Dog diarrhea: Everything You Need to Know (But Don't Want to Ask Your Vet)

By: Kelli Rascoe & Trupanion Staff | Updated Jan 13, 2022


A small dog laying in a shaggy blanket.


While there’s plenty to love about dog ownership, there’s one fundamental truth to acknowledge: poop happens. and sometimes, diarrhea happens. You already know that this is an expected part of being a pet parent, but when should You actually be concerned? 

While broaching the subject with your veterinarian can be less than pleasant, there may be times when you'll need to bring it up. Fortunately, we've decided to do some of the dirty work (no pun intended) work for you by consulting with Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Sarah Nold. Here, Nold goes over what's normal, what's not, and tips for dog diarrhea treatment and prevention.

What causes dog diarrhea?

Diarrhea can be a symptom of many different things, but common causes include:

  • Sudden change in diet
  • Food intolerance or allergic reaction
  • Ingestion of garbage or spoiled food
  • Ingestion of poisonous substances or plants
  • Ingestion of foreign material (e.g., toys, plastic bags, socks)
  • Certain medications
  • Bacterial infections, such as Clostridium perfringens, E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Spirochetes
  • Internal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms,  whipworms, coccidia, Giardia  and tapeworms
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Cancer or other tumors of the digestive tract
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis
  • Stress

Dog diarrhea treatments — and when to visit the veterinarian

There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment to stop dog diarrhea. Before you give your dog  Pepto-Bismol  or  cottage cheese, we recommend checking with your veterinarian, as your pet may be experiencing a health issue that requires medical intervention.

Sometimes the underlying cause is obvious, such as when diarrhea occurs after your dog eats a new food. Other times, your veterinarian may need to dive into the issue.

Nold recommends taking your dog to the veterinarian if:

  • You’re unsure of the cause.
  • Their diarrhea continues for more than a day, happens frequently, or if they produce an alarming amount.
  • They experience other gastrointestinal (GI) signs such as vomiting, decreased appetite, or lethargy.
  • You notice dark-colored, black, or bloody stools.
  • Your dog may have eaten something toxic. In this case, contact a pet poison control or take him to your nearest veterinary hospital immediately, as this can help minimize risk of absorption of the toxin.

Your veterinarian may:

  • Recommend a physical exam and diagnostics (such as a fecal test, blood work and/or X-rays).
  • Give your dog fluids under the skin (subcutaneous).
  • Deliver a more specific treatment, such as a dewormer or antibiotics.
  • Recommend hospitalization for more serious cases so your dog could receive more intensive therapy such as intravenous (IV) fluids and medications.
  • Recommend withholding food for a short period of time to allow your dog’s gastrointestinal tract to rest and recover, followed by a few days of a bland diet, such as cooked chicken and rice. This is often beneficial when GI upset is due to eating a rich meal or a sudden diet change.
  • Withholding food should not be performed without veterinary advice, as it may not be appropriate for puppies, elderly dogs, and smaller breeds as they require more nutrients. Also, puppies and small dogs can become dehydrated and hypoglycemic very quickly. Please do not withhold food from your dog without veterinary advice.

8 tips to prevent diarrhea in dogs

Although you can’t always avoid the dreaded dog diarrhea, you can take steps to help prevent it from happening again.

We recommend that you:

  1. Provide your dog with a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise.
  2. Make sure your dog is up to date with vaccinations.
  3. Make sure your dog is free of parasites. Consult with your veterinarian regarding their specific recommendations for your area.
  4. Keep spoiled food and garbage out of reach.
  5. Before you feed your dog table scraps, make sure you know  what foods are safe for dogs.
  6. Ensure your dog doesn’t eat plants while on walks. If you have houseplants, keep them out of reach of curious noses.
  7. Do your best to keep your dog from eating things it finds on the ground (including feces!) or drinking from puddles when on walks or off leash at the park.
  8. Minimize stress to their environment.

A healthy diet goes a long way

According to Nold, Any food or treat which is new to your dog has the potential to cause diarrhea. This is particularly the case if your pup's diet is changed suddenly. Because of this, Nold recommendeds introducing one food or treat at a time, so if your dog does develop diarrhea, it may be easier to identify the specific cause.

Avoid foods that can trigger dog diarrhea, such as:

  • Milk or dairy, especially if not non-fat or low-fat.
  • Fatty or rich foods, which can also cause pancreatitis. Symptoms of pancreatitis include other gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting, abdominal pain and/or decreased appetite.

Keep these toxic foods out of reach and never feed them to your dog:

  • grapes and raisins
  • onions
  • garlic
  • macadamia nuts
  • chocolate
  • alcohol
  • coffee
  • foods containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol (such as some peanut butters)

Choose food that is the right life stage for your dog

  • Nutritional requirements for dogs vary with life stage and often with breed. For example, a quickly growing puppy often requires higher calories and different nutrients than a geriatric dog, which generally needs an easy-to-digest, low-calorie food.
  • Always purchase dog food that’s labeled for the correct life stage of your dog, and consult with your veterinarian if you’re unsure of what to feed your dog.
  • If your dog has a chronic condition, their diet restrictions may be more specific.

Consult with your veterinarian before you start your dog on a raw diet

  • The biggest risk associated with raw diets is infectious diseases, including bacterial and parasitic infections, for the pet ingesting the food, the person preparing it and for others in the household (young children or immunocompromised individuals are most at risk).
  • If the raw diet includes bones, there is also a risk of a gastrointestinal foreign body which may require surgical intervention.
  • If you choose to feed your dog a raw diet, consult a veterinarian to ensure it is nutritionally balanced.

Know the signs (and what to do) if your pet has food allergies

  • Food allergies are often caused by the protein source, such as chicken or beef. If you have recently changed your dog’s diet and they are experiencing itching, hair loss, redness of skin, diarrhea and/or vomiting, it’s worth switching back to the old protein source to see if the symptoms resolve.
  • It can take a couple months for the allergen to work its way out of your dog’s system, so we recommend seeking veterinary advice for controlling the symptoms, especially if they are severe.
  • Other illnesses can cause similar reactions to a food allergy, so your veterinarian may conduct further diagnostics or recommend a specific food trial to determine the cause.

The bottom line

You know your dog better than anyone, but it’s not always easy to tell if your dog needs to visit the veterinarian for a case of dog diarrhea. If you’re unsure, we recommend seeking medical help — after all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

While you can’t always prevent dog diarrhea from happening, you can take steps to help prevent it, starting with what your dog does (and doesn’t) eat. Remember, if you have questions, your veterinarian is just a phone call away.


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