What’s in the Poop? (Part I)

The longer I’ve been a dog mom, the more attention I’ve learned to pay to poop. It started with Jasmine who had ongoing poop issues from the day she came to us. After years of being left in the dark, she was finally diagnosed with IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease). Every time her stool was normal, it made my day brighter.

Purina Fecal Scoring System

Why does it matter what poop looks like?

Our guys get a bad poop every now and then. This is more of a reflection of what they got into than an actual health issue. If the abnormalities continue though, I look into figuring out what’s behind it. When the stools are consistently or chronically abnormal, you need to investigate.

What I consider ideal poop could be best described as hand-rolled chocolate cookie dough—brown, well-shaped, firm but not hard, kind of segmented.

What’s in the consistency?

To some degree, consistency can depend on the dog and their diet. However, stool shouldn’t be consistently too hard or too loose. Which brings me back to the cookie dough.

Diarrhea is a more common problem than constipation for dogs. In fact, people often think that their dog is constipated when in fact they have diarrhea. Lots of straining with nothing coming out can be a sign of large bowel diarrhea as well as constipation. It is important not to try to treat constipation without having a solid confirmation (pun kind of intended).

Constipation may simply be caused by insufficient fiber and water intake but can also have a more serious underlying cause.

With Jasmine, I kept a detailed chart where I entered day-to-day information, including her stool quality and number of bowel movements. There are official fecal scoring charts out there, going into various amount of detail. For Jasmine, I was using 5 values with 5 being ideal and 1 being watery (Jasmine didn’t have problems with constipation). The most typical scoring system goes to 7 with 1 being constipated and 7 being watery. (I came up with my own scoring back then before I knew there were systems in place already)

Nothing – it’s not good when a lot of straining and hunching doesn’t produce any poop at all. Your dog could be constipated or even blocked up. As mentioned above, though, severe diarrhea and colitis can cause similar symptoms. In either case, see a vet.

Small, dry, hard pellets – yes, that’s constipation.  A couple of times Cookie got hard stools from eating too many bones and not enough vegetables. I immediately corrected that and things went back to normal. Constipation can have serious causes and effects. If Cookie had hard poops for more than one or two bowel movements and it didn’t resolve with adjusting her food, I’d take her to the vet.

Firm but not hard, dry logs that look segmented
– that’s good poop in my books. With Jasmine, every time she had a poop like that, we celebrated.

Moist and soggy but still formed – this kind of poop gets me in an alert mode. Something isn’t quite right. JD and Cookie get these every now and then with the next poop being normal again. Something didn’t sit right but all is now good. When Jasmine got these, it meant her IBD was starting to act up. If my dog had these type of stools consistently, I’d investigate.

– poop that loses its form once it hits the ground; there is texture to it but it doesn’t hold shape. The gut isn’t happy. When it continues for more than one or two bowel movements, it’s time to do something. Could mean intestinal parasites, such as Giardia, intestinal infections (bacterial, viral or fungal), immune/inflammatory disorders, metabolic diseases (e.g., liver failure), heart disease, cancer, and more.

Watery – the gut is really unhappy. When Jasmine got these, her gut was in trouble. Large volumes of watery diarrhea, with or without blood in it, can be an emergency particularly in smaller dogs and puppies.

Stay tuned for other aspects of poop, such as color, coating, etc.

Related articles:
What's in the Poop (part II)
Symptoms to Watch for In Your Dog: Diarrhea
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

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