By Dr. Becker
I think it’s time for another discussion on how to handle the problem of doggy diarrhea.
I’ve talked about this issue in other videos and articles here at Mercola Healthy Pets, but it’s such a common problem I think a refresher every now and then is a pretty good idea.
I decided to make this video in honor of my friends and family who, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, flooded my email inbox and voicemail with dozens of calls about this issue.
These are people who are seasoned dog owners, but just wanted assurance they were doing the right thing.
Since many of you probably don’t have a vet in the family you can call, this video can serve a similar purpose.
The content is exactly what I explained to my loved ones.
And actually, now that I have a video on the subject, I’ll just refer them here when future calls come in!
If you own a dog, chances are you’ve lived through at least one bout of doggy diarrhea.
It’s not a matter of if it will happen – just when.
When will your dog get diarrhea?
Knowing ahead of time the steps to take when your dog develops diarrhea or loose, watery stools can give you peace of mind when the time comes.
And as we all know, the time will come!
Causes of Diarrhea
There are a lot of reasons dogs develop loose stools. The most common reason is dietary indiscretion, which means your dog ate something she shouldn’t have. This was the cause of all the phone calls and emails to me over the holidays.
During the holidays, when people are cooking and hosting a lot of events that involve food, a really ripe environment is created for the ingestion of new foods dogs have not consumed before.
Sometimes it’s leftovers that cause GI upset. And sometimes, owners don’t even know their dogs have gotten into food.
That was the situation in my home, actually. My dogs were tearing open the garbage bags that we had put outside by the garage. They foraged all afternoon and into the evening on a feast of leftovers and we were clueless until we came upon the mess.
Many dogs spend much of their time sniffing around the house for morsels and tidbits anywhere they can find them, including gas grill grease traps, bathroom garbage cans, bird feeders, bird baths, ornamental ponds, and certainly the garden.
Another cause of diarrhea is a sudden change in a dog’s regular food. Also allergies to certain foods and poor quality dog food in general. I see a lot of kibble-related diarrhea in dogs.
Parasites like giardia can cause intermittent diarrhea. This microscopic parasite causes a wax-and-wane type of diarrhea that just pops up out of the blue. And about the time you think you should call the vet, the stool firms up on its own. You assume all is well – until another bout of diarrhea occurs days or weeks later.
Viral and bacterial infections in the digestive tract can cause diarrhea. So can certain medications such as heartworm preventives.
Even stress can bring about an episode of diarrhea in dogs and puppies. While you may think nothing very eventful is going on in your world, your dog can experience stress over even a slight change in routine. Suddenly you’re looking at a bout of watery doggy poop that seems to have come out of the blue.
Symptoms of Diarrhea (the obvious and not-so-obvious)
The most obvious symptom of diarrhea is when your dog is standing anxiously at the door and needs to get out quickly. Once he’s out he runs urgently to a spot and often passes loose, watery stool.
Or … you’re not around when the urgency hits and you find an accident on the floor when you get home.
A less obvious and often confusing symptom of diarrhea can be when your dog strains to go. It actually looks more like constipation than diarrhea.
Diarrhea upsets the normal rhythm of the muscle contractions in your dog’s intestinal tract. This can give him the sensation that he constantly needs to poop. So even though he’s hunched over and straining, his colon could be empty from repeated bouts of loose stool.
Other symptoms that can go along with diarrhea include fever, lethargy, malaise, loss of appetite, and dehydration.
Most healthy dogs experience an occasional episode of loose stool or diarrhea and it’s done – over with. It resolves all by itself. In this instance the underlying issue is probably something she ate she shouldn’t have, or perhaps stress was the trigger.
But any dog has the potential to become very ill from chronic bouts of diarrhea. Puppies, small dogs, and seniors are at higher risk of dehydration from just one round of explosive diarrhea.
It’s important to make sure that your pet has access to clean drinking water at all times, and encourage your pet to drink if you can.
When to Seek Professional Help
If your dog seems fine after a bout of diarrhea -- meaning she’s acting normal, with normal energy – it’s safe to simply keep an eye on her.
But if you notice she’s also sluggish, running a fever or feels warm to the touch, or there’s a change in her behavior, I certainly recommend you contact your vet.
If you see blood in your pet’s stool or she’s weak or shows any other signs of debilitation along with the diarrhea, you should make an appointment with the vet.
If your dog seems fine but is experiencing recurrent bouts of diarrhea, you should make an appointment.
It’s important to bring a sample of your dog’s stool to your appointment, even if it’s watery. Use a plastic baggie and shovel a bit in there to take with you. This will help your vet identify potential underlying causes for the diarrhea.
Home Care for Diarrhea in Healthy Dogs
If your pet is an adult, otherwise healthy, and behaving normally except for the diarrhea, I recommend you withhold food – NOT WATER – for 12 hours.
At the 12-hour mark, offer a bland, fat-free diet. I recommend cooked ground turkey and plain 100 percent pumpkin.
Cook the ground turkey to remove grease and extra fat. And make sure the pumpkin isn’t pie filling, just plain canned or fresh cooked. If you can’t find plain canned pumpkin, substitute cooked sweet potato or even instant mashed potatoes.
This is a different bland diet from the traditional ground beef and rice combination that is often recommended. Even the leanest ground beef contains a lot of fat, and fat can worsen a case of diarrhea.
Rice, even though it’s bland, is very fermentable. Fermenting rice in the colon of a pet with diarrhea tends to increase gassiness. Also, rice tends to just zip right through the GI tract, exiting with the next bout of explosive diarrhea totally undigested.
Because of its large surface area (when compared to kernels of rice), many pets do much better with pureed pumpkin or sweet potato. Even through a bout of diarrhea, it is readily absorbed.
Mix the cooked ground turkey and pumpkin or sweet potato 50-50 in your dog’s bowl. Feed 2 to 3 small meals a day until stools are back to 100 percent, which should happen in about 72 hours.
My favorite all-natural anti-diarrhea remedy is an herb called slippery elm bark. I recommend always having some on hand so when you need it, it’s right there. You don’t have to run to the store.
Slippery elm is safe for puppies, adults, and geriatric dogs and it is completely safe blended with other medications. I recommend about a half teaspoon for each 10 pounds of body weight, mixed into the bland diet twice daily.
I also recommend you add in a good quality pet probiotic once the stool starts to firm.
Feeding a bland diet and supplementing with slippery elm bark is a good plan for about 3 days, at which time your dog’s stool should be back to normal.
If after 3 days the diarrhea hasn’t cleared up, it’s time to check in with your veterinarian.