Maxwell poopin'

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:


  • Yellow or greenish stool — indicates rapid transit (small bowel)
  • Black, tarry stool — indicated bleeding in the upper digestive tract
  • Bloody stool — red blood or clots indicate bleeding in the colon
  • Pasty, light-colored stool — indicates lack of bile (liver disease)
  • Large, grey, rancid-smelling stool — indicates inadequate digestion or absorption (malabsorption syndrome).


  • Watery stool — indicates small bowel wall irritation (toxins and severe infections)
  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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.

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 aggs

    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


  1. Stephanie says:

    My puppy has been having yellow diarrhea since sunday night or monday morning(today is friday) he is eating fine and playing. Still drinking water. For a little i was giving him rice water and some of his food mixed in to make sure he is getting hydrated. Before that we did rice for a day and a half and still yellow. It looked liken had white sprinkles in it. Not long white like littlw round white balls. I did recently switch my birds food up (wich he tries to get in the pan). Could that be it? Or can someone help otherwise. Also yesterday and today we put him on his regular food and this morning his stool was a little more shapely and darker like normal then i brought him in and he had pooped again 10 min after in the house… that was somewhat shapely but still yellow brown and a little runny. We gave him some pepto bismal. He also has been having alot of gas. After work he pooped and it was shapley but not as hrd as normal. Then 20 mins later i took him out again and it was less shapely like this morning. I need help!

    • isak says:

      Puppy’s get into a lot of things and eat them. Maybe the bird feed has upset his stomach or maybe something else that he found. Try to stick with one food for a while to let his system get used to it and see if that helps things. You could also add a bit of plain yogurt to his food to add some good bacteria to his digestive tract.

  2. Joyce says:

    The individual who posted this information named the source. It’s a book called the Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook written by three DVM’s and an MD

  3. lydia says:

    My poor baby has yellow diarrhea and i think its due to her bone we are giving her. Is there anything i can do she used to chew on bug femur bones when she was a puppy but now when she eats them she gets this hard bright yellow poop and then after that its the nasty runny stinky yellow diarrhea. Is the bone safe for her? We have tried differnt brands of bones and still the same result please help

    • isak says:

      Have you tried those white sterilized bones (I think they are actually called “sterilized bones”). They seem to last a long time and I’ve never seen any diarrhea from the dogs who chew them.

  4. Anna says:

    I’ve read from a lot of websites that we should fast the dog for 24-48 hours but when I called the vet and asked if I should do that, they said that I should definitely not starve the dog like that. They said that I should just feed a bland diet (chicken & rice or boiled hamburger).

  5. […] to, Dog diarrhea can be classified as acute or chronic, depending on its duration. Acute diarrhea […]

  6. Tammie says:

    Withholding food for 24 hours is not going to hurt the pups or the dog. electrolyte or high calorie supplement will be fine, if you are worried. The bowels need to be empty to help stop the inflamation, like taking a vacation for some r and r. Stop and think what you would do if it was you or one of your kids.

  7. Mathilde says:

    It is not a wise thing to hold all food for 24-48 hours. The cells of the intestinals will need food for their recovery, and by withholding all food, they will not get any. So, with that recent insight, this is an advice which is not given anymore.

    • isak says:

      Can you provide a source for your info? It makes sense and there are other options to handling diarrhea, but I would like to know more.

  8. Paul says:

    My dog is seeing a vet today as has had diarrhea for nearly a week, worrying he is 11 years old. Just one point, giving ice cubes to dogs can be extremely dangerous so I am surprised this was suggested??

  9. BB says:

    My mother took my shih tzu, bichon frisse mix out to the bathroom this morning and took a picture of his stool. The color of the stool and consistency seem fine. However, it is covered in white foam.

  10. Stephen says:

    Greeting from England, I have a diarrhea problem with my 5 week old husky pups, there stools are watery yellow and very often, they are 100% weened and are eating porrige, milky scrambled eggs ( both made with goats milk ) and goats milk soaked bakers dry puppy food, I wormed about 2 weeks ago with drontol puppy syrup, they are due to be wormed again but I’m not to sure with them having this diarrhea, it’s lasted for 3 days now, any advice welcome cheers

    • isak says:

      How long have they been weaned from their mother’s milk? If not long, then the diarrhea could be due to the switch to new food.

      You might add a bit of acidophilus to their food. It’s a naturally occurring bacteria that balances the flora and fauna in the digestive tract. This is especially helpful when drugs are administered orally because the drugs affect the level of the good bacteria in their stomachs. Also follow the suggestions in this post about withholding water and feeding them a bland diet until their stomach catches up.

      If the problem persists, contact your vet.

  11. Kim Wilson says:

    Rawhide ‘treats’ should never be given to your dog as they are very hard to digest, easily choked on, and if you have more than one dog can cause aggression. I have a canine companion, and this was heavily discussed during team training.
    I am having a problem with our small dog-a Silkie Terrier-who has been at the vet for five days now because he has yellow diarrhea. The vet had him on an i.v., has checked his bloodwork, his stool, and even did an x-ray in case there was a bowel obstruction (he ate a dead bird about 10 days ago). Nothing seems to be helping, and as of this morning he has stopped eating. I am getting a bit frantic, and wonder if anyone else has had this problem, and if so, what did you do?? I want my little guy home and don’t know what else to have the vet check. I’ve been told his bilirubin count is normal also.

    • isak says:

      Are they giving him anything to balance the flora/fauna in his digestive tract, like acidophilus? It’s commonly found in yogurt, but can be purchased as capsules that you can open and put on food. If his stomach is upset, he may not want to eat. This can neutralize the acids in his stomach. As for eating, have you tried any of these?

      • boiled hamburger (1- to 2-parts cooked rice; discard the broth)
      • cottage cheese
      • cooked macaroni or soft-boiled eggs

      Sometimes dry or canned food doesn’t appeal to them. Or maybe even Gerber baby food — like Step 2 Chicken & Gravy (make sure it has no onions in it!).

      Also, canned pumpkin (without any spices or flavorings) does great for diarrhea OR constipation. Just a small spoonful 2x a day over a couple days.

      Best to you!

    • Lisa says:

      Could be exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Have your vet try to treat him for that and see if he gets better!

  12. Victoria robb says:

    I have not fed rawhide to my dogs for about 20 years. We had a german shepherd who chewed her rawhide and then started gagging. My husband and I opened her mouth and looked down her throat with a flashlight. My husband managed to pull out of her throat a very long length of the rawhide.

    • diana says:

      rawhide is not good, good thing you guys stopped giving it to your dog and kudos to your hubby for pulling it out of the dogs mouth

  13. Emma says:

    After my 80 pound dog got diarrhea one time (that’s all it took for me) I got him on a grain-free Alpha diet with prebiotics and never, ever give him anything unless I know it’s safe and won’t cause him to get sick again. I stick to a line of food and treats that Natural Balance makes that are safety tested by the company and posted on their website. He never gets table scraps, strange random dog chews or treats, and hasn’t had diarrhea since we got strict about that.

  14. Mae says:

    My Great Dane is over 10 yrs. old. Healthy, no problems noticed. However, I purchased one of those “rawhide” chew “things”. It had a list of various ingedients, mostly normal food items.

    He chewed it and ate it. The first “rawhide” he ate several weeks ago caused the same thing. Loose stool, unable to “hold it” to get across the room to the outside door. I purchased a 2nd on recently at a different store. The same thing occurred.

    He may (may not) be the only canine affected by this “rawhide” product.

    Is this reaction common?

    • isak says:

      You can google the brand of rawhide that you are feeding your dog and see if there are any reports about that brand. Certain countries use chemicals in the process of creating or acquiring the hide that disagree with dogs. Some dogs may be more sensitive to the chemicals than others. And there are rawhide recalls from time to time.

      It could also be that because he rarely eats them, his digestive system is sensitive to them. But a loose stool is not a common reaction.

  15. first aid for usmle step 1 » Blog Archive » First aid companion for dog and cat says:

    […] 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 First Aid News […]

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