Understanding Diarrhea in Dogs: A Tale of Many Tails—and What Came Out From Underneath Stories from My Diary-rrhea (part I)

Many times throughout my career, I have felt I should just change my name to Dr. Poop.  It is a big part of my unglamorous yet rewarding profession, and I often feel like I am a genuine poop doctor.

Understanding Diarrhea in Dogs: A Tale of Many Tails—and What Came Out From Underneath Stories from My Diary-rrhea (part I)

There is hard poop, liquid poop, soft-serve poop, even blue poop!

Just upon smell, I can tell you what species of animal it came from—dog, cat, pig, cattle, horse, you name it, and when it’s diarrhea, I can even occasionally diagnose the cause of the illness.  (Don’t hold me, or your vet, to this one please.)

We all know what diarrhea is. Chances are you have had to cancel a Friday night dinner, whether it was due to your own GI malfunction, or if you had to otherwise spend hours scrubbing your dog’s diarrhea out of your white carpet–because well, that’s just where it always happens.

Dog symptoms: Diarrhea

But there is a lot more to learn about that perma-stain than you ever imagined.

Allow me to share some inside veterinary scoop from Dr. Poop.

Diarrhea is as much of a big nasty topic to try to write about as it is to clean up.

What causes diarrhea?

Starting from the beginning, diarrhea is the result of

  • primary gastrointestinal (GI) disease, or
  • systemic conditions that consequentially affect the GI tract (such as kidney disease).

This is one of the first things that your veterinarian is considering when you bring in your squirting pooch.

For instance, an otherwise healthy Fido with acute diarrhea that isn’t otherwise affected is likely to respond well to supportive therapy alone—fluids, holding off on food, etc.  This is an example of a holistic rationale widely supported across traditional veterinary medicine. If the body’s GI tract is inflamed, reduce food intake.  This patient may not need extensive testing or treatment unless the problem recurs.

(Disclaimer:  Sometimes acute diarrhea in otherwise healthy-acting dogs can develop into a life-threatening situation.  The disease may just be so early that the patient isn’t otherwise clinically affected, but they will soon be.)

Back to the point, if Fido’s diarrhea is continuous or recurrent, whether or not he is otherwise affected, this is where we have to dive in with more diagnostics.

I have gotten ahead of myself. So far we’ve broken down diarrhea into 1) GI origins and 2) non-GI origins, but I slipped another category in on you:  acute vs. chronic.

Acute versus chronic diarrhea

Generally speaking, acute diarrhea means it has been continuously happening for less than two weeks.

Chronic diarrhea has been present for more than 2 weeks, however, there is some variation based on who you ask.  You get the gist though.

Yet another way veterinarians classify diarrhea is where it comes from.

Small versus large intestinal diarrhea

You may be thinking, “hey dummy, all diarrhea comes from the same place.” You may think my Dr. Poop alias should be revoked, but don’t worry, I have a point.

Starting from the beginning, diarrhea is the result of primary gastrointestinal (GI) disease or systemic conditions that consequentially affect the GI tract (such as kidney disease).

Finding out which place it comes from gives us a lot of information, and a thorough initial history of the problem and observation of the patient (you may know I repeatedly harp on both of these points) will allow us to determine where those runny stools are running from.

To further confuse you, or perhaps you aren’t learning anything new yet, there is a gray/brown zone where Fido exhibits signs of both small and large bowel diarrhea, which we refer to as “mixed intestinal signs.”

Severe diarrhea

A side note worth mentioning, even worthy of another story, is “the” severe diarrhea.

Anytime your pet has explosive, severe, diarrhea, take your pet to the vet ER stat!

Severe diarrhea would include continual bouts of liquid movements, bloody or black diarrhea (bad!), or your pet is exhibiting other clinical signs of illness—not wanting to play, lethargy, etc.

For the purposes of this blog series, I would like to try and keep it simple and divide and conquer four different categories:

Read the following parts below where I share some veterinary knowledge about the various types of diarrhea in dogs.

Related articles:
Symptoms to Watch for In Your Dog: Diarrhea

Share your thoughts