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Chronic Diarrhea in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Diarrhea is defined as the rapid movement of fecal matter through the intestine resulting in poor absorption of water, nutrients and electrolytes. With diarrhea the stools (bowel movements) become loose or runny. Chronic diarrhea refers to diarrhea that persists for three or more weeks. Occasionally the fecal material may contain fresh blood or mucus.

Chronic diarrhea is an important sign of intestinal disease in the dog. Persistent diarrhea can lead to weight loss from poor digestion and loss of important nutrients. Chronic diarrhea can lead to loss of body condition, development of a poor hair coat, and may also affect appetite and activity levels.

General Causes

Most causes of chronic diarrhea induce local irritation or structural abnormalities of the intestinal mucosa (lining). There are numerous diseases and disorders that can lead to chronic diarrhea. These include:

  • Infectious agents such as bacterial infections, protozoal agents, fungal infections, and intestinal parasites
  • Certain drugs and toxins
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, e.g. enteritis (inflammation of the small bowel) and colitis (inflammation of the large bowel)
  • Dietary intolerance or food allergy
  • Gastrointestinal cancer
  • Partial obstruction (blockage) of the intestinal tract
  • Other systemic illnesses, such as liver disease, pancreatic diseases, kidney disease, etc.
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Lymphangiectasia, and other disorders of malabsorption (inability to absorb food stuffs or cause proteins and other materials to be lost in the feces)
  • Disorders of maldigestion (inability to digest food stuffs in the intestine)
  • Short bowel syndrome
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (spastic colon)

    What to Watch For

  • Passage of loose, watery stools that persist for more than three weeks
  • A change in color of the stool
  • Blood in the stool
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Straining to defecate
  • Increased number of stools
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Poor hair coat
  • Lethargy

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