Diarrhea in dogs: causes, treatments, and recommendations
Diarrhea. Characterized by frequent evacuation of liquid stools, this disorder is common. Having it is never fun, but without a doubt, it is even more unpleasant to pick up after your dog! There are many different causes that can explain diarrhea in dogs: parasites, bacterial or viral infection, diet (excess, sudden change, intoxication, food indiscretions, table food, etc.) or other diseases.
All pet parents agree in saying they wish this ultra-unpleasant problem could be resolved quickly! Our veterinarian, Dr. José Manuel Guay, presents some basic precautions to avoid diarrhea, effective treatments to help your dog regain normal bowel movements and easy home solutions. In addition, you will find at the end of the article a list of serious symptoms to watch out for, helping you decide when you should consult the veterinarian.
Basic precautions to avoid diarrhea
Vaccination and parasite control program
Prevention starts at the first stage of life. A vaccination schedule starting around 6 to 8 weeks of age will help prevent fatal diarrhea in puppies. Additionally, a parasite control program should be followed throughout the dog's life to avoid preventable problems.
Keeping an eye on the dog to avoid eating anything
Eating things that a dog should not eat is called dietary indiscretion. They can be suspected when faced with a history of ingesting new food, plants, soil, table scraps, garbage or found on the ground.
Avoid food shock
A simple way to avoid diarrhea is to introduce new food gradually and in small quantities. Indeed, when food composition is different from the usual, it can produce a food shock. In my practice, I have noticed that owners are often excited about spoiling their pets with food. They offer new kibbles, treats, training rewards, and cookies here and there, not to mention all the things the adventurous pet can put in its mouth.
Also, while it can be enjoyable, sharing a meal with your dog should be avoided. This can cause digestive problems because human food is too fatty. The dog's digestive system cannot handle the new food properly, causing an acceleration of the digestive transit and a release of water in the feces.
For the same reason, rapid changes in food often result in loose stools. Any transition from one type of kibble to another should ideally be done gradually, over seven days or more.
Changing a diet the right way
Before concluding that a new animal protein is ineffective, you must give only this food to your pet for two weeks. If this trial stabilizes the pet's condition, you should conclude that you can no longer feed the protein or the problematic ingredient to your pet. You will also need to check the ingredient list of the treats, as they cannot contain the avoided ingredients.
Stool management is mostly a matter of choosing the proper diet. Finding the right food requires patience and a systematic approach, as the effects are sometimes delayed. Therefore, when trying to solve the problem of loose stools, I recommend getting the smallest bag available to try out the food and give only the food with the selected protein.
Remember that a stressful situation can also explain the presence of diarrhea, altering normal intestinal motility. This type of diarrhea should resolve itself in a short period.
Effective treatments for regaining a healthy bowel movement
Discomfort from food indiscretions usually lasts a few days. During this time, I recommend feeding your pet more frequently. Go with small portions of kibble and stop other treats altogether. We're talking about the bottom of a bowl or a few kibbles at a time for miniature breeds. This will allow your pet to regain strength from the food without overloading his digestive system with a large amount to digest. The more you overload the digestive system with food, the more likely it will be poorly digested and evacuated in liquid form.
Food fasting is less and less recommended because research shows that intestinal cells recover normal function more quickly with the presence of nutrients in the intestine. This reduces the risk of harmful bacteria adhering to the intestine.
Easy homemade solution
If you can spare the time to cook, a homemade recipe can also help your dog. Just cook a skinless chicken breast in small cubes and mix it with white rice in a rough ratio of 4 times as much rice as chicken. However, this simple recipe cannot be used long term, as your pet would suffer from nutritional deficiency. I prefer chicken breasts over extra lean ground beef as a source of protein. Most dog food already contains chicken. Also, chicken breasts have a lower fat content than extra lean ground beef, making this mixture easier to digest. Of course, if your dog has a chicken intolerance or allergy, choose a protein he is used to and tolerates well.
Fresh water access
Remember that your pet should have constant access to fresh water to ensure that he recovers the water lost through diarrhea.
The supportive treatments outlined above help to restore simple diarrhea more quickly and should be initiated before scheduling a visit to the veterinarian. Most of the time, these tips will allow you to stop acute diarrhea without needing antibiotics. Although their use is sometimes necessary, be aware that antibiotics can prolong the period of diarrhea and alter the viability of the normal bacterial flora. In addition, the use of unnecessary antibiotics contributes to bacterial resistance. If acute diarrhea persists for a few days despite first-line advice, a visit to the veterinarian is necessary to evaluate the situation.
In cases of loose stools, I recommend feeding a food with a fiber content formulated to support digestive health. All the products in the 1st Choice Nutrition Specialized Care line contain a Prebiotic Fiber Balance to help nourish the intestinal flora. Research shows that a healthy microbiota helps prevent diarrhea and that soluble fibre improves the consistency of feces. Look for the seal on the metal bags and choose the formula that best suits your dog's needs.
With this in mind, oral probiotic supplementation and clay-based supplements are available over the counter from your veterinarian. For your information, prebiotics are nutrients that promote the growth and maintenance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract, while probiotics are supplements that contain beneficial bacterial strains.
In cases of chronic diarrhea, a different approach is needed. The dog's diet should ideally be changed for an alternative animal protein. Contrary to popular belief, it is mainly proteins that cause digestive and skin problems (especially beef, milk, and eggs).
Most diets on the market are based on chicken. If your dog develops an intolerance to chicken, you must find an alternative. That's why 1st Choice Nutrition has created several chicken-free formulas: the Skin and Coat formulas (puppy, adult and senior) with lamb and fish, the Hypoallergenic formula with duck and the Derma formula with salmon. These are excellent choices when trying to find a diet that will stop chronic diarrhea (in the case of food sensitivities).
In case of a chronic diarrhea problem, I would recommend the Derma formula for an adult dog, as I prefer fish-based diets.
For a puppy, I would recommend the Skin and Coat formula for puppies, as it is specifically designed to support growth. It's always best to choose a life-stage-appropriate food when possible.
When should I see my veterinarian?
Sometimes a more serious underlying condition can cause diarrhea. A medical appointment would be appropriate in the following situations:
- Severe diarrhea, especially in a puppy or older dog. In both cases, dehydration is a risk.
- If you suspect the dog has ingested a foreign object, prompt attention is recommended.
- The dog becomes amorphous or has lost a lot of weight.
- The stool has a black tinge, indicating the presence of intestinal bleeding. There is abundant fresh blood in the feces.
- The dog vomits profusely.
My puppy frequently had loose stools; that's how I discovered 1st Choice Nutrition products. He needed an age-appropriate food, but not chicken based. I found this complete line with lamb and fish!
My dog now eats the Skin and coat formula with appetite and is doing very well!