What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs?

Diarrhea is such a common occurrence in pets, that I am sure almost all pet owners have (unfortunately!) experienced this with their dogs. The reason why it’s so common is because there are so many causes of diarrhea.

Let’s talk about what classifies as diarrhea, the common causes, and when to seek care from your veterinarian.

What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is feces that are not fully formed, and is commonly referred to as loose stool. Diarrhea can range from formed stool that is soft (similar to soft serve ice cream) or can be more severe, having an appearance of a puddle- with many other appearances in between.

What are the common causes of diarrhea?

As mentioned above, there is an extensive list of causes of diarrhea. Some of the common causes of diarrhea include, but are not limited to:

  • Ingestion of foreign material. This may include; toys, socks, underwear, basically any foreign object that your pet shouldn’t be eating
  • Eating foods that they don’t normally eat or shouldn’t eat. This can include toxic foods such as onions and chocolate, or human food that isn’t necessarily considered toxic, but can still cause your dog to have gastrointestinal irritation leading to diarrhea
  • Change in diet or treats. This is similar to the above point, but is often overlooked. Something as simple as a new treat can cause your dog to develop diarrhea!
  • Stressful situations. Such as moving, thunderstorms, fireworks or going to the vets
  • Bacteria. Such as clostridium or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
  • Viruses. Such as parvovirus, which is very life threatening and can be fatal
  • Parasites. Intestinal worms such as hookworms, whipworms and roundworms. Most monthly intestinal parasite preventions do protect against these.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Systemic illness. Such as liver, kidney disease or cancer (and the list goes on!)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Medications. Many medications have side effects of vomiting and diarrhea
  • Trauma. Such as sustaining abdominal trauma, an abdominal wound, or torsion of the bowel

When should you see your veterinarian?

The causes of diarrhea can range in severity, some are considered mild whereas others are considered more severe and even life threatening. It can be challenging to differentiate between what is mild versus severe, and when to seek help from your veterinarian.

There are many causes of canine diarrhea ranging from mild to serious.

It's often hard to know when we should call our veterinarians, however, we recommend erring on the side of caution.

It is of utmost importance to note that, it is never wrong to call your veterinarian for advice. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

Many veterinarian’s do not charge for phone consultations, and are more than happy to answer your questions. If you are ever concerned about your pet, call your veterinarian because, you and your veterinarian know your pet and pet’s history best.

Here are a few basic symptoms, although not an exhaustive list, that would warrant a visit to your veterinarian:

  • Blood in their feces- this can make their stool appear red or black and tarry in appearance
  • Having more than 2 episodes of diarrhea within 24 hours
  • Severe diarrhea- frequency of over 2 episodes, or a substantial volume of diarrhea
  • Whining/crying when trying to defecate
  • Vomiting
  • Drooling or licking their lips
  • Lethargy
  • Inappetence (lack of appetite)
  • Weight loss

Beyond diarrhea, it is important to consider how your pet is doing otherwise. If your pet does not want to eat or drink, is lethargic or not themselves- definitely reach out to your veterinarian for further investigation.

If your dog is a puppy, or is elderly, reach out to your veterinarian immediately because diarrhea can be more life threatening as these age groups can become dehydrated more rapidly.

Listen to your own gut

Diarrhea accompanied by lethargy and loss of appetite warrants a call to your veterinarian.

Trust your instincts if they are telling you that something is wrong with your puppy.

At the end of the day, you know your dog better than anyone. You know if they are acting themselves or if something “feels off”, even if you can’t put your finger on it.

While the cost of a vet visit may give you pause, it’s often a significantly better financial outcome than if you put off a visit until something drastic happens.

The solution to correcting your dog’s digestive health could be something as simple as giving your dog a daily probiotic or it could be a bigger problem. Either way, a visit to your veterinarian can go a long way to putting you at ease as well as relieving any discomfort your dog may be in.

For more information about doggy health, check out these articles:

The Whole Scoop about Puppy Poop

Is Your Dog Nutrient Deficient?

12 Common Dog Food Ingredients You Need To Pay Attention To

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