Pet ownership isn’t always glamorous, and if you’ve ever had to deal with the aftermath of a dog with diarrhea, you know what we mean. Diarrhea in a dog is more than a messy rite of passage for pet owners—while some bouts of diarrhea will resolve by themselves, others can be a sign of severe health problems. Our team at Palm Valley Veterinary Center shares common reasons for your dog’s diarrhea and offers tips for treating your pet’s bothersome bowels.

What is diarrhea in dogs?

Diarrhea refers to frequent, non-formed loose or watery stool in larger amounts than your pet’s normal bowel movements. Diarrhea itself is not a disease, but commonly indicates other health conditions, ranging in seriousness. While a close examination may be the last thing you want to do, the consistency and color of your dog’s stool can reveal clues about the potential cause. 

  • Color A healthy dog’s stool is chocolate brown, while colors like orange, green, or gray may be a sign of liver, gall bladder, or pancreas problems. Red, blood-tinged stool may indicate bleeding in the lower digestive tract or a cut in or around the anus. If your dog’s stool is black and tarry, contact our team immediately, because this may be a sign of internal bleeding in the upper digestive tract. 
  • Shape — Your dog’s normal stool is log-shaped and maintains its form. Any changes in shape can indicate potential problems. 
  • Consistency —Your dog’s stool should be compact, moist, and easy to scoop, compared with diarrhea, which is watery, with no form, and indicates intestinal upset. 
  • Size — The size of your dog’s stools depends on their fiber intake and the quality of their diet. As a responsible pet owner who cleans up after their pet, you are probably familiar with your dog’s normal-size stool and will recognize any size difference, whether larger or smaller. 
  • Content — Examining the contents of your dog’s poop carefully may not be pretty, but you can quickly identify potential issues. Mucus-coated stool can indicate an inflamed colon, while large amounts of grass may point to stress or gastric upset. If your dog has been self-licking or losing hair, you may notice fur in their stool, which could signal a skin condition. White spots that look like grains of rice may be tapeworms, which can be treated with veterinary prescription deworming medication. 

What causes diarrhea in dogs?

Diarrhea occurs because of a gastrointestinal (GI) tract malfunction, which can be caused by many conditions. The most common causes include:

  • Dietary indiscretion (i.e., garbage gut) — If your dog ingests foods their body cannot tolerate, such as table scraps, garbage, or spoiled food, their signs may be similar to those in humans with food poisoning, such as diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, and weakness. 
  • Stress or anxiety — Stressful situations and changes in your dog’s routine, such as adoption, boarding, moving, or adding or losing pets or family members, can trigger GI upset that manifests itself in diarrhea. Stress colitis refers to intestinal inflammation triggered by physical or emotional stress that reduces your pet’s immunity, disrupts gut flora, and results in diarrhea.
  • Dietary changes — Switching your dog’s food too quickly can cause a GI upset that may include diarrhea, vomiting, and decreased appetite. When changing your dog’s food, transition to the new diet by gradually adding the new food to their current food, to give their system time to adjust.
  • Toxin ingestion — Diarrhea can occur if your dog ingests a substance that is toxic for pets. Some of the most common toxic household substances for dogs include chocolate, raisins, the sugar substitute xylitol, and human medications. 
  • Intestinal parasites —Intestinal parasites, such as hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, Giardia, and Coccidia, invade and attack the intestinal wall, causing GI signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. 
  • Viral or bacterial infections — Many viruses, including canine parvovirus and distemper, and bacteria, like Clostridium, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, often lead to diarrhea. Vaccines protect against infectious diseases, so ensure your dog stays current on their vaccinations.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease — Diarrhea that occurs more than once a week can be a sign of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD can be caused by a bacterial imbalance, food intolerance, or abnormal immune response that causes inflammation of the stomach lining, colon, large intestine, and small intestine. IBD can be treated with antibiotics, supplements, immunosuppressive drugs, and/or a diet adjustment. 

How is diarrhea treated in dogs?

If your dog has an isolated diarrhea episode with no other GI distress signs, their condition likely can be managed at home. However, if their diarrhea persists longer than 24 to 48 hours, occurs more than once a week, or is accompanied by other clinical signs, they need prompt veterinary care.

Reduce your dog’s diarrhea risk by ensuring they receive regular wellness screening and stay up to date on their vaccinations and parasite preventives. If your dog does have frequent diarrhea and needs veterinary attention, contact our team at Palm Valley Veterinary Center. We can help determine the underlying cause and appropriate treatment—and provide relief for you and your dog.