Acute Diarrhea (Loose Stools) in Dogs

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Overview of Acute Diarrhea in Dogs

Acute diarrhea is a common clinical problem in veterinary practice. It is characterized by a sudden onset and short duration (three weeks or less) of watery or watery-mucoid diarrhea. Occasionally the fecal material is also overtly bloody.  Diarrhea is sometimes referred to by the term “enteritis” which means inflammation of the intestine. 

Diarrhea results from excessive water content in the feces and is an important sign of intestinal diseases in the dog. Diarrhea can affect your dog by causing extreme fluid loss, which leads to dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and/or acid-base imbalances.

General Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs

  • Dietary indiscretion (eating inappropriate food/material)
  • Infectious agents – bacterial, viral, fungal, protozoal, parasitic infections
  • Drugs and toxins
  • Intussusception (telescoping of the bowel on itself)
  • Intolerance of materials in the normal diet
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Metabolic disorders, such as liver and kidney disease
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • What to Watch For

  • Passage of loose, watery stools that persist for more than one day
  • A change in the color of the stool
  • The appearance of blood in the stool
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Depression, lethargy
  • Fever

    Acute diarrhea is often alarming, but may not be an emergency if your dog is still active, drinking and eating, and is not vomiting. However, acute diarrhea associated with vomiting, lack of water intake, fever, depression, or other symptoms should prompt a visit to your veterinarian.

  • Diagnosis of Acute Diarrhea in Dogs

    Although most cases of acute diarrhea are short-lived and self-limiting, there are some cases that require diagnostic testing to confirm an underlying cause. Such tests include:

  • Complete history and physical examination
  • Fecal studies – flotation, smear, and zinc sulfate for Giardia
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Abdominal radiographs (x-rays)

    Treatment of Acute Diarrhea in Dogs

    Diarrhea is a symptom that can be caused by many different diseases or conditions. Specific treatment requires a diagnosis. The diagnostic tests described previously may reveal a diagnosis, however, in the interim symptomatic therapy may be helpful to reduce the severity of signs and offer relief to your pet:

  • Placing the intestinal tract in a state of physiologic rest by withholding food for 12 – 24 hours
  • Subsequent change to a bland, easily digestible diet
  • Fluid therapy
  • Antibiotic therapy
  • Intestinal protectants and adsorbents
  • What to Do If Your Dog Has Diarrhea

  • Administer only prescribed medications.
  • Provide fresh 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. Here is a link to more about what you can do at home if your dog has diarrhea. 
  • 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.
  • In-depth Information on Acute Diarrhea in Dogs

    Diarrhea results from excessive water content in the feces and is an important sign of intestinal diseases in the dog. Diarrhea can affect your dog by causing extreme fluid loss, which leads to dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and/or acid-base imbalances.

    Acute diarrhea associated with vomiting, lack of water intake, fever, depression, or other symptoms should prompt a visit to your veterinarian.

    Causes

    Many disorders and diseases can lead to acute diarrhea. These include:

  • Dietary indiscretion can include the eating spoiled food, overeating, the ingestion of foreign material, and/or sudden changes in the diet. Acute diarrhea may also follow ingestion of a food that contains substances that are poorly tolerated by the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Intestinal parasites (e.g. roundworms, hookworms, whipworms) are a common cause of acute diarrhea, especially in young dogs. These parasites are not seen grossly in the feces, but their eggs may be discovered on fecal floatation tests.
  • Bacteria and bacterial toxins (Salmonella, Clostridium, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli, Yersinia, etc. ) may cause acute diarrhea and may be contracted from contaminated food and water, or exposure to the fecal material of other infected animals.
  • Viral infections such as parvovirus, coronavirus, rotavirus, distemper virus, and adenovirus may all induce acute diarrhea.
  • Protozoal infections with coccidia, Giardia, Entamoeba, trichomonads, etc. may also be a cause.
  • Fungal and algal infections (e.g. histoplasmosis, protothecosis, phythiosis, etc.) are more likely to cause chronic diarrhea than acute diarrhea, but occasionally acute diarrhea may occur.
  • Drugs and toxins cause acute diarrhea by either directly irritating the lining of the intestinal tract, or by disturbing the normal population of bacteria. Examples include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, corticosteroids, antibiotics, anti-cancer drugs, and certain heart drugs (digoxin).

    Offending toxins include insecticides, lawn and garden products, and heavy metals.

  • Dietary intolerance may result in acute diarrhea when the animal is exposed to something in the diet that the intestines react to, such as certain proteins, lactose, high fat content, and certain food additives.
  • Many metabolic diseases (kidney and liver diseases) produce clinical signs of gastrointestinal disease, including diarrhea. Diarrhea may be bloody and is often accompanied by multiple systemic signs in these cases.
  • Pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, may also cause diarrhea.
  • Obstructions of the intestines usually present with vomiting, but acute diarrhea may also be noted.
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is a disease of uncertain origin in dogs. Affected dogs often have a sudden onset of bloody diarrhea.
  • Intussusception, which is the telescoping of the bowel on itself, may arise with bouts of acute diarrhea, and be present when the dog is examined.
  • Tumors of the intestinal tract or other abdominal organs may induce diarrhea. Although the diarrhea may begin acutely, it does not usually resolve on its own.
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