It may be gross, disgusting, smelly, and yucky, but the color of your dog’s poop can tell a lot of stories about your pet. It can tell you what it ate or even if your canine friend is suffering from a particular disease or not. This is why a stool analysis is often a routine procedure in many veterinarian laboratory and diagnostic tests since it can tell a lot about what is occurring inside your pet’s body. So, what does the color of your dog’s poop really mean?
A Journey Through a Dog’s Digestive Tract
Since we’re talking about poop that is technically the end-result of the physiologic process known as digestion, it is imperative that we take a closer look at the journey of any given type of food through the gastrointestinal tract since the color of your dog’s poop is dependent on what happens anywhere along this route.
The digestive tract is a very long tube that starts in the mouth and terminates in the anus. It is a contiguous tract and will only have one major out-pouching – forming the bag-like structure we know as stomach – between the esophagus and the duodenum of the small intestines.
When food enters the dog’s mouth, it passes down the esophagus and into the stomach where a whole bunch of gastric fluids will try to churn and digest and break down all the different food molecules into smaller bits and pieces in preparation for the final digestion and absorption in the small intestines. The food is then passed through the duodenum – the first section of the small intestines – where it is flooded with juices from the liver, the gallbladder, and the pancreas to make sure that all of the macromolecules of food nutrients are digested properly for absorption.
The gallbladder secretes bile, a greenish substance that makes it easier for the different digestive enzymes to process fat. There are other enzymes and digestive fluids from the pancreas and liver, too, each providing additional color to the food. The food is passed along the entire length of the small intestines – the jejunum and the cecum – until it reaches the large intestines. By this time, water and other substances are continuously reabsorbed into the body, forming a more solid mass we now call stool or feces. When nature calls, this stool is passed through the rectum and out of the anus.
What Dog Poop Colors Tell You
Since the stool is nothing more than dehydrated and de-nourished food that passed through the gastrointestinal tract of the dog, the various colors that you can see in your dog’s poop are a reflection of what is occurring within the different sections of the canine GIT.
Here are the different colors of dog poop and what they really mean.
- Brown and well-formed
This is generally regarded as the normal color of dog poop. The brownish hue is due to the yellowing effect of bilirubin, the substance that is present in bile. It is also the same substance that gives the skin its slightly-brownish to pinkish tinge. Don’t confuse this with jaundice since this is characteristic of excessive bilirubin in the bloodstream. As long as there are no additional colors like streaks of red or yellow on the brown-colored poop of your dog, you should rejoice since your pet is doing okay. Also, it should be well-formed. It may be brown but if it’s more watery than usual, then it is also not normal.
- Red or brown with streaks of red
Any reddish color in your dog’s poop is always an indication of active bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract, usually confined in the large intestines, the rectum, or even the inner structures of the anus. This is different from bleeding in the small intestines since this structure is actually several feet long. To give you an idea, the small intestines of dogs alone can measure 2.5 times the length of your dog’s body. So if your pooch’s body length is about 25 inches, then you can expect its small intestines to be about 62.5 inches long. If bleeding occurs anywhere in the duodenum, the length of time it would take to reach the rectum and anus will be long enough to make it congeal or clot. Since you’re looking at bright red streaks, then the bleeding is in the cecum or the colon itself. Other causes can be colitis, colon tumor, parasitic infestation, or even infection of the anal glands.
- Black or tarry
This is the opposite of a stool that has bright red streaks. Black or tarry stools are always a sign of upper gastrointestinal bleeding such as what can occur because of gastric or duodenal ulcers. Recalling the exceptional length of the small intestines, it would take a significantly long time for the blood in the stool to congeal. By the time it passes through the rectum and anus, it would have already clotted significantly that you will no longer see specks of red. One of the major causes of upper GI bleeding in dogs is the consumption of certain medications like aspirin. As such it is important to always check with your vet any medication you plan to give to your pooch.
- White and chalky or brown with white specks
If you see white specks in your dog’s poop, these can be the eggs of certain intestinal parasites that have been passed through the stool. However, if your dog’s poop came with a whitish color or perhaps even looking like chalk, then there is a high possibility that your pooch may be suffering from hypercalcemia or a condition where excessive calcium is being released into the bloodstream. This can occur with bone fractures or any other type of bone injury since the calcium released by the bone matrix will have to be reabsorbed into the bloodstream.
- Purple or pink
If you see something like raspberry jam on your dog’s poop or that there is an unusual volume of blood passed through the rectum and anus of your pet, this is often a sign of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis or severe bleeding secondary to inflammation of the small and large intestines. If you see this kind of poop in your pooch, it is imperative that you seek emergency veterinary care at once. You have to understand that thousands of dogs die every year because of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis which can lead to massive blood losses, electrolyte imbalances, tissue hypoxia, and tissue death. However, with prompt treatment your dog can avert disaster.
Remember what we said about the brown color of your dog’s poop being the function of bilirubin found in bile acids? Well, if there is insufficient amount of bilirubin or bile salts, then your dog’s poop will have pale to greyish color. Since bile salts are produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder, the absence of bilirubin or bile salts in the stool can mean that there is a problem in the liver or in the gallbladder. More often than not, however, the culprit is an obstruction in the common duct where the ducts from the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder meet as they go towards the duodenum where fluids and enzymes are emptied. In such cases, if an obstruction is suspected, surgery may have to be performed to remove the obstruction.
If you notice your dog’s poop to have a greenish tinge, then there’s a strong chance that it just found your grassy lawn very palatable. Dogs are known to chow down on grass especially if they have stomach upsets. So don’t be surprised if you see greenish stool from your pooch as well. Unfortunately, eating grass is not the only reason why your dog’s feces may turn green. In some cases, it can be because of rat bait poisoning, a parasitic infection, or some other gastrointestinal problem. One thing you can do to differentiate grass-related green poop is to look for the telltale signs of undigested grass or leaves. If you cannot find any, then you had better bring your pooch to the vet.
You might think that yellow-tinged dog poop is an indication of eating too much carrots, squash, or pumpkin but it actually is a possible indication of a problem in either the gallbladder or the liver. It is possible that there is too much bilirubin in the stool, making it look more orange than the usual brown. More often than not, however, an orange-colored stool is often watery resembling that of diarrhea. As such it is often best to seek veterinary consult if you see this color of stool from your dog.
If you notice a yellowish to orange color in your dog’s poop, there’s a chance that this is related to a biliary or liver problem, as we mentioned above. The only way to be certain about a possible connection with liver or biliary problem is to correlate this with other clinical findings. For example, if you also notice yellowing of your dog’s conjunctiva as well as mucus membranes of the eyelids and the inner lips, then there’s a possibility of liver disease, possibly hepatitis. This results in the abnormal accumulation of free-circulating bilirubin in the blood which eventually finds its way into the stool giving it a bright yellow to orange hue.
However, if the yellowing of the poop cannot be substantiated with other clinical manifestations and that the stool itself is quite watery or slimy then you are possibly looking at food intolerance. Again, you have to correlate this with other manifestations as food intolerance in dogs almost always present with vomiting and abdominal pain or tenderness, too.
- Greyish with greasy appearance
If your dog’s stool has a slightly greyish color and a really slimy, oily, or greasy appearance, then your pooch may have canine Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency. They call it exocrine to differentiate it from the endocrine function of the pancreas which is basically its ability to produce and secrete insulin and glucagon to regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates and other substances in the body. The exocrine function of the pancreas is directly related to its ability to produce and secrete digestive enzymes such as lipases, amylases, and proteases which digest fats, carbs, and proteins, respectively.
We mentioned above that as food passes through the duodenum, it is flooded with fluids from the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. The gallbladder releases bile salts into the food so that fat in the food can be adequately coated. This makes them relatively easy to be broken down by the lipases from the pancreas. If there is a problem in any of these two mechanisms or even both, then fat in the food will not be digested properly and will not be absorbed in the blood. Instead these fats will be passed through the gut, rectum, and anus producing oily or greasy stools.
Some of the more common conditions that can cause Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency in dogs can include pancreatic cancer, cystic fibrosis, and even chronic pancreatitis. If the main issue is in the release of bile salts, then the possible causes can include gallstone formation and extensive liver damage.
Other potential canine conditions that can bring about steatorrhea – fatty stools – include intestinal malabsorption secondary to Giardiasis, inflammatory bowel disease, overgrowth or bad bacteria, and even celiac disease, although the latter is a very rare condition in dogs.
Ensuring a ‘Normal’-colored Poop
Feeding your pooch with a high-quality diet should help avert any problems with its stool. Limiting the giving of human foods can also help promote healthier digestion, even if these foods are generally considered as safe. Keeping your home and premises free from trash, compost piles, vermin, pests, and other harmful objects, organisms, and chemicals should also be made integral part of better pet care. That being said, you should also keep your medications out of reach of your pets.
The color of our dog’s poop can tell us a lot about its feeding behavior and how its body is actually reacting to the substances that it puts in its mouth. It is our responsibility as pet parents to understand these dog poop colors and what they really mean so we’ll know what we should do next.
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- What Should Dog Poop Look Like?!, Found Animals Foundation