Oh No, Does Your Dog Have Diarrhea? Here’s What To Do Next

By: Laura WillardUpdated:

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Oh No, Does Your Dog Have Diarrhea? Here’s What To Do Next

All pet parents can agree on one thing: Dog diarrhea is not a good time. Your furry best friend is uncomfortable; you’re scrubbing the rugs like it’s a full-time job; you’re playing dog poop detective to determine what’s causing it ... and let’s not even get started with the smell.

We talked to three vets so you can learn more than you ever hoped to know about dog diarrhea, including common causes; what to feed a dog with diarrhea; vet-approved home remedies; when to call your vet and more.

What Is Dog Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is watery or loose stools. Sometimes it can contain mucus or blood. When it comes to dog diarrhea, if you don’t see it first, you’ll almost certainly smell it. Yuck.

Diarrhea in dogs is not a disease itself, but rather a symptom of another health issue.

Common Causes of Dog Diarrhea

If your dog is experiencing this not-so-fun condition, you’re almost certainly wondering, “Why does my dog have diarrhea?!”

Well, there are many causes of diarrhea in dogs. Azza Diasti-Kennedy, DVM, MBA, a Florida-based veterinarian of over 20 years, says these are the two most common causes of diarrhea:

  • Dietary change/switching to a new food: Abruptly changing your dog’s diet “can disturb the dog's digestive system due to unfamiliar ingredients,” says Dr. Diasti-Kennedy.
  • Dietary indiscretion: Occasionally, our four-legged friends eat something they shouldn’t have. “Dogs sometimes will consume items that are too rich, fatty or spicy, leading to digestive problems,” says Dr. Diasti-Kennedy. Additionally, other typical dog antics, like getting into the trash can and eating whatever gross treasures they come across, can cause diarrhea.

Other possible causes of dog diarrhea include:

What To Do if Your Dog Has Diarrhea

In some situations, you can try to treat dog diarrhea at home (which we’ll get to in a moment) and wait 24 hours for the bout of diarrhea to pass. In other situations, including those that involve senior dogs, puppies and dogs with an underlying health condition, you’ll need to see your vet for professional help.

When To See a Vet About Your Dog’s Diarrhea

“As a general rule of thumb, if the diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours, it's a good idea to contact your veterinarian for advice,” says Nicole Savageau, VMD, a veterinarian with The Vets in Austin, Texas.

While waiting 24 hours is OK in most cases, Dr. Savageau suggests calling your vet sooner if any of the following applies:

  • Your dog is a senior
  • Your dog is a puppy
  • Your dog has an underlying health condition

Additional symptoms that warrant an earlier call to the vet include:

  • Both vomiting and diarrhea in a dog can be a sign of something more serious, such as pancreatitis or severe gastroenteritis.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Signs of dehydration, such as panting, sunken eyes, lethargy, dry nose, tacky gums or thick saliva
  • Blood in stools, including bright red blood or melena, which is tarry poop (dark, sticky stool)
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Excessive tiredness or weakness
Not sure whether to see a vet? Use PetMD's vet-created Symptom Checker. Answer a few questions about your pet's symptom, and the tool will give you the most likely causes and next steps.

Home Remedies for Mild Dog Diarrhea

Wondering how to stop diarrhea in dogs? The good news is that for mild cases, there are some things you can do to help get your pet on the road to recovery.

If your dog is an adult (but not a senior) and is otherwise healthy, Dr. Diasti-Kennedy recommends the following:

  • Withhold their regular food for 24 hours. A one-day fast gives their digestive system an opportunity to rest.
  • Keep them hydrated. Preventing dehydration is essential, so ensure your pup is drinking fresh, clean water.
  • Feed a bland diet. Following the fasting period, “slowly reintroduce a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice in small, frequent meals to calm the digestive system,” says Dr. Diasti-Kennedy.
  • Ensure rest and comfort. To reduce stress or anxiety, make sure your dog is in a calm environment as they recover.

Diagnosing Diarrhea in Dogs

If your dog’s diarrhea requires a vet visit, Sarah Wooten, DVM, a veterinary professional and journalist, says the following information may be helpful to your vet:

  • The brand and type of dog food you use
  • Whether you’ve made recent changes to your dog’s diet
  • Whether your dog is on heartworm prevention medication that includes a monthly intestinal parasite dewormer
  • Your dog’s vaccine history
  • Any current medications or chronic health conditions your dog may have
  • Any recent treatments or tests that have been performed on your dog

Dr. Wooten recommends bringing a fresh fecal sample to the vet so your veterinary care team can run tests and view it under a microscope.

While collecting puddly poop isn’t exactly a pet parent’s idea of a good time, the sample can be very helpful for your vet.

“Feces has a lot of information,” Dr. Wooten says. “It can tell your veterinarian if there is any blood in the stool; if there are parasites; if your dog has been eating grass; and what the intestinal gut flora looks like.”

Dog Diarrhea Treatment

Naturally, pet parents who need to seek medical attention for their dog want to know what to give their dog with diarrhea, but there’s not a one-size-fits-all treatment plan.

Your vet’s approach will depend on your dog’s other symptoms, overall condition and diagnostic test results when applicable.

Prescription Food

Some vets begin by putting a dog with diarrhea on a bland diet. Dr. Wooten recommends Hill’s I/D or Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Low Fat prescription dog food, but your vet will determine the best diet for your dog.

The diet will continue for three to five days after the diarrhea resolves and bowel movements return to normal. At that point, the pet parent can begin transitioning their dog back to their regular diet by mixing the bland diet food with their regular food for four or five days.

Different vets have different recommendations for the length of time a dog should remain on the diet as well as how long the transition period should last, so always follow your vet’s instructions.

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Antibiotics

Antibiotics may be useful for dogs who have infections. According to Dr. Wooten, if the dog has a bacterial overgrowth or a bacterial infection, she will consider prescribing antibiotics.

In addition, vets may prescribe metronidazole, for example, to treat diarrhea because it covers a broad range of bacteria.

Probiotics

Probiotics help balance the bacteria in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract and support your dog’s immune system. Plus, they can “outcompete the bacterial bad guys, like Salmonella or E. Coli,” Dr. Wooten says.

If a vet recommends probiotics, dogs will typically take a course of probiotics for at least 10 days. Dr. Wooten recommends Purina FortiFlora digestive supplement or Nutramax Proviable probiotics.

Of course, always get your vet’s recommendation before giving your dog supplements.

Deworming

If your dog doesn’t have a history of deworming, your vet may prescribe a dewormer. Dr. Wooten says doing so will eliminate intestinal worms if those are the culprit, likely resolving the case of dog or puppy diarrhea.

Intestinal parasites like hookworms and roundworms can cause diarrhea and are quite common. Dr. Wooten also cautions they are a human health concern, so it’s especially important to ensure your furry best friend is parasite-free.

Additional Diagnostics May Be Needed

Sometimes, more involved testing is necessary to get to the bottom of things. Your vet may dig deeper if your dog:

  • Has been through basic treatment attempts and continues to have diarrhea
  • Initially presents with additional symptoms beyond the diarrhea

For example, your vet may run a parvo test if your dog doesn’t have a proper history of vaccinations. Or, for a suspected food intolerance or allergy to a food ingredient, your vet might put your four-legged friend on a hypoallergenic therapeutic diet for at least three to four weeks.

Diagnostic tools vets may run to find the cause of diarrhea include:

  • Blood work
  • Additional fecal tests
  • X-rays
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Urinalysis

Dr. Wooten’s overall treatment approach is based on “the dog’s history, physical exam and lab tests,” she says. It’s likely your vet will use similar tools when deciding how to treat your dog’s diarrhea.

How To Prevent Diarrhea in Dogs

In many cases, you can prevent dog diarrhea by avoiding the underlying causes. Keep the following things in mind:

  • Don’t abruptly switch your dog’s food.
  • Don’t feed your dog table scraps or other human food.
  • Ensure your dog is up to date on vaccines.
  • Deworm your age-appropriate puppy or an adult dog who is new to your family.
  • If your dog is prone to stress colitis, do what you can to minimize anxiety triggers. You can also talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medications.

FAQs About Dog Diarrhea

Q:What can I give my dog to help stop diarrhea?

A:Medicine for a dog with diarrhea should be prescribed or recommended by your vet. You shouldn’t try to give your dog any over-the-counter medications on your own to stop the diarrhea. Instead, speak with your vet, who may recommend withholding food for 24 hours, then offering boiled chicken and white rice. Ensure your dog remains hydrated.


Q:When should I worry if my dog has diarrhea?

A:You should seek veterinary attention if your dog has had diarrhea for more than 24 hours. You should call your vet right away if your dog is a puppy or senior; if your dog has existing underlying health conditions; or if your dog has additional symptoms, like vomiting, weight loss or lethargy.


Q:Should I feed my dog if they have diarrhea?

A:For mild cases of diarrhea in otherwise healthy dogs who aren’t puppies or seniors, you can withhold their food for 24 hours to give the diarrhea a chance to resolve itself. After that, you can reintroduce food with a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice.


Q:How long does dog diarrhea last?

A:The length of time it takes for your dog’s stool to return to normal depends on the cause. If your dog has had diarrhea for more than 24 hours, call your vet.


Q:What is the most common cause of diarrhea in dogs?

A:Dr. Diasti-Kennedy says there are two common causes of diarrhea in dogs. The first is changing your dog’s diet by abruptly switching their dog food. The second cause is the dog eating something not intended for dogs, like certain human foods.


Q:Is bloody diarrhea an emergency?

A:Bloody diarrhea in dogs can be a symptom of stress colitis, but it can also be a sign of something more serious, including life-threatening conditions.

“It’s crucial to understand that bloody diarrhea in dogs is a serious emergency that demands immediate veterinary care, as it could indicate severe health problems, such as infections or poisoning,” says Dr. Diasti-Kennedy. “Prompt treatment is essential to prevent further complications.”


Q:What are some home remedies for dog diarrhea?

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Q:What should I give my dog if they have diarrhea for more than 24 hours?

A:If your dog has diarrhea for more than 24 hours, you need to call your vet, as the underlying cause could be something that won’t resolve itself. Additionally, you don’t want your dog to become dehydrated.


Q:My dog has diarrhea but is acting fine. What should I do?

A:If your dog’s only symptom is diarrhea, you can usually wait 24 hours to see if it resolves on its own. If the diarrhea persists after 24 hours, call your vet–even if your dog seems OK.

For cases of puppy diarrhea or senior dog diarrhea, call your vet right away, even if they’re otherwise acting normal.


Q:Can I feed canned pumpkin to my dog with diarrhea?

A:The high fiber content of plain canned pumpkin makes it a good food for some dogs with diarrhea. If you try it, be certain to purchase plain pumpkin, not canned pumpkin filling, which is dangerous for dogs. Always be sure to check with your vet before initiating any home remedy.

Dog diarrhea is the dumps (literally), but as is the case with any health issue our furry friends experience, it's crucial to understand the cause and how to address it. If your dog is dealing with a case of diarrhea, make sure you know the signs of dehydration because it’s a common issue with this unfortunate problem.

Expert input provided by Azza Diasti-Kennedy, DVM, MBA, a Florida-based veterinarian of over 20 years; Sarah Wooten, DVM, veterinary professional and journalist; and Nicole Savageau, VMD, a veterinarian with The Vets in Austin, Texas.

This content was medically reviewed by Chewy vets.

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By: Laura WillardUpdated:

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