How to Treat Diarrhea in Dogs

how to treat diarrhea in dogs
how to treat diarrhea in dogs

Diarrhea is one of the most common medical symptoms that veterinarians see in their hospitals, making “how to treat diarrhea in dogs” one of the most common dog owner questions. Before we review diarrhea treatments and various diarrhea medications, we will quickly define “what is diarrhea” and the possible causes of canine diarrhea.

Diarrhea is defined as having loose stools which are often more frequent than normal.   The consistency of diarrhea can range from watery, liquid with some form, pudding, to a formed but softer-than-normal consistency.  Some diarrhea can contain blood and/or mucous.

Diarrhea can be a standalone symptom or it can be associated with other symptoms. Some dogs will have diarrhea and otherwise be completely normal. This means they have a good appetite, no vomiting, and a good energy level. Other times diarrhea is associated with vomiting, lack of appetite, lethargy, and/or weakness. In these latter cases, we recommend that you see your veterinarian to help determine the underlying cause and to get your dog the diarrhea treatment that will work best.

There are many different causes of canine diarrhea that range from very mild or minor problems to severe life-threatening problems. Specifically, causes of canine diarrhea may include the following:

  • Eating inappropriate food or materials (commonly referred to as dietary indiscretion)
  • Infectious agents such as bacterial, viral, fungal, protozoal, or parasitic infections
  • Drugs (in humans there are over 700 medications that are known to cause diarrhea)
  • Toxins
  • Telescoping of the bowel on itself (Intussusception)
  • Intolerance of materials in the normal diet
  • Intestinal obstruction that can be caused by ingestion of indigestible foreign material such as toys, socks, fabric, underwear, rocks
  • Metabolic disorders, such as liver problems or kidney disease
  • Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)

Some of the underlying causes of diarrhea are minor and can resolve quickly while other causes can be serious and life-threatening. Below we will consider how to treat diarrhea in dogs, when you should see your veterinarian, what you can feed a dog with diarrhea, types of dog diarrhea medicine, and tips for handling diarrhea in puppies.

Tips for Treating Dog Diarrhea at Home

It is important to take special care when treating dog diarrhea at home.

First of all, it is important to consider if diarrhea is the only symptom and your dog is otherwise acting normal or is he is acting sick with diarrhea? It is recommended that if your dog is acting sick and showing other symptoms, you would seek help from your veterinarian. There may be a life-threatening problem and treating dog diarrhea at home is not a good idea. Such symptoms include:

  • Not eating or drinking
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Concurrent vomiting
  • Diarrhea contains blood
  • Or your dog is showing any other signs of illness

Second, we will give you tips on dog diarrhea medication below but it is important to NOT give any medication without the recommendation of your veterinarian. Some human medications not listed below are unsafe and can cause harm to your dog.

Finally, read “what you can do at home for dogs with diarrhea”. This short article contains specific instructions on how to feed a dog with diarrhea, recipes to feed at home, and medications that are safe to give dogs.  

One last tip – the best way to avoid accidents in the house is to ensure your dog has frequent opportunities to go outside. Don’t wait for your dog to wake you up, as by then it is often too late. Offer your dog frequent opportunities to “go out”.

What You Can Feed a Dog With Diarrhea

If your dog has diarrhea but is acting otherwise normal with a good energy level, no vomiting, weakness, lethargy or other abnormal symptoms, then it is generally safe to offer some water and some food.

The recommendation for water intake is to offer free choice water if your dog is not vomiting and otherwise acting normal. If your dog is having vomiting in addition to diarrhea – please read this article on home care for dogs with vomiting and diarrhea. This article will give you specific instructions on how to introduce water and food when both vomiting and diarrhea are affecting your dog.

The diet recommendation for dogs with diarrhea is foods that are easy on the stomach. In dogs, we call it a “bland diet”.  You can purchase a bland diet from your veterinarian or make a homemade version at home. Prescription bland foods include Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d (which stands for “intestinal diet”), Iams Recovery Diet, or Waltham Low Fat Diet.

You can make a homemade diet by preparing a combination of a protein source with a highly digestible carbohydrate source. The most common recipe consists of lean hamburger or skinless chicken (as the protein source) mixed with boiled rice (as the carbohydrate source) at a 50/50 ratio. You may use potatoes as an alternative carbohydrate source.

Feed only small amounts of this bland food at a time. Many dogs will overeat and vomit. By going slowly, you minimize the chance of creating additional problems such as vomiting. Begin with only a small meatball size portion. If there is no vomiting, offer another small amount approximately one-half to one hour later. Offer small amounts of this bland food frequently such as every 3 to 4 hours for the first day.

You can gradually increase the amount of food and decrease the frequency as your dog tolerates this food. After feeding in this manner for 24 hours, you can begin mixing in some of his regular food assuming there is no vomiting and the diarrhea is resolving.  Go slowly when reintroducing your dog’s regular food. For example, mix in only a few kibbles of the regular food with the bland food for the first feeding. Gradually increase the amount of regular food over several feedings weaning your dog to his regular food over a couple of days.

It is also important to know what to avoid and what foods can make diarrhea worse. Avoid spicy food, uncooked vegetables, human foods, and any foods that your dog has had a problem with before. It is best to stick with the bland diet discussed above.

Types of Dog Diarrhea Medicine That Will Help Your Dog Recover

The topic of medications to help dog diarrhea is an interesting and controversial one. Some veterinarians eagerly reach for various diarrhea medications while others don’t. The controversy is this. Diarrhea is Mother Nature’s way of ridding the body of something. By giving medication to slow or stop diarrhea, you are keeping that “something” in the body.  Many experts recommend that you allow diarrhea to run its course.

Many cases of dog diarrhea may be self-limiting and resolve quickly with no treatment and no need for diarrhea medicine. Other causes of diarrhea, especially those associated with an infectious problem, can benefit from medication.

To be safest, if you choose to use diarrhea medications for your dog, please do so under the supervision of your veterinarian. Below is information about the types of medication you should look for – some require a prescription and some are over-the-counter (OTC).

One commonly used medication to treat diarrhea in dogs is called metronidazole, also known as Flagyl. This commonly used prescription medication is a synthetic antibiotic and antiprotozoal that treats bacterial infections and certain parasitic infections in dogs and cats.

Dogs can be given deworming medication that is safe and effective. This can be done even if the stool testing is negative for intestinal parasites because parasites do not always show up in every fecal examination. Two very commonly used dewormers in dogs include Pyrantel Pamoate (also known as Nemex®, Strongid® T) and Fenbendazole (also commonly known as Panacur®).  Both Pyrantel and Fenbendazole are available at your veterinarian’s office or over-the-counter without a prescription.

Another medication that can be used in dogs with diarrhea is Diphenoxylate (Logen®, Lomotil®, Lonox®). Most pet owners know this drugs as “Lomotil”. This drug works by slowing down the gastrointestinal tract, decreasing the production of intestinal secretions, and enhancing absorption of liquids. Lomotil should be used under the direction of your veterinarian. Lomotil can be found over-the-counter in most human pharmacies. Please see this article on how to safely dose and give Lomotil.

Another drug that can help diarrhea in dogs is Immodium. Loperamide, commonly known as Imodium® can be used to treat diarrhea in dogs. It works primarily by slowing the movement of the intestines. It may also decrease intestinal secretions and enhance mucosal absorption. Learn more about how to safely dose Imodium in dogs and drug interactions that you should know about.

If your dog is showing concurrent vomiting, lethargy or weakness, it is best to have your dog evaluated by a veterinarian. 

It is also important to know risks with medicine and what to avoid. Unless directed by your veterinarian, it is best to avoid steroids (such as prednisone) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Rimadyl, Meloxicam, Deramaxx, and many more) that can cause irritation to the gastrointestinal tract.

The best treatment for diarrhea is to remove the underlying cause if known. In many cases, diarrhea may be caused from a sudden food change, new treats, bones, and dietary indiscretion such as getting into the trash or being offered human foods that your dog isn’t used to. Remove all predisposing causes. If you started a new food – go back to the old food then slowly introduce the new food. Here is an article on the best formula and specific instruction on how to introduce a new dog food.

Tips for Handling Diarrhea in Puppies

Diarrhea in puppies can be more serious than in an adult dog depending on the age of the puppy. The younger the puppy, the more serious the problem can be. Puppies don’t have reserve energy stores and even minor bouts of diarrhea can lead to low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), which can be life-threatening.

First, if we look at why puppies get diarrhea, the causes are very similar to the ones we identified above with older dogs. The most common reasons specific to puppies are parasites, dietary indiscretion, and ingestion of non-digestible objects.  Here is a good article just about Puppy Diarrhea.

When it comes to diarrhea in puppies, it is important to know how to treat it and what’s safe for puppies.  The bland food recommendations and medications used in adult dogs can also be used in puppies. The very safest thing you can do when it comes to puppies is to see your vet. Because they are young and don’t have the full immune system of a healthy adult, it is extremely important to find the underlying cause.

Many clients ask “how to identify bigger issues” associated with diarrhea in puppies. The big things are if your puppy is lethargic, also vomiting, and/or you notice blood in the stool. If this happens, you really should see your vet as soon as possible. Many puppies are lethargic from dehydration or from a low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) that can be a medical emergency. For more information about a low blood sugar – please read Hypoglycemia in Dogs.

We hope this article helps you better understand important facts about diarrhea in dogs including how to treat diarrhea in dogs, what to feed a dog with diarrhea, types of dog diarrhea medicine that will help your dog recover, and tips to treat diarrhea in puppies.