If you have a dog, you’ve dealt with dog diarrhea.
Maybe only once, maybe a few times. Maybe you were lucky enough to only have it happen outside. Or maybe you were not so lucky and had to get down on your hands and knees and scrub-a-dub-dub. But no matter the situation, diarrhea is just a fact of life when it comes to our canine companions.
And while we never want it to happen, sometimes it just arrives, unannounced, out of nowhere… making a mess that’s not so fun to clean up!
Diarrhea is a common canine issue, one that varies in frequency, duration, and intensity from dog to dog. So, knowing we’re all going to have to face it, how can you help your pup, and when is it time to head to the vet?
Causes of Dog Diarrhea
There are several causes of dog diarrhea. And some are more serious than others. It’s really important to determine what’s causing your dog’s diarrhea when you first notice it. That’s the best approach to figuring out how to navigate it.
(NOTE: You know your dog better than anyone else, and only you know the subtle signs that something is wrong. Respect your instincts and if you think you need veterinary guidance, pick up the phone.)
The number one cause of diarrhea in dogs is diet. You will often see it if your dog eats something she isn’t used to eating, or if you quickly change foods. It doesn’t need to mean they’ve eaten something bad – even just something your dog isn’t used to can cause a little liquidity in the colon. For example, if a dog is used to eating only kibble, switching to raw may temporarily result in some runny poop. (TIP: Take it slow when transitioning.)
A food intolerance may also lead to runny poops. If your dog eats something new, and you notice this, your dog could have an intolerance/allergy to some proteins or additives in the diet. It’s always best when you are trying something new to make a list of all the ingredients in the new food your dog has never had, including some of the ingredients you can not even pronounce!!!
2. Dumpster Diving
We’ll use this to refer to your dog eating anything she shouldn’t. This could be because she likes to counter-surf, pick through the garbage, or pick up things on walks. And it doesn’t necessarily mean food. Many dogs eat things that are not, in fact, food: sticks, stuffies, socks… these kinds of things can irritate the gut, causing diarrhea. They can actually be very dangerous as they can cause life-threatening obstructions. This list of non-food items can also include toxic substances such as household cleaners or medications!
In this case, it can be important to evaluate what your dog may have eaten. If it’s something dangerous (or you’re not sure), a visit to the vet is essential. This is especially true if the diarrhea is accompanied by any changes in behaviour, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, or seizures.
Stress is so often overlooked as a cause of many different pet ailments, including diarrhea. But it can have major impacts on your dog’s body. Both long-term and short-term stress can lead to diarrhea, so it’s important to consider any stressors in your dog’s life if it seems to come out of nowhere.
- A recent move
- A new member of the family
- A loss of a family member or animal companion
- Separation anxiety
- Noise phobia (fireworks, storms)
- Car travel
- Going back to work
- Construction happening when you are at work and the dog is alone
- New neighbours
If you recognize that stress might be the cause of the diarrhea, consider the stressor and how you can reduce or eliminate it from your dog’s life/environment.
4. Intestinal Parasites
Parasites can be particularly problematic for puppies and older dogs, or dogs with an impaired immune system, and can ultimately cause diarrhea. Saying that, a dog on a species-appropriate diet with a healthy gut flora should be able to naturally defend themselves from parasites.
The most common parasites include:
It is imperative your dog is properly diagnosed to be sure that the correct choice of medication is given and not just given something with the “thought” that it is a parasite. Nor is it helpful to have a “broad spectrum” medication given when there is no confirmed diagnosis of the parasite. Routinely worming or worming “just in case” it’s a parasite can lead to a lifetime of gut disease and chronic GI upset.
5. Viral or Bacterial Infections
A viral or bacterial infection can cause diarrhea. In fact, it’s often the first sign you’ll see that something is off in the body. And that makes sense, since 90% of your dog’s immune system lives in the gut. So, if bacteria or a virus takes hold, it’s often going to affect the gut.
Viral diseases such as parvovirus (especially in puppies), distemper, coronavirus and other rotaviruses can cause foul-smelling diarrhea. Watch for other signs (lethargy, vomiting, lack of appetite, fever and, in distemper, coughing) and head to the vet if you think this might be the cause. Bacterial infections can come from a variety of places, including food poisoning from spoiled food, or from eating things outside.
6. A Pre-existing Medical Condition
Several conditions can cause dog diarrhea, both intermittently and on an ongoing basis. Irritable bowel disease is a common one. It happens when inflammatory cells chronically invade your dog’s intestine. The cause is often unknown, but many holistic health professionals attribute it to many of the same triggers for other autoimmune diseases. For example, chronic systemic inflammation can be caused by many factors, such as leaky gut or not having the amount of antioxidants needed in the body to fight inflammation and oxidative stress. Colitis is another cause. Diarrhea is also a common symptom of dogs with kidney or liver disease. Therefore if your pup has diarrhea often, you should have a full blood panel done to rule out underlying issues.
Natural Remedies for Dog Diarrhea
Once you think you’ve narrowed down the cause, and determined that it may be a minor issue, there are a few things to try to get things back on solid ground…
Since diarrhea is caused by some type of irritation in the gastrointestinal tract, giving it a time to settle can often be enough to get rid of it. You can withhold your animal’s regular food for 12 hours (up to 24 but no more), but ALWAYS give access to water. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration.
In many cases, Julie Anne Lee suggests never fully fasting, especially if it is IBD or stressed-induced because it can cause a lot more stress. She always recommends some very mild food that’s easy on the gut (see below): bone broth, raw goat milk, pureed cooked chicken, or pumpkin and never longer than 24 hrs. She also recommends Gut Soothe mixed in to help soothe inflammation.
NOTE: Do Not Fast Puppies or Cats! Also, older dogs need nutrients, so don’t go without for long for them. In this case, feed some of the foods below, blended together so it’s very easy to digest.
Once you reintroduce food, be gentle. Don’t just go back to your dog’s regular food.
- Pure pumpkin (100% pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling) is good for diarrhea (and constipation as well, interestingly).
- Bone broth is gentle and provides many nutrients.
- Lightly cooked chicken is bland enough that it should not irritate the GI tract. If your dog is allergic to chicken, cooked white fish is a good choice.
Homeopathy can be a game changer in episodes of diarrhea
First things first – and this is important. Homeopathy is not like a drug. The amount isn’t based on weight, and it doesn’t matter if your animal has 2 pellets or 6. Yes, it’s hard to wrap your head around this one, but it’s just the way it works. As long as some of the remedy gets into your pet, the energy of the remedy will be able to get to work.
If your animal will take the pellets without issue by mouth, that’s an easy way to do it. The best or easiest way is to crush the pellets between two spoons and give them as a powder. Animals even have this perfect little pocket just inside their cheek that you can pour the remedy into. For cats, or pickier dogs, this might not be the easiest option, so you can also add a few pellets to a small cup of water, let it sit for 20 minutes, and give 1 teaspoon of the water to your animal. That works too.
Give the first round of pellets of the remedy and watch for any signs of improvement. Give it every 20 minutes, three times. If, after that, you haven’t noticed a change, for the better (less frequency, less straining, sleeping and not restless) try a different remedy. But if there is constant improvement give the next dose in 2 hours then the next in 4 hours then the next in 8 hours.
Remedies are chosen based on which one fits your animal’s overall symptoms:
Our top remedies:
- Arsenicum album 30C – When the urge is fast and furious and often, sometimes they cannot make it outside. They are more often than not restless and cannot get comfortable for long. This remedy is helpful when you know it’s because of eating something rotten like spoiled food in the garbage. It’s also a great IBD remedy for anxious, restless dogs who are often worse at night. There can be lots of straining and even some drops of blood.
- Nux vomica 30C – This is if you think it’s more from over-eating or if there is the slightest thought that they could have eaten something slightly toxic. There is lots of cramping, gas, and straining and they can be a bit irritable and not want to be touched or coddled.
- Phosphorus 30C – These dogs are typically sweet-natured and love everyone and attention. This remedy is good for fats, meaning if they have gotten into something fatty or you have done a diet change too quickly. It’s also great for IBD when there is often streaks of blood and or drops of blood. They can be thirstier than normal with the diarrhea as well. It’s a good stress-induced diarrhea remedy from noise or fear or driving in the car.
- China 30C – This has always been a go-to remedy if your dog gets diarrhea from swimming or drinking from puddles, lakes, streams, etc.
Adding aconite and arnica 200C to all the above remedies is so helpful for pain and discomfort. Just add it to the water of whatever remedy you choose.
Several herbs can be very helpful for dog diarrhea:
- Slippery Elm – Slippery elm is a gentle demulcent plant that soothes the mucous membranes by coating it with mucilage. Give 100 milligrams per 10 pounds, two to four times daily. You can add it mixed into your dog’s regular food, or blend it into a little bit of plain kefir or gentle bone broth.
- Marshmallow Root – This is another useful herb for soothing inflammation and irritation in the gastrointestinal tract. Give 1/2 to 1.5 ml per 20 pounds body weight, twice daily.
- Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) – Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and expectorant properties, licorice root is popular for the gastrointestinal tract. It not only works to reduce gastric acid activity, it also has anti-inflammatory effects on the mucosal linings of the gut. Its antimicrobial properties can also help to rebalance gut flora and the soothing effects can be valuable for GI issues.
- Though not a herb, L-Glutamine (an amino acid) can also be helpful. Give 500mg per 25 lbs of body weight daily.
Our Gut Soothe contains all of these things, as well as pre and probiotics to encourage healthy gut flora and enhance the immune response of the digestive tract!
What Colour is it?
When diarrhea strikes, it’s important to take note of colour, consistency, frequency, and anything else you think might be unusual. In fact, that’s true of all poops – runny or firm.
Colour is really important. Normal poop should be a chocolate brown colour. If it’s any other colour, that could indicate a larger issue:
- Green – eating lots of grass or a gallbladder issue.
- Orange or yellow – eating lots of pumpkin or a liver issue
- Red streaks – blood in the stool (external) – could mean irritation around your dog’s bum. If there is a lot see your veterinarian
- Black and tarry – could mean there’s bleeding in the upper GI tract – call your veterinarian.
- Grey and greasy – could indicate a pancreas or biliary issue
- Pink or purple – could indicate hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) – Go to the vet right away.
- White specks – this could mean worms are present
When to Go to the Vet
Sometimes diarrhea will resolve itself quickly, especially if it’s caused by something like a food transition or as a result of a temporarily stressful situation.
Other times, it’s important to go to the vet. If you notice any of these, make an appointment:
- Other physical symptoms – lethargy, fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, any unusual behaviour
- Diarrhea that does not stop despite home remedies that worked in the past
- Dehydration – dry gums, lethargy, weakness, sunken eyes, loss of skin elasticity
- Use of medication (a dog on antibiotics, for example)
- Existing conditions such as advanced age, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, cancer, or any medical issue
As soon as you notice dog diarrhea, take note of colour, consistency, and frequency. Consider what the cause could be, and if you’re unsure or nervous, call your trusted veterinarian. They’ll be best suited to advise you on when home treatment can be useful and when a trip into the clinic is necessary. If an appointment is recommended but not booked for 24 hours or longer, still start the above tips. It’s amazing what can happen while you are waiting for your appointment.