By Dr. Becker
Diarrhea is a common problem in puppies, and can range from a single mild episode to a severe symptom of a serious underlying condition. There are a number of causes of diarrhea in very young dogs including:
- Change in diet
- Ingestion of a foreign object
- Viral infection
It's important to keep a close eye on a puppy with diarrhea, as very young dogs can get much sicker much faster than an older animal. Most pet owners who've had experience with a puppy have also had at least one go-round with puppy diarrhea.
If your puppy is having diarrhea, there's no reason to panic unless the problem is very severe. However, you should watch your pup carefully and if the problem doesn't resolve within one or two potty sessions, you should make an appointment with your pet's veterinarian or visit an animal emergency clinic. Young puppies can become dangerously dehydrated in 24 hours or less.
#1: Stress-Induced Diarrhea
Both people and animals can get diarrhea as a result of stress. Think about it. A puppy new to your family has undergone tremendous changes in a short period of time. She's been removed from her mother and littermates. She has been physically relocated from the only environment she's known to a new, unfamiliar one. There was probably some travel involved, if only a short drive in the car. The sights, sounds, smells and temptations in her world have changed overnight.
She's no longer one of several, but the only puppy in the household. If your family is like most, your new little girl is overwhelmed with attention – she's being handled, talked to and played with more than ever before. Any change can be stressful, even a change for the better. When you consider the inexperience of your puppy and the major adjustments she must make during her first few months of life, it's really not surprising if her GI tract reacts to the stress.
If your puppy's diarrhea is stress related, it should resolve within a few days. Make sure to keep clean, fresh water available for her at all times, and if necessary, take her to the bowl and encourage her to drink. Your integrative vet can also offer many suggestions on simple, natural remedies that can help your pet through this initial adjustment period, if needed. Also make sure she has lots of opportunity to nap and plenty of quiet time.
#2: Diarrhea Caused by a Change in Diet
Depending on where your puppy came from, you may or may not have received information on his diet before you brought him home. Many new puppy owners either don't know what food their pet is used to, or decide to make a change for some reason (hopefully to upgrade to species-appropriate nutrition).
An abrupt change in your puppy's diet can bring on a bout of diarrhea. In fact, this is true for older dogs as well, if dietary diversity has not been practiced. Even if your pup was being fed a low quality commercial puppy chow, a sudden change to a high quality diet can temporarily upset his digestive system and cause loose stools.
Changes to your dog's diet, no matter his age, should be gradual – preferably over a seven to ten day period, and sometimes longer, depending on each pup. It's always a good idea to learn what your puppy has been fed up to the time you bring him home. That way you can blend a bit of the food he's used to with the food you want to transition him to, gradually decreasing and ultimately eliminating the old food over the course of one to two weeks.
I recommend you continue to rotate your puppy's food intermittently throughout her life, as there is no one perfect protein source that should be fed exclusively for a lifetime. Gradually tapering off of one brand and onto another will reduce episodes of diarrhea in the future.
#3: Ingestion of a Foreign Object
Puppies are incredibly curious about everything they encounter in their environment, and the way they explore new things is usually with their mouths. You might think all your pup is doing is chewing something he shouldn't – which is problem enough – but whatever he's chewing will get swallowed if it isn't removed from his mouth.
Foreign objects, including several people foods, plants, and flowers, can do more than cause a case of diarrhea. Your little guy can also be poisoned or suffer a complete blockage in his GI tract if he swallows the wrong thing. For a number of reasons, including the potential for ingesting a non-food, toxic or other foreign object, your puppy should never be left roaming unattended in your home or yard – not even for a minute.
If you suspect your pup has swallowed something he shouldn't, call his veterinarian or an animal emergency clinic immediately. You can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for guidance.
#4: Diarrhea Caused by Worms or Other Parasites
Your puppy can be born with intestinal worms or acquire them from her mother's milk. Some of the most common organisms causing diarrhea in puppies are hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and whipworms. Fortunately, worm infestations are easily cured medically, so get your puppy to her veterinarian if you suspect her diarrhea is caused by worms.
In the meantime, make sure to keep her hydrated, as dehydration is the most immediate concern for any puppy with diarrhea. Once your puppy has been medically dewormed, discuss with her holistic veterinarian safe, natural options for keeping future intestinal invaders in check.
Other types of pests that can cause diarrhea in your pup are protozoan parasites. These are single celled organisms, the most common of which are coccidia and Giardia. If your puppy is carrying a protozoan parasite in her intestinal tract, her diarrhea will typically be watery and very smelly. You might see blood or mucus in the stool, and your pup will generally have other symptoms like vomiting, loss of appetite or fatigue.
It's important to get your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible if you think parasites are causing her diarrhea, as medical management may be necessary to get rid of the problem. Unfortunately, the drugs used to treat these types of parasites have side effects and aren't always entirely effective.
I recommend you take your pup to a holistic or integrative vet who can work with you to solve the problem with natural alternative remedies. Again – don't delay treatment, and make sure to keep your puppy hydrated in the meantime. Be aware that Giardia and coccidia are easily transmitted to other pets and human family members as well. Eliminating the parasites from your environment and good personal hygiene are musts in order to avoid spreading the problem around.
#5: Viral Infection
Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms of several canine viral infections, the most serious of which is parvovirus, also referred to as CPV or simply parvo. Parvovirus is highly contagious and is passed through exposure to the feces of an infected dog. The virus invades the lining of the small intestine and causes foul-smelling, bloody diarrhea, as well as vomiting, lethargy, depression and severe dehydration.
Older dogs usually recover from parvo, but the virus is often fatal in infected puppies. If your pup is showing signs of a viral infection, time is of the essence. If you can't get in to see your veterinarian right away, I recommend you take your pet to an animal emergency clinic.
How to Know If Your Puppy's Diarrhea is Life Threatening
Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast rule for determining whether your puppy's diarrhea is mild and will resolve quickly or is a symptom of a serious threat to his health.
Generally speaking, if your puppy suddenly develops watery stools – especially if they're streaked with blood – and has any other symptoms like vomiting, I recommend you seek immediate veterinary care. Very young puppies can become desperately ill in a matter of hours and it's better to be safe than sorry.
The key is to stay alert with any new, young four-legged member of the family. Keep a close eye on your puppy and be disciplined about securing him in his crate or a puppy-proof area of your home when you can't watch him – even for a minute. This will reduce or eliminate the potential for your pup to swallow something he shouldn't. Likewise, changing his diet gradually should help to avoid GI upsets.
Insuring he's not over-stimulated and gets plenty of rest and quiet time should curb his stress reaction to a new environment. Until your pup has received two well-timed puppy vaccinations or homeopathic nosodes, it's not a good idea to take him to dog parks or other places where dogs you don't know congregate. Take care not to give him access to any area where other dogs do their business.
Do, however, start socializing your pup on his first day home. Keeping him safe from disease before he's immunized (which means his immune system has developed the correct antibodies to fight of life-threatening infection) doesn't require that you quarantine or entirely isolate the little guy.
Taking sensible precautions with your new puppy can reduce or eliminate the potential for tummy upsets and diarrhea, and put you in a better position to know immediately if you should seek veterinary care. The more you know about possible causes of your puppy's loose stools, the better prepared you'll be to react to a true emergency.
Home Care for Mild Diarrhea
If your puppy is having some mild diarrhea but is otherwise playful, energetic and weighs more than 5 pounds, fast her for 12 hours, preferably overnight. The G.I. tract can only rest, repair and restore itself when it's not working.
If she's better in the morning, give her some chicken or vegetable broth (no onion) and cooked sweet potato or pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling!). If the stool improves, but isn't 100%, feed a second and third meal of cooked ground turkey meat (no bones) and sweet potato or pumpkin. Once she continues to improve, you can go back to regular feedings. If the diarrhea continues another day or two, even if she seems fine, it's time to take her to the vet, and bring a small stool sample with you.
An effective herbal remedy for mild diarrhea in very young puppies:
- Bring a pint of water to boil
- Add 2 teaspoons of dried chamomile herb to the boiling water; steep for 10 minutes
- Pour the mixture through cheesecloth, then add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt and 4 tablespoons slippery elm powder. Stir well and let cool.
Give your puppy two to three teaspoons of this mixture three times a day. Make sure she drinks plenty of water in between doses. You can also give her an electrolyte solution to help prevent dehydration and replenish vital nutrients.