Thursday, January 29, 2015

Symptoms to Watch for In Your Dog: Diarrhea

No doubt. You're unlikely to miss your dog having diarrhea.

It isn't a matter of careful observation, rather, it's a question of what to do about it.


The first thing on your mind is probably how to stop it. But while sometimes diarrhea develops for a straightforward reason, such as garbage gut or dietary indiscretion, it can also be a symptom of a more complicated situation. In these cases, treating the symptom will not cure the disease.

To top it all off, diarrhea can be caused by problems that don’t originate in the gut itself.

Focus too much on the diarrhea and you’ll miss what’s really going on. We want the diarrhea to stop but we need to treat the cause in order to do that effectively.

When your dog gets diarrhea, it is important to consider the big picture. 

How bad is the diarrhea? Is there also vomiting? Is the dog lethargic? Not interested in food? Does the dog look or act sick? The longer your list of problems the faster you should be seeking veterinary attention.

Note: A sick puppy is always an emergency. Don’t put your puppy’s life at risk by trying to treat them at home without first having them examined by a veterinarian.
Think back.

Did your dog get into something they shouldn't? Eat something unusual or suspicious? Did you start a new food or medication? Have there been any major changes in your dog's life? Even if they have not had access or gotten into anything it is possible to have a tainted piece of food in the bowl.

Abrupt change in food, food items your dog isn't used to, garbage gut, even stress, excitement and strenuous exercise can result in diarrhea.

When JD got diarrhea we definitely had a suspect. While on a walk he snatched and ate part of an unidentified carcass. Because we did have a suspect and he looked normal otherwise, we decided to try a 24-hour fast  followed by bland meals to see whether his gut will settle down. It did.

Acute diarrhea from a dietary indiscretion should start to improve within 24 hours.

JD's did last 48 hours but because it was not an emergency and it was on the weekend when the vet was closed, we decided to wait another day. If it hadn't resolved by then, we would have taken him in. Also, if his overall condition had gotten worse (he started vomiting or looking sick) we would have taken him in.

On the other hand, on the day Cookie clearly didn't feel well, if she had just one episode of diarrhea, we would have taken her in.

Severe, explosive, unrelenting diarrhea is an emergency.

Stool with blood in it calls for medical attention. Digested blood makes the feces appear black and tarry.

If your dog continues to have diarrhea for longer than a day or two, you need to see a vet. I would not wait any longer than that.

Just once we waited longer, only to regret it. With her IBD, Jasmine had diarrhea fairly often. She was typically put on metronidazole, which is an antibiotic but also decreases inflammation in the gut. Every now and then Jasmine's diarrhea would resolve on its own. Hoping that it might do that and trying to avoid yet another course of antibiotics, we decided to wait a second day to see if things improve. By then end of the day she had blood in her diarrhea.

Large or small intestinal diarrhea?

Small intestinal diarrhea tends to be the worse of the two. The main job of the small intestine is digestion and nutrient and fluid absorption. When it's not working properly it not only results in diarrhea but dogs may also not be getting the nutrition they need.

Common causes of small intestinal diarrhea can be quite scary, including parvovirus. Other possibilities include other viral infections, parasites, bacterial or fungal infections, poisoning, an abrupt deficiency in glucocorticoids (Addison’s disease),  pancreatic disease, garbage gut, inflammatory bowel disease, cancers, systemic disease (e.g. liver or kidney failure), and hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

With small intestinal diarrhea, your dog might not have to go more than two to four times a day but they will produce huge amounts of very wet stool. If there is blood in the stool it will be dark, digested blood. With ongoing small intestinal diarrhea, your dog can start losing weight.


A dog with acute large intestinal diarrhea will need to go frequently, usually in a hurry. He is likely to strain while defecating and pass smaller volume of feces at a time. There can be fresh blood or mucus in the stool. There is no loss of nutrients and a dog with ongoing lower intestinal diarrhea will generally not lose weight.

Large intestinal diarrhea can be caused by parasites, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, bacteria, fungal infections, garbage gut and other dietary issues.

When dogs have conditions that affect both the large and small intestine, a combination of symptoms can be seen.

When to take a dog to the vet?

Diarrhea is such a common problem that most people want to treat it on their own. After all, we don’t see the doctor every time we get diarrhea. Many home remedies, such as a 24-hour fast, bland food, and adding fiber or probiotics to the diet can be helpful. But diarrhea is not a disease, it is a symptom of one. Trying to treat diarrhea without understanding the cause behind it is often counterproductive and can be dangerous.

The first step is figuring out what caused it.

To recap, diarrhea can be caused by any of the following things (and more!).
  • Dietary indiscretion
  • Diet change
  • Foreign body/obstruction
  • Food allergy or intolerance
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Bacterial infections
  • Viral infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Toxins
  • Pancreatic disease
  • Auto-immune
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer
  • Addison's disease
Do you still feel confident that you can always deal with your dog's diarrhea on your own?


Related articles:
A Tale of Many Tails—and What Came Out From Underneath (part I)
Acute Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Acute Large Intestinal Diarrhea (Acute Colitis)
hronic Large Intestinal Diarrhea
Chronic Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Gastroenteritis is when ... 

Veterinarians Answer: 10 Main Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog 
Symptoms: Recognition, Acknowledgement And Denial
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Panting
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drinking
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Bad Odor 
Symptoms to Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Drooling  
What Can Your Dog's Gums And Tongue Tell You? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Coughing 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Excessive Head Shaking  
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: What Is That Limp? 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Nose Bleeds (Epistaxis)
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Unexplained Weight Loss
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Loss Of Appetite  
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Lethargy 
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Fever (Pyrexia)
Symptoms To Watch For In Your Dog: Regurgitation
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Changes in Urination/Urinary Accidents 
Whats In The Urine? (Part I: What You Can Notice On Your Own)
What's In The Urine? (Part II: Urinalysis)
Don't Panic, Don't Panic: Know What Your Job Is 

Further reading:
Diarrhea in Dogs
Acute (Sudden) Dog Diarrhea
Diarrhea in Dogs

37 comments

  1. Thanks for a very well put together post on a topic that I"m sure a lot of people need to be aware of.

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    1. Thank you, Patty. The main question is when to bring a dog to the vet.

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  2. Great reminders! As unpleasant as picking up the doggy doody can be, it is so great to be able to assess their health!

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    1. Understanding what is happening, and what needs to be done about it, is crucial.

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  3. Great post, thanks! I'm definitely one of those people who runs to the vet pretty quickly, but if the upset tummy doesn't seem too bad the first day I immediately switch my dog to small meals of just plain white rice & boiled chicken, which our vet had recommended w/ past incidents. It usually settles the tummy in a day or two, but if not we're off to the vet.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Cathy, Isis & Phoebe
    www.dogsluvusandweluvthem.blogspot.com

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    1. With mild and short-lasting diarrhea, there is no need to panic. It is important to be able to tell when the situation is dire or when it's been going on too long.

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  4. I've had far too much experience with gut upset for my liking, but thankfully it has mostly been the large intestine kind and some time and monitoring have been enough. One easy thing to check is hydration by lifting the skin on an area like the foreleg. If the skin doesn't immediately drop back down and smooth out, that is a sign of dehydration. (Oddly enough, that tip was not covered in the first aid class)

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    1. That is a very good tip, thank you, Julia.

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  5. Oh my goodness that photo from the Shining... lol. My last dog Carter got Giardia once and it's something I'll never forget. Luckily that's the only time we've had a diarrhea problem around here, and our vet was able to get him on meds and feeling well quickly.

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    1. Yeah, it is. Though it's better than showing actual photo of parvo diarrhea ;-)

      Guardia can be nasty and hard to diagnose. Glad you got on top of it.

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  6. This was a great post. Though I'm usually okay with vomiting, I know very little about the Big D. I normally give it 24 hours to clear up, and if it doesn't sub q fluids and a trip to the doc are norms for us. But thanks for explaining things a bit more, especially what small intestine D can be.

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    1. Going to a vet if things don't settle down after 24 hours is a good policy.

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  7. It's always worrisome when my dogs have diarrhea, I usually try to give it a day to improve before going to the vet's. Your post will help many people, myself included, know what to look for and when to rush to the vet's.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Peggy. I'm sure you have things under control!

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  8. Recently my brother got the runs…..the only thing that changed? My dadz , who works from home, went on a business trip - the little dude was upset! He got some yogurt and some extra hugs - and he firmed up! :) Great article - thanks for compiling all the good info in one place!

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    Replies
    1. Poor guy. Yes, excitement or stress can cause diarrhea. Glad the extra hugs helped.

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  9. Excellent post. I was told by my vet from the beginning to always watch out for changes in stool as a sign for other health problems. Just another reason to scoop that poop!

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    Replies
    1. Changes in stools, changes in urination, any changes really.

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  10. Awesome article. Thanks for sharing. I will do the same.

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  11. So far we've been lucky. Any time one of our dogs has had diarrhea, we already knew that they had eaten something they weren't supposed to. Thanks for the tips on when to call the vet!

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    Replies
    1. That always helps. Nothing like knowing what's behind the problem.

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  12. Usually when Koly's tummy is upset, I blame "street food" (oh the joys of living on the same block as a 7-11), but if it doesn't clear up fairly quickly, wehead to the vet. Koly has an iron stomach, so any upset is cause for concern.

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    1. Cookie used to find all kinds of edibles and not-so-edibles back in Kitchener too. People just throw anything anywhere. Up here it's more of the wild stuff. What JD ate must have been discarded by hunters and who knows how long it was there. I tell Cookie to eat only what is still warm ;-)

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  13. Great information. This is always an issue with Mauja and Atka because they have sensitive tummies. However, I know what is 'normal' for them now and when to be concerned.

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    1. That is the most important thing - knowing what is normal. Though as a note, we always though Jasmine had a sensitive tummy and eventually it turned out that she had IBD. So it's always important to be cautious before labeling a tummy as sensitive.

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  14. Always a great reminder for people to watch their pets closely and to get help. Having had a dog with IBD I can understand and thank you for this piece.

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    1. Thank you, Carol. Knowing one's dog and knowing when things are serious is so important, though not always as easy.

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  15. A really well-written informative post. We have a cat with IBD so are all too familiar with the need to watch what goes in and what comes out.

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    1. So sorry about your cat's IBD. Jasmine had it too. That's when I became closely familiar with the poop business.

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  16. Great information here. Dietary indiscretion seems to have historical been when my dogs have had stomach issues.

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    1. Dogs seem to love getting into bad things. As long as it causes just a minor upset, all is good.

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  17. Thank you for this important information. As much as I am not a fan of picking up poop, I know how important it is! It is can be one of the first red flags that something isn't quite right. Fortunately, we haven't run into any issues so far!

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    1. So glad you haven't had any issues. Gotta know your poop ;-)

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  18. I am always very watchful when it comes to upset stomachs around here. Having gone through HGE twice with Indiana we are very careful.

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    1. I hear you, I'd be watching like a hawk too. Hopefully you'll never have to go through that again.

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  19. I am always sure to watch Rooney and make sure he has regular/normal poops. Diarrhea can be a true sign that something is wrong with their health. Thanks for the great article!

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    Replies
    1. Yes, while what goes into the body impacts health, what comes out of the body reflects health.

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