“Dogs get diarrhea all of the time,” says Dr. Laura Weis, DVM, of Doylestown Veterinary Hospital.
Frequently, it is not a cause for huge alarm – although it is extremely unpleasant for everyone involved.
Dr. Weis knows from experience – and not just because of the many patients she’s treated with the ailment, but also because of her 100+ pound Maremma Sheepdog Anatoli who left her a surprise one morning.
“You know when you get up in the morning and you’re like, ‘Oh, that smell,’ as you’re walking down the stairs,” Dr. Weis laments.
“I have three dogs, and they usually come to greet me every morning. Only, recently, one of them didn’t,” she continues. “Of course, even though I have acres of tile and hardwood in my home, and only two area rugs because of the dogs – when you’re a dog and you feel the need to have diarrhea, you’ve gotta go find the carpet.”
Dr. Weis notes that two kinds of diarrhea commonly affect dogs.
Chronic diarrhea, she says, typically continues for more than a few days, and can be intermittent, waxing and waning, or even occur for weeks and months. Common causes include inflammatory bowel disease, certain cancers, chronic dysbiosis, food sensitivities, and parasites, among other reasons.
“That’s not what we’re talking about, here,” she says.
The Many Causes of Acute Diarrhea in Dogs
“Acute diarrhea” is the main potty problem most pet parents contact Doylestown Veterinary Hospital about, says Dr. Weis – that unpleasant, odorous greeting as you walk down the stairs in the morning and find your area rug refurbished.
“Acute diarrhea is typically due to one of a limited number of causes, including what we call ‘trash can disease.’ This is when a dog gets into something it shouldn’t have. Sometimes you might know about it and others you don’t.”
Acute diarrhea in dogs can also be brought about by rapid food changes, says Dr. Weis. “If a dog has been eating one type of food consistently and that bag of food runs out and their people switch them over to something else – diarrhea can happen. Or if they get a hold of table treats that may include proteins they’re not used to. Or if they’re overfed. If a pet parent comes home and feeds the dog, then someone else in the house doesn’t realize the dog has already had dinner and gives the dog dinner number two, that can be a cause.”
Stressful situations, too, can contribute.
“Any time that dogs have gone and had a big play date with a neighbor dog, or if you’re having a big party in your house, or if a relative comes to stay – anything that upsets your dog’s normal routine can be a cause of acute diarrhea.”
There are also viral and bacterial causes for acute diarrhea, says Dr. Weis, but they are far less common.
Differentiating Between the Two Main Types… of Number Two
Acute diarrhea comes in two major forms, according to Dr. Weis.
The most common, colitis, is inflammation of the colon that results in more frequent bowel movements, in smaller amounts.
“We often get calls at the veterinary hospital from people who think their dog is constipated because they’re out in the yard ‘straining’ and posturing like they need to poop. When we ask them to check again, they usually say, ‘Oh you’re right – there are a couple drips coming out.’”
Colitis makes dogs feel like they have to go, says Dr. Weis.
“They feel that urgency all the time. You also get mucus and sometimes some frank, bright red blood with colitis. But when there are just trace amounts, that’s not a panic button situation for a dog. That’s actually quite common with colitis.”
Small intestine diarrhea is the second form of acute diarrhea in dogs. It is not as common as colitis, and its characteristics – large volumes of loose stool, less frequently – are just the opposite.
“So, this might be the dog that has one bowel movement per day for two days in a row or something, and it’s a big hot mess when they go,” Dr. Weis explains.
When Your Dog Won’t Eat
For most dogs, the natural, evolutionary appropriate response to acute diarrhea is to clean everything out of the system – just like a human would if we overeat or are stressed, or contract food poisoning.
This also often means that dogs purge their stomachs and then don’t feel like eating. At all. (“Labradors might be the exception to that,” laughs Dr. Weis.)
Pet parents, in turn, get very worried about their dogs and try everything to push food of some kind.
“We often hear, ‘I’ve tried everything. I’ve fed him his normal dinner, and then I tried some chicken, and the only thing I can get him to eat are these treats.’ And we’re like, ‘Oh, no! You just made it worse.’”
With diarrhea, says Dr. Weis, you want to fast a dog.
“Unless you’re dealing with a little puppy or a dog that has a medical condition or a chronic condition that you’re worried about, for the average, healthy dog, you take up their food, you make sure you leave water down, and you fast them for 12-24 hours,” she says. “And that is perhaps the number one thing you can do to stop diarrhea in its tracks.”
“After that, there are other things that we can introduce to help.”
The Dog Diarrhea Toolbox
Dr. Weis says that if after 12-24 hours of fasting a dog is showing signs of improvement, and the diarrhea is subsiding somewhat, pet parents can begin gradually reintroducing a bland diet. The diet will differ from dog to dog, depending on any food sensitivities, “but for most dogs that can be a 50/50 mixture of either cooked hamburger or boiled chicken with rice that’s been cooked really well. And that’s the key to it, you want to have almost a mushy rice so your dog can digest it.”
The other key is starting food in tiny amounts.
“If your dog normally eats a cup of food, start with a quarter cup. Then you go to the next meal, and you give them a half cup. Then you go to the next meal and give them three-quarters of a cup,” Dr. Weis explains. “You’re starting with small amounts and slowly building them back up again. And you avoid treats during this time.”
In addition to fasting, Dr. Weis says she always likes to give patients something they can reach for in their toolbox. To that end, an OTC product called DiaGel has shown to be a big help for many pet parents.
“DiaGel comes in a little oral dosing syringe and is completely natural, but it’s a combination of some herbs and medicinal clay and some pre-and probiotics that slows things down well.”
Other products, like medicinal clay and probiotics, can also be used as standalones – but for the most part, Dr. Weis says, you don’t need them.
Avoid Antibiotics Unless Absolutely Necessary
Dr. Weis says that perhaps the biggest change in treatment for acute diarrhea in dogs is the move away from antibiotics.
“Veterinarians used to reach for a drug called Metronidazole – people also know it as Flagyl. That used to be the mainstay for treating acute diarrhea.”
Over the years, medical science learned the repercussions of Flagyl use were that it completely blew apart the microbiome.
“It doesn’t just target the gas-producing or fluid-producing bacteria that’s proliferated in the midst of this acute gastrointestinal issue, but it sort of carpet bombs everything,” Dr. Weis says. “So, we don’t typically do that anymore, especially for episodes of acute diarrhea in dogs.”
Veterinarians at Doylestown occasionally dispense AnimalBiome for certain cases of acute diarrhea. This shelf-stable product can be administered in capsule form and is frequently taken in conjunction with a prebiotic or a fiber source like Inulin to provide good food for the new bugs that are being introduced.
“Typically, it’s pretty simple,” Dr. Weis says. “And it would be great if people didn’t have to run to the vet every time their dog had diarrhea.”
As for the carpet cleaning?
“I had to look up videos on YouTube,” Dr. Weis laughs. “Because, man, that was a mess.”