Learning center

Dog diarrhea: Causes, treatment, and when to be concerned

Pet parents put up with all sorts of things from open-mouth kisses and fur on the furniture, to muddy paws and drool puddles. But, we have yet to meet someone that enjoys dealing with poop—especially when it’s the runny variety. 
Photo by Dominik QN on Unsplash

Dealing with dog diarrhea is the worst, and if your pup is having tummy troubles, it’s no fun for them either. Most dog diarrhea is mild and caused by eating something that didn’t agree with your dog’s digestive system. However, diarrhea can also be a sign of an underlying illness. And if it’s left unchecked it can cause serious complications like dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Here’s what you should know about dog diarrhea.

Table of contents:

1. What causes diarrhea in dogs?

2. Is diarrhea in dogs serious?

3. How is diarrhea treated in dogs?

4. What can you give your dog for diarrhea at home?

5. Preventing diarrhea in dogs

6. Dog diarrhea FAQ

What causes diarrhea in dogs?

Diarrhea is loose or watery stool combined with a more frequent urge to go to the bathroom. Runny poop happens when there’s increased movement of fecal material through the intestine combined with a decreased absorption of water, nutrients, and electrolytes.

Diarrhea isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom or something else going on in your dog’s body. It can stem from many things ranging from a change in diet to intestinal or kidney disease. While most bouts of diarrhea are mild and resolve themselves, it can also be a sign of something more serious. If your dog has diarrhea for more than 24 hours, it’s important to get in touch with your vet.

Common causes of dog diarrhea

  • Eating table scraps, garbage, or something off the ground
  • A change in diet
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Bacterial infections
  • Food allergies and sensitivities
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Bloody Diarrhea (also known as Acute Hemorrhagic Diarrhea Syndrome or hemorrhagic gastroenteritis)
  • Medication side effects
  • Stress
  • Endocrine or hormonal Disorders (Addisons)
  • Ingesting a toxin or foreign object
  • Kidney or liver problems
  • Certain cancers

If your dog’s diarrhea requires a visit to the vet, the causes above are what they’ll use to try and diagnose your pup. But how do you know when your dog’s diarrhea is cause for concern?

Is diarrhea in dogs serious?

Depending on the dog and the cause of diarrhea, it can either be mild and limited, or an indication that something more serious is going on.

Mild diarrhea

If your dog has a single bout of diarrhea and is otherwise acting normally, there’s no need for immediate concern. Keep an close eye on their bowel movements to see if things improve. If the diarrhea doesn’t go away after one day, there may be a bigger issue and you should get in touch with your vet.

“Even mild diarrhea can cause dehydration,” says Dr. Cassandra Vlahaki, Head of Veterinary Medicine at Juno Veterinary. “Be sure that water’s available to your dog at all times while you’re monitoring them at home.”

Frequent diarrhea

If your dog has repeated bouts of diarrhea in a short period of time, it could mean they have a serious health problem. Frequent diarrhea is especially dangerous if you have a puppy, a senior dog, or a dog with a compromised immune system because they can get ill quickly from common viruses. Regular episodes of diarrhea also put your dog at risk for dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. If your dog has frequent diarrhea, contact us right away.

Diarrhea is also serious if your dog is straining but only passing small amounts of watery diarrhea. Contact your vet or go to the nearest emergency animal hospital for assistance.

Cause for concern

When it comes to diarrhea, it’s always best to be cautious. Reach out to our virtual care team if you have any worries, even if your dog’s symptoms are mild. If any of the below apply to your pup, you should bring them in for care:

  • Your dog is a puppy
  • You have a senior dog or a dog with underlying medical conditions
  • Severe diarrhea that doesn’t improve after a day
  • Bloody diarrhea or passing a lot of mucus
  • Dark or sticky black stools
  • Vomiting along with the diarrhea, especially if they can’t keep food or water down
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Painful abdomen

How is diarrhea treated in dogs?

Before your vet can treat your dog’s diarrhea, they need to find the underlying cause. They’ll ask you to bring a fresh fecal sample with you to your appointment and answer some questions about your dog’s diet, habits, and behaviour.

Depending on the severity of your dog’s diarrhea, your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic tests like:

  • A fecal exam to check for parasites
  • Bloodwork
  • An abdominal ultrasound or x-rays
  • Infectious disease testing
  • Any other tests as needed

Some of the most common causes of diarrhea in our pets are hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, gastroenteritis, or AHDS.  These are diagnoses of exclusion, which means we could run all the tests and everything appears normal.

Supportive care

Once your vet’s determined the cause of the dog diarrhea, they can start treating the underlying issue and offer supportive care to help get your pup back on track. Supportive care can look like:

  • Probiotics for pets.
  • Electrolyte-balanced fluid support, usually via IV.
  • Medications to help stop the diarrhea or soothe your dog’s digestive tract.
  • A bland diet or prescription diet for sensitive stomachs.

Treatment for dog diarrhea

If the diarrhea is mild and your dog is otherwise healthy, some supportive care is likely all they need to recover fully. Dogs with more severe diarrhea or serious underlying issues will receive further treatment. For example, if your dog’s diarrhea is caused by intestinal worms, they’ll receive parasite treatments. Or if they have a food sensitivity, they’ll need to be on a special diet.

What can you give a dog for diarrhea at home?

You should only treat your dog for diarrhea at home if they’re a healthy adult, and they’re eating and acting like their regular self. Severe diarrhea or signs of illness require veterinary attention and should not be treated at home.

We recommend checking in with our virtual care team before trying any home remedies. Once you have the go ahead, you can try the following to get your pup’s digestive system back on track.

  • Make sure your dog has water at all times.
  • Take your dog outside more often or put down pee pads in the house. Dogs can’t “hold it in” when they have diarrhea and they’ll need to go more frequently.
  • Offer them bland foods for a few days, like boiled chicken and white rice.
  • Offer easy-to-digest foods that are high in fibre, like plain, cooked sweet potato.
  • You can contact your vet and get a sensitive stomach food.

If the diarrhea doesn’t improve after 2 days, contact your vet for recommendations.

“This is your reminder to never give human diarrhea medications to dogs,” says Dr. Cassandra. “Please speak with your vet before giving your pet any medication.”

Preventing diarrhea in dogs

Diarrhea is one of the most common reasons for a vet visit, so there’s a strong chance they’ll have a bout or two in their lifetime. Here are a few things you can do to prevent it from happening more often than it needs to:

  • Keep your dog up to date on all their vaccines and parasite prevention treatments.
  • Make sure they can’t access the garbage in your home.
  • Don’t offer them table scraps, especially fatty, creamy, or spicy foods.
  • If you have to change their food, do it gradually over 1-2 weeks.
  • If you have a stressful event coming up (a move, boarding, travel) ask your vet about probiotics or other supportive measures for your dog’s digestion.

One of the best things you can do to prevent diarrhea and stay on top of your pup’s health is to monitor their bathroom habits. We know you’re already up to your ears in poop, but understanding what’s normal for your dog will alert you to issues earlier—and even help you avoid trips to the vet. With a keen eye and some preventative measures, you can stop diarrhea from interrupting you and your pup’s best life.

Q. Should I stop giving my dog water if they have diarrhea?

A. Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration, so it’s important that your dog has access to water at all times. Because dehydration is dangerous, especially for puppies, senior dogs, or dogs with underlying health conditions, it’s critical that they get enough water.

Q. What if my dog has diarrhea but no other symptoms?

A. If your dog has a single bout of diarrhea with no other symptoms, it’s likely not a cause for concern. Monitor your dog's bowel movements closely to see if diarrhea persists. If your dog has more than 2 bouts of diarrhea in a day or shows any other signs of illness, there could be a problem and you should contact your vet right away.