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Diarrhea in Dogs - What Causes & How is Treated

Diarrhea can be distressing for both pet owners and their pooches. Here, our Capitola vets explain the most common causes of acute (sudden) diarrhea in dogs, how to treat diarrhea, when to seek professional help and more. 

Diarrhea in Dogs

Our vets in Capitola often see dogs that are suffering from diarrhea. 

A mild bout of diarrhea is typically nothing to be concerned about. The most common cause of acute or sudden diarrhea in dogs is usually mild gastrointestinal distress brought on by your pooch eating something that didn't agree with them, such as table scraps. Introducing a new type or brand of food can also cause diarrhea as your pup's stomach adjusts to their new diet. 

That said, in some circumstances, diarrhea can point to a more serious underlying health issue. We recommend monitoring your pet for any more symptoms and contacting your vet if you feel there is reason for concern. 

What Causes Sudden Diarrhea in Dogs?

Here are some of the most common causes of acute or sudden diarrhea in dogs:

  • Eating spoiled food or garbage 
  • Ingesting poisons or toxins 
  • Anxiety or stress 
  • Colitis
  • Gastrointestinal disorder 
  • Change in treats, food or diet 
  • Ingesting foreign objects such as bones, fabric and toys 
  • Medications such as antibiotics 
  • Reaction or allergy to a substance 
  • Bacterial or viral infection 
  • Parasites
  • Tumors in the digestive area
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Cancer in the digestive area

With such a wide range of potential causes, it may be difficult to know when your dog's symptoms should prompt a call to your vet. See below for advice about when a case of diarrhea is worth a visit to the vet. 

Bloody Diarrhea in Dogs

If your dog's diarrhea is bloody, we recommend contacting your vet. There are two types of bloody stool to watch for when your dog is experiencing diarrhea. 

Hematochezia is caused by bleeding in the colon or lower digestive tract. Bright red in color, this can indicate certain potential medical issues. 

Melena is blood that has been swallowed or digested. This substance is almost jelly-like, dark and sticky and can point to a serious problem in your dog's upper digestive tract. 

Singular streaks of blood are often a fluke. However, if consistent bleeding or a large amount of blood is cause for concern as it can indicate a larger issue such as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, bacterial or viral infection, parvovirus or even cancer. 

Is Bloody Diarrhea in Dogs an Emergency?

If you discover blood in your dog's stool, in any amount, it's always best to contact your vet and describe exactly what you have observed so your vet can provide detailed instructions on what to beware of and let you know whether it makes sense to bring your dog in for an exam based on their symptoms. 

Other Instances Where Diarrhea in Dogs is Reason to Contact Your Vet

Is this a single episode of diarrhea? Is your dog acting normal otherwise? If so, while distressing this episode is likely not cause for concern. Keep a watch on your dog's bowel movements to see if the issue resolves itself. More than two episodes may indicate a problem, so it's a good idea to contact your vet if your four-legged friend as two or more bouts of diarrhea in close succession. 

If your dog is passing small amounts of watery diarrhea while straining to pass stool, they may be suffering from a painful blockage due to ingesting a foreign object such as a toy. This is a veterinary medical emergency and needs your vet's attention right away. Contact your vet or go to the nearest emergency animal hospital for care. 

Recurring bouts of diarrhea over a short period of time could be a sign of a very serious health issue, particularly if your dog is very old, very young, or has a compromised immune system. Infections such as parvovirus are extremely serious, contagious, and life-threatening. Contact your vet right away if your dog is experiencing repeated episodes of diarrhea.

Dogs showing other symptoms as well as diarrhea should also be seen by a vet as soon as possible. If your dog has any of the following symptoms contact your vet right away to make an appointment:

  • Unusual drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Signs of dehydration (Sunken dry-looking eyes, dry nose, or dry, sticky gums)

If your dog is displaying any symptoms that cause you concern, contact your veterinarian. Your vet will let you know whether your pet's symptoms indicate that an examination is necessary.

Treating Diarrhea in Dogs

Never give your dog human medications without consulting your veterinarian. Many over-the-counter medications that work well for people can be toxic to dogs.

If your dog has had one or two runny or soft stools, you may want to give your dog some time to recover by simply fasting for 12 - 24 hours.

A bland diet for a day or two may help to resolve your dog's issue. Plain-cooked white rice with a little chicken and some canned plain pumpkin (not pie filling) may help to make your dog's tummy feel better. Once your dog feels better gradually reintroduce their regular food.

Other things that might help to soothe your dog's upset tummy include natural yogurt, probiotics, peeled boiled potatoes, cottage cheese, egg with no oil added, specially formulated dog foods, and medications prescribed by your vet.

When it comes to your dog's health it is usually best to err on the side of caution. By taking your dog in for an examination you give your vet the opportunity to determine the underlying cause of your dog's diarrhea and recommend the most effective treatment.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Does your dog have diarrhea? Contact our Capitola vets to book an examination. Our team is available to diagnose and treat causes of diarrhea in dogs during our regular clinic hours. 

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Santa Cruz Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Capitola companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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