When your dog has diarrhea, you need solutions quickly. However, figuring out what the underlying problem is difficult, and it may take some time to arrive at a proper diagnosis. We spoke with Dr. Michael Sterns of 4Paws Mobile Veterinary Services in Mountain View, CA about some questions that come up frequently when dog parents and their pups are facing this stressful situation.
If My Dog Has Diarrhea, How Should I Prepare for a Vet Visit?
The best thing to do is to bring in a sample of the stool, or at least a picture. Also take note of:
- How long has the diarrhea been going on?
- The consistency: is it always diarrhea, or is it sometimes normal stool and sometimes diarrhea?
- Is blood present in your dog’s stool?
- Is it related to an event like boarding or daycare?
- Did your dog eat something they shouldn’t have eaten?
There’s Blood in My Dog’s Stool. How Long Should I Wait Before Bringing My Dog to the Vet?
No more than 3-4 days. Not only is diarrhea uncomfortable for your pet; the longer it goes on, the greater the risk there is of it developing into a more severe health concern. Dehydration is a common and dangerous result of prolonged diarrhea, especially in small dogs and puppies. Small dogs and puppies are at increased risk because they can only drink small amounts of water at a time and due to their size they lose water more quickly than large dogs.
I Know that Diarrhea Can Cause Dehydration. How Can I Tell if My Pup is Dehydrated?
Feel your pet’s gums — a well hydrated animal is just like us. If the gums are “tacky,” that is not completely dry and a bit sticky, your pet is at least 2% dehydrated; if they are completely dry, they are at least 5% dehydrated.
What Does It Mean if My Dog’s Poop Changes From a Normal Smell to a Very Foul Smell?
This can be caused by several things: a change in food, something affecting motility (your dog’s ability to move food through their digestive tract), or a food sensitivity. It can also be caused by inflammation of the intestines due to a bacterial or viral infection. In puppies coming from a stressful environment with unknown vaccination history, it can be due to parvovirus, a potentially life-threatening condition.
Do You Suspect Different Causes When A Dog Has Continuous Diarrhea Versus “Flare-ups”?
When a dog has continuous diarrhea, I know that the bowel is very much out of balance. Food allergies are high on my list of suspects, as they are becoming more and more prevalent. Continuous diarrhea tends to be more of an imminent threat because it can result in an electrolyte imbalance, which can be very dangerous because electrolytes are needed for crucial cellular processes throughout the body, including the heartbeat.
Flare-ups may be related to inflammatory causes. With flare-ups, increasing the pet’s fiber intake is often helpful, because many pets get too little fiber in their diets. Psyllium husk powder and canned pumpkin are both great sources of fiber, though there are lots more to choose from.
What Tests Are Typically Run On a Pet with Diarrhea?
A typical course of testing would be a Comprehensive Fecal Ova and Parasites plus Giardia antigen: this looks for the presence of intestinal worms like hookworms and roundworms that can often cause diarrhea. If the diarrhea is chronic and has been unresponsive to first-line treatment, we run a fecal PCR test to look for the presence of bacterial pathogens like Clostridium difficile or Campylobacter spp.
In conjunction with disease-oriented diagnostics, I would also recommend testing your dog’s stool for proper bacterial balance using a DoggyBiome Gut Health Test. The “gut microbiome” is the term used to refer to all the tiny organisms (such as bacteria, viruses, and yeast) living in your dog’s gut. They may be tiny, but they have enormous influence over your dog’s health, so making sure they’re properly balanced can go a long way.
The gut health test for dogs can detect bacterial imbalances, determine if “good” bacterial groups are missing or if there are too many harmful bacteria. The analysis shows how your dog’s gut microbiome compares to the microbiomes of healthy dogs.
These test results can provide insight as to what steps you might take to help stop dog diarrhea and prevent it in the future. A detailed report provides personalized diet and supplement recommendations to improve your dog’s gut health. Having this knowledge in hand allows you to treat your dog’s diarrhea while also promoting long-term health by encouraging a properly balanced gut microbiome.
Is There Anything Else You’d Like to Tell Dog Parents Who are Caring for Dogs with Diarrhea?
Some dogs will not drink enough to rehydrate on their own, so it is extremely important to replenish fluids and electrolytes however you can. Try offering ice chips or a bowl of diluted chicken broth several times daily to entice your dog to drink.
Also consider trying a bland diet like chicken and rice. Talk to your veterinarian for recommendations on diets that can help nourish your dog while you rest their digestive tract. Your dog may need a bland diet and some extra TLC for at least a week. It can take that long for the gastrointestinal lining to regenerate and return to normal.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and is not intended to be a substitute for a visit with your veterinarian.
Still have questions? Read our article, Dog Diarrhea: How to Help Your Dog Feel Better. Learn more about our DoggyBiome diarrhea relief products.