Why Does My Dog Have Diarrhea?

Having a dog with diarrhea can be an upsetting and messy situation. Some diarrhea episodes resolve by themselves, while others can cause serious health problems for your pet. Our team at Madison Veterinary Emergency wants to provide information about dog diarrhea to ensure your dog gets the care they need if they are affected.

Dog diarrhea classification
Dog diarrhea typically is classified as acute if the condition lasts for fewer than 14 days and chronic if a dog is affected for longer. The problem also can be classified according to where the problem originates. Classifications include:

  • Small bowel diarrhea — Dogs affected by small bowel diarrhea tend to pass a large quantity of feces, but the frequency of their bowel movements does not markedly increase. Vomiting and increased gas production are other common signs associated with small bowel diarrhea, and weight loss usually occurs if the condition persists.
  • Large bowel diarrhea — Dogs affected by large bowel diarrhea generally pass small fecal piles at an increased frequency, and straining is commonly noted. The dog typically feels a sense of urgency, and fecal accidents may occur. Mucus is often present on the fecal matter.

Dog diarrhea causes
Diarrhea is a sign of an illness and not a disease itself. Numerous conditions can result in diarrhea, including:

  • Overeating — If a dog eats too much, their gastrointestinal tract becomes overloaded and they can develop diarrhea.
  • Diet change — Any sudden diet change can cause gastrointestinal upset, including diarrhea. This is especially true if the new food is high in fat, such as table scraps.
  • Parasites — Intestinal parasites, such as hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, Giardia, and Coccidia, can cause diarrhea. Puppies are especially susceptible to parasites.
  • Infectious pathogens — Certain viruses and bacteria can target the gastrointestinal tract and cause diarrhea.
  • Toxins — Ingesting a toxic substance can cause diarrhea, and several common foods and household products are poisonous to dogs.
  • Intestinal obstruction — If a dog ingests a foreign object that causes an intestinal obstruction, diarrhea can occur.
  • Systemic disease — Diseases, such as pancreatitis, liver disease, kidney disease, and thyroid conditions, can cause diarrhea.
  • Primary inflammatory conditions — Inflammatory bowel disease can result in diarrhea.
  • Intestinal cancer — Cancers affecting the gastrointestinal tract can result in diarrhea.
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis — This condition results in acute, bloody diarrhea, and is thought to be linked to stress and hyperactivity. Toy and small breed dogs are at highest risk.
  • Food allergies — Food allergies can cause gastrointestinal signs, including diarrhea.
  • Medications — Certain prescribed medications cause diarrhea as a side effect.
  • Stress — Stress and anxiety can cause diarrhea in dogs.

When dog diarrhea needs veterinary attention
If your dog has one diarrhea episode and continues to act normally, their condition likely can be managed at home. Dogs who require veterinary attention include:

  • Puppies or senior dogs — Puppies and senior dogs are at higher risk for complications, and they should be evaluated by a veterinary professional if they develop diarrhea.
  • Dogs who have other signs — If your dog is exhibiting other signs, such as vomiting, fever, lethargy, distended abdomen, or pain, they need veterinary care.
  • Dogs who have ingested a toxin — If you know or suspect your dog has ingested a toxin, immediately call Madison Veterinary Emergency for advice on next steps.
  • Dogs who have ingested a foreign object — If you know or suspect your dog has ingested a foreign object, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
  • Dogs who have diarrhea for more than 24 hours — Your dog should be evaluated if their diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours.

Veterinary remedies for dog diarrhea
Your dog’s underlying condition will determine what treatments they receive, and diagnostics, such as blood work, fecal checks, X-rays, and ultrasound, will be used to diagnose their problem. Intravenous fluids may be needed to replace fluid and electrolyte losses and provide supportive care for dogs suffering from diarrhea.

Home remedies for dog diarrhea
When your dog’s diarrhea does not require veterinary intervention, steps to manage their condition at home include:

  • Removing their food — Take away their food to allow their gastrointestinal tract time to rest and recover.
  • Offering rice water — Your dog needs to stay hydrated, and offering rice water can help provide additional minerals and nutrients to improve their gastrointestinal health and promote a faster recovery.
  • Offering a bland diet after 12 hours — If your dog has no further diarrhea episodes after 12 hours, you can offer them a bland diet, such as boiled chicken and rice.

Dog diarrhea prevention
Steps can be taken to decrease your dog’s risk of developing diarrhea. They include:

  • Providing routine wellness care — Conditions such as kidney disease, thyroid disease, and liver disease that cause diarrhea are easier to treat and manage in the early stages. Ensuring your dog receives routine wellness care will help detect these issues before they cause serious health problems for your pet.
  • Vaccinating your pet — Keeping your dog’s vaccinations current will protect them from preventable diseases that cause diarrhea.
  • Providing parasite prevention — Providing year-round parasite prevention will protect your dog from diarrhea-causing parasites.
  • Feeding an appropriate diet — Feeding your pet a healthy, consistent diet, as opposed to table scraps, helps keep their gastrointestinal tract functioning well. If you have to change your dog’s diet, do so gradually over seven to 10 days to allow their gastrointestinal tract time to acclimate.

Help keep your dog diarrhea free by taking steps to decrease their risk. If your dog has diarrhea and they need veterinary attention, contact our team at Madison Veterinary Emergency so we can address the problem as soon as possible to alleviate their distress.