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Dog owners know the worried feeling they get when they see that their furry friends are getting sick, especially if they start struggling with gastrointestinal symptoms like dog diarrhea. While there are many normal causes of dog diarrhea that are no cause for concern, some triggers may be more worrisome than others.
This post will walk you through the different kinds of dog diarrhea, their causes, and what you should do if you notice your dog suffering from stomach issues, such as diarrhea.
As we answer the question, “why does my dog have diarrhea?” here’s what we’ll cover in this guide:
- Causes of Dog Diarrhea
- What to do When Your Dog Has Diarrhea
- Dog Diarrhea: Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Notes
Causes Of Dog Diarrhea
Dog diarrhea definition: Diarrhea is soft or liquid stool produced often in large quantities and more frequently than healthy, solid stool. Diarrhea is the result of increased fecal material flow in the gut coupled with reduced absorption of water, nutrients, and electrolytes. It is often a sign of an underlying condition, such as those discussed in depth below.
Diarrhea can be a problem for dogs due to the diminished nutrients that they are able to absorb and its potential to cause dehydration. It can also be a sign of other potentially more serious underlying issues.
If you’re wondering, “What causes diarrhea in dogs?” review the list of common causes below to assess whether one of those causes may be responsible for your canine friend’s upset tummy.
- Dietary indiscretion:Essentially, this means eating something they shouldn’t have. Dogs will often explore the world with their mouth and ingest something off of the street or out of the garbage and this can lead to diarrhea. Most cases tend to be mild and resolve in a few days, but dietary indiscretion can lead to abdominal pain, vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite, and also cause other diseases such as pancreatitis.
- Diet changes: Similar to dietary indiscretion, a new diet might be the underlying cause of your dog’s diarrhea. When pets become accustomed to certain brands or types of food, suddenly switching it up can sometimes cause them to experience stomach problems. Your dog may adjust to their new diet on their own or you may need to restart the old food and more slowly try the new diet again.
- Food intolerance: If your dog does not grow accustomed to their new diet, there may be a chance that they have a food intolerance. Common causes are certain proteins that some dogs may struggle to digest, such as eggs, lamb, milk, or gluten. If your dog develops diarrhea after a food switch, it’s possible that they have an intolerance to an ingredient in their new diet.
- Allergies: Just like humans, dogs occasionally develop allergies to certain ingredients in their diet. If your dog has persistent diarrhea symptoms as well as other skin or ear issues, it could be due to an allergy. Unfortunately, there are no accurate tests for food allergies. If you suspect your dog may have a food allergy, a Dutch.com veterinarian can guide you through the process to identify the underlying cause.
Parasites: Parasites are common in dogs, especially dogs that frequently go outside, on grass, go to dog parks, or come in contact with other dog’s feces. Some of the most common parasites that dogs are susceptible to include:
- Poisonous substances or plants: As any dog owner knows, it can be hard to stop your dog from ingesting substances and plants they find while out and about. Often, this is harmless, but sometimes, they may accidentally ingest a substance, plant, or food that is poisonous for dogs. Because dogs have a different metabolism than humans, objects like chocolate, caffeine, and other methylxanthines, grapes, raisins, avocado, alcohol, and nuts can cause toxicity, resulting in symptoms such as diarrhea. Additionally, certain plants, like those in the allium family (i.e. garlic, shallots, leeks, onions) may cause toxicity when ingested. Depending on the object and amount ingested, the severity of symptoms may vary and may be accompanied by vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and difficulty breathing.1 If your dog has eaten a poisonous foreign object, get them to a vet immediately.
- Swallowing an indigestible object: As we noted, dogs will eat just about anything they set their minds to. If they eat a plastic toy, a large piece of wood, a sock, or some other indigestible object, this can irritate the lining of the gut and cause diarrhea. In some cases, the object will pass through your dog’s system without any further problems. However, some objects can get lodged in your dog’s digestive tract and may need to be removed by a vet.
- Infections with common viruses: Also like humans, dogs are susceptible to a large number of viruses. Common culprits for diarrhea include parvovirus, distemper, and canine enteric coronavirus (Note: The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is not the same coronavirus that causes diarrhea in dogs.)
- Bacterial infections: Eating raw or undercooked meat can lead to bacterial infections, such as E. coli or salmonella. Dogs with these infections can have bloody diarrhea, a fever, and become quite lethargic. If you suspect your dog has contracted a bacterial infection, it’s important to get them to a veterinarian quickly to be evaluated and started on appropriate treatment.
- Serious illnesses: While diarrhea most often has a more benign or acute cause, it’s possible that your dog’s diarrhea is a sign of a more serious underlying condition. Kidney disease, liver disease,, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer may all present as diarrhea in dogs. If you notice persistent diarrhea accompanied by other symptoms, your dog may need a more careful look and diagnosis. The earlier you catch a serious illness, the easier it is to treat.
- Antibiotics and other medications: Some medications cause diarrhea as a side effect. If your dog has recently started a new medication and is having diarrhea symptoms, inform your vet as they may need to change the medication or add other treatments to combat the diarrhea.
- Stress, anxiety, or emotional upset: Lastly, dogs can be sensitive and responsive to environmental and emotional stressors. Sometimes, diarrhea can be a symptom of anxiety. If your dog’s diarrhea persists even after other gastrointestinal diseases or ailments have been ruled out, it may be due to stress and anxiety. A Dutch-affiliated vet can help connect you and your dog with science-backed pharmaceuticals to help them overcome their anxiety and get back to tail-wagging at the park.
What To Do When Your Dog Has Diarrhea
If your dog is experiencing dog diarrhea, keep these simple dos and don’ts in mind as you figure out the root cause:
- Keep an eye on your dog’s bowel movement patterns
- Hold off on food for 12 hours to let your dog’s digestive system reset
- Keep your dog’s diet simple
- Keep them away from undigestible foreign objects
- Talk to your veterinarian to get an expert opinion
- Rapidly switch up your dog’s diet (if a diet change is needed, it’s a good idea to do so slowly)
- Allow your dog to go outside without your supervision
- Wait until the last minute to contact your vet—and be sure to bring a stool sample with you when you go so that your vet can check for parasites
When To Schedule A Visit With The Vet
If you’re worried about your dog’s diarrhea, it’s probably time to schedule a vet visit. While there are many causes of diarrhea that are not worrisome, there are other causes that need immediate professional attention from a vet.
How To Describe Your Dog’s Diarrhea To A Vet
Vets will want to know the Purina Fecal Score as well as a few key other pieces of information.2 How many times a day are they defecating? Is the amount of feces being produced each time a large amount or small amount? Are they straining when they defecate? Is the diarrhea mucus coated?
The following descriptions, according to the Purina Fecal Scoring system, can be used to help describe your dog’s diarrhea to your vet:
- Score 1: Very hard and dry, usually individual pellets, dog is visibly struggling to expel, no residue left when picked up.
- Score 2 (ideal stool): Firm but not hard, segmented, pliable, little to no residue remaining when picked up.
- Score 3: Log-shaped, moist, minimal segmentation, leaves some residue on ground when picked up, but holds firm.
- Score 4: Soggy, very moist, log-shaped, loses form and leaves residue when picked up.
- Score 5: Very moist, distinct pile shape, leaves residue, and loses form when picked up.
- Score 6: Texture but no defined shape, looks like piles or spots, leaves residue when picked up.
- Score 7: Watery with no texture, presents as puddles.
If your dog’s diarrhea does not resolve quickly within a couple of days, or diarrhea is accompanied by other symptoms like lethargy, vomiting, or abnormal behavior, it’s time to get your dog to the vet. In many cases, a telemedicine visit can help determine the cause of the diarrhea and if an in-person visit is warranted. Dutch can be an effective and efficient solution. Contact us to find out more.
Dog Diarrhea: Frequently Asked Questions
When should I be concerned about my dog’s diarrhea?
If your dog’s diarrhea doesn’t resolve quickly (within a day or two), it may be caused by an underlying condition that needs professional medical treatment. If your dog experiences other symptoms, pain, or discomfort alongside diarrhea, this can also be a sign that something more serious is wrong.
When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to reach out to your vet. Even if the cause seems minor, such as ingesting old food from outside, getting a professional opinion is always worthwhile.
What do you give a dog for diarrhea?
It’s smart to contact a vet before giving your dog anything for diarrhea. Your dog may become dehydrated from diarrhea, so plenty of water should be available to them. A bland diet can be offered while you are waiting to see your veterinarian.
How long does dog diarrhea last?
The duration of dog diarrhea just depends on the cause. If your dog has an allergy or intolerance to a protein in their food, and you keep feeding them that food, then the dog diarrhea may never go away. However, if your dog simply has an upset stomach due to a stressful event (such as a thunderstorm) this may resolve within hours or days.
If your dog’s diarrhea persists for multiple days, it may be a sign of something more serious. At that point, working with a vet is a good idea.
Why does my dog have diarrhea but is acting normal?
If your dog has diarrhea but is otherwise acting normal, they may just be having a minor reaction to something they ate. However, in some cases, bacterial or viral infections may be causing gastrointestinal symptoms and discomfort, even if it seems your dog is acting normally.
Even if your dog’s behavior seems normal, if they have persistent diarrhea, getting them to a vet is a smart idea. Some parasites and infections may take longer to present further symptoms, and catching these illnesses early is always helpful for your pet’s health.
For pet owners struggling with dog diarrhea caused by allergies or anxiety, Dutch telemedicine can be an effective way to get science-backed relief. Our network of vets are experienced in assessing the signs of allergies and anxiety in dogs and can connect you with the prescription you need to keep your pet feeling healthy at an affordable rate.
Dr. Evans is the Clinical Director of Dutch and the owner of Coastal Animal Hospital.
Kovalkovičová, Natália, et al. “Some Food Toxic for Pets.” Interdisciplinary Toxicology, Slovak Toxicology Society SETOX, Sept. 2009, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984110/.
“Diarrhea.” The Animal Medical Center, 21 Sept. 2020, https://www.amcny.org/pet_health_library/diarrhea/.