Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Tale of Many Tails—and What Came Out From Underneath Stories from My Diary-rrhea (part I)

by Dr. Laci, aka, Dr. Poop

Many times throughout my career, I have felt I should just change my name to Dr. Poop.  It is a big part of my unglamorous yet rewarding profession, and I often feel like I am a genuine poop doctor.

There is hard poop, liquid poop, soft-serve poop, even blue poop! 

Just upon smell, I can tell you what species of animal it came from—dog, cat, pig, cattle, horse, you name it, and when it's diarrhea, I can even occasionally diagnose the cause of the illness.  (Don't hold me, or your vet, to this one please.)

We all know what diarrhea is, and chances are you have had to cancel a Friday night dinner, whether it was due to your own GI malfunction, or if you had to otherwise spend hours scrubbing your dog's diarrhea out of your white carpet--because well, that's just where it always happens.

carpet cleaning

But there is a lot more to learn about that perma-stain than you ever imagined.

Allow me to share some inside veterinary scoop from Dr. Poop.

Diarrhea is as much of a big nasty topic to try to write about as it is to clean up.

Starting from the beginning, diarrhea is the result of primary gastrointestinal (GI) disease or systemic conditions that consequentially affect the GI tract (such as kidney disease).  

This is one of the first things that your veterinarian is considering when your bring in your squirting pooooch.

For instance, an otherwise healthy Fido with acute diarrhea that isn't otherwise affected is likely to respond well to supportive therapy alone—fluids, holding off on food, etc.  This is an example of a holistic rationale that is widely supported across traditional veterinary medicine; if the body's GI tract is inflamed, reduce food intake.  This patient may not need extensive testing or treatment unless the problem recurs.

(Disclaimer:  Sometimes acute diarrhea in otherwise healthy-acting dogs can develop into a life-threatening situation.  The disease may just be so early that the patient isn't otherwise clinically affected, but they will soon be.

Back to the point, if Fido's diarrhea is continuous or recurrent, whether or not he is otherwise affected, this is where we have to dive in with more diagnostics.

I have gotten ahead of myself. So far we've broken down diarrhea into 1) GI origins and 2) non-GI origins, but I slipped another category in on you:  acute vs. chronic.

Generally speaking, acute diarrhea means it has been continuously happening for less than two weeks.

Chronic diarrhea has been present for more than 2 weeks, however, there is some variation based on who you ask.  You get the gist though.

Yet another way veterinarians classify diarrhea is where it comes from.

You may be thinking, "hey dummy, all diarrhea comes from the same place." You may think my Dr. Poop alias should be revoked, but don't worry, I have a point.

Diarrhea originates from either the small intestine or the large intestine.  

Finding out which place it comes from gives us a lot of information, and a thorough initial history of the problem and observation of the patient (you may know I repeatedly harp on both of these points) will allow us to determine where those runny stools are running from.

To further confuse you, or perhaps you aren't learning anything new yet, there is a gray/brown zone where Fido exhibits signs of both small and large bowel diarrhea, which we refer to as "mixed intestinal signs."

A side note worth mentioning, even worthy of another story, is “the” severe diarrhea.  

Anytime your pet has explosive, severe, diarrhea, take your pet to the vet ER stat!

Severe diarrhea would include continual bouts of liquid movements, bloody or black diarrhea (bad!), or your pet is exhibiting other clinical signs of illness—not wanting to play, lethargy, etc.

For the purposes of this blog series, I would like to try and keep it simple and divide and conquer four different categories:
  • acute small intestinal diarrhea
  • chronic small intestinal diarrhea
  • acute large intestinal diarrhea, and
  • chronic large intestinal diarrhea. 
Look for part II where I will share some veterinary knowledge on acute small intestinal diarrhea.

Related articles:
A Tale of Many Tails—and What Came Out From Underneath Stories from My Diary-rrhea (part I)
Acute Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Acute Large Intestinal Diarrhea (Acute Colitis)
hronic Large Intestinal Diarrhea
Chronic Small Intestinal Diarrhea

Laci Schaible has always been an animal lover and wanted to be a veterinarian since the third grade. Eager to actualize her dreams, she left home and started college with a full scholarship at the age of 16. She graduated with honors at the age of 19, and then became one of the youngest U.S. trained veterinarians in history when she graduated with her D.V.M. at the age of 23 from Texas A&M University.

After practicing as an associate at an emergency / referral and general practice small animal hospital, she was anxious to lead and manage her own hospital, which she successfully did for years. Performing surgeries with her husband Jed (also a vet) is one of her favorite aspects of practice.

Together, after losing their beloved family dog Madison to terminal cancer, Laci and Jed realized the need for pet owners to have affordable unbiased guidance for their pet's health care beyond their veterinarian with office hours. 

Jed's entrepreneurial genes and Laci's creative passion motivated them to fill this need, and was born.  Check out their blog for a mix of pet health advice, funny stories from the vet perspective, and even cool video blogs from Dr. Jed!

You can also follow Dr. Laci on Twitter  or VetLive on Twitter  or Facebook.


  1. this is a great article. I will never look at poop the same. thanks so much dr laci for sharing your knowledge with us. looking forward to your next article.

  2. Dear Betty. I was very happy when Dr. Laci agreed to write on this topic for us. I myself have learned the hard way how important it is to pay attention to poop.


  4. It's like not checking messages on your phone :-)

  5. This gal has a good nose. Good article; Keep em coming.

  6. When we first adopted Opie he had some of these poop issues. We went to the vet. He got medication, fluids and special dog food. Luckily, it was a combination of nerves ( we were his 3rd home in 5 months) and some bad suggestions regarding "raw" food. Why would I feed my dog something I wouldn't eat under and internal temp of 180 degrees. He's fine now.

    Innova Dog chow makes for consistently firm but poop and ZERO gas. His tummy's in better shape than the humans in the family! :)


    Come see my blog. You can come or have Jasmine visit. :)

  7. Dear Lilli

    Yes, there are many different reasons for poop problems.

    I should note that there are many people who feed their dogs raw diets and the dogs thrive on it. Depends on bunch of things. Jasmine's system probably wouldn't be able to handle raw either - but than maybe that's just my superstition ...

    Jasmine is on home-cooked.

    Wags to Opie! :-)

  8. Lilli,

    Glad that Opie's got a great food that works well with his system. I wish I could get my husband's GI system that stable!

    Thanks for reading!

  9. Thanks for posting.....although I wish my life wasn't quite so full of poop right now....but with two labs, that don't have discriminating palates, what can I expect....
    Our vet keeps us supplied with a back up dose of "Metro"....some Rx "Low Residue" food (both canned and dry....and a couple cans of pumpkin....that way we can discuss the "poop" and avoid the midnight trips to the vet....
    Oh, we've also added Forti-Flora to the daily routine, seems to keep the emergencies down to only every 4 - 6 months!!!

  10. Hi Jennifer & Jenks,

    It is good that you are working with your vet. If they are indeed associated with eating inappropriate things, I'd really try working on preventing this--difficult I know, especially with big dogs that can help themselves to lots. Repeatedly using antibiotics blindly can lead to some negative side effects down the road, so I would proceed with caution!

    If the true cause is dietary indiscretion, prevention is easier than treating a medical cause for diarrhea, but if a medical cause is missed this can be very dangerous to just treat symptomatically. I do love the pumpkin! Keep talk to and working with your vet. Glad you enjoyed the article.