If you’ve ever been inconvenienced by diarrhea, then you know how your dog feels if it, too, happens to go through bouts of watery stools. Dogs with diarrhea will typically want to go outside the house more frequently than usual. This is the same as you going to the toilet a lot more frequently than you normally would. The only difference is that dogs defecate outside the home, not inside. However, it is not really unusual for dogs to have more frequent bowel accidents. Whatever the case, be it outside the house or inside, a dog having diarrhea should already alert you to the possibility of more serious health problems.
What is Canine Diarrhoea?
One of the most common signs that something is amiss in your dog, especially its gastrointestinal system, is the presence of diarrhea or loose, watery stools. It is worth noting that dog diarrhea is not a disease but rather a manifestation of several disease processes that somehow cause the rapid transit of gastric contents through the small and large bowels. To understand this better, let us take a look at the normal passage of gastric contents through the alimentary canal.
Food that gets digested in the dog’s stomach turns into a mushy and gooey lump known as chime. This lump of digested food is pushed into the small intestines where a variety of mechanisms effectively absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. Water is also absorbed along the entire length of the bowels, from the small intestines right down to the large bowels. Majority of the nutrient absorption occurs in the duodenum and jejunum. As the chunk of food passes through the ileum and into the first segment of the large bowel, very minimal nutrients can already be absorbed. Technically, what you now have is a solid moving mass we now know as stool or feces.
The longer the time it takes for the chunk of food to pass the entire length of the gastrointestinal tract the more solid and more formed the stool. If the movement of the bowel is very fast, very little water is absorbed into the blood and more water is retained in the fecal matter. This is why your dog may deliver loose, watery stools.
The reason for the rapid transit of the fecal matter through the alimentary canal can be numerous. However, one thing is certain. The gastrointestinal lining is somehow irritated that it overreacts by increasing its peristaltic movement, facilitating the rapid removal of the fecal matter. Other factors may cause these events to occur. These can contribute to the different types of diarrhoea that you can see in your dog.
What are the Different Types of Dog Diarrhoea?
As we have already mentioned, different factors can play a role in the rapid transit of fecal matter across the alimentary canal. One can always identify the possible risk factor or causative agent just by simply looking at the characteristics of the watery stool. These can include the following.
- Soft stool but without mucus or blood
This is characterized by stool that is not well-formed and has a rather very soft, almost sundae-like consistency. If there are no signs of mucus or even blood in the stool, it is often an indication of stomach upset, food intolerance, or even indigestion, especially if you can see bits and pieces of your dog’s last meal in the stool. However, don’t get too confident because it can also be in the initial stages of a parasitic infection or even the effects of stress fecal incontinence. Regardless, you should keep a watchful eye on your pooch and bring it immediately to your vet if its condition worsens.
- Grayish and greasy stool
This is very easy to diagnose. Sometimes you can actually see fat globules bubbling or even frothing on the surface of the stool. It is usually an indication of having consumed a diet that is high in fat. However, if the stool appears grayish in color, be mindful as this typically indicates biliary obstruction. Bile is what gives the characteristic greenish pigmentation in normal stool. The appearance of a gray stool will often indicate an obstruction in the flow of bile from the gallbladder.
- Black, tarry stool
If the stool appears black, almost tarry and comes with a very foul smell, this is often an indication of bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, most likely in the stomach or in the duodenum and jejunum. The reason why it is black is because fresh blood from the site of bleeding often reacts to various chemicals found in the region. As the stool moves down towards the anus, time allows it to congeal or coalesce to form blood clots, giving it its characteristic tarry, black appearance.
However, do take note that if the stool is not sticky or does not emit a foul odor, this is often the result of taking iron supplements as well as certain canine medications like Pepto-Bismol.
If the diarrhoea churns in a really watery stool, almost like the consistency of rice water, be forewarned as this is often a sign of a very serious problem. Rice watery diarrhoea is typically caused by Vibrio cholera. The major danger here is in the severity of the ensuing dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. If this is not corrected immediately, the dog may lose its life in a matter of hours because of shock.
There are many reasons why you may notice mucus secretions in your dog’s diarrhoeic stool. It can be because of stress, food intolerance, intoxication, colitis, or even the ingestion of a foreign object. Unfortunately, there are several more serious implications of mucoid stools in dogs. It is highly possible that your pooch may already be infected with the dreaded Parvovirus. This is especially true if you have a puppy between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 months. Other potential causes of mucoid stools in dogs are the presence of protozoans, intestinal parasites, clostridial enterotoxicosis, or even fungal infections.
Intestinal parasites such as roundworms, flatworms, and even hookworms occasionally pass through the stool after being shed from their attachment in the alimentary tract. If you see any of these parasites as well as other organisms, it is often recommended to take your pooch to the vet together with the organism that was passed in the stool for proper identification. This can help in the determination of the appropriate treatment.
- Stool with streaks of fresh blood
If you see streaks of bright red, fresh blood in your pooch’s stool, it is often an indication of bleeding somewhere in the lower gastrointestinal tract. Because it is much nearer to the anus, the blood doesn’t have plenty of time to clot and as such fresh blood typically appears. You have to take note of the quantity of the blood, however. Streaks of blood sometimes are due to the rupture of blood vessels in the anal canal as it gets irritated by the passing of solid stool. However, if you see substantial amounts of fresh blood, waste no time in bringing your dog to your vet for proper clinical assessment.
- Soft or watery stool with blood
Bloody diarrhoea can be brought about by a variety of health conditions. It can be because of ischemic colitis or even the consumption of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as well as certain chemotherapeutic agents. It may also be because of an existing inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, or even diverticulitis. Bacterial, parasitic, helminthic, and viral infections can also produce bloody diarrhoea. This is different from the blood-streaked formed stool we discussed above. Some of the more common causes of bacterial infection that produce bloody diarrhoea can include Salmonella, E. coli, Yersinia, Campylobacter, Clostridium, and Shigella, among others.
- Yellow stool
It really is not yellow per se but the stool will take on a rather yellowish hue. If you observe this, it might indicate an obstruction in the pancreatic duct, chronic pancreatitis, or even cystic fibrosis. High fat canine diets can also sometimes lead to the passing of yellow-tinged stool.
What is the Importance of Diet in Canine Diarrhoea?
One of the most common causes of diarrhea in dogs is a change in their dietary patterns or even the introduction of certain food products that may upset their stomachs. This is especially true among puppies as their digestive systems are not yet fully mature. Because of this, there is a tendency that they will not be able to process fully their food and this can lead to diarrhea.
Here are some ways we can help keep their stomachs at ease.
- Do not give your puppies table scraps
Man has a knack for sharing whatever food is present on his table with his best friend. Unfortunately, many of the food items that are considered to be delicacies for us can be downright dangerous to dogs, especially puppies. Fruits and vegetables, while these are nutritious, can often produce diarrhea in dogs and puppies especially when consumed in large amounts. Additionally, providing a variety of food can make the determination of the causative agent of diarrhea to be rather difficult.
- Stick to the same diet
As we have already mentioned above, it is important to keep puppies in the same diet until such time that they are ready for adult dog food. The logic is simple. By sticking to the same diet, you can easily identify the ingredient that may be causing stomach upset in your puppy. This also allows you to establish a baseline for your puppy’s stool. Should there be a sudden change in the consistency or even nature of its stool, it would be readily identifiable.
- Supervise the chewing activities of your puppy
Puppies are very tenacious when it comes to chewing. Their chewing behavior is their means of exploring their world. As such, there is often a tendency among pups to chew and ingest things or objects that they should not. Puppies do not have any idea on what objects are safe to chew on. It’s all part of the learning process. It is for this exact same reason that you have to keep watch over their playtime activities as well as their time outdoors as they can ingest things that may harm them.
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How is Canine Diarrhoea Treated?
Like all health conditions, the management of diarrhea is two-pronged. Since it is a symptom or a manifestation of an underlying problem, treating the main cause of the problem can effectively reduce, if not eliminate, the incidence of diarrhea. For example, if the diarrhea is brought about by bacterial infection, then treating the condition with appropriate canine antibiotics can help eliminate the infection and, thus, eliminate diarrhea.
The second approach is to prevent or manage any of the complications associated with diarrhea. Dehydration is a very serious threat as are electrolyte abnormalities. Severe dehydration can often lead to death for the simple reason that the blood will be almost depleted with its fluid component that there simply isn’t enough blood volume to sustain life anymore. Hypovolemic shock results from severe dehydration. This leads to a lowering of the blood pressure to a point when no more oxygen is being delivered to the tissues, leading to cellular and tissue death.
It is thus, important to keep dogs hydrated to help prevent dehydration. Unfortunately, many of the dogs that are ill will typically be too weak to drink. You can force fluid into your dog or you can provide them with canned dog food as this is usually 80 percent moisture. If the dehydration is severe enough, aggressive intravenous therapy may have to be initiated by your dog’s veterinarian.
Fluid losses are not the only concern in diarrhea. You will also have problems in electrolyte concentrations. If the electrolyte imbalance is mild to moderate, then you can provide your pooch with oral rehydration salt solution. However, if the electrolyte imbalance is already severe, then aggressive electrolyte replenishment via intravenous delivery can help avert life-threatening consequences of massive fluid and electrolyte losses.
What is Antibiotic-Induced Diarrhoea?
We did mention above that certain types of diarrhea can be caused by certain medications like antibiotics. Diarrhea in this case is more a side effect of the antibiotics. This is because the principal mechanism of action of antibiotics is in the killing of susceptible bacteria.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t distinguish between pathogenic bacteria and gut-friendly, beneficial bacteria. What happens is that the antibiotic agent kills both the bad and the good bacteria. Since good bacteria are needed for healthy digestive functioning, its loss can lead to a substantial reduction in optimal digestive functioning. Hence, diarrhea ensues.
It is important to distinguish between diarrhea caused by an illness and diarrhea caused by antibiotics. If the diarrhea is due to the antibiotic therapy, it is often recommended to provide supportive management of diarrhea instead of stopping the antibiotic therapy altogether. This is because stopping the therapy will increase the risk of developing antibiotic resistance while also not solving the main infection. If, however, the antibiotic-induced diarrhea takes a turn for the worse, you have to ask your veterinarian for appropriate action.
If your dog is on antibiotic therapy, you can somehow help minimize the incidence of antibiotic-induced diarrhea by doing the following.
- Provide your pet with the appropriate dog probiotics as these can help replenish the number of beneficial bacteria that may have been killed or inactivated by the antibiotic in your dog’s gut. There are a number of dog foods that come with probiotics added, although you might have a much better outcome if you give a product that has higher concentrations or colony forming units of gut-friendly bacteria.
- Give your dog a rather bland diet consisting of three parts rice and one part boiled, unseasoned chicken. This should help minimize irritating the gastric lining, minimizing the incidence of diarrhea.
- Check with your veterinarian if you can administer an anti-diarrhoeal agent to your pooch. under no circumstance are you supposed to give your dog any medication that might only exacerbate its condition. Always check with your vet.
- Offer your pooch plenty of water to drink. A much better solution is to provide oral rehydration salts solution such as Pedialyte to help replenish lost electrolytes and fluids.
How Can Canine Diarrhoea be Prevented?
Preventing canine diarrhea is quite easy. Since there are types of diarrhea that are highly infectious, keeping your dogs away from other dogs, especially stray ones, can help reduce the risk of contracting infectious types of diarrhea. Having your pooch vaccinated with their recommended shots should also offer your dog protection while also boosting its immune functioning. Perhaps the best way to keep your dog’s gut healthy and diarrhea-free is to stick to high quality and safe dog food.
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Diarrhea in dogs may be considered by some as nothing more than the passing of soft, loose stools. However, you now know that this can be a sign of a serious medical condition that may require immediate veterinary attention. By sticking to good quality dog food and avoiding giving your pooch table scraps, you can somehow help ensure that diarrhea will be kept at bay.
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- Dr. Susan O’Bell, Acute Colitis: The Scoop on Diarrhea in Dogs, The MSPCA–Angell
- What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs?, PetMD
- Diarrhea (Long-term) in Dogs, Wag!