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Health & Wellness

Dog diarrhea: causes and treatments

Here's what's going on.

Sometimes being a pet parent (especially a city-dwelling one) means walking your dog around the block for an hour because they have a bad spell of diarrhea — it’s often the only way to spare your carpet. Once your pup is finally done (and hopefully feeling a bit relieved!), you head inside and start researching ways to get ahead of the next round. 

It’s a good thing you landed here because Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, Dr. Aliya McCullough, is providing some helpful insights around what causes dog diarrhea and how to help your pup feel better. 

Here’s what’s causing your dog’s diarrhea

The answer to this question starts with a little anatomy lesson. When a dog’s digestive system is healthy, food breaks down as it passes through and the body absorbs nutrients, Dr. McCullough says. Any waste leaves the body as formed, firm (but not hard!) poop. You know, the segmented type that leaves zero marks on the ground after being picked up.

If the food moves through the digestive tract too quickly and the nutrients aren’t absorbed as much, that causes diarrhea — aka the unformed, watery and soft poop that’s nearly impossible to pick up, Dr. McCullough adds. 

As we mentioned before, diarrhea probably means something else is going on with your pup — like the following:

  • Gastrointestinal parasites (like roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, giardia and coccidia)
  • Sudden changes in diet or eating garbage or toxins 
  • Foreign body ingestion (like eating a chicken bone
  • Side effects from medications
  • Allergies (especially from food) 
  • Diseases of the stomach, intestines, pancreas, liver or kidneys

It’s a bit of an old wives’ tale that dogs can get diarrhea from eating too much grass. Dr. McCullough says that unless your pup eats enough to cause an internal blockage or there was a parasite in the grass, grass probably isn’t the cause.

Symptoms of dog diarrhea

As you may already know, diarrhea can have blood in it, cause frequent bathroom breaks and straining, reduce appetite and energy or come with vomiting. Dr. McCullough says it’s best to contact your vet about your dog’s diarrhea, and any other symptoms that come with it, so your pet can get the best care.

Be prepared to bring a poop sample to your appointment, too. Vets often diagnose diarrhea by testing a dog’s poop — in some cases, they may also take blood or give X-rays, abdominal ultrasounds, endoscopies (where a tube with a camera is used to examine a dog’s digestive tract) or biopsies, Dr. McCullough says. 

How to stop your dog’s diarrhea

Cases of diarrhea are often treated differently based on what’s causing it. “For example, diarrhea caused by parasites is treated with anti-parasitic medications and/or dewormers,” Dr. McCullough says. 

If your vet decides medication is the best way to help your pet feel better, they’ll likely prescribe an anti-diarrheal medication, probiotic or supplement, Dr. McCullough adds. And remember, never give your pet an over-the-counter medication without your vet’s permission.

RELATED: Diabetes in dogs

What to feed or give a dog with diarrhea

A vet-approved diet may help treat your dog’s diarrhea, too. Dr. McCullough suggests that your pet avoids foods high in fat or salt and eats diets low in fat that include lots of fiber and easily-digestible foods. “Highly digestible diets are typically the first line of treatment for dogs with diarrhea,” she explains. “This may be as simple as boiled white-meat chicken and white rice, but this is nutritionally incomplete and cannot be fed long term.” Your vet will know what’s best for your pup.

If your pup’s diarrhea is mild, they’ll probably feel better within a week or 2 — chronic cases may last a bit longer. To make your dog as comfortable as possible, Dr. McCullough suggests taking them out more frequently and cleaning their behind often to prevent irritation. 

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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