Diarrhea can be a major annoyance in the house, especially when it comes to our dogs! Accidents may signal that something is not quite right with your dog’s GI tract. While this is a common issue most every dog owner will go through, there are a variety of reasons why your dog may be having diarrhea. Here are some of the most common causes, remedies that can be used to resolve it, and when it’s time to see the vet instead.
Most owners may think of diarrhea as a bowel movement that is very soft or completely liquid, however, diarrhea can signify a range of stools from liquid, to semi-solid, to just having more than three bowel movements every day. In the below chart, anything above a 4 is likely in the diarrhea category, or leading to it. Diarrhea also often comes with accompanying symptoms such as urgency, gas, bloated or tender abdomen, loss of appetite, weight loss, and even vomiting . Depending on the cause, your dog’s additional symptoms may vary.
(An Excellent Stool Chart via Nestle/Pro Plan & the AKC )
Diarrhea is a very common and vague symptom, meaning there can be quite a number of causes behind it. However, four common issues are often the most likely reason for diarrhea and the first checked by your veterinarian. This includes Illness (viral or bacterial), internal parasites, food allergies, and ingestion-related illness. For a very thorough list of possible causes of diarrhea, check out this article by Pet Education: Diarrhea in Dogs .
Illness: Illness is another broad category, but can be divided into illness caused by bacteria, and illness caused by viruses. Illnesses caused by bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella will often cause a variety of symptoms such as vomiting, tender abdomen, bloating, loss of appetite, lethargy, and diarrhea. Illnesses caused by viruses such as parvo can cause similar symptoms along with blood in the stool or vomit.
These cases are often treated with antibiotics in the case of bacteria, as well as IV therapy and medications to stop symptoms and replenish lost fluids. Diarrhea in these cases is usually severe, sudden, and very dangerous to young dogs or those with underlying health issues.
Metabolic illnesses can also cause diarrhea such as with pancreatic insufficiency or changes to the liver or GI tract. These stools will often have strange colors, odors, and changes in consistency in addition to diarrhea and other symptoms.
Parasites: Parasites can sometimes cause diarrhea, though symptoms will vary greatly on the type of parasite present, and its location. Some parasitic organisms can cause symptoms similar to bacterial or viral illness such as with giardia, while other parasites may cause a more long-term, less serious diarrhea such as with tapeworms or roundworms.
With larger parasites, worms may be present in the stool, however, other parasites may only show up with a fecal exam under a microscope. These cases can usually be resolved with a deworming medication, antiparasitic, and additional meds to treat any extra symptoms.
Food Allergies: Food allergies are a growing category as a cause of many symptoms including itchy skin, rashes, sneezing, vomiting, tender abdomen and diarrhea. Skin-related allergies are often a cause of eating grains or other highly allergenic ingredients while intestinal symptoms can signify an intolerance to proteins in the diet. In some cases, the food allergy is caused by an autoimmune reaction to food such as with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
Ingestion Related: Ingestion related diarrhea covers a broad range of causes, and can include the ingestion of toxic or GI-upsetting substances such as chocolates, poisons or fatty foods, as well as the ingestion of obstructive objects such as a bone, stick or another foreign body. Diarrhea can change over the course of the ingestion, starting off watery, full of blood or even ceasing completely if the bowel is fully blocked off. These causes are often seen with many other symptoms signaling that something is very wrong.
The treatment of diarrhea depends greatly on the cause, but there are many treatment plans available to help reduce and prevent future diarrhea. Here are some home remedies that can be tried for minor, acute cases of diarrhea or chronic cases that are not caused by serious illness or ingestion of harmful substances.
Diet Changes: Diet changes are one of the easiest ways to reduce and prevent diarrhea, especially if your vet suspects a food allergy. Switching to a grain-free diet or novel protein (a protein source that is not common to most dog foods or that has not been eaten before by your dog) can help bypass the body’s reaction to that ingredient. New and unusual food ingredients are increasing in popularity and are available both over the counter and via prescription from your veterinarian.
If you do need to change your dog’s diet, be sure to do so gradually over a period of 7-9 days. You’ll want to start with 25% new food and 75% old for three days, followed by a mix of 50/50, and then three days of 75% new and 25% old. This helps the GI tract to adjust and can prevent an increase in diarrhea caused by the sudden change!
For acute diarrhea, a bland diet can also help settle upset stomachs and help your dog feel better until you can get to the vet. You can offer a meal of bland boiled rice, and plain boiled chicken, turkey or even a little hamburger. Be sure not to add any spices or sauces, and to use a very lean cut of meat to avoid additional digestive upset.
Natural Supplements: Increased fiber content, probiotics, and other supplements can all be beneficial to treating diarrhea. A study of 37 dogs by Michael Leib showed that increasing soluble fiber content either short or long-term can help to bulk up stools and reduce diarrhea in idiopathic (cause unknown) cases of diarrhea . This can be done a number of ways including a prescription diet from your vet, or by adding pureed pumpkin to every meal as a tasty alternative.
Probiotics are also extremely useful in stopping and preventing diarrhea in idiopathic cases. Several dogs with diarrhea were tested in a probiotic versus placebo diet plan to see if it would reduce the length of time each dog had diarrhea . Dogs that were given the probiotic supplement had a reduced length of diarrhea. Probiotics can also help prevent diarrhea from returning by seeding the gut with beneficial bacteria. Many dog-specific probiotics are available from the pet store or your vet, and can also be given as a dollop of plain yogurt. If giving yogurt, be sure to avoid sugar-free varieties which can be toxic, and high-sugar, flavored varieties which can worsen symptoms.
Additional supplements such as fish oils or vitamin E can also be beneficial in a not-so-direct way. These supplements can help to reduce inflammation, which can help soothe the gut if it is recovering from an acute case of diarrhea, or long-term illness. While these supplements likely won’t stop diarrhea on their own, used in combination with medications or a change in diet can greatly reduce the pain and duration of diarrhea.
Not every case of diarrhea warrants a visit to the vet, however, there are times when you should see the vet first rather than attempt to treat at home. For mild cases of diarrhea that last for under a day and don’t have any additional symptoms, home treatment of bland meals can be beneficial. For cases that last more than two or three days, or have other symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy or loss of appetite, it is best to bring your dog in to be seen. For cases of foreign bodies or ingestion of toxic substances, you should always see your vet first immediately.
Your vet will likely want to perform a few tests while you’re there, including a fecal exam, possible blood work, or even an X-ray or ultrasound. These tools can help narrow down the causes of diarrhea, and allow your vet to offer appropriate treatment. Treatment from your vet can range from the remedies seen above in more minor cases to hospitalization and special medications or even surgery. Your vet can help you decide what is best.
Diarrhea doesn’t have to be a long-term, problematic issue for you and your dog. With some knowledge of normal stool types, the causes of diarrhea, and remedies that can be used to treat it, you can help your dog stay healthy and happy. Don’t let a little loose stool put a stain on your time together!
Pictures via Creative Commons, AKC.org.
 Bovsun, Mara. “A Survival Guide for Dog Diarrhea.” AKC, 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 02 Sep. 2016. http://www.akc.org/content/health/articles/doggie-diarrhea/
 “Diarrhea in Dogs.” Pet Education. Web. 02 Sep. 2016. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+2090&aid=3553
 “Dog Diarrhea Causes, Symptoms and Treatment.” WebMD. Web. 02 Sep. 2016. http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/guide/dog-diarrhea-causes-treatment
 Kelley, Russell, MS. “Clinical Benefits of Probiotic Canine-Derived Bifidobacterium Animalis Strain AHC7 in Dogs with Acute Idiopathic Diarrhea.” VetFolio. Web. 02 Sep. 2016. http://www.vetfolio.com/internal-medicine/clinical-benefits-of-probiotic-canine-derived-bifidobacterium-animalis-strain-ahc7-in-dogs-with-acute-idiopathic-diarrhea
 Leib, Michael S. “Treatment of Chronic Idiopathic Large-Bowel Diarrhea in Dogs with a Highly Digestible Diet and Soluble Fiber: A Retrospective Review of 37 Cases.” JAVMA, 01 Jan. 2000. Web. 02 Sep. 2016. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1939-1676.2000.tb01495.x/abstract