What Canine Stools Tell You About Diarrhea

By isak, June 10, 2009

Maxwell poopin'Diarrhea is the passage of loose, unformed stools generally occurring in more frequent bowel movements. It is the most common sign of an intestinal disease.

Diarrhea can be classified as acute or chronic, depending on its duration. Acute diarrhea comes on suddenly and is finished in a short period. Chronic diarrhea often comes on gradually and persists for three weeks or longer, or has an episodic pattern of recurrence.


Chronic diarrhea requires veterinary investigation.

Food in the small intestine takes about 8 hours to reach the colon. During that time, the bulk of the food and 80 percent of the water is absorbed. The colon concentrates the remainder. In the end, a well-formed stool is evacuated.

Transit time in the intestinal tract can be speeded up for a variety of reasons resulting in a large, loose, unformed bowel movement. This accounts for the majority of acute diarrheas of short duration.

To determine the cause of the diarrhea, it’s impoprtant to decide where the disease is located: small intestine or colon. This is done by examining the color, consistency, odor and frequency of the stools, as well as the condition of the dog:

COLOR

  • Yellow stool — indicates rapid transit (small bowel). When the stool is loose, full of mucus and is yellow in color, it is typically the result of a food intolerance. Did you change foods recently?
  • Green stool — It could mean your dog has eaten a large amount of grass. It can also be intestinal parasites, rat poisoning or other internal issues.
  • Orange stool — It could indicate a liver issue or biliary disease, or it could just mean that your dog’s poop moved too quickly through the GI tract to pick up the bile which changes poop to the normal brown color we expect. If your dog has orange diarrhea, contact your vet.
  • Black, tarry stool — indicates bleeding in the upper digestive tract. It may be a sign of a gastrointestinal ulcer or a stomach ulcer. Many human medications can cause stomach ulcers in dogs, especially aspirin, so never give human meds without consulting your vet.
  • Bloody stool — red blood or clots indicate bleeding in the colon. Streaks of blood may be colitis (inflammation of the colon), a rectal injury, an anal gland infection or possibly a tumor.
  • Pink or purple stool — Anything that resembles raspberry jam could indicate hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE). A large number of dogs die each year from HGE but most will recover with prompt treatment. Seek medical attention.
  • Pasty, light-colored stool — indicates lack of bile (liver disease). While it could be a sign of liver or biliary disease, it could simply mean that your dog’s poop moved too fast through the GI tract to pick up the bile which changes the color to the normal brown you recognize.
  • Large, grey, rancid-smelling stool — indicates inadequate digestion or absorption (malabsorption syndrome). Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is commonly referred to as maldigestion. Essentially this means the pancreas is not functioning properly. It is a common issue for German Shepherds and Collies. The good news is that this is a very treatable condition, but it is serious, so take your dog to the vet right away.
  • White specks — Worms often look like white grains of rice in your pup’s stool. Your dog needs to be de-wormed.

CONSISTENCY

  • Watery stool — indicates small bowel wall irritation (toxins and severe infections). When the stool is watery, it can be a sign of an upset stomach due to dog food or GI tract issue. If it continues, see a vet.
  • Foamy stool — suggests a bacterial infection
  • Greasy stool — often with oil on the hair around the anus: indicates malabsorption
  • Excessive mucus — a glistening or jellylike appearance; indicates colonic origin.

ODOR (the more watery the stool, the greater the odor)

  • Foodlike, or smelling like sour milk — suggests rapid transit and malabsorption: for example, overfeeding, especially in puppies
  • Putrid smelling — suggests an intestinal infection.

FREQUENCY

  • Several in an hour, each small, with straining — suggests colitis (inflammation of the large bowel)
  • Three or four times a day, each large — suggests a malabsorption or small bowel disorder

CONDITION OF DOG

  • Weight loss, malnutrition — suggests small bowel disorder
  • Normal appetite, minimal weight loss — suggests large bowel disorder
  • Vomiting — small bowel origin, except for colitis

Common Causes of Diarrhea
Intestinal parasites are a common cause of acute and chronic diarrhea in puppies and adults. The greatest problems are caused by roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, threadworms, and giardia.

Most cases are caused by an irritation of the bowel lining from ingested substances or infections agents — in other words, something they ate. Any change in your dog’s diet could be the trigger: unfamiliar water; intolerance to certain foods like beef, pork, chicken, horsemeat, fish, eggs, spices, corn, wheat, soy, gravies, salts, spices, fats, and some commercial dog foods; excitement or emotional upset.

Dogs are scavengers and sometimes tend to eat things they can’t digest like:

  • dead animals, rodents and birds
  • garbage and decayed food
  • rich foods, table scraps, gravies, salts, spices and fats
  • sticks, cloth, grass, paper, etc.
  • parts of flea collars

Toxic substances causing diarrhea include:

  • gasoline, kerosene, oil or coal tar derivatives
  • cleaning fluid, refrigerants
  • insecticides
  • bleaches, often in toilet bowls
  • wild or ornamental plants, toadstools
  • building materials: cement, lime, paints, caulks
  • fireworks containing phosphorus

Many of these are equally as irritating to the stomach and will cause vomiting.

Treatment
Diarrhea is a symptom. The first step in treating it is to identify and remove the underlying cause, if possible. If the diarrhea is caused by overeating, cut back the food intake and feed 2-3 times a day in controlled portions. If unfamiliar water is the problem, carry an extra supply with you. In the case where irritating or toxic substances have been ingested, an effort should be made to identify the agent as specific antidotes may be required.

Food allergies can be cleared up by removing the problem food. Sometimes changing a dog’s food can trigger diarrhea. The new food should be introduced slowly over a couple weeks to avoid this kind of diarrhea.

Most cases of diarrhea can be treated at home:

  1. Withhold all food for 24-48 hours. If your dog appears thirsty, give a small amount of water or ice cubes to lick.
  2. Administer lomotil at a dose of one tablet per 25 lbs of dog, three times a day. Or Kaopectate at 1/2 – 1 tsp per 5 lb, to a maximum of 2 Tbsp every 8 hours. Or Pepto-Bismal at 0.5 ml per lb or 1/2-1 tsp per 5 lb, to a maximum of 30 ml or 2 Tbsp.
  3. As the dog starts to respond, feed an easily digested diet that contains no fats:
    • boiled hamburger (1- to 2-parts cooked rice; discard the broth)
    • cottage cheese
    • cooked macaroni or soft-boiled eggs

    Prescription diets are available from your vet.

  4. Continue the bland diet for three days, even if your dog seems better.

A diarrhea that persists for more than 24 hours, a bloody diarrhea and diarrhea accompanied by vomiting, fever and other signs of toxicity should be checked out by your vet immediately.

Source: Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook

509 Comments

  1. Allie says:

    Hi,

    my 8 year old black lab started having diarrhea 2 days ago (brown, sometimes pure liquid and others looks like pudding). Over night she has to go out once every two hours to try and poop. She has been her usual self (Happy and playful with our two other dogs) but today she seems to be more tired than usual. We did catch her digging holes in the backyard so we were thinking she may have eaten something she shouldnt and thats the cause of the constant diarrhea.

    any thoughts? when is the right time to go to the vet?

    Thanks so much for your time!

    • isak says:

      Consistent diarrhea is cause for concern because of the risk of dehydration. In addition to fluids lost via urination, she is losing fluids in her diarrhea. It could be that she ate something that does not agree with her, but that should generally pass in a day or two. Has she been wormed? It could be related to intestinal parasites.

      You can add plain yogurt, powdered acidopyllus or other probiotic to her food. This adds good bacteria to her gut that is lost through diarrhea. You can also add a dollop of plain canned pumpkin to her food. The fiber equalizes the liquid in her stomach for more consistent stools. The pumpkin usually starts to work in a day, so monitor your girl and if you do not see a change, have your vet check her out.

  2. Robyn says:

    Oh, and I should add that his behavior hasn’t changed. He’s still eating hearty, drinking, and plays with the other animals. He seems fine in attitude. He’s a two year old now.

  3. Robyn says:

    Hello! Last month, we took our Bassett hound to be seen for vomiting and were told (following tests and x-rays) that he was perfectly healthy other than the fact his stomach was irritated from ingesting human food. He was given medication and we were told not to feed him anymore scraps, which we don’t now.

    However, for the past few months, he’s been having frequent chronic loose stool. His bathroom habits have changed dramatically, going from a scheduled three times a day to whining now sometimes even an hour or two later after being let out. He keeps wanting outside to poop, and he will poop several times a day — they are usually large, and either partially formed or mushy. He’s also looking skinnier; we can see his spine more and his stomach is smaller, yet the vet claimed he’s a healthy weight.

    I’m really not sure what to think. Any thoughts on what you feel would be greatly appreciated.

    • isak says:

      Bassett Hounds can put on a little extra weight and still look normal, so he could have been a bit on the heavy side but looked okay to you. At this point, I wouldn’t worry about the spine you are seeing. Trust your vet on that one.

      Have you changed anything else in his diet other than the table scraps? Are you feeding him the same quantity of his regular food? An increase in food can cause an increase in stool volume and if it is too much food, it can lead to soft stools.

      You can add plain yogurt, powdered acidopyllus or other probiotic to his food to add good bacteria to his gut. You can also add a dollop of plain canned pumpkin to his food. The fiber equalizes the liquid in his stomach for more consistent stools.

  4. Rick says:

    We have a 5 year old pit/boxer mix that was diagnosed with knee issues.
    The vet put her on dasaquin, fish oil, and ligaplex II 5300 for supplements and gabapentin for pin management.

    She has been on these for about a week and diarrhea started shortly after as I came home to an accident in the house which was loose and dark brown in color. Since the first instance, there has been no accidents in the house but all potty breaks have been loose and yellow-brown color. In most cases it looks to have mucus in it.

    We did a bland diet without any noticeable improvement. I am thinking it is the mixture of supplements particularly the fish oil. She is still eating and appears to be happy and wants to play.

    I appreciate your thoughts and feedback.

    • isak says:

      Still eating, playful and happy are good signs. The mucuos occurs naturally in the gut to protect the digestive tract from digestive acids. However, it is more noticeable during upset because the balance in her stomach is off. If you suspect the fish oil, you can decrease the dosage, then build back up as she gets used to it. Her system was hit with a lot of new “stuff” in a short period of time.

      You can add plain yogurt, powdered acidophyllus or other probiotic to put good bacteria back into her gut. And you can also add a dollop of plain canned pumpkin to her food. The fiber balances out the moisture content and should help firm her stools.

  5. Bailey says:

    This is helpful, thanks. Wondering if you have any ideas on the following (my vet is stumped!), my dog has chronic loose stool, not really diahhrea but in an hour+ walk he will usually have 3 poops, first is formed and easy to bag, second is soft but still had shape, and the third is soft without shape (like pudding) and difficult to pick up. Occasionally there may be a fourth which is very runny. This walk is always around 6pm. He doesn’t usually poop in the morning, has breakfast at 7am and dinner at 7pm after the evening walk (so no chance of fast transit), is fully wormed and vacc’d etc, eats good wet food (fish based as he has food allergies) and my vet has run all kinds of blood tests with nothing showing bar a slightly high kidney enzyme (soon to be re-checked). Have you ever heard of this, I really want to help him but have no idea what to do next! My vet thinks mild case of IBD. Btw I’m in the UK. Thanks

    • isak says:

      Three poops in one walk? Could he be eating too much food? Dogs tend to poop a lot if they eat too much. Or if the food is too rich for their system. How about adding some probiotics and some plain canned pumpkin to his food for a week and see if there is any change. The probiotics add good bacteria to his gut and the fiber in the pumpkin evens out the liquid in his digestive tract.

      Also, does he have the opportunity to poop between 7am and 6pm? If not, it could be that the stretch of time in between has him holding it which could be resulting in the soft stool towards the end. In that case, I would go back to thinking maybe he is eating too much at breakfast. Especially if the vet sees nothing else the matter. So perhaps reduce the breakfast portion and see if there is a change.

  6. Bridget says:

    We have a 9week old husky puppy and she has been wormed and had her first 2 sets of shots. She seems healthy, eating, drinking, playing but her poop smells like vomit? Just wondering what that might mean.

    • isak says:

      In general, if her stools are firm and she is regular in her habits, her stools will be a reflection of what she eats and what’s in her stomach. Maybe it’s the food you are feeding her? Or it could be from the shots if they were very recent. You can add some plain yogurt or other probiotic to her food. It contains good bacteria for her gut and this may change the smell.

  7. Beverly says:

    I have two dogs one is a Golden Retriever who is two, the other is a mix rescue who is 9 both females, two days ago the Golden got diarrhea so I gave her rice and chicken, we had had a blizzard and prior to getting it she was rolling around in the snow and eating lots of it, so I assumed she just ate too much snow, well once her diarrhea cleared up, all of a sudden the other dog got it, so I put them both on the rice and chicken, now the Golden once again has diarrhea. Is it possible they are giving each other something? I am thinking now is a good time to go to vet? Thanks

    • isak says:

      How are they otherwise? Eating okay, drinking normally, active as usual? Is there something they are getting into since the snow? They can share a virus like we can share a cold, but generally, there would be other symptoms like loss of appetite, less energy, etc. to go with it. And it’s not very common. Is there anything unusual in their diarrhea?

      Most cases are self-limiting and, with a little help from you, your dog can get back to normal quickly.

      Plain canned pumpkin can help with the diarrhea. The fiber in it absorbs excess fluid. Also some plain yogurt or other probiotic will add good bacteria back into their stomachs that they have lost via the diarrhea. If it persists, then a visit to the vet may help.

  8. Brianna says:

    So my puppy is 6 weeks old I just found out the he hasn’t gotten his shots yet, today he had green diarrhea he only pooped once the others were hard stool should I worry?

    • isak says:

      Green sounds like he ate something green. It could be something as simple as grass which could indicate an upset stomach. You can give him some plain yogurt to add some good bacteria to his stomach and monitor his stools. If it is simply an upset stomach, it should pass. You can also feed him a tablespoon of plain canned pumpkin. The fiber draws out excess liquid and firms his stools. It’s actually a good thing to keep in the pantry as it works on both diarrhea and constipation.

      The source of his upset stomach could be several things, however, given his age, the two biggest thoughts I have are: did he eat something he should not have; and possibly, worms which are common in puppies.

  9. Roberta Wetzel says:

    My Springer Spaniel ate some sticks in TN and has had diarrhea every 6 hours. It’s runny cow pies that are brown. She seems to feel o.k. And no vomiting. She is eating hamburger and rice with no problem. BUT the runny poop is still there. No blood in stool but definitely not formed.

    • isak says:

      TN sticks, eh? They must be quite potent. 🙂

      Add some plain canned pumpkin to her food. The fiber in it balances out the moisture content in stools, so it actually works for both diarrhea and constipation. Also add some plain yogurt or other probiotic to put good bacteria back into her gut that she has lost from the diarrhea.

  10. Patricia says:

    Hey there

    My german shepherd just sprayed a small amount of blood when he defecated. He did not have diarrhea; the stools were small and firm, as they have been for several weeks since changing food.

    I wonder if he could have a hemmeroid?
    He seems find other wise, but it was pretty scary.

    Thanks,
    -Patricia

    • isak says:

      Not sure what “sprayed” means.

      Hemorroids in dogs are rare. The first sign of a dog hemorrhoid is usually itchiness in the rectal area, though the first noticeable sign will likely be blood in the dog’s stool. If they are external, he may attempt to relieve the discomfort by dragging his butt on the ground. External hemorrhoids look like protrusions from the anus. In some cases, the hemorrhoid may become infected, in which case the area will be painful to the touch.

      Hemorrhoids in dogs are often difficult to distinguish from rectal tumors and fissures, so you should have your vet examine them to verify that they are, indeed, hemorrhoids. Because dog hemorrhoids are rare, it’s very likely that your dog may in fact be suffering from another condition.

  11. ellen says:

    my puppy less than 6 months old got a diarrhea ,watery red brown stool and has strong smells . after he poop multiple times he vomit his food undigested with round worms around 5-6 worms. and now he refuse to eat . this case is less than 24 hours from his first vomit and multiple diarrhea (it started 12pm and his latest poop is around 12mn.)
    I didn’t gave him any meds yet

    • isak says:

      What’s going on with your pup now? Is he eating? Does he still have diarrhea and vomiting? Does he drink water? If not, you will need to give him water or pedialyte via an oral syringe. A good general guideline is that a healthy dog should drink between ½ and 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. With vomiting and diarrhea, this amount increases.

      You can try some pepto bismol. The recommended dosage is 1 teaspoon for every 10 pounds, according to Dr. Klein. It can be offered to the dog every 6-to-8 hours, but if your dog still has diarrhea after a few doses, stop the medication and call your veterinarian.

      Worms are common in puppies and you may be seeing them because of his vomiting.

      If his vomiting and diarrhea continues, you might want to consider if he has parvo. Here’s some info about it.

  12. Kristina says:

    I have a two year old Husky. In the past week or so, his stool has been somewhat yellow. At first it would be a nice brown, big and solid, but then changes to soft, yellowish and smaller. All in the same dump. Could it be too much fat in his diet? He did have some baked treats for his birthday a week ago. Wondering if it’s been that. I also give him all natural peanut butter in a Kong when I leave. Occasionally a raw egg in his kibble. He eats well. Wellness Core. A grazer. Thoughts?

    • isak says:

      Could he possibly be possibly eating too much? Does he leave kibble behind in his bowl? If so, you might try feeding a little less and see if that changes things.

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