Symptoms to Watch for In Your Dog: Diarrhea

No doubt. You’re unlikely to miss your dog having diarrhea.

It isn’t a matter of careful observation. Instead, it’s a question of what to do about it.

Symptoms to Watch for In Your Dog: Diarrhea

The first thing on your mind is probably how to stop it. But while sometimes diarrhea develops for a straightforward reason, such as garbage gut or dietary indiscretion, it can also be a symptom of a more complicated situation. In these cases, treating the symptom will not cure the disease.

To top it all off, diarrhea can be caused by problems that don’t originate in the gut itself.

Focus too much on diarrhea, and you’ll miss what’s really going on. We want diarrhea to stop, but we need to treat the cause to do that effectively.

When your dog gets diarrhea, it is important to consider the big picture. 

How bad is the diarrhea? Is there also vomiting? Is the dog lethargic? Not interested in food? Does the dog look or act sick? The longer your list of problems the faster you should be seeking veterinary attention.

Note: A sick puppy is always an emergency. Don’t put your puppy’s life at risk by trying to treat them at home without first having them examined by a veterinarian.

Think back.

Did your dog get into something they shouldn’t? Eat something unusual or suspicious? Did you start a new food or medication? Have there been any major changes in your dog’s life? Even if they have not had access or gotten into anything, it is possible to have a tainted piece of food in the bowl.

An abrupt change in food, food items your dog isn’t used to, garbage gut, even stress, excitement, and strenuous exercise can result in diarrhea.

When JD got diarrhea, we definitely had a suspect. While on a walk he snatched and ate part of an unidentified carcass. Because we did have a suspect and he looked normal otherwise, we decided to try a 24-hour fast,  followed by bland meals to see whether his gut will settle down. It did.

Acute diarrhea from a dietary indiscretion should start to improve within 24 hours.

JD’s did last 48 hours, but because it was not an emergency and it was on the weekend when the vet was closed, we decided to wait another day. If it hadn’t resolved by then, we would have taken him in. Also, if his overall condition had gotten worse (he started vomiting or looking sick), we would have taken him in.

On the other hand, on the day Cookie clearly didn’t feel well, if she had just one episode of diarrhea, we would have taken her in.

Severe, explosive, unrelenting diarrhea is an emergency.

Stool with blood in it calls for medical attention. Digested blood makes the feces appear black and tarry.

If your dog continues to have diarrhea for longer than a day or two, you need to see a vet. I would not wait any longer than that.

Just once we waited longer, only to regret it. With her IBD, Jasmine had diarrhea fairly often. She was typically put on metronidazole, which is an antibiotic but also decreases inflammation in the gut. Every now and then Jasmine’s diarrhea would resolve on its own. Hoping that it might do that and try to avoid yet another course of antibiotics, we decided to wait a second day to see if things improve. By then end of the day she had blood in her diarrhea.

Large or small intestinal diarrhea?

Small intestinal diarrhea tends to be the worse of the two. The main job of the small intestine is digestion and nutrient and fluid absorption. When it’s not working properly, it not only results in diarrhea but dogs may also not be getting the nutrition they need.

Common causes of small intestinal diarrhea can be quite scary, including parvovirus. Other possibilities include other viral infections, parasites, bacterial or fungal infections, poisoning, an abrupt deficiency in glucocorticoids (Addison’s disease),  pancreatic disease, garbage gut, inflammatory bowel disease, cancers, systemic disease (e.g., liver or kidney failure), and hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

With small intestinal diarrhea, your dog might not have to go more than two to four times a day, but they will produce huge amounts of very wet stool. If there is blood in the stool, it will be dark, digested blood. With ongoing small intestinal diarrhea, your dog can start losing weight.

A dog with acute large intestinal diarrhea will need to go frequently, usually in a hurry. He is likely to strain while defecating and pass smaller volume of feces at a time. There can be fresh blood or mucus in the stool. There is no loss of nutrients and a dog with ongoing lower intestinal diarrhea will generally not lose weight.

Large intestinal diarrhea can be caused by parasites, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, bacteria, fungal infections, garbage gut and other dietary issues.

When dogs have conditions that affect both the large and small intestine, a combination of symptoms can be seen.

When to take a dog to the vet?

Diarrhea is such a common problem that most people want to treat it on their own. After all, we don’t see the doctor every time we get diarrhea. Many home remedies, such as a 24-hour fast, bland food, and adding fiber or probiotics to the diet can be helpful. But diarrhea is not a disease, it is a symptom of one. Trying to treat diarrhea without understanding the cause behind it is often counterproductive and can be dangerous.

The first step is figuring out what caused it.

To recap, diarrhea can be caused by any of the following things (and more!).

  • Dietary indiscretion
  • Diet change
  • Foreign body/obstruction
  • Food allergy or intolerance
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Bacterial infections
  • Viral infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Toxins
  • Pancreatic disease
  • Auto-immune
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer
  • Addison’s disease

Do you still feel confident that you can always deal with your dog’s diarrhea on your own?

Related articles:
A Tale of Many Tails—and What Came Out From Underneath (part I)
Acute Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Acute Large Intestinal Diarrhea (Acute Colitis)
chronic Large Intestinal Diarrhea
Chronic Small Intestinal Diarrhea
Gastroenteritis is when … 

Categories: DiarrheaSymptoms

Tags: :

Jana Rade

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience.

  1. I am always sure to watch Rooney and make sure he has regular/normal poops. Diarrhea can be a true sign that something is wrong with their health. Thanks for the great article!

  2. I am always very watchful when it comes to upset stomachs around here. Having gone through HGE twice with Indiana we are very careful.

  3. Thank you for this important information. As much as I am not a fan of picking up poop, I know how important it is! It is can be one of the first red flags that something isn't quite right. Fortunately, we haven't run into any issues so far!

  4. Great information here. Dietary indiscretion seems to have historical been when my dogs have had stomach issues.

  5. A really well-written informative post. We have a cat with IBD so are all too familiar with the need to watch what goes in and what comes out.

  6. Always a great reminder for people to watch their pets closely and to get help. Having had a dog with IBD I can understand and thank you for this piece.

  7. That is the most important thing – knowing what is normal. Though as a note, we always though Jasmine had a sensitive tummy and eventually it turned out that she had IBD. So it's always important to be cautious before labeling a tummy as sensitive.

  8. Cookie used to find all kinds of edibles and not-so-edibles back in Kitchener too. People just throw anything anywhere. Up here it's more of the wild stuff. What JD ate must have been discarded by hunters and who knows how long it was there. I tell Cookie to eat only what is still warm 😉

  9. Great information. This is always an issue with Mauja and Atka because they have sensitive tummies. However, I know what is 'normal' for them now and when to be concerned.

  10. Usually when Koly's tummy is upset, I blame \”street food\” (oh the joys of living on the same block as a 7-11), but if it doesn't clear up fairly quickly, wehead to the vet. Koly has an iron stomach, so any upset is cause for concern.

  11. So far we've been lucky. Any time one of our dogs has had diarrhea, we already knew that they had eaten something they weren't supposed to. Thanks for the tips on when to call the vet!

  12. Excellent post. I was told by my vet from the beginning to always watch out for changes in stool as a sign for other health problems. Just another reason to scoop that poop!

  13. Recently my brother got the runs…..the only thing that changed? My dadz , who works from home, went on a business trip – the little dude was upset! He got some yogurt and some extra hugs – and he firmed up! 🙂 Great article – thanks for compiling all the good info in one place!

  14. Yeah, it is. Though it's better than showing actual photo of parvo diarrhea ;-)Guardia can be nasty and hard to diagnose. Glad you got on top of it.

  15. With mild and short-lasting diarrhea, there is no need to panic. It is important to be able to tell when the situation is dire or when it's been going on too long.

  16. It's always worrisome when my dogs have diarrhea, I usually try to give it a day to improve before going to the vet's. Your post will help many people, myself included, know what to look for and when to rush to the vet's.

  17. This was a great post. Though I'm usually okay with vomiting, I know very little about the Big D. I normally give it 24 hours to clear up, and if it doesn't sub q fluids and a trip to the doc are norms for us. But thanks for explaining things a bit more, especially what small intestine D can be.

  18. Oh my goodness that photo from the Shining… lol. My last dog Carter got Giardia once and it's something I'll never forget. Luckily that's the only time we've had a diarrhea problem around here, and our vet was able to get him on meds and feeling well quickly.

  19. I've had far too much experience with gut upset for my liking, but thankfully it has mostly been the large intestine kind and some time and monitoring have been enough. One easy thing to check is hydration by lifting the skin on an area like the foreleg. If the skin doesn't immediately drop back down and smooth out, that is a sign of dehydration. (Oddly enough, that tip was not covered in the first aid class)

  20. Great post, thanks! I'm definitely one of those people who runs to the vet pretty quickly, but if the upset tummy doesn't seem too bad the first day I immediately switch my dog to small meals of just plain white rice & boiled chicken, which our vet had recommended w/ past incidents. It usually settles the tummy in a day or two, but if not we're off to the vet.Love & Biscuits,Cathy, Isis &

Share your thoughts