A closer look: Diarrhea in Dogs
Diarrhea varies in severity and seriousness. Most cases of diarrhea in fully-vaccinated young adult dogs who are otherwise healthy are dietary in origin and are usually self-limiting. If diarrhea persists for an extended period of time, it may lead to dehydration and warrants veterinary investigation. Characteristics of diarrhea are useful for determining if it is originating from the small or large bowel (colon).
Large bowel diarrhea is characterized as showing:
- Frequent urge to defecate
- Passage of small amounts of stool
- Straining to defecate (tenesmus)
- Mucus in stool
- Hematochezia (red/fresh/frank blood in stool) Small bowel diarrhea typically shows:
- Normal to increased frequency
- Passage of large volumes of stool
- No straining, mucus, or urgency
- Black blood (melena), if present
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Dogs often have diarrhea in response to something in the diet, including:
- A novel food
- Something rich or fatty
- Spoiled food
- Toxins (including toxic foods like chocolate)
- Foreign object or non-food substance in the gastrointestinal tract.
Other common reasons dogs may experience watery diarrhea include:
In addition, viral infections, autoimmune diseases, food sensitivities and/or allergies, and some endocrine disorders may present with diarrhea.
Diarrhea may be acute or chronic and vary in severity and characteristics depending on the cause. Diarrhea also occurs due to a variety of other conditions, some of which are serious or even life-threatening. Diarrhea in an otherwise healthy dog that lasts for more than 2 - 3 days warrants veterinary attention. Diarrhea accompanied by other symptoms deserves more urgent care. Diarrhea presenting with severe symptoms like these is an emergency:
Abrupt onset of bloody diarrhea characterized by the frequent passage of small amounts jelly-like clumps of red blood is the hallmark of acute hemorrhagic diarrhea syndrome (HGE) which is an emergency. This is more common in small or toy breed dogs.
Testing and diagnosis
Diagnostic tools for diarrhea in dogs include:
- History, including notes about typical bowel movements
- Physical examination
- Fecal analysis
- Blood tests
- Ultrasound or X-ray imaging of abdomen
- Tissue biopsy Treatment varies depending on the diagnosis and severity of the condition. Dogs with severe diarrhea are often dehydrated and require fluid therapy.
Common symptomatic therapy strategies for diarrhea include:
- Fluid therapy
- Small, frequent feedings of a bland diet, such as plain white rice and natural yogurt
- Dietary supplementation with plain pumpkin (note: NOT seasoned pumpkin pie filling)
- Probiotics and digestive supplements
- Anti-diarrheal medication
- Supportive/nursing care
- Vitamin supplements (B12)
Specific anti-diarrheal therapy based on the diagnosis often includes:
- Immunosuppressive medication
- Anti-parasitic medication
- Therapeutic diets
- Fiber supplements
- Enzyme supplements
Note: always consult a veterinarian before making dietary changes or supplementing the diet. Many supplements available for pets are neither effective nor safe.
Diarrhea is self evident and not likely to be mistaken for other symptoms. Bowel incontinence may accompany diarrhea. Straining to defecate (tenesmus) often occurs with diarrhea. Straining to defecate is frequently misinterpreted as indicative of a bowel obstruction when it is actually rarely associated with that condition.