Even healthy dogs sometimes get diarrhea, so knowing common causes and how to treat minor cases safely at home can minimize the likelihood of it occurring and help your dog get back to his normal self in no time.
But it’s also important to know what to look for should your dog’s diarrhea be an indication of something more sinister. By recognizing the warning signs of when it’s time to seek veterinary advice and by familiarizing yourself with our healthy diet and prevention tips, you can help ensure your dog stays happy and healthy and receives the right sort of treatment when necessary.
What causes diarrhea in dogs?
Diarrhea in dogs can be caused by a number of things, including:
- A sudden change in diet
- A food intolerance or allergic reaction
- Ingestion of garbage or spoiled food
- Ingestion of poisonous substances or plants
- Ingestion of foreign bodies (e.g., toys, plastic bags, socks)
- Certain medications
- Bacterial infections, such as Clostridium perfringens, E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Spirochetes
- Internal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, coccidia, Giardia and tapeworms
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Kidney or liver disease
- Cancer or other tumors of the digestive tract
- Hemorhagic gastroenteritis
If your dog has diarrhea, it’s important to treat it right away. In most cases, the symptoms of diarrhea will pass after a day or so, and withholding food for 24 hours will let your dog’s gastrointestinal tract rest and recover.
While your dog is fasting, encourage him to drink lots of water to avoid dehydration and monitor his symptoms closely. After 24 hours, start easing your dog back onto food by feeding him 3 - 4 small meals throughout the day. Opt for bland, easily digestible foods such as white rice, cottage cheese, yogurt, cooked macaroni or oatmeal, or high protein foods such as eggs or chicken without the skin. Stick to this diet until your dog’s symptoms improve and his routine returns to normal.
Fasting may not be appropriate for puppies, elderly dogs, and smaller breeds as they require more nutrients, and puppies can become dehydrated very quickly, so please consult your vet if you feel withholding food may not be suitable for your dog.
When should you consult your veterinarian?
If the diarrhea continues for more than a day, or if your dog experiences other symptoms such as dehydration, lethargy, fever, vomiting, decreased appetite, or if you notice dark-colored or bloody stools, then it could be linked to something more serious. Dry and tacky gums are an indication of dehydration, and you should consult your vet immediately if your dog is experiences any of these symptoms.
It’s also important to seek advice from your veterinarian if your dog has a pre-existing medical condition such as diabetes or cancer, or is taking medication such as antibiotics. If you think your dog make have eaten something toxic, take him to your nearest veterinary hospital right away.
Knowing what is normal for your dog is important, and if his diarrhea continues longer than usual or if you have any concerns at all, consult your veterinarian for advice. Even if the diarrhea does turn out to be triggered by something minor, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Although in some cases diarrhea is unavoidable, there are some things which can help reduce the likelihood of it occurring:
- Provide your dog with a healthy, balanced diet and exercise him regularly
- Keep up to date with vaccinations
- Make sure your dog is free of parasites. Check out our parasite prevention tips for more information
- Keep spoiled food and garbage out of reach and avoid feeding your dog scraps
- Ensure your dog doesn’t eat plant material or feces or drink from puddles while out walking
- Minimize stress to his environment
Healthy diet and nutrition tips from Dr. Sarah Nold
Ensuring your dog has a good wholesome diet not only keeps them healthy, but can also help prevent bouts of diarrhea. Heavily processed foods containing high levels of preservatives and chemicals can play havoc with your dog’s digestion, and certain human foods can even be poisonous to your dog.
Trupanion veterinarian, Sarah Nold, DVM, offers her healthy diet and nutrition tips, including common foods to avoid and advice on food allergies.
Introducing new food or treats
Any food or treat which is new to your dog has the potential to cause diarrhea, particularly if a new food is changed suddenly versus slowly transitioning over a few days to a week. This is also why it is recommended to only introduce one food or treat at a time, as if your dog does develop diarrhea, it may be easier to identify the cause.
Common foods that can trigger diarrhea in dogs
Milk or dairy can cause diarrhea in dogs, especially if not non-fat or low-fat. Fatty foods can cause diarrhea by themselves, but as dogs cannot process fat as well as people, they can also cause an illness called pancreatitis which may result in other gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and/or decreased appetite.
Choosing the right food for your dog
The nutritional requirements for a puppy are often not the same as an adult dog, so it’s important to purchase a dog food which is labeled for the correct life stage of your dog. If your dog has a chronic condition, certain ingredients may be recommended or should be avoided. Your veterinarian is the best person to help you choose the right food for your pet.
While there are many anecdotal arguments for a raw diet, such as a stronger immune system or better dental health, there is no factual evidence to support any health benefits. The biggest risk associated with raw diets is infectious diseases, both for the pet ingesting the food and the person preparing it, and young children or immunocompromised individuals are most at risk. If the raw diet includes bones, there is also a risk of a gastrointestinal foreign body which may require surgical intervention. If you choose to feed your dog a raw diet, consult a veterinarian to ensure it is nutritionally balanced.
Food allergies are often caused by the protein source, such as chicken or beef. If you have recently changed your dog’s diet and he is experiencing itching, hair loss, redness of skin, diarrhea and/or vomiting, it’s worth switching back to the old protein source to see if the symptoms resolve. However, it can take a couple months for the allergen to work its way out of your dog’s system, so it’s recommended to seek veterinary advice for controlling the symptoms, especially if they are severe. Other illnesses can cause similar reactions to a food allergy, so your veterinarian may conduct further diagnostics or recommend a specific food trial to determine the cause.
Foods your dog should never eat
You should always avoid feeding your dog human food and scraps. However, grapes and raisins, onions, garlic, macadamia nuts, chocolate, alcohol, coffee and foods containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol (such as some peanut butters) can all be harmful to your dog, so keep these foods out of reach and never feed them to your dog.