Having a dog as a pet is an amazing experience, but dealing with a dog suffering from diarrhea is definitely not. A dog with soft stool is one of the most common reasons behind veterinary visits.
This common but troublesome problem can be quite distressing and potentially dangerous for your furry friend.
Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs
There can be several reasons for dog diarrhea. The sudden onset of diarrhea in an otherwise healthy dog can be due to:
- Scavenging behavior
- Dietary indiscretions
- A sudden change in diet
- Viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections
Chronic diarrhea in dogs can be caused by:
- Dietary allergies or intolerances
- Some types of intestinal parasites
- Bacterial infections
- Pancreatic disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Some types of cancer
- Diseases outside of the gastrointestinal tract
A 2012 study published in PLOS One revealed a bacterial dysbiosis in the fecal samples of dogs with various gastrointestinal disorders, including acute diarrhea.(1)
Another 2017 study published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine reports that inflammatory enteropathies, particularly those of dietary origin, were the most common causes of chronic diarrhea in dogs.(2)
For the most part, vomiting and diarrhea are nature’s way of enabling the body to cleanse itself and flush out toxins. But, as the problem of diarrhea in dogs can result in dehydration and can be distressing and messy for both the pet and the owner, people often look for natural ways to stop diarrhea.
Fortunately, most cases of dog diarrhea are preventable and curable with simple lifestyle changes and home remedies.
Signs and Symptoms of Diarrhea in Dogs
The main indicator of diarrhea is loose stools. It may also be accompanied by various other symptoms. Some of these are:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Straining to defecate (also associated with constipation but can also occur with diarrhea)
Preventing Diarrhea in Dogs
- Avoid changing your pet’s diet all of a sudden. If changing your pet’s diet, it’s best to slowly change over by mixing the old and new food at first and then slowly removing the amount of old food with each feeding.
- Do not feed table scraps to your pet. This can cause pancreatitis.(3)
- Avoid giving your dog bones, or greasy flavored chew treats to play with. Consider giving dog chew toys instead.
- Control your pet’s scavenging.
- Make sure your pet is up-to-date with medications, vaccinations, and intestinal parasite, flea and tick prevention medication.
- Try not to let your pet play around with small objects that they may end up swallowing.
When to See a Doctor
If diarrhea persists for more than a few days and if your dog has a fever and vomiting, it is time to visit the vet.
It is recommended to seek medical help if:
- Your pet suffers from liquid bowel movements frequently.
- The diarrhea attack is severe.
- Your pet is becoming dehydrated.
- Your pet loses interest in food.
- The attack is accompanied by symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, weight loss, and abdominal pain.
Alternative Cures and Remedies to Treat Dog’s Diarrhea
Here are some home remedies for dog’s diarrhea.
As soon as you notice that your pet is suffering from diarrhea, put your dog on a 12 to 24-hour fast. In fact, veterinary practitioners also recommend withholding food for 24 – 48 hours as therapy in episodes of acute vomiting and/or diarrhea.(4)
The presence of food in the gut leads to contractions of the bowel wall (also known as peristalsis) in order to push the food along. During diarrhea, these contractions can be overenthusiastic and push food through too quickly. This causes more bowel movements. Not to mention, the more food ingested, the more stool produced.
Hence, not feeding any food to your dog for 12 – 24 hours helps the oversensitized bowel wall to calm down and act normally.
Adding probiotics to your dog’s diet is another great remedy to deal with an upset stomach.
Probiotics enhance the multiplication of “good bacteria” in the gastrointestinal tract. This, in turn, helps fight the microbes that cause infection and diarrhea.(5)
A 2016 study published in Veterinary Microbiology reports that, when taken together, sour milk with the specific probiotic combination had a normalizing effect on acute diarrhea in dogs, which was associated with decreased numbers of potential pathogens in the feces of probiotic-treated dogs.(6)
To give probiotics to your pet, plain yogurt is the best option. Feed 1 to 2 teaspoons once daily to a small dog. For medium-sized dogs, the dosage is 1 to 2 tablespoons once daily. You need to feed a large dog 2 to 4 tablespoons once daily.
There are also commercially and prescription-based available probiotics; consult with your veterinarian regarding which one would be best for your pet.
3. Give More Water
Diarrhea can cause dehydration. Hence, it is important to make sure that your dog has access to water at all times. Adequate water intake is important to maintain electrolyte balance.
In a study, it was found that rehydration therapy with an electrolyte solution for oral administration (OES) was safe and helpful in dogs suffering from dehydration (mild to moderate) associated with hemorrhagic diarrhea.(7)
Allow your pet access to clean, fresh drinking water all the time. Keep a close eye on its water bowl to make sure it is going down. If your pet is drinking well, then the risk of dehydration is drastically reduced.
In case your pet is not drinking water, offering a bland canned diet (consult with your veterinarian), soaking your pet’s regular kibble in water, or adding diluted chicken or broth to the food will help to increase your pet’s water consumption. Some pets like to eat ice cubes, which are another great way to increase their water intake.
4. Bland Diet
Sometimes, a pet suffers from diarrhea as a reaction to the dog food you are feeding them or if they ingest something they shouldn’t, such as table scraps, something off the ground outside, or trash.
If the diarrhea is related to the type of food you’re feeding, it may be because the food is either too high in protein or the protein is not compatible with your dog’s digestive system.
Consult with your veterinarian regarding changing your pet’s diet to one with a different protein source. If the diarrhea is caused by a dietary indiscretion, give your pet plain foods after the fasting period.
After the initial fasting period, you can begin to introduce small amounts of bland food like white rice to your pet. Avoid giving pet food for a couple of days, as such foods may immediately upset its stomach again. Typically, a 1:4 ratio of protein and filler (chicken/rice) is recommended.(8)
Combine 1 cup of cooked white rice and ¼ cup of canned coconut milk. Give it to your dog in an amount appropriate for his or her size:
- Feed 1 to 2 tablespoons every 3 to 4 hours to small dogs.
- Feed ½ cup every 3 to 4 hours to medium-sized dogs.
- Feed 1 cup every 3 to 4 hours to large dogs.
You can offer your pet boiled chicken and rice, boiled hamburger (without the fat) and rice, or cottage cheese and rice. The chicken you use should be skinless. Also, try to make the rice the bulky part of the meal (1:4 ratio).
Other bland foods that can be served are canned pumpkin (pureed/plain, not prepared pie filling), yogurt, boiled potatoes (without skin), cottage cheese, and eggs to name a few.
Keep feeding bland foods until the bowel movement returns to normal. Then, reintroduce regular food gradually.
5. Chicken Broth
After the fasting period, it is important to serve some nutritious food to your pet to ensure a faster recovery.
For instance, try serving your dog homemade chicken broth. It provides healthy nutrients to your pet and also helps deal with early signs of mild dehydration, which is often associated with diarrhea. Chicken broth also helps to replenish electrolytes lost with diarrhea and increases sodium levels, which help with water retention and increase hydration.(9)
- Put a pan of water on the stove to boil.
- Add a couple of chicken bouillon cubes.
- Cook until the chicken cubes dissolve.
- Allow the broth to cool down to room temperature.
- Serve the broth to your dog in small amounts a few times during the day.
6. Pumpkin Seeds
If your pet is suffering from diarrhea due to intestinal worms, try pumpkin seeds.
These seeds are rich in a deworming compound called cucurbitacin, an amino acid that aids in expelling tapeworms and roundworms from your dog’s intestine. Cucurbitacin also contains antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. (10)
All you need to do is grind the pumpkin seeds, mix the powder into your dog’s regular food, and feed your pet twice daily.
Use ¼ teaspoon of the ground pumpkin seeds for every 10 pounds that your dog weighs. Use this remedy until you stop noticing any worms in your dog’s stool and there are no signs of diarrhea, too.
A small amount of pureed pumpkin (approximately 1 tablespoon) added to your pet’s kibble can also help firm up the stools by increasing the fiber intake in the diet. Plus, your pet will love it!
7. Slippery Elm
Slippery elm is a great herb to consider when your dog is suffering from an upset stomach.
It helps by reducing inflammation and lubricating the digestive tract due to the mucilage (oily secretions that make up slippery elm). The composition of the mucilage may also contain sugars that can help evade low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which can be a side effect of constant diarrhea.(11)
- You can get slippery elm from the market or grocery store in a capsule form. Give ¼ capsule twice daily to small dogs, ½ capsule twice daily to medium dogs, or 1 capsule once or twice daily to large dogs.
- For powdered form, give ¼ teaspoon of powder for every 10 lbs of body weight. Mix the powder or capsules into your pet’s food or some yogurt.
Suffering from diarrhea can take a toll on your pet’s energy level. You may find your canine friend lying down most of the time. It is normal in this condition. In fact, you must let your pet to rest as much as possible. Proper rest will help the body heal faster.
However, it is important to recognize being tired from lethargy. If you feel that your pet is having prolonged lethargy and/or if this is paired with a reluctance to eat, consult your veterinarian.
Do not take your pet for long walks for a week. However, you can encourage your dog to walk around the house from time to time for short durations.
Spend time with your sick pet indoor to keep it comfortable and happy.
- Whenever you take your pet to the vet for diarrhea treatment, bring a fresh stool sample and have them do a fecal float and a fecal smear.
- Ask your veterinarian about adding on a probiotic if they have prescribed your pet an antibiotic for diarrhea (such as metronidazole).
- If your dog does not react well to canned dog food, consider feeding premium dry food or a mixture of canned and dry food to your pet.
- Don’t introduce new food to your pet while you are still treating diarrhea.
- While switching your dog’s food, do it gradually or your dog might get sick or have more diarrhea.
- Check for signs of dehydration as it can reduce the blood supply to organs such as the liver or kidneys, which can potentially cause damage. Signs of dehydration include inappetence, lethargy, sunken/dry eyes, sticky or dry gums, and loss of skin elasticity.(12)
- Do not give your dog medications meant for human diarrhea.
- Green-tinged diarrhea or watery diarrhea in puppies is life-threatening if not treated immediately by a veterinarian.
- Keep your eye out for the appearance of blood in the stools (either frank red blood or old dark blood), as this can be a sign of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE).(13)
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Justine Lee (DVM)
For how long does diarrhea normally last in dogs?
It depends – diarrhea can be either acute or chronic. Chronic diarrhea in dogs usually stems from an underlying medical condition such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic parasites, food allergies, metabolic problems (e.g., exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, kidney or liver problems), etc. The clinical signs for chronic diarrhea may last for several weeks or even months.
Acute diarrhea, on the other hand, typically lasts for just 3-5 days, and tends to resolve with appropriate treatment. However, there are a lot of causes for acute diarrhea that may need to be addressed by your veterinarian to rule out more serious problems (e.g., foreign body obstructions, metabolic problems, etc.).
What foods to give a dog suffering from diarrhea?
I would advise you to consult with your veterinarian to determine a preferable diet for your diarrhea-stricken dog. A bland, low-fat diet such as boiled rice and boiled hamburger or chicken (with all the fat, skin, and bones boiled off) is recommended for a case of acute diarrhea, provided that the dog isn’t vomiting.
If diarrhea doesn’t resolve, or a dog shows worsening signs (e.g., not interested in eating, lethargy, weakness, bloody diarrhea, etc.), I would seek veterinary attention immediately. Alternatively, a high fiber prescription veterinary diet may also help resolve the clinical signs of diarrhea.
Is it ok to give yogurt to a dog with diarrhea?
Yes, the probiotics in yogurt may help with diarrhea. Alternatively, there are more concentrated probiotics that your veterinarian can recommend.
What common foods can trigger diarrhea in dogs?
Anything with high amounts of fat such as chicken skin, meat scraps, etc. can result in diarrhea.
Certain dog breeds (e.g., Shetland Sheepdogs, Miniature Schnauzers, Yorkshire terriers, etc.) also have a very sensitive stomach or gastrointestinal tract and are predisposed to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Fatty food scraps should be avoided in dogs.
Does starving a dog help to stop its diarrhea?
I would never recommend withholding food and water from a dog – when in doubt, check with your veterinarian. With acute diarrhea, sometimes withholding food for 12-24 hours may help rest the gastrointestinal tract. If there is no vomiting, a bland diet may be initiated after a short period of resting the gut.
What does it mean when a dog has bloody diarrhea?
There are two types of diarrhea observed in dogs – small intestinal and large intestinal diarrhea. Small intestinal diarrhea typically involves large amounts of loose, watery stool with normal ability to hold for elimination.
Large intestinal diarrhea is usually characterized by very small amounts of feces with blood and/or mucous, increased urgency to eliminate such that the dog may not be able to hold in the stool. Some dogs may have both small and large intestinal diarrhea, which means there is inflammation throughout the entire intestinal tract.
Please provide some additional tips or inputs regarding the treatment of diarrhea in dogs.
When in doubt, make sure your dog is properly dewormed to prevent parasites (which can easily spread to other pets and even humans). Make sure your dog is on appropriate, AAFCO-approved dog food, and avoid feeding table scraps – particularly fattening foods.
If your dog vomits more than 2-3 times or becomes lethargic, doesn’t want to eat, or has pipe-stream watery or bloody diarrhea, promptly visit a veterinarian and bring your dog’s fecal sample for evaluation. The sooner we can diagnose a problem, the sooner we veterinarians can treat it.
Sometimes, a full course of antibiotics (e.g., metronidazole at 10-15 mg/kg orally every 12 hours X 21 days) or even a de-wormer (e.g., fenbendazole at 50 mg/kg orally every 24 hours X 5-6 days or shorter-term, high dose metronidazole) may be needed.
While there are some things you can try at home such as withholding food for 12-24 hours, feeding a bland diet, and monitoring your dog carefully, do check with your veterinarian when in doubt!
About Dr. Justine Lee, DACVECC, DABT: Dr. Lee is a board-certified veterinary specialist in both emergency critical care (DACVECC) and toxicology (DABT). She attended veterinary school at Cornell University and completed her internship at Angell (Boston, MA) and completed her fellowship and residency at the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Lee is the author of two humorous pet books “It’s a Dog’s Life, but It’s Your Carpet” and “It’s a Cat’s World… You Just Live In It.” She is the former contributor/blogger to Prevention magazine, PetMD: The Daily Vet, Pet Health Network and Voyce. Dr. Lee practices at Animal Emergency & Referral Center, a specialty referral hospital in the Twin Cities, MN.
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