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Home Care for the Dog with Diarrhea

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Diarrhea is a common problem seen in veterinary clinics. In fact, it is one of the most common reasons people take their dog to the vet.

What Is Diarrhea in Dogs?

Diarrhea is the act of having abnormally loose or liquid stools. This can also be associated with an increased frequency of bowel movements. Some dogs will have a large amount of liquid or abnormally loose stools once and others will have semi-formed stools frequently with straining.

What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs?

Diarrhea results from excessive water content in the feces and it is an important sign of intestinal disease in dogs.

Diarrhea can be a symptom of many different conditions. It can be caused a number of problems including:

  • A change in the dog's food
  • Eating garbage or food that does not agree with their system
  • Eating indigestible objects
  • Infectious agents including bacterial, viral or parasites
  • Systemic problems such as pancreatitis, kidney disease or liver disease

    It can affect your dog by causing extreme fluid loss, which leads to dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and/or acid-base imbalances.
    For a full list of possible causes – go to Acute Diarrhea in Dogs. Pet owners commonly ask, "What can I do at home?"

    Home Treatment or Care for Diarrhea in Dogs

    Specific treatments of diarrhea are dependent on the cause. Here is the general approach to dealing with a dog with acute diarrhea:

  • If your pet has diarrhea once then has a normal bowel movement without further diarrhea or has a normal bowel movement and is acting playful, then the problem may resolve on its own.

  • If you can identify it, always eliminate any predisposing cause such as exposure to trash, abrupt change in diet and eating plants.

    If your dog has diarrhea and vomiting (gastroenteritis), we recommend that you see your veterinarian – don't attempt home care.

  • If diarrhea occurs several times and you cannot take your dog to your veterinarian (which is recommended), then you may try the following:

    - Administer only prescribed medications by your veterinarian.

    - Stop feeding your dog for the first 12 to 24 hours.

    - If there is no vomiting, provide plenty of fresh clean water or oral rehydrating solutions to help prevent dehydration.

    - Temporarily change the diet to something bland. Bland diets can be made at home or prescription type diets can be obtained from your veterinarian. A bland digestible diet such as: Hill's prescription diet i/d, Iams Recovery Diet, Provision EN or Waltham Low Fat is usually recommended. You can make a homemade diet of boiled rice or potatoes (as the carbohydrate source) and lean hamburger, skinless chicken or low-fat cottage cheese (as the protein source). Feed small amounts at a time. Don't over feed as it may induce vomiting. Feed a meatball size portion and if there is no vomiting for a full hour, offer a small amount more. Give small amounts frequently – every 3 to 4 hours for the first day. You can gradually increase the amount and decrease the frequency as your dog tolerates.

    - Feed a bland diet for 2 days.

    - Then gradually return to regular dog food over the next day or two. At first, mix in a little of your dog's food into the bland diet. Feed that for one meal. Then feed a 50/50 mix for one meal. Then feed ¾ dog food and ¼ bland diet for a meal. Then feed your dog's regular food.

    - Leash-walk your pet to allow observation of bowel movements while watching for normal urinations and any vomiting that may occur otherwise without you knowing.

    - Observe your dog's general activity and appetite. Watch closely for the presence of blood in the stool, worsening of signs or the onset of vomiting.

    - Have your pet examined by your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.

    - Some veterinarians recommend Pepto-Bismol or Kaopectate (for dogs only!) ® The active ingredients are generally subsalicylate and Bismuth. Two tablespoons of Pepto-Bismol contain almost as much salicylate as one aspirin tablet (which is toxic to cats). Do NOT give cats Pepto-bismol or Kaopectate! The subsalicylate, an aspirin-like compound, can decrease diarrhea caused by intestinal infections. The bismuth agent is a chalk-like compound designed to coat the lining of the stomach and intestines. This helps some pets with diarrhea. The typical dose administered to dogs amounts to approximately two teaspoons (10 ml total) per 10 pounds per day, ideally split between two to four doses. This be found at most pharmacies and does not require a prescription. It is often used for one to two days. DO NOT USE IN CATS.

    - Medication should never be administered without first consulting your veterinarian. Please do not administer to cats without first consulting with a veterinarian to avoid toxicity.

    - This is important! If the diarrhea continues at any time or the onset of other symptoms are noted, call your veterinarian promptly. If your pet is not eating, starts vomiting, acts lethargic, has continued diarrhea or any other physical abnormalities mentioned above, it is important to see your veterinarian. Your pet needs the professional care your veterinarian can provide. If your pet is having the clinical signs mentioned above, expect your veterinarian to perform some diagnostic tests and make treatment recommendations. Recommendations will be dependent upon the severity and nature of the clinical signs.

    When Is Diarrhea in Dogs an Emergency?

    If the diarrhea continues after your pet eats or if your pet acts lethargic, doesn't want to eat and/or starts vomiting, then medical attention is warranted. Please see your veterinarian!

    Great Links for More Information on Diarrhea in Dogs

    For more details about diarrhea, go to Acute Diarrhea in Dogs, and Chronic Diarrhea in Dogs (duration longer than 1 or 2 weeks)".

    Related topics – go to Vomiting in Dogs, Vomiting and Diarrhea in Dogs and Dehydration in Dogs.

    Disclaimer: Advice given in the Home Care series of articles is not meant to replace veterinary care. When your pet has a problem, it is always best to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. But in some cases, it is not always possible to seek veterinary care. You could be traveling, it could be after hours and there are no 24-hour clinics near you, or maybe you simply can't afford it. Whatever the reason, when your pet has a problem, you need answers. Most vets will not give you any information over the phone – they will tell you to bring your pet in for an office visit. So, when these difficult situations arise, many pet owners don't know what to do – and they end up doing the wrong thing because they don't have sound veterinary advice. When your pet has a problem and you can't see your vet, the information in this series of articles can help guide you so that you will not inadvertently cause harm to your pet. However, this information is not a replacement for veterinary care.


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