6 Primary Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs

Diarrhea in dogs is a common issue that pet owners face, and understanding its various causes is key to ensuring your dog’s health and happiness. In this blog, we’ll explore the different reasons why dogs may experience diarrhea, the health risks associated with it, and when it’s time to seek veterinary care. Remember, if you have concerns or need more information, Carey Animal Hospital in Cincinnati, OH, is here to help. Feel free to call us at (513) 531-7117 for advice or to schedule an appointment.

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1. Dietary Indiscretions

When dogs consume inappropriate items like garbage, spoiled food, or even non-food items, it can disrupt their normal digestive function. This is often referred to as dietary indiscretion. Dogs are curious by nature and may eat things that are harmful to them. These items can upset their stomachs or even be toxic, leading to symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. To prevent this, you need to keep an eye on your dog’s diet and ensure harmful substances are kept out of their reach.

2. Infections: The Microbial Threat

Various infections, particularly bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections, can also result in loose stools in your pet. 

Bacterial Infections

Dogs can contract bacterial infections like Salmonella, E. coli, or Campylobacter from contaminated sources. These bacteria can cause gastrointestinal upset, leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, which may be bloody, along with vomiting, fever, and decreased appetite. These infections require prompt veterinary attention and are often treated with antibiotics and supportive care.

Viral Infections

Viruses like Parvovirus and Distemper are highly contagious and can be life-threatening. Parvovirus, for instance, is common in puppies and unvaccinated dogs, causing severe diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. These conditions require immediate veterinary attention. Vaccination is the best prevention against these viral infections.

Parasitic Infections

Intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, and Giardia can cause diarrhea in dogs. These parasites can be contracted from the environment, contaminated soil, water, or feces. Symptoms include loose or watery stools, weight loss, and a dull coat. Regular deworming and fecal exams are essential in preventing and treating these types of infections.

3. Food Intolerance and Allergies

Dogs can suffer from food allergies or intolerances, which can cause symptoms like diarrhea, itching, and ear infections. Common allergens include proteins like beef, chicken, and dairy. Identifying and eliminating the offending allergen from your dog’s diet can resolve their digestive issues. This may involve a food trial under veterinary guidance, where your dog is fed a novel or hypoallergenic diet for a specified period of time.

4. Exposure to Toxins and Poisonous Plants

Dogs can suffer from diarrhea after ingesting toxic substances, including common household items or poisonous plants. Chemicals like rodenticides, antifreeze, and certain human medications can severely affect a dog’s gastrointestinal system. Similarly, plants like lilies, azaleas, and sago palms are toxic to dogs and can cause symptoms ranging from mild gastrointestinal upset to severe organ damage. If you suspect your dog has ingested a toxic substance or plant, seek veterinary care right away. Treatment will depend on the toxin involved and may include inducing vomiting, administering activated charcoal to bind the toxin, or providing fluids and medications.

5. Stress-Induced Diarrhea

Stress is another factor that can cause diarrhea in dogs. Changes in your pet’s environment, such as moving to a new home, the arrival of a new pet or family member, or even loud noises like fireworks, can trigger stress in dogs. This can lead to a condition known as stress colitis, where the lining of the colon gets inflamed, resulting in diarrhea. Managing your dog’s stress with environmental modifications, behavior modification techniques, and sometimes medications can help alleviate this issue.

6. Kidney and Liver Disease

Chronic kidney disease and liver disease can also lead to diarrhea in dogs. These conditions affect the body’s ability to process and eliminate waste, which can disrupt the normal functioning of the digestive system. Symptoms might include diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, increased thirst, and changes in urination. Diagnosing these conditions typically involves blood tests, urine tests, and imaging studies like ultrasounds. Treatment focuses on managing the underlying disease and may include dietary changes, medications, and in some cases, fluid therapy.

The Health Risks of Prolonged Diarrhea

Diarrhea can lead to significant health issues in dogs if it isn’t addressed promptly. The most immediate risk is dehydration, as diarrhea causes the body to lose fluids and electrolytes rapidly. This can lead to a drop in blood pressure, reduced oxygen delivery to organs, and in severe cases, organ failure. 

Additionally, prolonged diarrhea can cause nutrient deficiencies, as the body is unable to absorb essential vitamins and minerals effectively. This can lead to weight loss, weakened immunity, and overall poor health. In puppies or senior dogs, the risks are even higher due to their less robust health. Chronic diarrhea can also be a symptom of underlying health conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, liver or kidney problems, or certain types of cancer.

When to Take Your Pet to the Vet

When does your dog’s diarrhea warrant a veterinary visit? If diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours, it’s time to call your vet. Other warning signs include a change in the color or consistency of the stool (like black or bloody stools), a significant increase in the frequency of bowel movements, or if the diarrhea is accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, or fever. In young puppies, elderly dogs, or dogs with pre-existing health conditions, even a single episode of diarrhea can be cause for concern, as these dogs can become dehydrated or unwell more quickly.

Other Symptoms to Watch Out For

Certain symptoms accompanying diarrhea can indicate a more serious health issue and require immediate veterinary attention. These include:

  • Excessive Vomiting: Persistent vomiting along with diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration.
  • Extreme Lethargy: If your dog is unusually tired, unresponsive, or unable to stand, it could indicate a severe underlying condition.
  • Abdominal Pain or Swelling: This could suggest serious conditions like pancreatitis, bloating, or an intestinal blockage.
  • Blood in Stool or Vomit: Blood can be a sign of internal bleeding or severe gastrointestinal upset.
  • Sudden Weight Loss: Rapid weight loss can be a sign of a systemic health problem.
  • Changes in Behavior: Agitation, depression, or other behavioral changes can indicate discomfort or pain.

Available Treatment Options for Dog Diarrhea

Treatment of dog diarrhea depends on its cause. In many cases, your vet may recommend a temporary shift to a bland diet (like boiled chicken and rice) to ease their digestive system. If dehydration is a concern, subcutaneous or intravenous fluid therapy might be necessary. For bacterial infections, we may prescribe antibiotics. In cases of parasitic infections, we’ll use the appropriate dewormers to eliminate the intruders. 

If food allergies or intolerances are suspected, we can recommend a dietary elimination trial to identify the offending allergens. We may also suggest probiotics and prebiotics to support a healthy gut microbiome. In more severe cases, where we might suspect underlying conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or organ dysfunction, further diagnostic tests such as blood work, ultrasounds, or biopsies may be needed to determine the appropriate treatment plan for your dog. 

Are You Worried About Your Dog’s Diarrhea? Call Us

At Carey Animal Hospital, we’re equipped to diagnose and treat the many conditions that can cause diarrhea in your dog. If you’re concerned about your dog’s health or notice symptoms of diarrhea, please call us at (513) 531-7117 for expert advice or to schedule an appointment.