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By Henry Cerny, DVM, MS

Signs of diarrhea in dogs

It is important to understand that diarrhea in dogs can take several forms. Stools can range from abnormally soft to watery. Other clinical signs may be present such as straining while defecating, gas, abnormal odor, or blood and mucous in the stool. Many cases of diarrhea are self-limiting, but others require treatment.

Bloody diarrhea with severe straining may be an emergency especially for small dogs.

Diarrhea along with vomiting can be signs of serious intestinal obstruction that may even need surgery. Weakness, pain, vomiting, or agitation are serious signs that the dog needs medical attention.

Causes of diarrhea in dogs

Since there are numerous causes of diarrhea in dogs it is always a good idea to have your dog examined by a veterinarian to rule out more serious causes. Here is a brief list of causes of diarrhea.

  • Parvovirus Infection. Usually vomiting and diarrhea accompanied by a fever typically in young dogs. An antigen test is usually used to diagnose this infection.
  • Parasites in dogs. Including roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, coccidia, Giardia, tapeworms. A fecal exam can help diagnose the infection.
  • Bacteria in dogs. Such as Clostridium perfringens, E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Spirochetes. This can be challenging as pets may carry these bacteria without having them cause clinical disease.
  • Inappropriate ingestion. Let’s face it, dogs eat anything from other animals’ feces to grass trimmings and garbage. This is one of the most common causes of diarrhea in dogs.

This is by no means a complete list of causes as there are books written on this subject alone. Most people want the answer to two important questions. Do I need to take my dog in to my veterinarian and if I don’t, how can I treat it at home?

When to see a vet

It is always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian if your dog has diarrhea. Your veterinarian may want to see your pet or at least do diagnostic testing on the feces to determine the best treatment. Since some parasites and bacteria can also cause disease in humans, it is important to check for them. In mild cases where the dog is acting normal otherwise, withholding food for 24 hours may be sufficient. If however other symptoms such as vomiting, lethargy, depression, or pain accompany the diarrhea then prompt veterinary attention is needed.

Do you know what not to feed your dog? Learn now! Dog nutrition: A to z.

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