Dogs have sensitive digestive tracts, and most will develop diarrhea at some point in their lives. Causes of diarrhea, which can be mild and transient, or may become chronic, run the gamut from eating something inappropriate or toxic, to infection, cancer, or inflammatory disease. Regardless of the cause, managing diarrhea can be frustrating, and knowing when to visit the veterinarian is key. The team at Animal Medical Hospital of Naples is here to help you get to the bottom of things—pun intended. 

Diarrhea signs in dogs

Identifying diarrhea in dogs is easy—the stools become soft, mushy, or liquid. Depending on the intestinal area affected, other signs may include:

  • Increased bowel movement frequency
  • Blood in the stool
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Stool color changes

Acute diarrhea causes in dogs

Soft stools can strike quickly, but most cases resolve in a few days, with or without treatment. Causes of acute, or short-term, diarrhea may include:

  • Dietary indiscretion — Eating too many table scraps, new foods or treats, or inedible items, such as mulch, may cause diarrhea, and can sometimes lead to serious pancreatitis.
  • Foreign body — Swallowing non-food items or large chew pieces can cause an intestinal blockage, which presents a life-threatening situation that requires surgery.
  • Stress — Emotional or physical stress can result in soft stools, including situations such as over-exercise, boarding, and heat stress.
  • Infection — Viral (i.e., parvovirus), bacterial (i.e., Clostridium, salmonella), and occasional fungal infections can affect the intestines and cause diarrhea.
  • Parasites — Intestinal worms and protozoa are a frequent diarrhea cause in young dogs.

Chronic diarrhea causes in dogs

Some dogs experience ongoing diarrhea, or have episodes that keep coming back, despite appropriate treatment. These pets require a thorough investigation to find the underlying cause, which may include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — IBD is an autoimmune disease causing inflammation in the intestinal tract.
  • Food allergies and sensitivities — Food allergies can cause chronic inflammation, because the body is constantly exposed and overreacting to allergens. Food allergies can be difficult to distinguish from IBD.
  • Non-GI systemic diseases — Liver or endocrine diseases often cause diarrhea in dogs.
  • Intestinal dysbiosis — An overgrowth of normal bacteria, or an imbalance of bad versus good intestinal bacteria, can result in antibiotic-responsive diarrhea. 
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) — When the pancreas doesn’t produce enough enzymes to digest food, severe weight loss and diarrhea can result. 
  • Cancer — Cancer, most often lymphoma, can affect the intestinal tract.

How to treat your dog’s diarrhea at home

If you notice your pet has soft stools, but otherwise seems fine, you can begin simple home treatment to resolve the diarrhea. You must never medicate your pet unless directed by your veterinarian, but you can change their diet to avoid further stress on their digestive tract. Try feeding a bland diet, which consists of one part lean protein (i.e., chicken, beef, scrambled eggs) to three parts simple carbohydrate (i.e., potato, white rice). Offer your pet small amounts frequently throughout the day until they feel better, and then transition slowly back to their regular diet.

When to visit the veterinarian for your dog’s diarrhea

Several situations warrant a veterinary visit if simple home care measures aren’t helpful for your dog’s diarrhea. Give your veterinarian a call if:

  • Your pet’s diarrhea is accompanied by other illness signs, such as vomiting, lethargy, or decreased appetite
  • Large blood amounts are present in the stool
  • Your small pet’s diarrhea is severe or persistent, putting them at risk of dehydration
  • Their diarrhea doesn’t improve after a few days on a bland diet
  • Their diarrhea episodes keep recurring

How our veterinary team diagnoses and treats diarrhea

Diarrhea treatment depends on the underlying cause. For acute cases, medications and a high or low-fiber diet may be prescribed. For chronic issues, your veterinarian will test for infections and underlying disease, and treat accordingly. Tests may include:

  • Stool parasite testing
  • Blood work and urinalysis
  • Abdominal X-rays and ultrasound
  • Endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy 

How to prevent diarrhea in dogs

Chronic diarrhea is usually caused by an underlying disease process, and most likely cannot be prevented. The risk of acute diarrhea can be minimized by:

  • Slowly changing the diet — Your pet’s gastrointestinal tract needs slow transitioning while they become accustomed to new foods.
  • Avoiding excess treats and table scraps — To provide a nutritionally sound diet and prevent diarrhea, do not let treats make up more than 10% of your pet’s diet.
  • Monitoring your pet outdoors — Ensure your pet does not eat anything inappropriate, including vegetation, outside.

Diarrhea doesn’t have to slow your pet down, but a diagnosis can take time, and dealing with the problem is not fun. If your pet is feeling ill, or develops diarrhea that lasts more than a few days, call us to schedule a visit with your Animal Medical Hospital of Naples team, and let us get to the bottom of the matter.