Diarrhea is probably the most common ailment I see dogs for in the vet clinic. It’s not surprising when you think about how dogs love to eat things off the ground and lick their rear ends! Every dog owner should learn what do when your dog has diarrhea?
The first thing to do is to have her skip a meal to give her GI tract a break. She can have water, but withhold food for one meal. Then, if she has no other symptoms, feed the homemade dog food recipe for diarrhea in this article for a few meals.
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?
The technical definition of diarrhea includes any feces that have increased water content. You may see a pudding-like form or the stools may be liquid or anywhere in between. In other words, vets consider stool to be diarrhea even if it’s not completely liquid.
Symptoms of Acute (Sudden) Diarrhea in Dogs
These common symptoms occur with large intestine diarrhea. Large intestine acute diarrhea happens when food moves through the 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, sometimes looks like it’s encasing the stool
- Blood in the stool (streaks of blood are common, larger amounts where it looks like strawberry jam are more serious)
- 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 diarrhea
- Stool accidents inside the house due to increased urgency
Small intestinal 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 intestinal diarrhea usually doesn’t. Small intestinal diarrhea is more likely to be a chronic problem and should be managed with the help of a veterinarian.
Most Common Causes of Acute Diarrhea in Dogs
Dietary Indiscretion (Eating Stuff He Shouldn’t)
By far the most common cause of diarrhea in dogs. Dogs will eat garbage, dead animals, non-food items, and all manner of things that can upset their GI tracts.
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. Diarrhea can come on in a surprisingly short period of time after stress starts. I’ve seen dogs get dropped off for boarding and start passing diarrhea before their owner gets out of the building.
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.
Infectious Disease and Parasites
Parvovirus is a major infectious cause of diarrhea, occurring most frequently in young unvaccinated dogs. Other viruses like canine corona virus and bacteria like Salmonella and Clostridium infect dogs by the oral route and cause diarrhea.
Intestinal parasites (hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, Giardia, etc.) are a common cause of diarrhea in puppies. Adult dogs can develop infections, especially in heavily contaminated environments. These are spread between dogs (or other animals) so dogs who socialize or travel are more at risk.
Other Systemic Diseases
Diarrhea is a symptom of many diseases including kidney disease, liver disease, endocrine problems, pancreatitis, and cancer to name a few.
Should You Treat Your Dog’s Diarrhea at Home?
If your pet is weak, passing a lot of blood or has had diarrhea for more than two days—seek veterinary care right away and don’t waste time trying home remedies!
For causes #1, #2 and #3 from the list above: use the guidelines in the next section. 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.
For causes #4 and #5 from the list above: you’ll need your vet to do diagnostic testing to characterize the disease. Some diseases respond best to specific medical treatments and won’t get better with just supportive care.
Home Remedies to Cure Diarrhea in Dogs Fast
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 soft stool. 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 GI tract and allows them to concentrate on healing rather than digesting food.
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 fingertip(s) for 1–3 minutes using moderate pressure. Repeat massage and acupressure every 30 minutes to every few hours.
• 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 GI tract (Takashi, 2006).
• 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 (Farber et al., 1997).
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.
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.
Easy Homemade Dog Food Recipe to Firm Up Soft Stool
After fasting, start with 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 Recipe for Dogs with Diarrhea
- 1 cup white rice
- 6 cups water
- 2 pounds lean ground turkey (85% lean or leaner)
- Place water and rice into a large pot and bring to boil over medium heat.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer rice for 15 minutes.
- Add ground turkey to rice, breaking it up with a spoon.
- Cook over medium-low heat for another 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until rice is very mushy and turkey 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.
Feed mixture twice a day for 2–3 days
- small dog about 1/4–1/2 cup
- medium dog 1/2–1 cup
- large dog about 1–2 cups
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.
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 small 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 slippery elm helped dogs recover from vomiting and diarrhea (McCullough, 2013).
Slippery Elm 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, 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 slippery elm 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 Can Stop 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
Stay away from human anti-diarrhea medicines like Pepto Bismol (most dogs HATE the flavor of it anyway) and Imodium unless directed by your vet 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 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 veterinarian. There may be something more serious causing diarrhea and a vet can help you sort things out quickly.
DON’T Do This
Don’t Demand Antibiotics
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 Veterinary 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 more serious disease and can best be treated by a veterinarian.
Farber, P. L., Tachibana, A., & Campiglia, H. M. (1997). Increased pain threshold following electroacupuncture: analgesia is induced mainly in meridian acupuncture points. Acupuncture & electro-therapeutics research, 22(2), 109–117.
McCullough, R. W. (2013). Expedited Management of Canine and Feline Vomiting and Diarrhea. Observational Study in 3952 Dogs and 2248 Cats Using Sucralfate-Like Potency-Enhanced Polyanionic Phyto-Saccharide—Elm Mucilage. Open Journal of Veterinary Medicine, 3(03), 228.
Takahashi, T. (2006). Acupuncture for functional gastrointestinal disorders. Journal of Gastroenterology, 41(5), 408–417.
Last update on 2020-11-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API