Diarrhea is a very common problem in dogs and usually manifests as loose or liquid feces. The diarrhea can be acute or chronic with acute diarrhea being more common in puppies and young dogs although it can affect dogs of any age. Acute diarrhea starts suddenly and tends to last anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks. It is important to understand that diarrhea is a symptom, not a disease in itself and is a normal response to the imbalance of the absorptive, secretory and motility actions of the gastrointestinal tract.
Types of diarrhea in dogs and puppies
Common causes of diarrhea include dietary indiscretion such as getting into the garbage pail or eating people food that the dog is not accustomed to, abrupt dietary changes, medications especially antibiotics which tend to disrupt the gastric flora and infectious agents such as parvovirus, coronavirus, Salmonella, E.coli and Giardia to name a few. Depending on the cause, diarrhea is usually a self limiting condition in that the problem will resolve on its own in the majority of cases. Chronic diarrhea is diarrhea that persists more than 2 weeks or diarrhea that tends to recur over and over.
How to manage acute diarrhea in dogs
Most cases of acute diarrhea can be managed at home but it is important to monitor your dog’s health very carefully until the diarrhea resolves. The main concern with diarrhea is the amount of fluids being lost in the feces which makes dehydration something to watch out for. Make sure your dog always has plenty of fresh water available and is drinking. Try resting the gastrointestinal tract by withholding food for 12 hours and then feeding your dog a bland diet such as boiled chicken and white rice. Also consider adding a probiotic such as FortiFlora for a faster recovery. Keep feeding the bland diet for at least a few days after the diarrhea resolves. Do not give any over the counter medications to your dog without checking with your veterinarian first.
Symptoms of diarrhea in dogs
Diarrhea aside, your dog should be otherwise acting like her normal self; if she has additional symptoms such as lethargy, weakness, abdominal pain, blood in the diarrhea, vomiting and fever (rectal temperature greater than 103.5 F) then you need to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. Additionally, if the diarrhea persists more than a week then a check-up is recommended. You can monitor your dog’s hydration status by feeling the gums, they should be moist and your finger should be able to slide along the gums easily. If the gums are dry and tacky then your dog is dehydrated and needs veterinary attention. Worsening dehydration can result in electrolyte imbalances and disrupt the acid-base balance as well, which make your dog very ill so don’t wait.
When to see a vet
If the dog's gums are dry and tacky, then your dog is dehydrated and needs veterinary attention. Worsening dog dehydration can result in electrolyte imbalances and disrupt the acid-base balance as well, which make your dog very ill so don’t wait. Veterinary workup for diarrhea usually consists of a physical and fecal exam. Snap tests for many common infectious agents that cause diarrhea are widely available and can provide rapid diagnosis. Bloodwork and radiography may be indicated in situations where the diarrhea is severe and other symptoms are present. Depending on the degree of illness your veterinarian will treat with subcutaneous fluids and take home medications or hospitalization with intravenous fluids and medications as needed.
Diarrhea in dogs prevention
You can help prevent bouts of diarrhea by preventing access to garbage and not allowing people food. If you change your dog’s diet, do it gradually by mixing in a little of the new food with the old food, gradually increasing how much of the new food you feed each day while simultaneously decreasing the amount of the old food. Ideally, diet changes should take place over the course of a week. Keep your dog’s vaccinations and de-worming schedule up to date. If your dog needs antibiotics then ask your veterinarian for a probiotic to help minimize the risk of antibiotic associated diarrhea. When out for a walk or hitting the dog park, make sure your dog does not pick up trash, eat other dog’s feces or drink from puddles. No one likes diarrhea but by taking a few precautions and being diligent about watching your dog’s health you can help minimize the risk and impact of acute diarrhea.