Every pet owner has had to deal with their furry friend getting sick at one time or another. One of the most common illnesses that pets can suffer from is diarrhea, and there are many things that can cause diarrhea in animals. With young animals we worry about dietary indiscretion--eating things that they shouldn’t be eating. With older animals, diarrhea may often be a symptom of a more serious underlying problem.
In many cases we may know exactly what caused the diarrhea, such as a sudden diet change. However, in other cases, we need to do some investigative work, such as laboratory testing (e.g. blood and stool sample analysis) and possibly imaging, such as x-rays or ultrasound, to find the cause. Whatever the situation, the following guidelines should help you get through your furry friend’s next bout of diarrhea.
Do know your pet’s bathroom patterns
One of the most common causes of diarrhea is colitis, or inflammation of the large intestine. A common symptom typically seen with colitis is increased frequency of defecation, along with mucous and fresh blood in or coating the stool. If your dog is asking to go outside to poop more frequently than usual, then he or she may be suffering from colitis. This is especially important with dogs on invisible fences, dogs that are let out in the yard without being walked by a person. Just because you don’t see them having diarrhea doesn't mean that they are not having diarrhea.
Do hold off food when symptoms are first noticed
If you notice that your dog is suffering from diarrhea and he is otherwise acting normally, then the first thing you want to do is hold him off food for 12 hours. This allows everything to clear out of the intestinal tract and allows the intestines to rest. When withholding food, remember that this includes treats, bones, or anything else that’s edible!
Do simplify your pet’s diet
One of the most important things you can to do in the case of gastrointestinal upset is to simplify the diet. After you have withheld food for 12 hours, start back simple with a bland, easily digestible diet, such as plain cooked chicken and rice. This should be fed in smaller portions and more frequently than usual feedings, such as every 3-4 hours. Once the stools have returned back to normal, you should then slowly transition back to your pet’s normal diet. After you have him back on his regular food, then start adding in extras, like treats, one at a time.
Do keep your dog on monthly heartworm preventative
Chances are that you already have your dog on a monthly heartworm and flea/tick preventative, and if you aren’t you should be. Most monthly heartworm medications not only prevent your pet from getting heartworm disease, but they typically also contain a de-wormer for common types of intestinal worms. And, since fleas can cause tapeworm infection in animals, it’s important to keep fleas off your pet as well!
Intestinal worms are parasites often seen in dogs, especially puppies. They are also a common cause of diarrhea in our four-legged family members. Your pet can become infected with worms in several ways: eating infected animal poop, soil, or sand outside, tracked inside on our shoes, or from our houseplant potting soil; hunting and eating infected wildlife, like rodents and squirrels; newborns can get worms from their mom; and from fleas. It is also very important to understand that some of these parasites are zoonotic, which means that people can catch them too.
Do consult your veterinarian
Diarrhea from simple dietary indiscretion may resolve with symptomatic treatment. If the diarrhea doesn’t resolve by holding back on food and then re-introducing a bland diet, though, then it’s time to call your veterinarian.
Pets that have chronic soft stool or chronic full-blown diarrhea should definitely be examined by a veterinarian, even if they are otherwise behaving normally. In these cases, there is likely an underlying problem that’s causing the diarrhea. This is especially true with older pets.
Underlying problems can range from simple food intolerance or intestinal parasites to more complicated diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease; thyroid, liver, or pancreatic disease; or cancer. In addition, pets suffering from severe diarrhea, especially young puppies and kittens, run the risk of dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and malnutrition if not treated quickly enough.
Do not change foods rapidly
When changing your pet’s diet, always do so slowly, over a period of 1-2 weeks. With most pets, abruptly stopping one kind of food and then starting a different food will cause gastrointestinal upset, resulting in diarrhea and/or vomiting. When you want to change your pet’s food, plan ahead instead of waiting until the current food just runs out completely. When the food is running low, start mixing in just a little bit of the new food with each meal, and then continue to gradually increase the amount of new food given per day while slowly decreasing the amount of the old food given, over a minimum of 1-2 weeks.
Do not allow your pet outside unsupervised
This is especially true with young dogs and puppies. Unsupervised dogs are more likely than adults to consume things outdoors that may cause gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea. Things like feces of other animals, dead animals/road kill, stagnant water, and even foreign objects, like leaves and wood chips, may all cause diarrhea in dogs. Also, by letting your dog roam free you may not know he’s suffering from diarrhea right away, which may lead to a more severe case or additional problems, like dehydration.
Do not wait too long
Just like everything in life early detection greatly improves treatment success. Diarrhea in many cases can be a symptom of a larger or underlying problem. If it doesn’t resolve quickly, it is a good idea to contact your veterinarian. He or she will help to diagnosis the underlying cause and get Daisy or Duke some relief and treatment. Also, by treating diarrhea early in the process we can prevent secondary problems, like dehydration.
Do not forget to bring your pet’s poop sample at his annual veterinary visit
Intestinal parasite infections are common in dogs, especially puppies. Dogs that spend a lot of time at parks or in areas where a lot of other dogs may frequent are also at risk. Some intestinal parasites can also be transmitted to people. Fortunately, most of these parasites can be found through routine stool parasite examination, so next time you bring Fido to the veterinarian, don’t forget the fecal sample!
Do not be afraid to change foods
Many dogs suffer from dietary intolerance, and to a lesser extent food allergy. In most cases the problems are caused by the protein source in the food. You may be feeding a premium food with the best ingredients, but if your pet can’t digest beef well, and that premium food contains beef, it may not be the best food for your pet. If your furry friend is suffering from chronic gastrointestinal disease, or diarrhea and/or vomiting, don’t hesitate to talk to your veterinarian about diet. Just remember, when changing foods, do so slowly over 1-2 weeks.
There are many causes of diarrhea in pets. Simple cases may resolve with conservative or symptomatic therapy. Some causes may be avoidable by routinely de-worming your pets. More severe or chronic cases usually need to be seen and treated by a veterinarian. Hopefully these simple tips will help avoid and treat future bouts. If they don’t, don’t wait too long before calling your veterinarian. He or she will help you get to the bottom of the problem and provide some relief for your pet. By knowing the cause, the signs, and initiating early treatment, you can help your friend get through his next bout of diarrhea.