If you've owned a dog for any amount of time, you have experienced the joy of a dog with diarrhea. If you're lucky, your poor pooch got you out the door in time. If you're not lucky, well … you had some cleanup to do.
Normally, dog poop develops over an approximately 10-hour journey through the digestive tract and comes out as a firm but malleable brown log. Water, nutrients, and electrolytes are absorbed along the way. When something disrupts this process, food can go through the GI tract too quickly, resulting in a soft or even watery mess.
What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs?
There are many potential causes of diarrhea in dogs, but these are some of the most common:
This is often the culprit—when your dog eats something that he shouldn't have, like rotting vegetables out of the garbage, the turkey carcass off the counter, or an unidentified dead thing out in the yard.
Change in Diet
Switching to a new food too quickly can upset the GI tract.
Food Allergies and Intolerances
This is when your dog eats a non-food item, such as a toy or item of clothing. These items can get stuck in the GI tract and cause an obstruction. As well as diarrhea, an affected dog will also likely have abdominal pain, a poor appetite, and may vomit. Surgery may be required to remove the blockage.
These could include infections such as E. coli and Salmonella.
Including inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, or cancer.
Your veterinarian will warn you about medications that tend to have diarrhea as a side effect, but individual dogs may tolerate medications differently.
If your dog has ingested something toxic such as medications, toxic foods like chocolate or grapes and raisins, poisonous plants, toxic household cleaners, or pest control products, diarrhea can be a first sign of poisoning.
What Your Dog's Poop Can Tell You About Their Health
When Diarrhea Becomes a Health Emergency for Your Dog
Most cases of diarrhea are caused by dietary indiscretion, a diet change, or stress, and will resolve quickly on their own. However, if any of the following situations apply, call your veterinarian ASAP.
Diarrhea that lasts more than two days (risk of dehydration)
Diarrhea accompanied by vomiting (high risk of dehydration)
Diarrhea in a dog or puppy who is not fully vaccinated (diarrhea is one of the first signs of parvovirus, and catching it early can save your puppy’s life)
Black stool (the color of digested blood)
Grey, greasy-looking stool
Any time you are unsure
Bring a sample of your dog's stool with you to the vet's office if you can. Observing the stool in person can be helpful for determining the cause, and your veterinarian will likely run a fecal analysis and look at a small amount of the stool under a microscope for signs of parasites.
Other diagnostics might include blood work and radiographs (x-rays) depending on any other symptoms that your dog may have.
Dog Diarrhea Treatment and Home Remedies
Diarrhea in an otherwise healthy dog can be treated conservatively at home to start.
Fast your dog for 12-24 hours. No food or treats allowed, but keep fresh water available at all times. This gives your dog's GI tract a chance to calm down and reset.
After the fast, offer your dog a bland diet. Options include cooked white rice, plain canned pumpkin (not pie filling!), boiled skinless chicken breast, cooked pasta, boiled potatoes, and plain cooked lean hamburger. If your dog tolerates the bland diet well, the next day you can mix it with some of his regular food and slowly switch him back over to his normal food over the next few days. Many dogs enjoy their special bland foods, but these diets are not balanced and are not appropriate for long-term use. An alternative is to pick up a prescription food from your veterinary office that is designed to be gentle on the GI tract.
Prebiotics and probiotics can be beneficial for preventing and resolving diarrhea. These products can be given safely long-term or on an as-needed basis. Some dogs benefit from taking probiotics before and during stressful events like staying at a boarding kennel or moving. Not all supplements are created equal, so choose a product with the National Animal Supplement Council Quality Seal or that is recommended by your veterinarian.
If your dog is diagnosed with worms, your veterinarian will likely prescribe a dewormer. Most dogs benefit from being kept on a regular deworming schedule to prevent infections.
For more stubborn cases of diarrhea, your veterinarian will break out the antidiarrheal medications metronidazole (brand name Flagyl) or tylosin (brand name Tylan). These medications can be combined with other methods to get your dog's poop back to its proper texture.
Diarrhea Cleanup Tips
Clean messes promptly. While the smell may be terrible, it will be much easier to clean up before it sets.
Hose off dog beds, blankets, or throw rugs either outside or in the tub to remove fecal debris before putting the item in the washing machine. For items that can’t be machine washed, follow hosing with an appropriate spot cleaner.
For messes on carpeting, start by removing as much of the stool as possible, then blot the remaining mess with a damp towel or paper towels. Blotting helps to remove fecal debris without mashing it deeper into the carpet. When the towel comes back clean, use an appropriate carpet cleaner to address any stain or odor.
Don’t forget the dog! Fluffy and longhaired dogs in particular can get some diarrhea stuck on their hind ends. Give your dog a bath by gently hosing your dog off outside or in the tub, and follow with a dog-safe shampoo if needed.