diarrhea in dogs

Diarrhea in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Strategies

Every dog will struggle with the occasional bout of diarrhea. And although it can be a bit distressing for canines and their owners (and necessitate adjustments to your daily walking routine), diarrhea in dogs is rarely indicative of a serious health problem.

Usually, dog diarrhea occurs because a canine has become stressed, licked the wrong patch of grass or ate something that upset his stomach. The problem will usually run its course, and a day or two later, he’ll start producing regular bowel movements again.

However, diarrhea can occasionally signify the presence of a serious health issue that’ll necessitate a trip to the vet. We’ll explain the difference between a typical bout of diarrhea and one that should elicit concern, and we’ll share a few tips for helping your dog get past the problem and feel better as quickly as possible.

But, if you are in a hurry, feel free to skip down to the bottom of this post and check out our dog diarrhea FAQ section.

Diarrhea in Dogs: What to Expect

Generally speaking, diarrhea in dogs occurs just like it does in humans – it’s not a tricky thing to recognize. But new dog owners are often caught off guard when their dog suffers his first bout of diarrhea, so it’s important to know what to expect.

Dogs suffering from diarrhea usually exhibit very loose, runny or watery stools. Their stools may also be off-color, and they will often contain undigested bits of food. Often, the quantity of waste produced greatly exceeds that which is normal for your dog.

Sometimes diarrhea contains traces of blood. This blood may appear very dark brown or black if it originates from high in the digestive system, or it may appear bright red if it originates in the lower portions of the intestine or rectum.

Cramping, bloating and abdominal pain are commonly associated with diarrhea, and your pet may also strain or appear to have difficulty evacuating his bowels completely. Your dog may need to “go” several times in a short period of time, and the urge to do so may strike suddenly. Many dogs also become quite gassy while coping with such intestinal issues.

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Common Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs

It is important to note that diarrhea is a symptom, rather than a disease. In fact, it is one of the body’s defense mechanisms, and it allows a dog to empty his digestive tract in relatively quick fashion. Doing so helps get rid of anything unhealthy he has eaten or any pathogens swimming around in his intestines. Diarrhea can also occur in response to illnesses or extreme emotions.

A few of the most common causes of diarrhea in dogs include:

  • Gastroenteritis (AKA “stomach flu”)
  • Parasites, including roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, pinworms or protozoans
  • Viruses
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    Bacteria
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    Eating food contaminated with Salmonella, E. coli, or other pathogenic bacteria
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    Exceptionally fatty or rich food
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    Toxic foods (including chocolate, grapes and xylitol, among other things)
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    Poisonous substances (household cleaners, etc.)
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    Eating too much food at one time
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    Stress
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    Allergies
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    Food Intolerances
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    Rapid food changes
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    Inflammation of the intestines
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    Organ dysfunction
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    Systemic illnesses
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    Antibiotics and other medications
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Serious Symptoms of Diarrhea in Dogs: When to Worry

As with humans and most other animals, diarrhea is usually a minor problem that resolves on its own in a brief time. However, it can also be a sign of a serious illness that’ll necessitate veterinary attention. A few such illnesses are potentially lethal, so you’ll definitely want to be observant anytime your dog suffers from diarrhea.

In most cases, diarrhea will come on relatively suddenly and last for about 24 to 48 hours before your dog’s elimination habits return to normal. Many dogs may feel a bit under the weather while suffering from diarrhea, and they may lose interest in food too (others will continue to eat ravenously).

As long as your dog doesn’t exhibit any additional symptoms and starts feeling normal again within a day or two, you probably don’t need to visit the vet, unless your dog is very young or old, pregnant or immunocompromised.

It is, however, still a good idea to pick up the phone and discuss the issue with your vet. This is particularly true for new dog owners, who aren’t as likely to notice other, often subtle, symptoms that may indicate the presence of a more serious condition.

On the other hand, if your dog is already battling other health problems, or the diarrhea lasts longer than a few days, or it occurs along with any of the symptoms listed below, you’ll want to head on over to the vet (bring a fresh sample of your dog’s feces in a sealed plastic bag if you can):

  • Vomiting
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    Lethargy
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    Fever
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    Dry gums
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    Weakness
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    Dizziness
  • Confusion
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    Obvious pain
  • Limping

It is also important to contact your vet if your dog is currently taking any medications – even if he exhibits no other troubling symptoms. Some medications can cause long-lasting diarrhea, and your vet will want to address the issue promptly.

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Treating Diarrhea in Dogs

The best way to treat your dog’s diarrhea will depend on the duration, severity and cause of the problem. We’ll break down the best ways to treat the problem based on these factors below.

Mild, Short-Term Diarrhea

If the diarrhea is relatively mild and resolves within a few hours, you probably won’t have to do anything. This is particularly true if your dog appears to be in good spirits, acting normally and exhibits a typical appetite.

However, it’s a good idea to reduce the size of your dog’s next meal a bit. This will help his stomach and intestines recover a bit and help prevent diarrhea from recurring. Also, make sure he’s properly hydrated by encouraging him to drink plenty of water. If your dog isn’t a good drinker, you could give him a few ice cubes to eat – most dogs love chewing on ice cubes.

Try to get him to take it easy for about 24 hours, but he probably won’t need any further treatment or supportive care. Just be sure to monitor him carefully and be ready to act if the diarrhea returns.

Moderate Diarrhea that Lasts 12 Hours or More

If your dog has suffered from diarrhea all day long, you’ll want to ramp up your response a bit. Diarrhea that lasts 12 hours or so doesn’t necessarily require veterinary attention, but you’ll want to do what you can to stop it and be ready to contact your vet if it doesn’t resolve quickly.

It is usually a good idea to withhold food for about 12 to 24 hours if your dog’s diarrhea doesn’t resolve within a few hours. This will allow his intestinal tract to clear completely, and it will also let the inflammation subside a bit before taxing his digestive tract with more food.

Not all dogs can safely tolerate fasts, so be sure to get your vet’s approval before doing so. It is also very important to keep him as hydrated as possible during this time, as diarrhea can rob your dog’s body of water and electrolytes.

After fasting for 12 to 24 hours, you can try to feed your dog again if the diarrhea has stopped. But don’t plop down a heaping bowl of food in front of him – give him about ¼ to ½ as much food as you normally would, to make things easy for his digestive system.

Some owners and vets prefer to feed recovering dogs their typical food, but others prefer to offer any of several human foods, which may help soothe his stomach and firm up his stools. Most such foods are easy for dogs to digest and unlikely to trigger further irritation.

Some of the best foods to try in this context include:

  • Canned pumpkin (Nummy Tum Tum Pure Pumpkin for Pets is a great choice, as it is specifically designed for dogs)
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    White rice
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    Cottage cheese
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    Boiled potatoes (peeled)
  • Yogurt
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    Boiled, skinless chicken or turkey
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    Hard-boiled eggs (crumbled)

Severe Diarrhea, Lasting More than 24 to 48 Hours

If these types of home remedies do not work, your dog’s diarrhea continues for more than a day or two, or your dog exhibits other signs that may indicate a more serious issue, you’ll need your vet’s help.

Your vet will usually begin by taking a detailed history and performing a physical examination. He or she will palpate your dog’s abdomen, listen to the sounds his bowels make and check for other signs of illness or dysfunction. The vet will also examine any fecal sample provided, often with the help of a microscope or other tools.

In many cases, this level of investigation will allow your vet to diagnose the problem and recommend an appropriate therapy. But in some cases, more extensive tests will be ordered to better understand the problem. Such tests may include blood work, x rays or ultrasounds, among others. In some cases, the ultimate cause of your dog’s diarrhea may never be determined.

If a cause is found, your vet will begin by treating it first (your vet will likely administer IV fluids as well, to help counteract the dehydration that typically accompanies severe diarrhea). For example, if your dog is infested with parasites, your vet will likely begin by prescribing or administering anti-parasitic medications.

Alternatively, if your dog’s diarrhea seems to be caused by stress, he or she may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication or recommend other therapies to help your dog feel better. Your vet may also administer or prescribe medications that are designed to calm down your dog’s stomach and firm up his stools.

After figuring out the problem and providing you with a treatment strategy, your vet will probably recommend feeding your dog small meals until he is feeling better. He or she may even recommend feeding your dog an alternative food (such as one based around the stomach-soothing ingredients listed above) until your dog recovers fully.

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Medications and Other Home Remedies

Your vet may treat severe cases of diarrhea with a prescription medication (either administered during the office visit or at home). However, there are a number of over-the-counter medications, supplements and other products that may help stop mild to moderate cases.

In fact, it is a good idea to keep a few of these remedies on hand, so that you’ll have them ready in case your dog needs treatment. You don’t want to be forced to wait several days for delivery while your dog is suffering.  

Over-the-Counter Medications

There are a few over-the-counter medications that may provide your dog with some relief. Some are specifically designed for dogs, but others are usually used by people. Most are typically considered safe for dogs (except as noted), but you should give your vet a call before administering them.

Also, be sure to avoid any human medication that contains xylitol, which is extremely toxic to dogs. Xylitol may appear in any medication (it is an artificial sweetener), but it is most common in soft-gels and fast-dissolving films.

1. Lambert Kay Pet Pectillin Diarrhea Medication for Dogs

Lambert Kay’s Diarrhea Medication for Dogs is specifically designed to treat loose, watery or frequent stools in canines. This product contains both pectin and kaolin to help settle your dog's stomach. The former coats and protects the gastrointestinal tract, while the latter slows the passage of feces and promotes the excretion of toxins.

Lambert Kay Diarrhea Medication is made in the USA, and it is designed to be mixed in with your dog’s food. It generally achieves the intended results in 48 to 72 hours.

2. Vet Solutions Pro-Pectalin Anti-Diarrheal Tablets for Dogs

Vet Solution’s anti-diarrheal product is similar to the one produced by Lambert Kay, and it contains two of the same active ingredients: pectin and kaolin. As in the other medication, these ingredients help to coat the digestive tract, increase the bulk of your dog’s stools, and slow the passage of feces through the digestive tract.

However, Vet Solutions Pro-Pectalin Tablets also contain Enterococcus faecium, a beneficial bacterial strain that can help regulate intestinal function and out-compete harmful bacteria. The tablets are chicken flavored, and most owners report that dogs will accept them as a treat.

This medication is administered at a rate of 1 tablet for every 20 pounds of body weight. You can administer the medication every 8 hours as needed.

3. Imodium (Loperamide)

Imodium is a highly effective anti-diarrheal medication for humans, and it often works quite well for dogs too. It is typically administered at a rate of one teaspoon for every 20 pounds of body weight. So, a 60-pound dog would require three teaspoons of Imodium. 

Doses can be administered every 4 to 6 hours until the symptoms resolve. Note that while Imodium is typically considered safe, and it rarely causes serious side effects (typical side effects include constipation, cramping and nausea), it may be dangerous for some dogs. This primarily includes herding breeds, who possess a mutated version of the MDR1 gene.

Accordingly, Imodium should never be administered to the following breeds without your vet’s explicit authorization (Washington State University offers genetic testing services to determine if your dog has the dangerous mutation):

  • Collies
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    Shelties
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    Australian shepherds
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    Long-haired whippets
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    Border collies
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    Old English sheepdogs
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    English shepherds

Pepto-Bismol is often helpful in treating a variety of gastrointestinal ailments, including diarrhea. It should be administered at a rate of 1 teaspoon for every 20 pounds of body weight. 

Doses can be repeated every 4 to 6 hours until the symptoms resolve. Note that Pepto-Bismol may darken your dog’s stools or tongue – this is normal and no cause for concern.

You can also use US-marketed versions of Kaopectate in the same manner you would Pepto-Bismol. Kaopectate was originally formulated with different active ingredients, but the current form offered for sale in the US contains Bismuth subsalicylate, just like Pepto-Bismol does. Note that neither of these medications should ever be given to cats.  

5. Gas-X (Simethicone)

Gas-X won’t cure your dog’s diarrhea, but it may be helpful in reducing the bloating and pain that sometimes accompany the condition. But, contrary to popular perception, Gas-X doesn’t eliminate gas – it simply makes it easier for your dog to expel the gas.

It accomplishes this with the help of simethicone – the active ingredient in the medication. Simethicone is an anti-foaming agent, that lubricates the contents of your dog’s colon and causes the small gas bubbles to merge and form larger gas bubbles. These larger bubbles will pass through the intestines more quickly.

Gas-X is generally considered quite safe for dogs, and the only common side effect is loose stools – and that only occurs when dogs are administered exceedingly high doses. Contact your vet to determine the proper dosage for your pet, but Gas-X is usually administered as follows:

  • Small dogs – 20 milligrams
  • Medium dogs – 40 milligrams
  • Large dogs – 80 milligrams  

High-Fiber Supplements

Water-soluble fiber can help eliminate diarrhea and firm up your dog’s stools. It accomplishes this by absorbing some of the fluid in your dog’s colon, thereby slowing the passage of food and encouraging the formation of properly formed stools.

There are a number of over-the-counter products available designed to provide your dog with additional water-soluble fiber, but the following are a few of the best options:

1. Diggin Your Dog Firm Up Pumpkin Supplement

Pumpkin (which we mentioned above) is a great source of water-soluble fiber that is very helpful for treating diarrhea (ironically, it also helps to alleviate constipation). And while you can use canned pumpkin puree, this often creates quite a mess and it is difficult to store the unused portion.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative: Diggin Your Dog Firm Up Pumpkin Supplement. Made from dehydrated pumpkin (and cranberries), this powder-like supplement is easy to store and administer – simply add it to your dog’s food. Some owners even mix it in with their dog’s food on a daily basis to help prevent problems before they even start.

Firm Up is grown, harvested, made and packaged in the USA. The convenient packaging also makes it easy to bring along when traveling. 

2. Olewo Carrots Digestive Dog Food Supplement

Like pumpkin, carrots are also packed with fiber, which can make them helpful for treating diarrhea. Additionally, because carrots are rich in antioxidants, they’ll help keep your dog’s immune system operating properly. They can even act as a natural de-wormer in some cases.

But giving your dog carrots isn’t always easy or convenient. But Olewo Carrots Digestive Dog Food Supplement is made from dehydrated carrots, thereby making it easy to increase the fiber content of your dog’s food. Simply remove the recommended amount from the package, steep them in warm water for about 10 minutes and mix them in with your dog’s food.

Olewo uses only non-GMO, German-grown carrots, so you can be sure that there are of the highest quality.

Probiotics  

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that inhabit the digestive tracts of healthy dogs. They normally help your dog’s body to digest his food, they promote regular elimination and they help protect your dog from pathogenic bacteria and other threats.

However, stress, improper diets, illness and other factors can cause these bacterial populations to plummet. This will not only leave your dog vulnerable to secondary infections, it will prevent your dog’s intestines from functioning normally. And while insufficient levels of beneficial bacteria can cause diarrhea, it can also occur in response to diarrhea – when your dog’s intestines begin emptying their contents so completely and rapidly, it can wipe out most of the good bacteria. This is why antibiotics often cause dogs to suffer from diarrhea: The medication not only wipes out the target bacteria, they also kill off the beneficial species that are supposed to inhabit your dog’s digestive tract.

Accordingly, it may be wise to begin providing your dog with a probiotic supplement anytime he suffers from diarrhea – especially if the problem becomes chronic. In fact, many people administer probiotics as a matter of standard practice.

You can check out our comprehensive review of probiotics here, but the three probiotics listed below are among the best choices:

1. Active Chews Premium Probiotics

Active Chews Probiotics are duck-flavored supplements, which are packed with 2 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per treat. The contain six different bacterial strains (Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus salivarius and Bifidobacterium animalis), and the treats are prepared via a no-cook process that helps ensure the bacterial colonies remain viable.

In addition to the beneficial bacteria contained in each tablet, Active Chews also contain psyllium husk for extra fiber content and pancreatic enzymes to promote proper digestion. Active Chews are made in the USA at FDA-registered facilities to ensure the highest quality possible. They are backed by the manufacturer’s 30-day, money-back guarantee, so you can shop with confidence.

2. Hyperbiotics’ Pro-Pets Probiotics

Hyperbiotics’ Pro-Pets Probiotics incorporate six different bacterial strains to help improve your dog’s digestive function, including Bifidobacterium lactis, Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum and Lactobacillus reuteri.

These beef-flavored supplements are made in micro-pearl form to make them easy to administer, and they’ll last for up to 18 months without refrigeration. Each micro-pearl is guaranteed to contain at least 3 billion CFUs, and they are made in the USA without any GMOs, lactose, gluten or yeast. 

3. InMotion Probiotic Jerky

InMotion Probiotics are prepared in jerky form, which makes them very easy to administer and especially valuable for owners of finicky dogs. Made with real chicken breast, each of these jerky treats contains 25 million CFUs. 

Each treat contains five different probiotic strains, including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus pentosaceus, Lactobacillus plantarum and Bifidobacterium bifidum.

InMotion Probiotics are backed by the manufacturer’s money-back guarantee, and they are made in the USA. Many owners who tried these products specifically reported that they helped eliminate gas and diarrhea. 

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Dog Diarrhea FAQs

Below, we’ll answer some of the most common questions and quick queries owners often have. Just remember to go back and read the relevant sections above when you have the time.

Is diarrhea dangerous?

Not usually. Diarrhea is very common in dogs, and most pets will experience it several times over the course of their lives. It will usually stop on its own, but there are a few signs that should prompt you to seek veterinary assistance.

When should you seek veterinary attention?

If your dog’s diarrhea is especially severe or lasts longer than a day or two, contact your vet and solicit his or her advice. It is also wise to consult your vet if your dog exhibits any other serious symptoms (fever, vomiting, lethargy) while suffering from diarrhea.

What causes diarrhea in dogs?

A number of things can cause diarrhea, including bacteria, viruses and people foods. Stress, anxiety and rapid changes in diet can also cause it. Many times, the cause is never determined.

What can you do to help your pet?

There are a number of ways to help your pet feel better, which we’ve detailed above. However, in general terms, you’ll want to withhold food for about 12 hours, ensure your dog drinks plenty of water and provide small meals once you resume feeding.

There are also several stomach-soothing foods you may want to offer and a few medications and supplements that may resolve your dog’s symptoms. Your vet may be able to offer additional assistance.

Should you be concerned if you see blood?

It is always wise to contact your vet if your dog’s diarrhea causes him to expel blood – this is especially true if the blood appears dark (like coffee grounds) or the stools appear tarry, as these signs may indicate bleeding high in the gastrointestinal tract.

Bright red blood, by contrast, usually originates near the end of the intestinal tract or from the anus. This occurs pretty commonly in dogs with diarrhea and is rarely serious unless it occurs over a lengthy period. It is still wise to contact your vet anytime you see blood, but bright red blood is rarely cause for panic.

Is diarrhea contagious? Can your other dogs catch it?

Diarrhea may be contagious – it simply depends on the cause. If your dog’s diarrhea was caused by an abrupt food change or because you fed him too much of your hamburger, it won’t be contagious. On the other hand, diarrhea caused by bacterial infections or parasites may cause your other dogs to fall ill.

Can you get sick from a dog with diarrhea?

Some bacteria and parasites that afflict dogs can also infect humans, so it is certainly wise to exercise good hygiene and clean up any accidents promptly. Use a pet-safe disinfectant and wash your hands with plenty of antibacterial soap and warm water.

Are there any medications you can give your dog to help him feel better?

Yes. Imodium, Pepto-Bismol and several other medications (some of which are specifically designed for dogs) may provide your dog with some relief. However, these medications are not safe for all dogs, so you must always contact your vet first.

How do you clean up diarrhea?

Diarrhea is often quite messy, and because accidents are common in dogs suffering from the condition, you'll need to be prepared to clean it up quickly. The best way to do so is with a stack of paper towels and a bit of Sunny & Honey Pet Stain & Odor Miracle. Made with natural enzymes, this product will help you eliminate the odors and mess associated with diarrhea. 

Your dog will certainly experience diarrhea several times over the course of his life, and it will usually go away on its own. However, it is important to familiarize yourself with some of the signs that may indicate a serious problem and that you contact your vet if you have any doubts about your pet’s health.

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