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What is your dog’s poop telling you? More than you might think. While it usually takes tools and training for veterinarians to assess stool samples and diagnose health concerns, even first-time pet owners may be able to make judgments at a glance. It all comes down to the 4 Cs: color, content, consistency, and coating. It may not be pleasant, but taking a closer look at your dog’s poop while keeping those 4 Cs in mind can help you recognize health concerns early and address them more effectively.
Healthy dog feces should be chocolate brown. Watch out for the following hues, each of which could indicate a dietary concern or more serious underlying health issue:
- Brown with red streaks: Bloody streaks in your dog’s poop may signify bleeding in the lower section of their gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Make sure to check their anus for signs of abrasions and bleeding to rule out an external injury.
- Maroon or black: Darker-colored stool may point to bleeding further up in the GI tract, such as in the stomach or small intestines. Bloody stool often has a sticky, tar-like quality in addition to its darker color. Aspirin is just one of the many common human medications that can cause stomach ulcers in dogs.
- Brown with white spots: Small, white specks (about the size of grains of rice) are often signs of tapeworms. This type of parasitic infection is usually easily treatable.
- Green: A green bowel movement could simply indicate that your dog has been eating more grass than they ought to, perhaps to soothe an upset stomach. Keep in mind, however, that greenish stool is also a potential symptom of gallbladder disease, certain parasitic infections, and accidental ingestion of rat poison. Quick medical attention is especially crucial if you know your dog hasn’t been making a meal of your lawn.
- Grey: Greasy, grey stool could result from exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Dogs with this condition do not produce the pancreatic enzymes necessary to break down all the fat in their diet. Regular, excessively-fatty meals could cause or exacerbate the issue.
- Orange or yellow: Your dog’s liver, gallbladder, and/or bile ducts could all be ailing if their poop appears anywhere on the color spectrum between orange and yellow.
As with human feces, medical experts often use a numerical scale to score the consistency of canine stool samples. The seven-point scale is slightly different for dogs than for humans. Ideal human stool is represented by a 3 or 4, while (fittingly enough) the number 2 represents ideal canine stool on the species’ modified scale:
- Hard, dry pellets that require considerable effort to pass. Stool leaves no residue behind on the ground or on objects that touch it.
- Firm, yet pliable, stool that appears in segments and leaves little-to-no residue behind.
- Stool is moist and log-shaped with little visible segmentation. Though it leaves residue on the ground, it maintains its shape upon handling.
- Moist, log-shaped stool that loses its shape when handled.
- Very moist, appearing in piles rather than logs. Resembling the “poop emoji,” it leaves considerable residue and loses its form when handled.
- Appearing as piles or small spots, this stool has texture, but no clear shape.
- Totally liquid, this stool is textureless and collects in puddles.
It’s not out of the ordinary for healthy dogs to have occasional bowel movements scoring above or below 2. Regular constipation or diarrhea, however, demands medical attention, particularly when it’s accompanied by other symptoms like behavioral changes.
No dog owner is eager to dig through their pet’s droppings. Fortunately, there’s usually no need to break out the scalpel and magnifying glass. Your veterinarian can scour for microscopic contents, but you may be able to spot the following warning signs with the naked eye:
- Foreign material: It’s not out of the ordinary to see bits of grass, cloth, and plastic in your dog’s stool from time to time. Such sightings may be cause for concern if your dog is regularly making their way into the garbage or snacking on non-food items during walks. Remember, it’s possible that some of what your dog has eaten hasn’t made it all the way through their digestive tract. Talk to your veterinarian if you have any reason to suspect they’re struggling with obstructions at any stage in their GI tract.
- Fur: Clumps of fur in your pup’s stool could indicate that they’re overgrooming themselves. In addition to causing internal trouble, this behavior could also indicate health trouble like stress, allergies, or skin conditions.
- Worms: Small, rice-shaped worms or longer, skinnier ones may be visible in fresh stool. If you suspect your dog has worms, take care to collect a fresh sample for observation. Samples that have been left outside may have attracted additional organisms.
A healthy canine stool sample will have no visible coating and leave behind no residue when it’s picked up. The presence of both mucus and blood should be considered a cause for concern. Heavy amounts of the former may result from inflammation, itself the result of allergies or other GI problems.
Tips for Healthy Digestion
Prevent both chronic and unexpected intestinal trouble with these expert tips:
- Feed your dog a complete and balanced diet, featuring the highest-quality ingredients possible. Your veterinarian will help you select a brand to suit your pet and budget.
- Offer treats sparingly and exercise caution around table food. Even many pet-safe favorites can lead to unwanted symptoms if they’ve been prepared with certain ingredients.
- Close trash receptacles carefully to keep pets from inadvertently ingesting spoiled food or hazardous non-food items.
- Pet-proof your home by keeping household chemicals, medications, and other potential poisoning risks out of reach. Also, avoid leaving pets unattended.
- Pet-proof your yard by familiarizing yourself with poisonous plants and protecting your dog against pests.
- When in doubt, consult your veterinarian.