Diarrhea in dogs is often decidedly unpleasant and occasionally alarming for both dog and owner. Unfortunately, diarrhea in dogs is also extremely common. This article will give you the tools to assess your dog's condition and make an informed decision about whether to treat the symptoms at home or make a trip to the veterinarian.
What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs?
Diarrhea in dogs may be caused by myriad different culprits from physical to emotional issues. The most frequent offenders are listed below.
Dogs, much like people, have different tolerance levels when it comes to stressful or unexpected events. Your average Golden Retriever may be a social diva who can't get enough of new places and faces. At the other end of the scale, your average Great Dane would much rather be king of his castle at home where new visitors are screened for safety before being granted access by his staff (you). Any significant deviation from the regular order of things is perceived as a sign of impending doom. When something happens that upsets the normal routine or is drastically outside the dog's scope of experience like a child's birthday party hosted at the home with hordes of squealing, running new children, a holiday fireworks display, a violent thunderstorm, or even the raised voices and slamming doors of a family disagreement, it may seem catastrophic to the more anxious dogs.
This physical response to extreme anxiety and emotional stress is responsible for most cases of non-medical diarrhea in dogs.
Another top culprit of diarrhea in dogs is often their insatiable and indiscriminate appetites. This is more often an issue with the larger breeds rather than small dogs, but almost any dog will eat any item that their canine judgment has deemed edible. Unfortunately, canine judgment has a very poor track record for accuracy in this particular arena. Many times, the treasures dogs find and eat are either well past their expiration date, not compatible with the canine digestive or metabolic system, poisonous or toxic, or just plain inedible. Dogs are not always the architects of their own suffering when it comes to bad diet choices. A deeper look into the causes of a dog's dietary indiscretion occasionally leads directly to one or more human co-conspirators and a mistaken belief that "a little ham won't do any harm".
This cause is fairly common in puppies. In fact, it is so common that many veterinarians have made it their policy to administer treatment to every puppy on their first visit.
Certain viral infections will trigger severe diarrhea in dogs. One of these, Parvovirus, is particularly virulent and very dangerous. Despite widespread vaccination against the virus, the pathogen is still prevalent in the canine realm and is heartbreakingly difficult to treat successfully. There are effective vaccinations which provide protection once the complete puppy series has been fully administered. Until fully vaccinated, your puppy will remain susceptible to contracting parvovirus which is spread through flies contacting the fecal matter of infected dogs and transferring it to the environment of healthy dogs. This largest risk exists in areas where there are many homes with unvaccinated dogs and the homes are in close proximity to one another in a relatively small geographical space (think large cities with compact, hyper-urban environments). The virus is able to lie dormant, protected by a cystic shell, in dry soil and reanimate when water is added. Dogs infected with Parvovirus will have very watery diarrhea that has an overpowering smell of fresh blood. As the virus progresses untreated, the diarrhea will contain more and more fresh blood, and in the worst cases, diarrhea will consist of only blood and blood clots. Parvovirus has a very poor prognosis; however, if aggressive treatment is started immediately upon discovery, this prognosis improves greatly.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the causes of diarrhea in dogs. It is simply a list of the most likely suspects.
Is Diarrhea in Dogs Dangerous?
Most cases of diarrhea in dogs are easily attributable to one of the top two culprits, emotional distress or dietary indiscretion, and will resolve completely within a few days with no treatment needed. In the vast majority of cases, it is perfectly acceptable to try some of the home remedies discussed below for 1-2 days before incurring the expense of an office visit
That being said, there are a few symptoms to watch out for. The following signs are strong indicators of more serious problems that can be life-threatening if not treated immediately. The presence of any of the following symptoms may indicate a veterinary emergency and immediate veterinary treatment should be obtained:
- Black tarry stools, or black stools that look like brewed coffee grounds - an indicator of upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding.
- Pale, dry or tacky gums- extreme dehydration, life-threatening at this stage.
- Weakness, inability or extreme reluctance to stand or walk - pre-existing, undetected illness, canine bloat, which is a serious condition caused by the stomach twisting around on itself, or bowel obstruction.
- Diarrhea that is accompanied by lethargy, vomiting, or fever - possible undetected cancer, liver, or kidney disease
- Watery diarrhea that has an overpowering smell of blood. Blood may or may not be visible in the sample - likely infection by Parvovirus
- Diarrhea that lasts longer than 48 hours
- Painful, distended abdomen - canine bloat (see earlier definition) or possible bowel obstruction
Treating Diarrhea in Dogs Using Homemade Remedies
The following remedies were selected for having a large number of positive testimonies with few or no significant negative outcomes reported. Some were chosen for carrying the recommendation of veterinary professional or other animal care expert.
Fasting (Plus Pedialyte)
Fasting your dog by withholding food for 12 to 24 hours is often very effective because it allows the inflamed digestive system to calm down and heal without the work of processing and digesting food. While this method is frequently very effective, it should only be used if your dog's overall health can support the sustained nutrition deficit. It can be harmful and make matters exponentially worse in geriatric dogs, puppies or very small breeds all of which often lack the reserves to sustain health and strength if food is withheld.
Because diarrhea in dog causes severe dehydration, all dogs regardless of choice to fast or not fast, should have access to plenty of water at all times. Dogs who are being fasted should, ideally, be offered unflavored Pedialyte as well to replenish electrolytes depleted during the fast. After fasting, food should be re-introduced slowly. For maximum effectiveness, consider starting with one of the other home remedies. All have a high nutrient content and are binding to help to firm up loose stools.
Plain, Unseasoned, White Rice or White Rice Broth
Dogs may be fed small amounts of cooked plain white rice with no seasoning, butter, sauces, or other flavoring additives. If cooked rice appears to aggravate diarrhea symptoms, the starchy water that remains after cooking the plain white rice can be offered instead as it will require less work from the digestive tract to process.
A small amount of plain, unseasoned, low sodium, chicken broth may be addeded to the rice broth to make it more appealing.
Canned Pumpkin (Plain Raw Pumpkin)
This home remedy classic has been passed from dog owner to dog owner for as long as anyone can remember and it works like a charm. Oddly enough, it is equally effective in treating the symptoms of both diarrhea and constipation.
Yogurt or Cottage Cheese
Yogurt is soothing to the gut, has a high nutrient density, and contains active probiotics which help restore digestive balance by replenishing the beneficial bacteria needed for proper intestinal function. If your dog is able to tolerate dairy products without worsening symptoms, consider adding plain yogurt to your dog's recovery diet.
High-Potency Powdered Probiotic Cultures
High-potency powdered probiotics sold through health stores are an even more effective source of live probiotic cultures than yogurt and can be added into your dogs regular or recovery diet at any time.
Consider These Available Items
The majority of diarrhea cases will resolve on their own with no treatment needed. The home remedies listed here can help speed up that process, and with regular use as a supplement to your dog's regular diet, they may even lessen the chances of a future intestinal upset.