Dealing with diarrhea is no fun, whether you’re human or animal. When your canine companion develops diarrhea, you want to get to the “bottom” of the issue—fast. But first, your Town & Country Animal Hospital, PC veterinarian has to determine the cause before they can treat your dog appropriately and clear up their loose stool. To help your pup firm up their poop, read on to learn about the possible causes and types of diarrhea.

Differences in canine diarrhea

Generally, canine diarrhea is classified as one of two types—small-bowel or large-bowel. This distinction is important in identifying the cause and treating the problem appropriately.

  • Small-bowel — Small-bowel diarrhea typically is more liquid than large-bowel, is usually passed only two to three times per day, and can range from yellow to black. The black color can be caused by bleeding in the stomach or intestines.
  • Large-bowel — Large-bowel diarrhea is more often normal in color, but may contain blood and mucus. Dogs with large-bowel diarrhea defecate much more frequently than usual, and may strain.

Overall, dogs with small-bowel diarrhea also may show other illness signs, whereas large-bowel diarrhea appears by itself.

Causes of diarrhea in dogs

Diarrhea in dogs has many underlying causes, so paying close attention to the appearance of your dog’s diarrhea and any potential triggers is essential for diagnosis and treatment. For example, if your dog produces frequent mucus-coated diarrhea puddles, large-bowel diarrhea from stress or dietary indiscretion may be indicated. 

Common causes of diarrhea in dogs include:

  • Dietary indiscretion — An abrupt change in your dog’s diet, whether planned or not, can lead to diarrhea. If your pup sneaks into the cat’s food or the trash can, or you suddenly switch their normal diet, they can develop loose stool.
  • Stress — Stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on your dog’s digestive tract and cause diarrhea that is often coated with blood or mucus.
  • Bacterial or viral infections — Many pathogens can lead to diarrhea in dogs, but fortunately, you can protect against some through vaccination. Canine parvovirus, distemper, and coronavirus are leading viral causes of diarrhea. Bacteria found in undercooked meat and other foods, like E.coli, Salmonella, and Listeria, also can contribute to bacterial diarrhea.
  • Intestinal parasites — Parasites found in the soil, water, or contaminated stool from infected animals can infect your dog, causing bloody, foul-smelling diarrhea that may wax and wane.
  • Organ disease — Organ dysfunction can cause a host of health issues. Diarrhea is commonly related to liver and kidney disease, and other organ problems, like pancreatitis, also cause loose stool.

At-home management of diarrhea in dogs

In some cases, you can manage your dog’s diarrhea at home. If your dog is bright, alert, eating, and drinking, and showing no illness except diarrhea, you may be able to help firm up their stool. You most likely also will be able to resolve at home, without veterinary treatment, your dog’s large-bowel diarrhea caused by dietary indiscretion or stress. Small-bowel diarrhea generally contains more electrolytes and water, so your dog will more likely not feel well and need advanced care to prevent dehydration and other health problems.

If your dog has a mild case of loose stool, the following tips may help:

  • Withhold food — Let the gastrointestinal tract empty and settle to re-establish normal rhythm and function. Withhold all solid foods for 24 hours, but continue to offer water to ensure your dog remains hydrated.
  • Use probiotics — Probiotics help restore the natural bacterial flora in the gut, and combat overgrowth of “bad” bacteria.
  • Reintroduce a bland diet — After your dog’s fast, reintroduce a bland diet rather than their normal food. Your dog can more easily digest small, frequent meals of white rice and boiled chicken breast that are gentle on their stomach. Feed this bland diet for a few days until the diarrhea subsides, and then slowly start adding your dog’s regular food.

If you start by treating your dog’s diarrhea at home but the problem continues for more than a few days, you need to seek veterinary attention. Also, head to Town & Country Animal Hospital, PC immediately if your dog’s feces are black, or contain fresh blood.

When to see your veterinarian for canine diarrhea

Some diarrhea cases warrant an urgent trip to our hospital. Dogs who are refusing food or water, depressed, or vomiting in conjunction with diarrhea should be seen immediately. If your dog has a chronic health condition, such as kidney or liver disease, or shows other illness signs as well as diarrhea, they should also undergo a physical exam and treatment to ensure they recover as soon as possible. Always avoid at-home remedies and get urgent veterinary care for puppies and geriatric dogs, who are more susceptible to serious illness. 

If you’ve tried at-home remedies to clear up your dog’s mild case of diarrhea, but the problem has not resolved after a day or two, schedule an appointment with our Town & Country Animal Hospital, PC team.