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It’s a problem no one likes to deal with, or usually even talk about for that matter. But diarrhea is a fairly common problem in dogs and at some point or another, pet parents will likely have to contend with the condition.
What exactly is diarrhea? Basically, diarrhea is loose or watery stools and they typically occur at an increased frequency or with an increased amount. Diarrhea can be classified into two general groups, acute (lasting just a few days) or chronic, where dogs experience continuing problems.
What are the Symptoms of Diarrhea?
For the most part, if your dog is suffering from a bout of diarrhea it’s a good idea to get her to the veterinarian to find out why she’s experiencing a problem.
According to Peteducation.com, it’s important to call your veterinarian immediately if your dog is exhibiting any of the following symptoms:
Blood in the diarrhea, or black or tarry stools
You suspect your dog may have eaten something toxic or poisonous
Pale or yellow gums
Seems to be in pain
Your dog is a puppy or has not received all her vaccinations
What Causes Diarrhea?
Any number of things can cause diarrhea, but diet is usually the most common culprit. This may include a food sensitivity, abrupt change in foods, ingesting human meals or even from eating garbage out of the trash. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on selecting the right diet for your specific dog.
Other causes can range from intestinal parasites to bacterial or viral infections, colitis, intestinal blockage to tumors and more. Vetmed.wsu.edu breaks it down by “diseases of the small intestine, large intestine or by diseases of organs other than the intestinal tract.”
While it may seem like diarrhea is diarrhea, the distinctions are important for diagnosis and treatment because the causes differ.
For instance, vetmed.wsu.edu notes that with small intestine diseases, the result is “a larger amount of stool passed with a mild increase in frequency; about 3 to 5 bowel movements per day. The pet doesn’t have to strain or have difficulty passing the stool. Animals with small intestinal disease may also vomit and lose weight. Excess gas production is sometimes seen and you may hear the rumbling of gas in the belly. If there is blood in the stool it is digested and black in color.”
Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Illnesses associated with the small intestine are associated with bacteria, such as salmonella, clostridia or campylobacter. VetMed.wsu.edu points out that these same conditions can also be found in regular stool, though.
Vet4petz.com adds the following to that list:
Internal parasites (worms)
Ingesting inappropriate substances (garbage eating, feeding from table, hunting and ingestion of wildlife)
Abrupt change in diet without appropriate introductory period
Inflammation of the small intestines from patient’s own immune system (potentially the result of dietary allergy)
Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine
Inflammation of the pancreas and/or lack of production of enzymes from the pancreas
Disease of the fat absorption system (lymph system)
Metabolic diseases (liver, kidney, or disease in another system not associated directly with the intestinal tract)
Cancer of the intestines
A diagnosis usually begins with examining a stool sample if possible, physical examination, blood work, urinalysis and possibly X-rays.
The vet may use an endoscope to look inside the intestinal tract or to take a tissue sample if a biopsy is needed, which is “sometimes necessary in long standing cases where response to treatment is poor,” reports vet4petz.com. Note that an endoscopy requires anesthesia.
Large Intestinal Diarrhea
“Potential causes are similar to that of small intestinal diarrhea,” reports Vet4petz.com. “Parasites, inappropriate digestion of food (eating unfamiliar food substances), inflammation from immune system, bacterial overgrowth, and cancer seem to be most common causes.”
Other possibilities include stress, which can result from moving, changes to the environment, anxiety and so on, or colitis, which is an inflammation of the colon.
According to MarVistaVet.com, the signs of colitis are “gooey diarrhea, featuring mucus, fresh blood or both. The stool may start normal then finish soft or may seem gooey throughout. There is often cramping, gas, and a sense of immediate urgency (the sudden need to run for a bathroom). Vomiting can be a feature of this condition though it is the characteristic diarrhea that is the hallmark.”
Many of the tests to determine whether your dog is suffering from lower intestinal diarrhea are similar to the ones for the small intestines, including a fecal exam, physical exam, X-rays and an endoscopy. An additional test in the form of a rectal exam using a gloved finger may also provide some insight regarding bowel problems, such as rectal polyps and rectal cancer.
How is Diarrhea Treated?
Your vet will ask you a series of questions, typically related to your dog’s diet, comfort level, the environment, when it started and much she’s been going.
As unpleasant as it may be, you’ll need to keep track of how many times she’s gone potty, about how much and what it looks like to help your vet determine a cause for the watery stool.
If you happen to know the cause of the diarrhea, so much the better, but sometimes the vet has to conduct a series of tests to determine what’s going on and why.
A short bout of diarrhea is usually nothing to worry about and can sometimes be managed at home. Remove your dog’s food for about 24 hours to see if that helps. If it does, you’ll want to start slowly reintroducing bland food; Peteducation.com recommends small portions of boiled hamburger and rice. If the diarrhea goes away, slowly transition your dog back to her regular diet.
If she’s allergic or has a sensitivity to some food, a permanent change in diet is likely in order. Through testing, your veterinarian can help pinpoint which foods are causing an issue and what your dog will need to eat instead.
Although you may have to withhold food during your dog’s bout of diarrhea, don’t withhold water. Diarrhea can cause dehydration, so it’s imperative that dogs have access to fresh water.
If your dog’s diarrhea persists at all, get her to your vet right away. Because diarrhea is a symptom of something else and not a disease in and of itself, treatment depends on the underlying cause so compliance with your veterinarian’s directions is important.
“Diarrhea can have a devastating effect on the body due to its dehydrating effect, and left untreated it can lead to blood sugar depletion, circulatory collapse and death,” reports Professorshouse.com. “Although mild cases of diarrhea may resolve without intervention, diarrhea accompanied by vomiting, lethargy or any other behavioral changes should be treated as a medical emergency. Because the severity of the cause of diarrhea is not immediately present at onset, prompt medical attention must be sought to quickly diagnose and treat the underlying problem.”
As mentioned above, food issues will likely be solved with diet changes. For things like bacterial or viral infections, your vet will likely prescribe medication, de-wormers for parasites and so on. Allow your veterinarian to make any decisions regarding over-the-counter medications, as well.
For the most part, if your dog is starting to show signs of going potty more often than usual or the consistency of her feces changes, it’s just a good idea to get her to the veterinarian as a safety precaution fairly soon. The best way to treat your dog’s diarrhea is to have your veterinarian treat it for you.
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.