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My Dog has Diarrhea But Is Acting Normal, Should I See The Vet?

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dog sitting on toilet reading newspaper

A dog with diarrhea isn’t fun for anyone – your dog is constantly squatting to go to the toilet and you’re spending most of your day clearing up after them. All dogs will get diarrhea at some point in their life, it’s inevitable, but the question that’s on many owners’ minds is when should they worry?

At my clinic I see dogs suffering from diarrhea on a daily basis, some are well in themselves and others are clearly very sick. With such a wide range of causes of diarrhea, owners can never be too safe in getting their dogs checked over.

Penny was one such dog that presented to my clinic for multiple episodes of very watery diarrhea. For all intents and purposes, she was bright and well in herself 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, an ultrasound of penny’s abdomen revealed an area of a very thickened intestine. Clearly something wasn’t normal.

She was send for further testing and ended up being diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease. Essentially she had a very low level of chronic inflammation that meant she wasn’t absorbing the nutrients from her food as she should. She was started on anti-inflammatory medication and the diarrhea stopped almost immediately. She began to gain weight again.

What are the Most Frequent Symptoms for Dogs with Diarrhea?

vet looking at dog

A dog may simply have just diarrhea, with no other symptoms and appear to be well in themselves; or a dog may have diarrhea alongside a plethora of other symptoms.

Diarrhea is a symptom of the gastrointestinal tract, for a dog to have loose stools the issue must arise from the gut. However, this isn’t to say that other organs such as the liver and pancreas can’t play a part.

A dog with gastrointestinal disease will frequently present with symptoms other than diarrhea such as vomiting, abdominal pain, lethargy, and general unwellness.

Is it Normal for a Dog with Diarrhea to Act Normal?

It is common for a dog with diarrhea to be acting completely normal in themselves and to be displaying no other symptoms. This largely depends on whether the cause of the diarrhea is affecting body systems other than the gastrointestinal tract.

If the insulting cause is contained within the gut then diarrhea will be the only symptom. However, if whatever is causing diarrhea enters the bloodstream or if other organs are affected, a dog will generally feel unwell.

What if my Dog Has Diarrhea but is Otherwise Acting Normal and Healthy – What are the Most Likely Causes?

owner picking up after a dog

The most common causes of diarrhea for a dog that is otherwise acting normal include dietary intolerance and parasite infection.

An 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.

Parasitic disease of the gut with worms or protozoan parasites will also result in inflammation and therefore diarrhea.

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.

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:

Color:

  • 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 it’s normal brown colour.
  • 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 even black colored stools may indicate the presence of digested blood in the faeces 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 an over fatty diet or a failure to properly digest fats.
  • White specks will often indicate a parasitic worm infection.

Consistency:

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.

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.


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The ideal stool should be brown-chocolate in color, a slightly moist consistency that holds it’s shape when picked up and should have an elongated rounded shape.

When To Start Worrying About Your Dog’s Diarrhea (If Your Dog is Otherwise Acting Normal)

stool test graphic

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.

If diarrhea has been going on for a long time and is chronic in nature then it suggests that whatever is causing the stools to be soft has been present for a while. Causes of chronic diarrhea include dietary allergies and inflammatory bowel disease. Your dog may appear well in themselves if these are to blame for the diarrhea but they should not be ignored. Over time these conditions can worsen resulting in chronic inflammation to the intestines, reduced nutrient absorption, weight loss and other symptoms.

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.

It is unlikely that your dog will require emergency veterinary intervention if their only symptom 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.

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. If you are still worried then take them to your local vet.

Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your local veterinarian for health decisions. Learn more.

How Can I Stop The Diarrhea? How Can I Help My 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.
  • Rest – Diarrhea means that your dog isn’t absorbing as many nutrients from their food as they should be and therefore they won’t have as much energy as usual. Let your dog rest as they need to conserve energy for recovering.
  • Fasting – While fasting might give your dog’s gut a break, there is no research that suggests it is beneficial. You’re better off feeding your dog a bland diet.
  • Bland diets – Plain chicken, rice, pumpkin and white fish are all bland, easily digestible food that shouldn’t cause any further harm to your dogs gut.
  • 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 inoffensive to your dog’s fragile guts but still provide all of the nutrients they need for recovery.
  • Smaller portions – feed your dog little and often as to not overload their gut.
  • Pro-biotics – probiotics are a great way to restore the normal bacterial balance in your dog’s gut. These contain healthy bacteria that are essential for recovery.
  • Binders – Binding paste is a useful food supplement that is high in fibre to help bulk up your dog’s stools again.

FAQ About Dog Diarrhea with Dr. Alex Crow

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 mean imodium should be avoided. If your dog is a herding breed such as a Collie or a Australian Shephard then you should also avoid imodium as these breeds of dog have the potential to have a reduced ability to metabolise Imodium. Always check with your veterinarian before administering ‘home remedies’.

Can I Use Pepto Bismol to Treat My Dog’s Diarrhea?

Pepto Bismol is safe to give to dogs and may have some benefit in treating very mild forms of diarrhea. However, there have been cases of your dog’s stool turning black due to the bismuth in this medication, thus masking any gastric bleeding that may be occuring within your dog’s stomach. Generally it is best to avoid giving 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.
Causes of Diarrhea

What if My Dog has Diarrhea and Has Other Symptoms?

If your dog has diarrhea and is also unwell in themselves and/or is showing other symtoms 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
  • Pancreatitis
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
  • Haemorrhagic gastroenteritis

What if my dog is also vomiting?

While there are many causes of vomiting, this usually indicates that whatever has caused the diarrhoea has also entered the bloodstream or there is a physical obstruction within the stomach. You should take your dog to the veterinarian.

What if my Dog has Bloody Diarrhea?

Bloody diarrhea means that the lining of the intestines is damaged and bleeding into the stools is occuring. 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.

What if my Dog has Mucus in the Diarrhea?

Mucus in the diarrhea indicates a large intestinal problem. If your dog is well in themselves 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 in themselves then they should see the vet.

Author

  • Alex Crow is an RCVS accredited Veterinary surgeon with special interests in neurology and soft tissue surgery. Dr Crow is currently practicing at Buttercross Veterinary Center. He earned his degree in veterinary medicine from the Royal Veterinary College (one of the top 3 vet schools in the world).

Disclaimer: This website's content is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your veterinarian to determine the best course of action. Read More.

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