It’s pretty much inevitable that your dog will get diarrhea at some point in their lifetime. Diarrhea is in essence a symptom and not a separate condition, so there are various possible causes and the treatments will vary accordingly.
Trying to establish the cause of your dog's diarrhea will help you and your vet know how to respond to it and could also help prevent bouts of diarrhea in the future.
Diarrhea is soft or watery stool. Diarrhea occurs when the contents of the gut move through the intestine faster than normal and less water is reabsorbed back into the body from the colon.
Diarrhea can occur due to issues in the small intestine or the large intestine. The appearance and frequency of the dog diarrhea will help your vet figure out where in the gut the problem is. Diarrhea can also be divided into acute (sudden) diarrhea or chronic (longer term) diarrhea.
Diarrhea is a symptom that can be associated with many different health problems in dogs, including dietary indiscretion, intestinal parasites, inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal infections, organ dysfunction (diseases of the pancreas, kidneys, or liver, for example), food allergies or intolerances, toxin exposure, and cancer, among others.
Let’s look at some of the more common causes for diarrhea.
A sudden diet change
Eating something they shouldn't
Eating a foreign object
Exposure to a toxic substance
Irritable Bowel Disease
Liver or kidney disease
Any new food your dog is suddenly exposed to can cause diarrhea, whether this is due to a food change or something they should not have gotten into. When a new food substance is suddenly introduced to the gut, it can often cause an upset of the gut balance and result in soft stool.
If you start feeding your dog new food, it's recommended to mix the new food with the old and gradually increase the new and lower the old over about two weeks. If you moved your dog to a new diet recently and didn’t take time to gradually ease them in, diarrhea can certainly result.
As much as we try to prevent it, pups inevitably get their paws on things they shouldn't. Eating rotten food from the garbage or human food, for example, can cause diarrhea. In these instances, the case is usually mild and will pass on its own.
Parasites are another cause of diarrhea in dogs. These can be passed from dog to dog or result from drinking stagnant water from puddles or ponds.
If your dog has consumed a foreign object, they may have diarrhea and exhibit other signs such as vomiting, abdominal tenderness, or a lack of appetite. This is potentially a very serious issue, but your veterinarian can quickly determine if this is the cause. If a foreign object (this could include a dog toy as well) might be to blame for your pet’s diarrhea, you should get them to a vet as soon as you can.
Ingestion of certain plants, silica gel, medications, or certain human foods that can be toxic to dogs like chocolate or grapes, as well as other things around the house, could be the culprit if your dog has diarrhea. While the diarrhea could quickly pass, if you suspect this could be the case, it's important to talk to a vet to get to the bottom of it.
If your dog's diarrhea is a part of an allergic reaction, their body is trying to flush out the problem. This type of diarrhea can become a chronic problem if the offending ingredient/s are not removed from the diet. Signs that sometimes accompany this type of diarrhea could include other symptoms of allergies like runny eyes, sneezing, constant chewing or licking of the paws, increased scratching, and moist or scabbed skin.
Certain medications can have side effects that could be the reason why your dog’s stool has changed. Discuss this with your veterinarian if you notice a link, as a change in medication may be helpful.
If you see weight loss combined with more chronic diarrhea, then IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease) may be the cause of your dog's diarrhea. A vet can diagnose the condition and discuss treatment plans to get your dog back to good health.
Bacterial, viral, and protozoal infections can be serious causes for diarrhea. Bacterial infections can sometimes be picked up from eating improperly cooked meals, decaying vegetables, or raw meat that has been sitting out. Viral and protozoal infections are contagious and are picked up from direct or indirect contact with other pets.
Diseases of other organ systems can sometimes cause diarrhea. Liver and kidney disease are examples of this. This type of diarrhea will often be accompanied by more serious symptoms like a hunched over posture, not wanting to move, weight loss, vomiting, blood in the urine, lack of appetite, and an increase or decrease in urine production.
Ultimately, your veterinarian will need to make this determination, but it's important to get it diagnosed quickly. The sooner your dog gets diagnosed, the faster your vet can work to take appropriate action.
The treatment for dog diarrhea depends on the cause, severity, and complications like dehydration.
If your dog has diarrhea in the absence of other clinical signs, you can try the following steps to help:
Feed your dog several small meals a day using a bland diet. You can make a bland diet at home using some boiled white meat chicken and mixing it with rice. You can add some plain pumpkin puree to this diet to increase the fiber content. This diet can be used for about 2-3 days before transitioning back to their normal diet over about two days. Please note that puppies have very specific nutritional requirements and it is recommended you get a prescription intestinal diet from your vet that is fully balanced rather than using a home-made diet, especially if you have to use it for a number of days.
Add a probiotic supplement to the diet—it can help balance the gut bacteria and firm up the stool faster. Some probiotics will also contain kaolin and pectin which help firm up stool.
Encourage your dog to drink water to help keep them hydrated. You can also offer them ice cubes or add more water to their diet to encourage water intake if necessary.
If your dog’s diarrhea continues for longer than 24-48 hours or you see any other symptoms like an appetite loss, lethargy, or blood in the stool, it's time to take them to your vet who will determine the specific treatment based on how severe the clinical signs are.
Some treatment for dog diarrhea they may recommend could include:
Subcutaneous fluids (SQ) or intravenous fluids (IV) for dehydration
Antacids to coat the stomach
Medication to stimulate movement of the intestines
Dewormers in case parasites are present
A low fat, high fiber, bland diet
Home remedies for coating the stomach or increasing fiber, like adding more pumpkin or Metamucil into the food
Antibiotics or medications targeting the specific cause for the diarrhea
If you're monitoring your pup and they're not starting to feel better in a day or two, or if you also notice symptoms like lethargy and loss of appetite, reach out to a veterinarian who can help diagnose and treat your dog.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s always better to reach out to a vet sooner rather than later. If the situation is dire, the timing could make a big difference in your pet’s recovery process.
If you’re concerned about your dog’s condition, or even just want some insight on their behavior, you can talk to a vet online.
Reviewed and fact-checked by
Dr. Mari, DVM at Pawp