Puppy and dog diarrhea can be a messy fact of life for some pet owners. Diarrhea is defined as abnormally soft or liquid feces, usually associated with an illness. Many causes of diarrhea exist in dogs, but the vast majority are minor and resolve on their own. Diarrhea is most commonly associated with intestinal parasites, dietary indiscretion or ingestion of garbage, bacterial overgrowth in the small intestines, viral diseases and allergy to food ingredients. Many cases of diarrhea are self-limiting and resolve on their own without intervention.
Diarrhea can be a serious problem if left untreated due to the danger of dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. If your pet is suffering from diarrhea, see your veterinarian immediately to begin appropriate treatment. Most cases of mild diarrhea require no treatment other than withholding food for 24 hours (with water available) and administration of one or more oral medications. Severe diarrhea will require intravenous fluids along with additional medical therapy.
What Causes Canine Diarrhea?
Intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms are very common in puppies and adult dogs. The most common cause of diarrhea in puppies under 3 months is giardia (a protozoan parasite). Giardiasis results from ingestion of infected fecal material or ingestion of food or water contaminated with infected feces.
Bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine is another common cause of diarrhea in puppies and dogs. Viral diseases such as parvovirus, coronavirus and distemper can all be associated with diarrhea (usually bloody). Allergy to food ingredients can result in vomiting, loose stools or diarrhea.
What are the Signs of Canine Diarrhea?
The most common sign associated with diarrhea is fecal incontinence (inability to hold feces). Other signs include straining to defecate, passing mucous or blood stained stools, passage of abnormally large stools and vomiting. Puppies with diarrhea may not grow and gain weight normally due to decreased nutrient absorption. Pets with acute (sudden) onset of diarrhea often show signs such as depression, flatulence, weakness, abdominal pain or vomiting that were not present prior to the onset of diarrhea.
Diagnosis of Canine Diarrhea
A history and physical examination are necessary for proper diagnosis. Your veterinarian will perform a rectal exam in order to feel for masses, inflammation or thickening of the intestinal wall, abnormal positioning of the bladder (urinary bladder) if present, and to feel for firm, small stools.
These findings are based on the principle that many cases of diarrhea are associated with intestinal obstruction or bacterial or protozoal infection. Your veterinarian will also need to know what your pet has eaten in the past few days for proper diagnosis.
What is the Treatment for Diarrhea?
Treatment for diarrhea depends on the underlying cause. Many cases of diarrhea are self-limiting and resolve without any treatment. Your veterinarian may recommend withholding food for 24 hours but allow access to water if your pet will drink it. If your pet is vomiting, you should withhold food until the vomiting has stopped before reintroducing small amounts of water and food.
Puppies with diarrhea are at risk of becoming dehydrated due to loss of fluids in the stools, so it is important to provide plenty of fresh clean water for them to drink. If your pet is not drinking, you should take him/her to the veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian may also recommend administration of intravenous fluids if your pet is dehydrated or vomiting.
Most cases of diarrhea in dogs are caused by dietary indiscretion (eating something they shouldn’t have) or eating grass. These cases respond well to withholding food for 24 hours with administration of oral medications to control vomiting, nausea and/or diarrhea.
But even if your pet does not require hospitalization for intravenous fluids or additional testing, he/she will need to be checked by your veterinarian and treated for the underlying cause of the diarrhea.
Medications that may be used to treat canine diarrhea:
Anti-diarrheal medications: These drugs help control loose stools and some of these agents also have antiemetic (anti-vomiting) properties. Common anti-diarrheal medications include diphenoxylate, loperamide and paregoric. These are available through your veterinarian or can be purchased at pharmacies without a prescription if they are labeled for use in dogs.
Antibiotics are often used to treat bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine or intestinal infections associated with parasites such as giardia.