How to prevent diarrhea in dogs

How to prevent diarrhea in dogs - a corgi playing outdoors on the grass

Diarrhea occurs frequently in dogs and is one of the most common reasons for canine veterinary visits. While it cannot always be prevented, there are many steps pet parents can take to minimize occurrences of diarrhea in their dog. Read on if you have ever wondered:

  • How do I know if my dog has diarrhea?
  • Can I prevent diarrhea in my dog?
  • Why does my dog have diarrhea?
  • How is canine diarrhea treated?
  • How can I help my dog with diarrhea?

Dogs experience diarrhea for a multitude of reasons which vary in severity. It’s important for dog owners to recognize when a vet visit is needed and when the diarrhea will likely pass on its own.

What is canine diarrhea?

Diarrhea in dogs describes passage of watery, loose stools. Liquid stools may also be accompanied by:

Diarrhea is common in dogs and usually not an emergency.

Contact a veterinarian right away if:

  • Diarrhea occurs with other symptoms
  • Stools are black and tarry
  • There is a significant amount of blood in the stool (more than a few streaks)

In addition, talk to a veterinarian if the diarrhea persists for more than a few days, even if your dog is acting totally fine.

Can diarrhea in dogs be prevented?

Diarrhea in dogs cannot always be prevented, but the risk of diarrhea occurring can be minimized. Avoid giving table scraps and other human foods to dogs as this can quickly cause stomach upset. Other tempting items can lead to GI symptoms, including diarrhea, if eaten by curious pups. Some of the biggest offenders to keep out of reach include:

  • Other pets’ food
  • Garbage
  • Houseplants
  • Packages of medications and supplements
  • Household poisons and toxins

Toxic items commonly found around the home need to be secured and out of reach to avoid ingestion.

These items include human and animal medications, yard treatments, rat poison, household cleaners, and antifreeze. Entire packages of medications or supplements are a common cause of serious diarrhea in dogs. Depending on the type of medication or supplement, these occurrences can be severe or even life threatening. Note that all medications and supplements are a potential risk regardless of what species they are labeled for, and remember: a child safety cap isn’t dog proof.

Keeping vaccinations and parasite control up-to-date helps prevent communicable diseases and intestinal parasites that cause diarrhea. Routine wellness exams and testing help catch medical conditions and allow dogs to receive treatment early.

Walking your dog on a leash is the best way to avoid diarrhea caused by your dog eating something they found on the ground while you are outside together. Teaching a dog commands such as “leave it” or “drop it” may also help.

Finally, if a diet change is needed, slowly introduce a dog’s new food with their original food to prevent GI upset. If a dog’s food seems to cause stomach upset, a nutrition consultation with a vet may be beneficial to rule out food allergies and help choose a nutritionally complete food that is the best fit for your dog.

What are the most common culprits behind diarrhea in dogs?

Diarrhea is a common symptom with many causes in dogs. These can range in severity from relatively harmless to life-threatening. Here are a few of the most common causes of canine diarrhea.

Dietary indiscretion

“Eating something other than their regular food or something they picked up off of the ground are common causes of stomach upset and diarrhea in dogs” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. This is called dietary indiscretion. Common ingested items that may cause diarrhea include:

  • Another pet’s food
  • Table scraps, especially those high in fat
  • Houseplants
  • Toxins
  • Entire bags of treats or flavored medications
  • Garbage
  • Animal waste or carcasses

Eating human food, whether hand-fed, off the table, or from the garbage, is one of the most common causes of diarrhea in dogs. Human foods, especially those high in fat, can cause diarrhea and even lead to pancreatitis. In fact, the veterinary community often refers to the day after American Thanksgiving as “Pancreatitis Friday” due to the high influx of dogs experiencing diarrhea after eating turkey trimmings, gravy, and other high fat foods.

Dietary indiscretion can also occur outside the home. Help your dog avoid dietary indiscretion by storing tempting items out of reach and keeping a close eye when you are out on walks together.

Sudden dietary changes

A sudden change in diet can upset the gastrointestinal tract, even if the new food is a diet the dog is expected to do well on. Avoid suddenly changing your dog’s diet and slowly incorporate new food with the original food to allow the digestive tract time to adjust.

Food allergies or intolerances

Dogs can be allergic to ingredients in their food, just like people. Food intolerances or allergies can cause persistent diarrhea and digestive issues in dogs. To determine the problematic ingredient, a food elimination diet may be needed with long-term vet supervision. Working with a virtual vet regarding your dog’s nutritional needs may be beneficial if you think your dog might need to try an elimination diet trial. Note: do not perform diet elimination tests without veterinary guidance. Allergy testing and diagnosis require long-term, ongoing veterinary oversight and guidance to ensure your dog is safe and healthy throughout the process.

Parasitic, viral, or bacterial infections

Infectious agents including bacteria and viruses commonly cause diarrhea in dogs. Examples of infectious canine diseases associated with diarrhea include:

An intestinal parasitic infection is often asymptomatic in dogs. However, when symptoms are present, diarrhea is one of the most common. These parasitic infections include:

Other medical conditions

Non-contagious diseases that affect the gastrointestinal tract can cause diarrhea. They can include:

These conditions are often accompanied by other symptoms such as lethargy and vomiting. Consult with a veterinarian promptly if your dog is experiencing other symptoms along with their diarrhea.

Side effects of medication

Side effects to medication are uncommon and often mild and short-lived in dogs. However, medications such as antibiotics can irritate the stomach or disrupt the natural gut flora, causing diarrhea. Talk to a veterinarian if your dog develops diarrhea while on any type of medication.

How does a vet treat canine diarrhea?

Diarrhea in dogs is a symptom rather than a condition itself. If a dog is experiencing no other symptoms, a vet will often provide symptomatic treatment before performing diagnostic tests. Situational diarrhea caused by dietary indiscretion is the most common cause of episodes of diarrhea in dogs and usually does not require further treatment unless the item was toxic. Symptomatic treatment for diarrhea can include:

  • Offering a bland diet
  • Fasting
  • Dietary change
  • Deworming medication
  • Probiotics

In more complicated or severe cases of diarrhea, diagnostic testing may be recommended based on a dog’s symptoms and medical history. Once a diagnosis has been made, specific treatment can be given to address the underlying cause of the diarrhea and other symptoms. Never give human medications such as Pepto-Bismol® (bismuth subsalicylate) or Imodium® (loperamide) to dogs because this may make the situation worse. Do not attempt to fast your dog or feed a bland diet without veterinary guidance as these strategies may also exacerbate GI symptoms or lead to complications.

What should I do if my dog has diarrhea?

Mild diarrhea due to eating something out of the ordinary in healthy adult dogs usually resolves on its own. If you’re wondering if fasting, canned pumpkin, or offering a bland diet can help, talk to a vet first. Sometimes, these changes can make diarrhea worse.

Talk to a vet if:

  • Diarrhea persists longer than a few days or frequently recurs
  • Other symptoms are present such as vomiting, lethargy, or lack of appetite
  • The diarrhea is black and tarry
  • The diarrhea contains a large amount of red blood
  • A young puppy is experiencing diarrhea
  • The dog has underlying health conditions
  • Ingestion of a toxic substance is suspected

Symptoms such as pale gums, difficulty breathing, and collapse are medical emergencies and require immediate veterinary care.

If you have questions about your dog’s diarrhea or would like assistance with a food elimination diet, fasting, or offering a bland diet, a virtual vet appointment is a great way to quickly connect with a qualified veterinarian.

Is bloody diarrhea an emergency in dogs?

Straining and irritation to the colon and rectum can often result in a small amount of red blood in stool; no more than a few drops or a small streak. Digested blood, which is never normal, will appear black and tarry. While swallowing a large amount of blood due to a nosebleed or injury to the face causes the stool to be temporarily black and tarry, digested blood in the stool for no known reason is an emergency. In addition, large amounts of red blood or passing a lot of small jelly-like clots in the stool are both emergencies that require immediate medical attention.

FAQ - How to prevent diarrhea in dogs

What can I give my dog to stop diarrhea?

Most bouts of minor diarrhea in otherwise healthy adult dogs often resolve on their own. A vet may recommend fasting or offering a bland meal to help the digestive tract rest. Administering medications, fasting, and diet changes are best done under veterinary supervision. Never give human medications to your dog as they can make the situation worse or even cause life threatening toxicity.

Can I improve my dog’s loose stools naturally?

Chronic diarrhea and persistent loose stools can be a symptom of a potentially serious medical condition. Rather than trying natural remedies like plain rice or Pepto-Bismol® to firm up the stool, the underlying health issues need to be addressed and treated by a veterinarian to stop the diarrhea.

Why does my dog keep having diarrhea?

The most common cause of acute diarrhea is ingesting something out of the ordinary such as table scraps, garbage, and houseplants. Frequent bouts of diarrhea without access to such items is often a sign of an underlying health condition that needs veterinary attention.

Does my puppy have parvo if they have diarrhea?

While parvovirus causes severe, bloody diarrhea in puppies, it is not the only cause of puppy diarrhea. The odor commonly associated with parvo diarrhea is not unique to parvovirus and will be present with any severe bloody diarrhea.

The Vetster Editorial Team is comprised of seasoned writers and communicators dedicated to elevating stories about Vetster, pets and their owners.
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