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

591 Comments

  1. Hannah says:

    Look into ‘Answers’ raw pet food for an amazing way to incorporate good bacteria through food and replacing the need for a traditional probiotic supplement, especially using the goat’s milk. I feed my dog, Tonka, who had had GI issues since being a puppy the entire line of Answers products and his bouts of stomach upset and diarrhea are the least they’ve ever been in his life after having him on it since last year.

  2. Monica Steeg says:

    I have an 11 year old shih tzu mix. He has been diagnosed with calcium oxalate bladder stones and because of placement, surgery would be very difficult so we are watching for symptoms and xraying every 3 to 6 months. Because of these stones, he’s on Hill’s science C/D formula and on Royal Canin’s urinary formulations. I give him a little chicken breast as well. His more immediate problem is bloody stool. The Royal Canin makes his stool too soft and it’s firmer with the Hills, but in either case he has mucus and blood in his stool every day. When I walk him he will pass a relatively normal stool and then in about 3 minutes he will circle and circle again and pass a smaller, very bloody loose stool and sometimes in another minute he will circle and circle again and pass almost liquid bloody stool. He’s been on metronidozole on and off and been dewormed tWice but nothing really seems to help him. Sometimes when we are walking, he just sits down on the grass so I wonder if he’s in any discomfort. I would like to try the dried carrot but I’m afraid it will aggravate his bladder stones.

    • isak says:

      Did he have any of the bloody stools before he was on the Royal Canin or the Hills? Are you using the dry or wet kind? Has he had the metronidozole recently? Because he sits down suddenly, he could be having some butt discomfort. Does he lick his butt a lot? Could his butt be a bit dry and irritated by the stools? Are his anal sacs expressing okay? They should express naturally when he poops.

      Mucus is naturally occurring in the digestive system. It’s there to protect the digestive tract from the digestive acids, so it’s always there. When there is an imbalance or irritation, more is excreted than usual. Of course the first suspect is food. If he tolerates the Royal Canin but it gives him soft stools, you can add a teaspoon of plain canned pumpkin to it. The fiber in the pumpkin levels out the liquid in his stomach so it makes too soft stools firmer and too hard stools softer. It kind of equalizes thing. You could also add some acidophilus to his food as well to add back good bacteria lost by the runny stools.

      I think the chicken is good for him as well. Maybe give him some boiled chicken and rice for a couple days to see if his system returns to normal. Then maybe try adding either Hills or Royal Canin alone. I think the wet version would be best.

      Dried carrot? I don’t think it would hurt.

  3. Anne says:

    Hi Isak,
    Thanks a lot for your detailed reply. I should have mentioned the food he eats. Trust me, he eats better food than my kids 🙂 I cook him fresh chicken soup, sausages, paneer (Indian cottage cheese), rotisserie chicken, fresh mutton soup and always add some coconut oil. He gets the best buffet food. I don’t think he knows what dry kibble is as I give kibble only once a day and that too mixed with all these items. Other times, I made fresh whole wheat flour rotis for him.

    I will try yoghurt (basically force feeding) and Rebound. I am thinking of changing his kibbles if you have a suggestion. Not sure what irritates his stomach lining or causes inflammation. Today, he did solid poop and after his meal of chicken soup and some kibbles diarrhea 🙁

    He likes the pumpkin can. I can give that to him regularly. He is energetic but doesn’t have that much stamina. Gets tired easily.

    I will try your suggestions and let you know. Thanks so much!!

  4. Anne says:

    Hi there, My dog is 2-year old dog. However, since he was 3 months old, his stomach is very sensitive. His poop has always been soft i.e hard to pick up and sticks to the grass. Sometimes, the poops starts hard and ends with liquid diarrhea. For the past two years, he eats and poops normal for a day or then has diarrhea for a couple of days and then back to somewhat normal soft poop. We have tried probiotics and deworming him regularly but no change. Not even with yoghurt. His appetite is very low, eats once a day and looks thin. We have taken him to vet but he didn’t suggest except probiotic which is the one from Purina and is not helping much. In fact, a couple of times after giving him probiotic, he had diarrhea. Any suggestions would be very helpful as it is quite a challenge to get him too eat. He is otherwise energetic and playful.

    • isak says:

      My two “go to” options in cases like this are plain yogurt (probiotic) and plain canned pumpkin.

      The probiotic/yogurt adds beneficial bacteria to the gut which can be lost via diarrhea or may be in short supply for some reason. It may be worth trying plain yogurt (no sugar).

      Plain canned pumpkin (no spices or sugar) is fiber. It tends to equalize the fluid in the gut so it actually works for both diarrhea and constipation to form consistent stools. Just add a tablespoon on or mixed into his food. You will generally see if this is working within a day. And because it’s natural, it’s okay to add it daily.

      As for his low weight, you might look at a high calorie food. If he is eating only dry, consider a mix of dry and canned food and/or add some water or broth (no onions, very low/no salt) to the dry kibble and let it soften for a couple minutes. Maybe he just doesn’t like the flavor of the food.

      To see if it’s the food or a problem with him, you might see if he likes canned Friskies Turkey flavored CAT food on his food. Yes, cat food. It always works when I have a dog being finicky about his food. There is also a product available at pet supply stores called Rebound. It’s a liquid full vitamins and minerals, prebiotics, fatty acids and amino acids, created to feed the gut and support recuperation in dogs. It tends to make them want to eat. Dose is based on weight, and may get him back in the habit of eating.

      That he is energetic and playful is a good sign. Good luck.

      Let us know if something works .

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