How To Treat Dog Diarrhea – Complete Guide

Diarrhea is not a topic that many people like to talk about, but if you own a dog, chances are you have probably cleaned up the doggie runs more than a few times. It is one of the most common problems dogs face, as they have a penchant for putting almost anything in their mouths, no matter how disgusting it is.

While diarrhea may simply be caused by something bad they have eaten, it can also be a sign of more serious health complications or conditions. If your dog is suffering from regular episodes of the runs, we recommend taking a trip to the vets as leaving it too long can make matters worse.

When it comes to treating diarrhea in dogs, there are a number of things you can do. However, before you even think about trying different treatment options, you need to try and figure out the underlying cause of your dog’s bowel problem.

Today we are going to cover everything you need to know about dog diarrhea and how to treat it. You can never totally prevent diarrhea, but there are some things you can do to limit the frequency of the unpleasant experience.

How Does a Dog’s Digestive System Work?

Before we go into the different causes and treatment options for diarrhea, let’s look at the digestive system of a dog. A dog’s digestive system is of course completely different to a human’s one.

The digestive system of a dog is where good health starts and it is important to keep it working correctly. If your dog’s food is not digested properly, all other parts of the body can pay the price and you will probably be cleaning up a nasty mess.

The digestive system of a dog is responsible for three things:

  • Digestion of food
  • Nutrient absorption
  • Eliminating or preventing dangerous and toxic substances from getting into the body

The Different Parts of a Dog’s Digestive System

A dog’s digestive system starts at the mouth. Food is broken up into smaller pieces by the teeth and then lubricated by the saliva. Compared to humans, a dog’s saliva is designed to kill bacteria rather than break it down. This is why they can tolerate different items that would make humans incredibly sick.

The food then passes down into the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. It is a muscle that contracts and moves in wavelike motions to push food down to the stomach.

Food rapidly passes through the esophagus and then enters the stomach in chunks, where most of the digestion happens. The stomach works similarly to a cement mixer, grinding, mixing and liquefying the food that enters it. A dog’s stomach acids are about three times stronger than a human’s one, at about 1 to 2 PH. This is so they can digest food that is pretty much completely intact.

The next stop for the food is the small intestine. This is essentially a long, hollow tube and it is about four times the length of your dog’s body. There are openings within the small intestine that let in digestive juices from the gallbladder and pancreas.

The main job of the small intestine is to absorb nutrients from the digested food into the bloodstream.

Finally, the digested food enters the large intestine, also known as the colon. This has the important job of saving water and mineral electrolytes from the food that has gone through the digestive system. It is incredibly important for a dog’s hydration levels. The rest of the unused food is turned into poop, and we all know where that goes!

In normal circumstances the time that food takes to pass through a dog’s digestive system should be under ten hours. What comes out the other end should be firm and well-formed.

The Symptoms of Dog Diarrhea

  • Straining to go to the toilet
  • Possible listlessness
  • Possible anorexia
  • Depression
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • More water in feces than normal
  • Possible increase in the volume of feces
  • Toilet accidents
  • Vomiting
  • Blood or mucus in the feces

Major Warning Signs for Dog’s with Diarrhea

If your dog is experiencing any of the following, you should seek the advice of your local veterinarian:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Abdominal pain (groaning, bloating, panting rapidly, yelping or avoidance when their tummy is touched).
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 48 hours (This is especially the case for younger and older dogs, or those with chronic diseases).
  • Lethargy
  • Blood in their stool or black, tarry stools

Common Causes of Dog Diarrhea

There are a whole host of different things that can upset a well-balanced digestive system and cause diarrhea. Some things are more serious and can be life-threatening, while others like eating excessive amounts of grass are pretty harmless.

We’ve listed a number of different causes and reasons for the dog runs below:

Change in Diet – sometimes, the simple act of changing your dog’s diet or adding something new into can cause diarrhea. Your dog may take a few days to adjust to the new food and proteins, which is why many dog-food manufacturers recommend that you introduce food slowly. If the diarrhea continues for an extended period of time, you may want to consider going back to the original food you were feeding them.

Garbage Gut – Dogs have a habit of eating everything and anything. This desire to munch down on even the most disgusting things can lead to what’s known as “garbage gut” or “garbage toxicosis”. Try to avoid letting your dog eat out of date food products, rubbish or things like poo.

Allergies – Dogs can have allergies to a number of different food items. If you are introducing new food to your dog, try a little bit first to see what happens. If your dog has an allergic reaction you will know about it pretty quickly, but some food may simply make their bowels slightly irritated.

Dangerous Foods, Plants and Other Substances – We’ve all heard about how food items like chocolate are dangerous to dogs, and a sign that your dog may have ingested some is diarrhea. Plants and other dangerous substances can cause diarrhea in dogs along with a whole host of other problems. If you suspect that your dog has ingested something toxic, you should take them to your veterinarian immediately.

For more information on dangerous food for dogs, check out our “Ultimate Guide to What Dogs Can Eat” article.  

Food Intolerance – In some cases, certain food items will simply not agree with your dog. You need to find out which ones these are and avoid them.

Parasites – Dogs can suffer from a number of different parasites, especially if they are younger, older or weaker. Parasites can cause your dog to get the runs and other issues may arise like skin problems as well. We’ve listed some common parasites that can cause diarrhea in dogs below:

  • Hookworms
  • Whipworms
  • Roundworms
  • Coccidia
  • Giardia

Bacterial Infections – Did you know that, on average, one gram of dog poo contains 23 million fecal coliform bacterial? That’s a significant number of bugs that have the potential to cause an upset stomach and diarrhea.

Dogs can suffer from anything from salmonella to campylobacter, which can cause extreme cases of diarrhea. Additionally, these bugs can be passed onto humans, so if you are dealing with a dog with a bacterial infection, be extra careful. To diagnose these bugs, a fecal analysis will have to be conducted.

Viral Infections – Parvovirus, along with other viruses such as distemper and coronavirus can cause extreme diarrhea in dogs. Out of these three, parvovirus is the deadliest, with signs appearing 2 – 5 days after infection. Some of these signs include life-threatening diarrhea and vomiting. Vaccination is essential to maintaining good health in dogs.

Distemper is another virus that can cause diarrhea. In addition to the runs, your dog may experience sticky eyes, coughing, vomiting and a fever.

Coronavirus is the least deadly out of the three we have listed and is more common in puppies due to their week immune system. However, provided your dog doesn’t become dehydrated, they should be perfectly fine.

Swallowing an Indigestible Foreign Body – We only know about this one too well. Some dogs seem to have a penchant for eating items that will block up their bowels and we seem to have one of them. If you have a sneaking suspicion that your dog has got something stuck in their tummy, look for any missing items or broken toys around the house. What caused one of our dog’s blockage was the threads from a rope tug toy. You will probably also find that your dog vomits and loses their appetite in addition to any diarrhea they may experience.

Stress or Upset – If your dog has been through a traumatic event or something has changed in their life recently, they may develop diarrhea.

Antibiotics and Other Medication – Different forms of medication and antibiotics can have some pretty nasty and messy side effects. If your dog has just started taking medication it may be the cause of their diarrhea. If this is the case, contact your vet about possible options.

Illness or Diseases – If your dog is suffering from something like kidney, hearth or liver disease, some types of cancer, colitis, or inflammatory bowel disease, it may be the cause of their diarrhea. These types of illnesses and diseases need to be discussed with your veterinarian and may require prescription medication.

A Bit More About Antibiotic-Induced Diarrhea?

As we said above, the runs can be caused by antibiotics and this is often called acute diarrhea as it is sudden and tends to last for a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

Why Do Antibiotics Cause Diarrhea?

Just like humans, dogs can experience side effects when they are taking antibiotics. Antibiotic-induced diarrhea occurs because antibiotics not only kill off the bad bacteria causing the infection, but they can also kill of off the good bacteria on your dog’s digestive tract. The reduction in these beneficial bacteria can cause the balance of bacteria in your dog’s digestive system to become unbalanced, which can cause diarrhea.

Do All Dogs Experience Diarrhea from Antibiotics?

No, not all dogs will experience diarrhea when they are on antibiotics. There are a number of factors that will determine whether your dog will experience diarrhea from them. These include:

  • Their overall health – Some dogs have a weaker immune system and “stomach” than others. These canines are more likely to experience diarrhea from the use of antibiotics.
  • The strength and type of Antibiotic – Not all antibiotics are created the same, and different brands, types and strengths can have different side effects. Some antibiotics are much stronger than others and will be able to kill off bacteria in a shorter period of time. These stronger antibiotics are more likely to result in an upset tummy and diarrhea as a result of that. Additionally, the dosage and amount they take in a day can have an effect on their stomach.
  • The length of treatment – A dog that is exposed to antibiotics for an extended period of time will potentially have more side effects. This is because there is a higher risk that the beneficial bacteria are killed off as well.

Should I Stop Giving My Dog Antibiotics?

It is always recommended that a patient finishes their course of antibiotics in order for the treatment to work. However, there is always the question on whether to continue using antibiotics if they are causing diarrhea. The problem is that stopping the treatment can mean that the infection is not fully cured, but continuing can cause your dog to become dehydrated and suffer from malnutrition.

For those with dogs that are suffering from severe antibiotic-induced diarrhea, it is always recommended to consult with your vet. They may be able to prescribe a course of anti-diarrheal medication that is used in conjunction with the antibiotics. Additionally, you vet may recommend switching to another type of antibiotic that is easier on the stomach.

In some unfortunate situations, there is no other option that can be used other than the antibiotics prescribed. In this case, your vet will assess the overall condition and will either recommend managing the diarrhea problem or ceasing the antibiotic treatment completely.

What Should Dog Poo Look Like?

It’s not something many of us like to inspect, but it is important to know what a healthy stool looks like. You need to grade the poop against a set of criteria, called the four C’s; colour, consistency, content and coating.

Colour

A dog’s stool should be chocolate-brown in colour, but may have some minor deviations in colour due to diet, hydration or dyes in their food. The reason for the colour is because the gallbladder releases bile to help breakdown food. Bilirubin is a pigment in the bile and it effects the colour of a stool.

You should not see any major deviations from the chocolate-brown colour. If you do, it could be a sign that your dog’s health is suffering. Let’s look at some abnormal colour patterns in a dog’s stool:

  • Yellow or grey stools can indicate problems with the liver, pancreas, or gallbladder.
  • Red streaks are indicative of bleeding in the lower digestive tract
  • Black stools are a sign that there is bleeding high up in the digestive tract.

Consistency

Interestingly, some vets use a number grading system to score the consistency of a dog’s stool. This poo rating system starts at 1, which is very hard, and goes to 7, which is more puddle like.

The perfect poo is rated at 2, is caterpillar in shape and feels like Play-Doh when squeezed. Stools that are not formed properly are a sign that the large intestine is not re-absorbing water correctly. Hard stools are a sign of dehydration and may be painful to pass for your dog.

If your dog passes the odd super-soft or super-hard stool it should not be a cause for concern, especially if they are completely normal in their behaviour. If the problem persists for more than a day, you should contact your local veterinarian to get their opinion.

Content

Finding out what’s inside a dog’s poo isn’t the nicest job. The idea of dissecting a dog’s stool is vomit inducing for some people, but it can give you quite a bit of information about your dog’s health. A dog’s stool should look about the same on both the inside and out, but you may notice a few abnormal things about it:

  • Foreign material or objects – Dogs love to eat all sorts of things and you may find the leftovers in their stools. Bits of socks, little pieces of toys, rocks, and other non-food items are all commonly found in a dog’s stool. If you suspect your dog has eaten something bad, taking a look at their poo is a great way of finding out whether it has passed through.
  • Worms – Tiny rice-shaped tapeworm segments and long and skinny roundworms can be found in your dog’s stool. Check fresh stools for worms as older samples that have been left outside may have little creates that weren’t originally there.
  • Fur – If your dog’s stools have big clumps of fur in them it can be a sign of over-grooming. This is typically caused by stress, skin disease, allergies or even boredom.

Coating

A dog’s poo should not have a coating over it. Bowel inflammation or problems often lead to a coating of mucous on a dog’s stool. If the poo leaves a trail on the grass or ground after you pick it up, it is indicative of bowel issues.

If you notice any small streaks of red blood, you should keep a close eye on your dog. A single streak is probably okay, but any more than that and you should contact your veterinarian.

How Often Should a Dog Poo?

A dog should be going for a number two at least once a day. If your dog is going a bit more that is perfectly normal. However, if your dog is doing small amounts with straining, several times in an hour, this could be a sign that their large bowel is inflamed.

In addition to health problems, the amount a dog poos can be effected by the amount they have eaten, the individuality of the dog and any medication they are on.

Dehydration Caused by Diarrhea in Dogs

Dehydration from diarrhea is a big problem and every dog owner should learn the signs of how to check for it. You first need to know your dog’s normal condition before assessing them for dehydration.

Check Their Gums

The gums of your dog are an excellent place to start if you want to check for dehydration. A dog’s gums should be solid and shiny with wetness. The gums should automatically fill back up with blood if you push on them.

Remember to check your dog’s gums before they get sick, so you know what healthy ones look like. You can then compare them if you suspect your dog is sick.

Check Their Skin

If you pinch your skin and then let go, it should go back to its original shape (if it doesn’t, book yourself into a doctor now). This is exactly the same for dogs. The liquids in a dog’s body help to maintain skin elasticity.

To check for this, grasp the skin on your dog’s neck and then let go. It should immediately return back to its original position on your dog’s neck. If it doesn’t and it maintains a tent-like shape, your dog is dehydrated.

Dehydration requires immediate action and you should take your dog to the vets immediately. If you are unable to, you must get liquids into them as soon as possible. This can be difficult if your dog is not interested in eating or drinking, so you must force it into them.

You can use a syringe to get liquids into your dog. Place the syringe at the back of your dog’s mouth, near the top of their throat. If your dog is struggling to swallow, gently massage their throat, which will cause a natural reaction of swallowing.

How to Treat Dog Diarrhea?

Now that we have covered all that, let’s look at how you can fix your canine’s pooing problem. Treatment will ultimately depend on the cause of your dog’s diarrhea, so you find to find that first. We have given you some of the common causes of diarrhea in dogs earlier in this article, but we still recommend getting your vet’s advice before you start trying to treat them.

For those with dogs that are very young, old, or have pre-existing health conditions, you should definitely call your veterinarian. Diarrhea can be severely debilitating for those dogs, even when it appears to be relatively mild. You should also see your vet if your dog is experiencing other problems including; vomiting, streaks of blood in their stools, dark and tarry stools, lethargy, pain or even depression.

If your dog is otherwise healthy, we have created a list below of some things you can do to help them.

Make Sure They Have Plenty of Water

Diarrhea can quickly cause a dog to become dehydrated. Always ensure that your canine has access to plenty of fresh, clean water and encourage them to drink.

If you need to, you can add diluted chicken or beef broth to their water to encourage them to drink. Diluted Pedialyte can also be used to help a dehydrated dog as well. The last thing you can do is to give your dog a few ice cubes. They may be more willing to munch down on ice cubes than drink water, especially if you put a few treats in them.

Try a Fast

For dogs suffering from diarrhea that have only vomited a couple of times, try and withhold their food for around 12 hours. Make sure you provide them with small amounts of water frequently while you are doing this.

Withholding food for a period of time can help to clear the cause of the upset and allow the gastrointestinal tract to settle. However, if your dog is not strong or healthy enough for fasting, it can lead to further complications. For this reason, we do not recommend fasting for puppies or elderly dogs, who need the nutrients.

Once your dog has finished their fast, you can slowly reintroduce food into their diet.

Give Them Some Rice Water

Boil high-quality rice in a large amount of water and then remove the grains. You should be left with a creamy white soup that you can give to your dog. To make it a bit tastier, you can add a bit of chicken broth or baby food.

Rice water will help get liquids into your dog and can prevent them from getting dehydrated.

Try a Diet of Chicken and Rice

A plain diet of boiled chicken (no bones or skin) and rice is excellent for dogs suffering from diarrhea. For dogs that have simply got diarrhea, you can try and change their diet immediately. If your dog is experiencing vomiting, you can still feed them some chicken and rice, but you should wait at least six hours after they have stopped before feeding them.

You can continue to feed chicken and rice to your dog in small quantities every two or three hours. Over time, gradually increase the amount of food you are feeding them each meal, and lengthen the time between meals.

Add a Bit of White Rice to Your Dog’s Diet

If your dog is suffering from a light case of diarrhea, you may not need to completely change their diet to something like chicken and rice. Simply adding a small amount of rice to their regular diet can help harden up their stools. It also makes a great healthy treat for your dog.

Feed Your Dog Some Pumpkin

Pumpkin is one of life’s superfoods and it can really help a dog with diarrhea (we can attest to this). It contains a load of soluble fibre, which is excellent for slowing down your dog’s digestion system and helps absorb more water.

You can feed your dog roasted, canned or pureed pumpkin, as long as no extra ingredients are added to it. Diggen Your Dog offers a specially formulated pumpkin powder for dogs, which you can check out here.

If you are wondering how much you should give your dog, a couple of teaspoons of pumpkin puree or a couple of small pieces should do the trick. However, remember that too much pumpkin can actually make the problem worse.

Read more about the benefits of pumpkin for dogs here.

Give Them a Boiled Potato

A boiled, skinned white potato is about as plain as you can get, which makes it excellent for dogs with diarrhea. They are perfect for helping to settle upset stomachs and provide energy to weakened dogs. You can even mash them up to make it even easier for your dog to eat.

Try a Probiotic

Probiotics can help repopulate your dog’s digestive system with healthy bacteria. Additionally, there is growing evidence that probiotics boost the immune system in the digestive tract and throughout the body.

Probiotics are often found in food such as yoghurt, however, you can also purchase probiotic supplements from a health food store or your veterinarian. Remember that not all probiotics are created equal and can even be a waste of money. You need to select a probiotic that is stable through the manufacturing process and has got a long shelf life.

We recommend Pet Ultimates Probiotics for Dogs.

If your dog is on other medication, probiotics can still be given to them, just not at the same time. Probiotics must be used consistently to improve your dog’s condition, and a canine with an acute problem will likely see faster results than one with a chronic problem. Take a look at this article for more information on probiotics for dogs.  

Take a Look at Over-the-Counter Medication

Medication that is designed for humans can be used to help a dog with diarrhea. However, you should always use these with caution and consult with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog.

Change Their Normal Dog Food

Sometimes, a dog’s normal biscuits or food are the cause of their diarrhea problems. Changing their food to a different blend or brand can cure the problem. Additionally, some manufacturers offer foods that help sooth stomach problems. You may need to buy these from your veterinarian or online.

The Simple Natural Limited Ingredient dog food from Wellness is a great option for dogs with sensitive stomachs.

How To Prevent Dog Diarrhea

There is no surefire way to completely prevent your dog from getting diarrhea, but there are some things you can do to help. Try to keep your dog away from stray dogs, old discarded food and always make sure they are up to date with their vaccines. Always take your dog to the vets for regular check-ups and if you think something is wrong, act quickly.

Additionally, always feed your dog high-quality food and try not to change their food too much, unless it is due to allergies. If you do change their diet, slowly introduce the new food.

The last prevention method is to always watch out for anything that could become stuck in your dog’s digestive system. Foreign objects that get stuck in your dog are a major issue that we only know too well. If a toy is starting to fall apart or is not tough enough for your dog, we recommend getting rid of it.

Wrapping Up This Guide to Curing Dog Diarrhea

Curing dog diarrhea fast is difficult and it will depend entirely on what is causing the problem. For light to mild cases of diarrhea, we have listed some treatment methods above. If your dog is suffering from a more severe case of diarrhea, it is always best to contact your vet.

Remember to always contact your vet if your dog is experiencing the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 48 hours
  • Lethargy
  • Blood in their stool or black, tarry stools
  • If they have eaten a foreign body and are experiencing diarrhea

As a dog owner, you will almost certainly experience at least one (usually many more) episodes of diarrhea from your canine companion. A single episode should not worry you too much, but if it continues it can be a sign of larger health complications.

Now Read: The Ultimate Guide to Dog Skin Conditions and Diseases 

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