeper problem — and consider taking your pet to a veterinarian.
Dr. Dwight Alleyne
If you are noticing diarrhea in puppies, it is important that they 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. However, 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.
- Fecal tests. Your pet’s poop may be tested for a range of pathologies, like intestinal parasites. 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
Once you’ve determined the possible causes of your dog’s diarrhea, you can begin to make a treatment plan. We do want to note: 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).
There are plenty of things you can use at home to help your puppy’s diarrhea, such as:
- 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) — or you can use rice water to possibly help stop up your pet’s bowels.
- New diet choices. If you think the diarrhea is from dietary indiscretion (or even if you have a secondary determined cause), your pet can benefit from a bland diet. Think something similar to the BRAT diet for humans, like rice or chicken. Many pet stores also carry sensitive-stomach food blend variants from your favorite food providers, so you might consider calling around to see what’s in stock.
Medications help dogs who have lost control of their poops. There are three main classes of meds that vets give:
- Antiparasitics. These are given if your dog’s diarrhea is from parasites, like in the case of giardia or coccidia.
- 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 “med,” these are generally for severe or urgent cases of dehydration, and happen with your vet in-office.
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.
Maintain proper nutrition — A balanced diet is key to a healthy dog. Ensuring that your pet has enough healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates reduces the risk of gastrointestinal upset.
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 vet visits gives your pet the healthiest life possible, and is always a good investment.
Dealing with puppy diarrhea?
It’s never fun when your pet is under the weather — especially when there’s poop or stomach troubles involved. Early diagnosis and intervention helps your pet to recover quickly and smoothly — and vet care should be sought as soon as possible to avoid complications and excessive dehydration.
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 is 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.
Is it normal for puppies to have diarrhea?
It can be normal for puppies to have diarrhea in certain cases, like if they are under stress or if they are getting used to a new diet. Keeping contextual awareness top of mind helps pet parents to determine what’s normal and what might warrant a vet visit.
How long should puppy diarrhea last?
Generally, a dog’s diarrhea should resolve in about 24-48 hours. During this time, it’s important to keep your pet as hydrated as possible and monitor them for any new symptoms. If your pet is having bowel upset beyond this timeframe, book in for a vet visit.