This article was updated on May 18th, 2023
A dog with diarrhea isn’t fun for anyone – your dog is constantly squatting and having loose stool, and you’re spending most of your day cleaning up after them. In clinic I see dogs suffering from diarrhea on a daily basis; some have no other signs of illness, and others are clearly very sick. In this article, we will explain what it means when a dog has diarrhea – but acts normal and appears to be completely fine.
Penny was one such dog that presented to my clinic with multiple episodes of very watery diarrhea. For all intents and purposes, she was bright and alert and eating normally. Because of this, the owner hadn’t thought much of it. However, she had been gradually losing weight. After not responding to usual treatments, tests revealed that she had inflammatory bowel disease. She was started on anti-inflammatory medication, and the diarrhea stopped almost immediately. She began to gain weight again.
Is it Normal for a Dog with Diarrhea to Act Normal?
It is common for a dog with diarrhea to be acting completely normal, with no other signs or symptoms. This largely depends on whether the cause of the diarrhea is affecting body systems other than the gastrointestinal tract. Often if the dog only has diarrhea and is feeling well, the cause is limited to the gastrointestinal tract.
However, if whatever is causing diarrhea enters the bloodstream or if other organs are affected, a dog will generally feel unwell and often show other signs, such as vomiting or lethargy. Similarly, diarrhea that is left unchecked can lead to dehydration and malnutrition which are problematic in themselves.
Dog with Diarrhea but Otherwise Acting Normal: What are the Likely Causes?
The most common causes of diarrhea for a dog that is otherwise acting normal include dietary intolerance and parasite infection.
- Dietary intolerance: A reaction or allergy to something in the food will result in inflammation of the lining of the intestines over time. This reduces the ability of the intestines to absorb nutrients and water, resulting in watery stools. This study shows that 42% of dogs with diarrhea responded positively to a change in their diet. Therefore, if your dog has a dietary intolerance, you can try feeding your dog a bland diet, in smaller portions, with a probiotics supplement, for 5 days (read next section for details).
- Parasite infection: Parasitic disease of the gut with worms or protozoan parasites will also result in inflammation and therefore diarrhea. Your dog may or may not show other signs of illness. The best way to find out if your dog has a parasite infection is to look for the presence of any worms in their stools or have your vet analyse a stool sample. Parasite infections are generally treated with anti-parasite medication available from your vet.
Both of these conditions are generally confined to the gastrointestinal system and have little effect on the rest of your dog’s health unless they are left unchecked for long periods of time.
7 Veterinarian Tips to Stop Diarrhea & Help Your Dog
As mentioned earlier, I see dogs suffering from diarrhea on a daily basis. Below are my most important recommendations to help your dog:
- Plenty of water. Your dog will be losing a lot of fluids in their watery poop, so it’s vital to keep them well hydrated. Make sure there is plenty of fresh water available and mix extra water into their food.
- Rest. Let your dog rest as they need to conserve energy for recovery.
- Bland diets. Plain chicken, rice, pumpkin, and white fish are all bland, easily digestible foods that shouldn’t cause any further harm to your dog’s gut. Note that some articles recommend fasting. While fasting might give your dog’s gut a break, there is no research that suggests it is beneficial. You are better off feeding your dog a bland diet.
- Veterinary gastrointestinal diets. The best thing that you can feed a dog with diarrhea is a specifically formulated dog food for gastrointestinal problems, these are gentle and easy to digest, but still provide all of the nutrients they need for recovery.
- Smaller portions. Feed your dog small amounts and often to avoid overloading their gut.
- Pro-biotics. Probiotics are a great way to restore the normal bacterial balance in your dog’s gut. These products or supplements contain healthy bacteria that are essential for recovery.
- Binders. Binding paste is a useful food supplement that is high in fiber to help bulk up your dog’s stools again.
Learn more about these home remedies: Stop Your Dog’s Diarrhea at Home Fast with these 7 Home Remedies.
In most cases, dog diarrhea will clear up within 1-4 days
The speed of recovery will depend on the underlying cause. If your dog has a food intolerance then you may see an immediate improvement once you switch to a bland diet. However, if your dog is suffering from a parasitic infection then it can take a couple of weeks for symptoms to fully resolve after anti-parasitic treatment. In most cases however, your dog’s diarrhea will clear up within 4 days. If the diarrhea hasn’t cleared up after a few days, read our article about dogs having diarrhea for several days.
When To Start Worrying About Your Dog’s Diarrhea (If Your Dog is Otherwise Acting Normal)
While the most sinister causes of diarrhea will often also result in your dog being unwell or displaying other symptoms, there are some situations that shouldn’t be ignored even if your dog is acting normal:
1. Diarrhea has been going on for more than 14 days: if the diarrhea is chronic in nature, it suggests that whatever is causing the stools to be soft has been present for a while. Causes of chronic diarrhea include dietary allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer. Your dog may appear to be feeling well if these are to blame for the diarrhea, but they should not be ignored. Over time these conditions can worsen resulting in chronic inflammation of the intestines, reduced nutrient absorption, weight loss, and other symptoms.
2. Discolored stools can also be a cause for concern. Bright yellow-colored stools may be an indication of an underlying liver condition and blood in the stools may indicate severe damage and inflammation to the intestinal walls.
Is Diarrhea Ever An Emergency (When My Dog Seems Fine)?
It is unlikely that your dog will require emergency veterinary intervention if their only sign of illness is diarrhea – and your dog is otherwise acting normal (with no other symptoms).
However, innocent diarrhea can progress to a more severe condition if left unchecked. Prolonged diarrhea can lead to dehydration which may warrant emergency fluid therapy, and blood in the stool might indicate a compromise in the lining of the gut, leaving it susceptible to infection (read the article from our emergency veterinarian: When is Diarrhea in Dogs an Emergency?).
If your dog develops diarrhea in the middle of the night but is otherwise well then it is usually safe to wait until morning to assess the situation: read our article about dogs with diarrhea at night & what to do. If the condition persists and your dog has other signs of not feeling well, a visit to their veterinarian is needed.
Important Things to Consider When Your Dog Has Diarrhea
Whether your dog is well in themselves or not, the nature of their diarrhea can give a lot of clues as to what the cause may be:
- Orange/yellow colored diarrhea may be due to the make-up of your dog’s diet, it can indicate liver disease, or it may simply mean that the stool has passed too quickly through the intestines to absorb the usual bilirubin pigment that gives poop its normal brown color.
- Green-colored stools often indicate your dog has eaten too much grass recently but could also indicate the presence of parasitic disease.
- Very dark or black stools may indicate the presence of digested blood in the feces and therefore bleeding somewhere higher up in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Red-colored poop often indicates the presence of fresh blood and therefore bleeding lower down in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Grey-colored diarrhea often indicates the presence of excessive fat in the stool, this may be due to a fatty diet or a failure to digest fats properly.
- White specks in your dog’s poop will often indicate a parasitic worm infection.
Feces are often scored from 1-7 based on how well-formed the stools are. A score of 7 would indicate a completely watery consistency and an issue with the reabsorption of water in the large intestine. Stools can vary from very watery, to loose, to very firm.
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
Some stools may also have a mixed consistency, sometimes starting firm and becoming softer towards the end. The stool may also appear to have some mucousy coating on it, this is not normal and can often indicate some degree of large bowel disease.
What is the Ideal Size, Shape, and Color of a Dog Stool?
While there is no ‘one stool fits all’ rule when it comes to poop, since dogs are all on different diets and have different digestive capabilities, there are some general attributes than mean your dog has healthy stools.
The ideal stool should be brown-chocolate in color, a slightly moist consistency that holds its shape when picked up, and should have an elongated rounded shape.
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How Long Does Diarrhea Typically Last with Dogs?
How long your dog will have diarrhea will depend on the underlying cause and what treatment they are on. If the diarrhea is due to a dietary intolerance, then it can be 4-6 weeks until they are used to the new diet. If they have diarrhea due to eating something rotten, then diarrhea generally lasts 3-4 days.
Can I Use Imodium To Treat My Dog’s Diarrhea?
While Imodium can be useful in the treatment of some cases of diarrhea, there are some cases such as infectious diarrhea, or if your dog has any other underlying health condition, that means Imodium should be avoided. If your dog is a herding breed such as a Collie or an Australian Shephard, then you should also avoid Imodium as these breeds of dog have the potential to have a reduced ability to metabolize Imodium. Always check with your veterinarian before administering “home remedies.”
Can I Use Pepto Bismol to Treat My Dog’s Diarrhea?
Pepto Bismol is not safe to give at home to dogs. The main reason is that Pepto Bismol contains subsalicylate which is a form of aspirin. It also will cause black-colored stool due to the bismuth in this medication, thus masking any gastric bleeding that may be occurring within your dog’s stomach. Pepto also interferes with the appearance of the intestines on radiographs and can cause accidental misdiagnosis. Generally, it is best to avoid giving any medication to your dog without first consulting your veterinarian.
What’s the Cost of Procedures if I go to the Vet for Dog Diarrhea?
The cost of treating a dog with diarrhea can vary greatly depending on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause. A simple case of dietary intolerance might cost between $30-50 to treat whereas more serious conditions that require investigations will cost more. Worm or parasite infestation might cost between $150-300, inflammatory bowel disease might cost between $500-1500.
What if My Dog has Diarrhea and Other Symptoms?
If your dog has diarrhea and is also unwell in themselves and/or is showing other signs of illness, then there may be a more serious condition to blame. The most common of these conditions are:
- Bacterial or viral gut infection
- Liver disease
- Gastrointestinal cancer
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
- Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis
What if my dog is also vomiting?
While there are many causes of vomiting, this usually indicates that whatever has caused diarrhea has also entered the bloodstream or there is a physical obstruction within the stomach. You should take your dog to the veterinarian. Read our article to help a dog who vomits and has diarrhea.
What if my Dog has Bloody Diarrhea?
Bloody diarrhea means that the lining of the intestines is damaged and bleeding into the stools is occurring. Any inflammatory cause of diarrhea can result in bloody stools and although usually only small amounts of blood are lost, if serious enough it can be fatal. You should take your dog to the vet. Learn more.
What if my Dog has Mucus in the Diarrhea?
Mucus in dog poop or in diarrhea indicates a large intestinal problem. If your dog feels well, and they have a small amount of mucus in the stool, then it may not be much to worry about. However, if they are unwell, then they should see the vet.