Ask a Vet: My Dog Has Diarrhea But Is Acting Fine

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It’s not surprising how often dogs get diarrhea when you think about how they love to eat things off the ground and also lick their rear ends! Even my own dog gets an upset tummy occasionally. I want to share with you what I do when my dog has diarrhea but is acting fine.

When my dog has diarrhea but is acting fine otherwise, I have her skip one meal. That gives her GI tract a chance to rest and heal. I give her water but no food. At the next mealtime, if she has had no other symptoms, I feed her my homemade dog food recipe for diarrhea.

If your dog has other symptoms like poor appetite, lethargy, vomiting, etc. take her to see a veterinarian right away.

Is It Diarrhea or Just Loose Stool?

Technically, diarrhea includes any feces that have increased water content. You may see a pudding-like form, mushy poo with mucus or the dog’s stool may be totally liquid. But a vet will consider soft stool to be diarrhea even if it’s not completely liquid.

what to do when your dog has diarrhea

Sudden Dog Diarrhea Symptoms

These symptoms occur with acute large intestine diarrhea, sometimes called colitis.

Large intestine acute diarrhea happens when food moves through the large bowel too quickly. The large intestine can’t absorb water from the stool fast enough, so it’s passed in the feces.

  • Mucus in stool-this looks like clear or tan jelly which might look like it’s encasing the dog’s poop
  • Bloody stool (streaks of blood are common, larger amounts where it looks like strawberry jam may be hemorrhagic gastroenteritis)
  • Straining to pass small amounts of stool
  • Increased frequency and urgency to poop
  • Pacing, can’t get comfortable
  • Decreased appetite (complete lack of appetite is more serious)
  • Lethargy, irritability
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Noise from guts
  • Passing gas
  • Scooting bottom on the ground due to anal irritation from watery diarrhea
  • Poop accidents inside the house due to increased urgency

Small Intestine Diarrhea

Small intestinal tract diarrhea symptoms differ in that there is little straining, blood, mucus, etc. Feces are passed with normal frequency but may have increased volume.

Small intestinal diarrhea often causes weight loss, whereas large bowel diarrhea usually doesn’t. Problems in the small intestinal are more likely to cause chronic diarrhea and should be managed with the help of a vet.

Common Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs

1. Dietary Indiscretion (Garbage Gut)

“Garbage Gut” is by far the most common cause of dog diarrhea. Dogs will eat garbage, dead animals, non-food items, and all manner of things that can upset a dog’s intestinal tract.

2. Stress and Anxiety

Being left alone, grooming, boarding, changes in the home environment, traveling, vet visits, change of usual diet. All of these things can cause changes in normal intestinal movements.

Dog diarrhea can come on in surprisingly fast as a result of stress. I’ve seen dogs get dropped off for boarding and start passing diarrhea before their owner even leaves the building.

3. Low-Quality Food

Long-term use of low-quality diets favors a less healthy microflora population in the guts. Cheap dog foods contain more fiber and are less digestible. Over time, the intestines become inflamed and are sensitive to even the slightest insult.

4. Infectious Disease and Parasites

Canine parvovirus is a major infectious cause of diarrhea, occurring most frequently in unvaccinated puppies. Viral infection from canine coronavirus and distemper also cause abnormal dog stool.

Bacterial infection is another common cause of watery stool in dogs. Causative organisms might be Salmonella or Clostridium.

Intestinal parasite infection from hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, Giardia, etc. is a common cause of puppy diarrhea and upset stomach. 

Adult dogs can also develop infections, especially in heavily contaminated environments. Infections are spread between dogs (or other animals) so dogs who socialize or travel are more at risk.

5. Other Systemic Diseases

Mild to severe diarrhea is a symptom of many diseases including kidney disease, liver disease, endocrine problems, pancreatitis, and cancer to name a few.

German Shepherd lying on wood floor

Why Does My Dog Have Diarrhea at Night?

There is a mysterious phenomenon where some dogs have normal stool during the day and diarrhea only at night. There’s no specific known cause for this, but here are a few things that could lead to nighttime doggy diarrhea.

  • Exercise in the late afternoon/evening
  • Medication given in late in the day
  • Excitement late in the day
  • Evening treats or snacks

Should I Exercise My Dog When He Has Diarrhea?

It’s OK to take walks and engage in mild to moderate exercise if your dog’s only symptom is diarrhea. Be wary of these signs that exercise is making things worse:

  • New symptoms like vomiting or lethargy
  • Increased volume or frequency of diarrhea
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Dog is very tired after exercise
  • Decrease in appetite

Another caveat to exercising a dog with diarrhea: if the temperature outdoors is above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, take a day off and let your buddy rest up. Hot days can really zap a dog who is already on the edge of dehydration. 

When Is Home Treatment OK? 

When my dog has diarrhea but is acting fine in every other way, I like to take a wait-and-see approach. As long as she still has an appetite and doesn’t seem weak or nauseous it’s safe to see if the episode passes within a day.

Mild cases of diarrhea will often resolve with no specific treatment. However, fasting and feeding a bland diet can make dogs feel better while their body resolves the imbalance.

If your pet is weak, passing a lot of bloody diarrhea or has been sick for more than two days, please seek veterinary care right away. Don’t waste time trying home remedies!

Safe Home Remedies for Mild Dog Diarrhea

These suggestions are for dogs who have only had diarrhea for 1-2 days but are still acting normal plus eating and drinking OK.

Withhold Food for 12-36 hours

If you’re like most of my clients, you panic when I suggest having your dog skip a meal or two. But short-term fasting is often the most helpful thing you can do to help firm up your dog’s feces. And think about it-you’d probably instinctively skip a meal or two if you had bad diarrhea.

Provide free access to water. You may also serve 1/4-1 cup of bone broth a few times a day.

Don’t worry that your dog won’t be able to handle fasting. Most of them only pester you at mealtime but then go on about their usual business when they figure out what’s going on.

Dogs are well-adapted to skipping a meal or two as long as they have adequate access to water. Fasting provides rest for the tissues in the intestinal tract and allows them to concentrate on healing rather than digesting food.

Abdominal Massage

Have your dog lie next to you on his side or back in a comfortable position.

• Start at the back of the sternum/front of belly area and gently stroke down the middle of the belly toward the pelvis 10 times.

• Gently make circular massaging strokes over the belly using a clockwise direction 10 times.

Acupressure for Diarrhea in Dogs

Massage each of these acupressure points with your fingertip(s) for 1-3 minutes using moderate pressure. Repeat massage and acupressure every 30 minutes to every few hours.

what to do when your dog has diarrhea

• Massage the area on the outside of the back leg just below the knee. This is a powerful point Stomach 36. It has been shown to have positive effects on motility and pain in the gastrointestinal tract (3).

• Massage the area on the outside of the elbow, the softer area in front of the point of the elbow. This is the location of Large Intestine 11 which has been shown to have a pain-relieving effect when stimulated (1).

Apply Gentle Warmth on Abdomen

You may use a warm water bottle wrapped in a towel (not too hot!) or a heating pad wrapped in a towel set on low. Don’t apply heat for more than 10 minutes at a time and don’t force it if your dog resists. Warmth might not feel good to some dogs.

Stay Upbeat

Maintain a positive attitude in your language and demeanor around your pet. Although it’s tough not to fret over them, it will make them more nervous and delay recovery. Stress is a common cause of diarrhea and loose stool in dogs and your dog will feed off your stress.

Would you want your hospital nurse or doctor to stand over you wringing their hands with worry? No! Refrain from hovering over your dog! Try to act normal and tell her you’re going to help her feel better soon.

Homemade Dog Food for Dogs with Diarrhea

After fasting, start with a very simple, low-fat, bland diet. Try this easy homemade recipe for a few days. It’s not a balanced diet, so don’t use it long-term.

chicken and rice meal

Turkey or Chicken & Rice Recipe for Dogs with Diarrhea

Serving Size:
about 8 for medium sized dog
Time:
45 minutes
Difficulty:
Easy

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white rice
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 pounds lean ground turkey (85% lean or leaner) or chopped boneless/skinless chicken breast

Directions

  1. Place water and rice into a large pot and bring to boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce heat to low and simmer rice for 15 minutes.
  3. Add ground turkey or chopped chicken breast to rice, breaking it up with a spoon.
  4. Cook over medium-low heat for another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until rice is very mushy and turkey/chicken is cooked through (no pink). You can add more water if it looks too dry. The goal is to have a stew-consistency with the rice mostly broken down and mushy.

How Much Rice + Turkey to Feed a Dog With Diarrhea

  • small dog about 1/4–1/2 cup
  • medium dog 1/2–1 cup
  • large dog about 1–2 cups

(give this amount twice a day for 2–3 days)

Pumpkin Fiber Helps

The high fiber content of pumpkin can help decrease the water content of stools. Traditional Chinese Medicine advocates say pumpkin is a “special” food that benefits the digestive system.

pumpkins

Keep in mind that pumpkin is high in carbohydrates. A dog’s natural/ancestral diet is low in carbohydrates so using a lot of pumpkin could delay recovery.

Add about 1–3 tablespoons of canned, unsweetened pumpkin per meal for a few days. Don’t continue to use it unless you think it’s helping.

Scrambled Eggs for Diarrhea?

Eggs are a source of high quality digestible protein. Most dogs do well with eggs fried or scrambled using minimal oil (or even hard boiled).

Think of eggs as a supplement to other food and not a sole source of nutrition. You could add a cooked egg to the homemade recipe for diarrhea I listed above.

Over the Counter Supplements to Harden Soft Stool

Slippery Elm Soothes Irritated Tummies

Slippery Elm is an herb that acts as a demulcent, coating the inner surfaces of the GI tract which may help protect it. At least one large study has found this herb helped dogs recover from vomiting and diarrhea (2).

400 mg capsules are widely available in grocery and health food stores. For a small dog (1-15 pounds) give 1 capsule twice a day, a medium dog (16-45 pounds) 2 capsules twice a day and large dogs (46-75 pounds) may take 4-6 capsules twice a day.

It’s best to give the supplement at least 30 minutes before a meal. This herb is considered safe for use in dogs but consult your veterinarian first if your dog has other health problems or takes medication regularly.

Probiotics for Dog Diarrhea

Probiotic supplements contain beneficial bacteria that can help normalize a dog’s intestinal microflora during and after a bout of diarrhea. Give the label-recommended dose for at least 7 days. You should see soft stools harden over a period of a week or less.

Human Anti-Diarrhea Medicines

I know it’s tempting to give your dog some of the human medicine you have in your cupboard. Dogs are quite sensitive to this kind of treatment.

Seriously, I’m a vet and I don’t even give human diarrhea meds to my own dogs when they have a problem! There are safer options that are just as effective.

Stay away from over-the-counter medicines like Pepto Bismol (most dogs HATE the flavor of it anyway) and Imodium unless your vet tells you to give it. These medications can cause serious problems in certain situations, so it’s not worth the risk.


Learn how to choose a good probiotic for your dog: How to Find a Good Probiotic!


Dog Diarrhea DO’s

Do Gradually Re-Introduce the Previous Diet

Once stools look more normal, add a little more of the previous food your dog was eating over 2-3 days. Watch for the recurrence of symptoms.

Do Upgrade Your Dog’s Diet

Whole-foods, less-processed meals can improve short- and long-term health. Ask your veterinarian for help buying or home-preparing a complete and balanced diet for your dog.

Do Enlist the Help of a Veterinarian

If diarrhea persists in spite of using these recommendations for 2-3 days, your dog needs to see a vet. If your dog is also vomiting, refusing food or showing other unusual symptoms, there may be something more serious going on. Your vet can help you sort things out quickly.

DON’T Do This

Don’t Demand Antibiotics from Your Vet

Antibiotics like metronidazole and amoxicillin alter the population of the normal gut bacteria making a return to normal more difficult. Sometimes antibiotics are appropriate, but most of the time they cause more harm than good.

Don’t Give Anti-Diarrhea Meds Without Vet Guidance

Anti-diarrheals like Imodium/loperamide can slow the motility of the gut. Infectious agents are retained longer and can cause more damage than if they were passed quickly in diarrhea.

Don’t Start Changing the Food Frequently

Using a bland diet means choosing one food and sticking with that for up to a week. Automatically assuming your pet is reacting to every food and making lots of changes over a period of days will make things worse.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your dog is “allergic” to every food. True food allergies are not that common in dogs.

Don’t Expect an Instant Cure

Watch for signs that your dog “feels more like herself.” You’ll see her moving around more, seeking attention/less hiding, or improved sleep.

Just because the stool is not normal right away doesn’t mean healing isn’t occurring. Give the body a little time! Most dogs with acute diarrhea show improvement in well-being within 24 hours and resolution of symptoms within 2-4 days.

Don’t Wait to See a Vet

If your dog refuses food and/or water for more than 24 hours, is losing a lot of blood, seems weak, depressed or has trouble breathing he needs professional help. These are signs of a more serious disease and can best be treated by a veterinarian.

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Last update on 2021-07-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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