My dog got diarrhea; what can I do?
Upset stomach and diarrhea are some of the most common reasons people see a veterinarian. Even more frequently, people seek remedies to treat their dog’s diarrhea at home. It is understandable—you want to help your dog, save yourself the grief, and not spend a fortune.
Can you treat your dog’s diarrhea at home? And, more importantly, should you?
What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea refers to loose or watery stools. Some definitions include frequency, but don’t be fooled; different types of diarrhea can cause either frequent, urgent potty trips or happen on a perfectly normal schedule. Ironically, the more annoying, frequent poops are typically the less dangerous stuff.
Note: explosive, severe diarrhea is an emergency. Severe diarrhea or vomiting can cause serious damage to your dog’s body. Profound dehydration alone can have severe effects, including:
- abnormal mental activity
- low blood pressure than can lead to organ damage
- brain damage
Further reading: What Happens in a Dog’s Body with Severe Vomiting?
What causes diarrhea?
That, my friend, is the right question. The short answer is that your dog can get diarrhea either because of a problem in the gastrointestinal tract itself, or a systemic condition that leads to diarrhea as a secondary effect. Clearly, if the problem does not originate in the belly, trying to fix the belly won’t solve it.
A more comprehensive list of potential causes of your dog’s runny poops would look like this:
- dietary indiscretion
- diet change
- foreign bodies/obstruction
- food allergies or intolerance
- intestinal parasites
- bacterial infections
- viral infections
- fungal infections
- pancreatic disease
- liver disease
- kidney disease
- Addison’s disease
- immune-mediated problem
- certain medications
As you can see, not many of these are good candidates for DIY treatment.
Further reading: Diarrhea/Runny Stools in Dogs: Why Is My Dog’s Poop Runny?
Are there other red flags?
If runny poop is the only symptom your dog has and they are looking and acting fine otherwise, you might be able to consider and try some home diarrhea remedies. However, if your dog is also vomiting or acting ill, you should rethink that.
In other words, the more signs you see, the more serious the problem is. Considering the big picture is essential. Symptoms that can alert you that your dog’s diarrhea requires veterinary attention include:
- loss of appetite
- other indications that your dog is ill
Further reading: Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: The Big Picture
So can you ever treat your dog’s diarrhea at home?
Take another look at the list of potential causes. Which of those do you feel would be good candidates for at-home intervention? There are not many options left, are there? You can try and help on your own with diarrhea caused by the following:
Dietary indiscretions, or garbage gut, are a common cause of upset stomach in dogs. Dogs like to taste anything that fits in their mouth, especially when it smells good to them. A garbage can is a frequent target, hence the term garbage gut.
Not everything that is attractive to the mouth agrees with the stomach.
Diarrhea is the most common consequence of dietary indiscretions. Often, this is a self-limiting problem which means it resolves on its own.
How does it look? You dog might have:
- semi-formed to liquid poop
- fresh blood or mucus in stool
- increased frequency of defecation—six or more times a day
- straining and urgent need to go
If the upset is mild, your dog is likely to be normal otherwise. Such diarrhea should resolve 24-72 hours.
You might take measure to sooth the gut.
However, depending on what they ate and the health of their digestive system, dietary indiscretion can lead to severe illness and might require intensive treatment. Make sure you can tell the difference.
Garbage adventures can cause life-threatening trouble if your dog consumed:
- spoiled food
- fatty food or fat scraps/drippings (e.g., pancreatitis)
- bones or indigestible items (e.g., intestinal obstructions)
- toxic items
An abrupt diet change can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. In my experience, this problem seems unique to kibble-fed dogs who typically eat the same formula for long periods of time. Our veterinarian explained that the problem is caused by the reaction of the gut bacteria, which has been optimized for the given constellation of ingredients and vulnerable to change.
Dogs who are used to variety of foods are not likely to have an issue.
For kibble-fed dogs, there are detailed guidelines from switching formulas. Transition your dog over 7 days, gradually adjusting the ratio of the original and new diet.
Different places recommend different ratios but a roughly similar strategy. Dogs with a sensitive system might need to transition even more gradually.
If the transition does trigger loose stools, you might need to:
- step back and allow more time for adjustment
- transition back to the original food and try again later
Food allergies or intolerance
While food allergies and intolerance are distinct issues, either can result in GI upset. The solution is intuitive—removing the offending ingredient(s) from your dog’s diet.
However, that is often easier said than done. First, you’d need to determine which ingredient is causing trouble, and second, find food that does not include it in the formula. It can become tricky because even when an ingredient doesn’t appear on the list, it doesn’t mean the food didn’t get contaminated by ingredients that are not supposed to be there during production.
In any case, the optimal approach is an elimination diet. Elimination diet starts with minimal, novel ingredients—something your dog never ate.
Another available option are hydrolyzed formulas and/or a careful choice of digestive enzymes.
Home remedies for dog diarrhea
What measures can you take to help your dog with runny poop? Below is a list of remedies you can try.
Note: this doesn’t apply to young puppies; always see a vet with a sick puppy.
The first logical step in alleviating your dog’s diarrhea is letting the system sort itself out. That means a 12-24 hour fast to allow things to settle down. However, do not withhold water.
After the initial fast, and if your dog’s diarrhea subsided, you can try and introduce some food in the form of a bland diet. That typically consists of boiled rice and lean, digestible, lean meat such as chicken or turkey breast.
Home-made, de-fatted, sodium-free soup or bone broth are also a great option for introducing nutrients in a way that is easy for the GI to handle.
Feed small frequent meals so the system can deal with it easier.
Gut health stands and falls with the state of intestinal bacteria—the microbiome.
Intestinal bacteria can be involved in dog diarrhea in both directions. Severe disruptions of the microbiome can cause diarrhea and diarrhea, or what’s behind it can lead to disruption of the microbiome.
Probiotics can help restore balance in the gut.
Choose your product carefully and make sure it’s meant for dogs.
The beauty of a carefully selected source of fiber is that it can work both ways—thicken stool that is too loose or loosen stool that is too hard.
Further, fermentable fiber—prebiotics, are a source of nutrition for good intestinal bacteria.
Pure pumpkin is an example of a popular fiber in the treatment of dog diarrhea.
Psillium fiber is non-fermentable and helps thicken the stool.
Slippery elm is made from the inner bark of the slippery elm tree. It soothes the mucus membranes and reduces inflammation of the dog’s irritated gut. As well as it works as a prebiotic and supports beneficial gut bacteria.
Further reading: 9 Ways Slippery Elm Can Help Your Dog
Marshmallow root is another herb that helps reduce irritation of the GI tract and decrease inflammation.
Further reading: 11 Ways Marshmallow Root Can Help Your Dog
KaoPectate is an intestinal protectant that consists of kaolin clay and pectin. It has anti-inflammatory, antacid, and mild antibiotic properties.
Beware, however, some newer formulas, while they still go under the same name, no longer contain kaolin and pectin. I would stick with the original active ingredients.
Further reading: Kaolin/Pectin
L-Glutamine is an amino acid that helps heal the injured intestinal cells. Intestinal cells use it as a fuel source to function as well as it helps maintain the intestinal barrier.
It can be used to prevent or treat intestinal damage and even inflammation of the pancreas. A veterinarian might also recommend it in conjunction with other treatments for dogs suffering from parvovirus, bowel disease, or undergoing chemotherapy.
Further reading: Glutamine
Personally, I like having activated charcoal on hand. Of course, if I suspected my dog ate a poison, I would rush to a veterinarian and not experiment. However, when my dog eats something potentially naughty, such as a piece of ripe carcass, I like to add some activated charcoal if all my dog has is temporary diarrhea issue.
What I would not use
Beware of trying human OTC medications because they can cause more harm than good. The two medications people often consider using for their dog are Pepto Bismol and Immodium.
It is tempting to give your dog medication you know is designed to settle the stomach. However, the product contains aspirin. Aspirin can cause GI distress, ulcers, liver and kidney damage. Such risk is hardly worth taking. You don’t want to get your dog’s system in more trouble than it already is.
Further reading: So What about those Hidden Potential Toxins
Imodium—loperamide—is a synthetic opioid. The reason it’s used to treat diarrhea is that all opioids are known to cause constipation.
There might be a time and place to use imodium for dogs. However, I’d only use it on veterinarian’s advice. Some dogs might benefit from this medication, but it can lead to serious side effects such as sedation, bloat, and pancreatitis.
Further, you cannot use any random product sold under the label. You have to make sure that the one you use is straight loperamide with nothing else added. Especially, you’d have to make sure there is no xylitol added.
Further reading: Immodium for Dogs: Is It a Good Idea?
There are circumstances when you can help alleviate your dog’s diarrhea at home. However, make sure that you know what you’re doing and that you don’t miss severe illness or poisoning that requires veterinary intervention instead. Never try treating your dog yourself when they have severe diarrhea with or without vomiting, or show other signs their health is in serious trouble.
Dog or Cat Has Diarrhea? Here’s What You Can Do At Home