What Do I Do If My Dog Has Diarrhea?
By: Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna
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Happy November! I hope all your dogs had a lovely and safe Halloween…please feel free to share pictures with us on Twitter or on our Facebook page! I am a sucker for a dog in costume.
I have had a number of questions recently regarding diarrhea, and I wanted to address a few of those here. Let me start this blog by saying if you are squeamish reading the word diarrhea, this may not be a comfortable article for you. That said, diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms that a dog will develop. Diarrhea has hundreds of causes, some which are mild and some that are severe. In all cases, diarrhea is an important signal to the pet parent that something may not be right with your dog’s gastrointestinal (GI) system.
Diarrhea is the term used any time a dog has a softer-than-normal stool, which can range from pudding-consistency to cow-patty-consistency to watery. Diarrhea in basic terms is a condition where there is too much fluid in the feces. It can be accompanied by straining, increased urgency to defecate, and fecal incontinence. In some cases blood, mucus, or parasites may be seen in the stool.
If your dog has diarrhea, it is important to collect a sample for your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may need to examine your dog and check the stool sample for parasites, such as Giardia, Coccidia, roundworms, hookworms, or whipworms. These parasites are contagious among dogs, so dogs that spend time together (dog parks, doggie day care, group outings) may be at higher risk. Note that many heartworm preventions also protect against some of these intestinal parasites.
If your dog has diarrhea, notify your veterinarian. Because diarrhea can range from mild to severe, some pets may be treated as outpatients, whereas some pets may need to be hospitalized for their diarrhea. For example, a dog who eats something unusual may have 1-2 episodes of diarrhea, with no change in appetite, energy, or hydration. On the other hand, a puppy with parvovirus will have consistent, often bloody diarrhea, and can quickly become dehydrated or die. Only a veterinarian can diagnose the cause of the diarrhea, generally with a physical exam, a stool sample test, and possibly additional diagnostics. Additional testing may include abdominal x-rays (radiographs), bloodwork, or a dietary trial. The history, or information, you provide your veterinarian is invaluable in determining the cause of the diarrhea. Using Voyce and Voyce Pro, you may input notes in your dog’s data that indicates development or changes with the diarrhea.
In many cases treatment for diarrhea is needed. The treatment is based on the dog’s clinical symptoms, as well as the suspected cause of the diarrhea. A dog that is suspected of having bacterial colitis may need antibiotics as well as probiotics, whereas a dog that has worms will need to be dewormed.
Many clients ask about treatment options for diarrhea. In general, I recommend calling your veterinary hospital as soon as possible about the diarrhea, so that your veterinarian is aware something may not be right. This notification allows her to follow your dog’s Voyce Pro data more closely, in case the diarrhea is causing her pain. Your veterinarian may recommend an easy to digest diet, that is either pre-made or canned, or possibly a homemade variation. One of my favorite diets for very mild diarrhea is a combination of low fat cottage cheese (50%) with plain boiled white rice (50%). I generally feed a very small amount to start, so the GI system can rest. Remember, food that goes in may come out as diarrhea, so in some cases more advanced treatment may be required. In severe cases, or in cases where vomiting is also present, alternative feeding options or hospitalization may need to be considered.
Always remember that hydration is vital. Symptoms of dehydration include dry gums, sunken eyes, or prolonged skin turgor (if you hold the skin up, it should drop immediately into place). If you ever suspect your dog may be dehydrated seek veterinary attention immediately.
In my experience, the majority of dogs experience diarrhea at least once in their lifetime. It is not a disease by itself, but a symptom of a number of disease states. By working with your veterinarian, you can find the cause of the diarrhea, and help your dog feel better more quickly.