Acute (Sudden) Dog Diarrhea Leave a comment

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Diarrhea in dogs is very common. Sometimes it is self-limiting, while at other times, dogs become very ill and require hospitalization to recover. It can be difficult to distinguish between diarrhea that requires a trip to the emergency veterinarian and the type that can wait until your regular veterinarian’s office opens in the morning.

Symptoms and Types of Dog Diarrhea 

  • More water in feces than normal (softer or unformed feces)

  • May have an increased volume of feces

  • Fecal accidents

  • Blood or mucus in the feces

  • Straining to defecate

Symptoms often associated with diarrhea that can indicate a more severe condition include:

  • Vomiting

  • Listlessness

  • Anorexia (not eating, or eating less)

  • Depression

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fever

  • Weakness

If your dog has any of these signs, call your veterinarian or the local emergency clinic right away. Blood in the feces even without any other symptoms is also a reason to see your veterinarian immediately.

Causes of Dog Diarrhea 

There are four general reasons for diarrhea in dogs: osmotic imbalances, oversecretion, intestinal exudation or motility disorders.

Osmotic imbalances occur when the concentration of food molecules in the intestine is too high. Water is drawn into the intestine by the excess molecules, causing diarrhea in dogs.

Oversecretion occurs when the intestine secretes too much fluid after being exposed to bacteria, toxins or parasites.

Intestinal exudation describes a slow oozing of blood fluids through ulcers or other breaks in the intestine’s tissue layers. This exudation can be mild or very severe.

Motility disorders refer to how active the intestine is and its capability of moving contents through it. An intestine that is under-functioning in its ability to muscularly contract and push the contents out of the canal is most common; this condition is referred to as peristalsis.

Conversely, motility can be increased as well, so that the intestine contracts too quickly, and fluid which is normally absorbed is lost into the feces. Sometimes dog diarrhea can occur as a result of a combination of these causes.

Intestinal infections can also cause the intestine to oversecrete. They also tend to change the motility of the intestine.

These four reasons for dog diarrhea can be a result of:

  • Systemic illness

  • Eating garbage, nonfood material or spoiled food

  • Changes in diet

  • Drugs and toxins

  • Ingesting foreign bodies (nonfood items)

  • Intestinal blockage

  • Viral or bacterial infection:

  • Parasites

  • Pancreatitis

  • Hypersensitive digestive tract

  • Stress

  • Rickettsial (tick-transmitted disease)

  • Fungal

  • Addison’s disease

  • Liver disease

  • Kidney disease

Diagnosis of Acute Diarrhea in Dogs

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam on your dog. You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, including a background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have precipitated this condition.

A fecal sample will be examined for parasites. A blood chemical profile, a complete blood count, an electrolyte panel and a urinalysis will be performed to rule out other causes of disease.

X-rays can help rule out the possibility that your dog swallowed inappropriate items, which may be blocking or irritating the intestine. An ultrasound can be very useful in diagnosing intestinal obstructions, peristalsis, hypermotility and pancreatitis.

Chronic diarrhea may warrant different tests, including cobalamin and folate (vitamins) levels, lipase, and other markers of intestinal function. Chronic diarrhea is treated and managed differently than acute diarrhea.

Treatment of Acute Diarrhea in Dogs

If your dog is only mildly ill, she may be treated on an outpatient basis, but patients with severe dehydration and/or vomiting should be hospitalized for fluid and electrolyte therapy. Dehydration can quickly become fatal if your dog continues to have diarrhea.

If the diarrhea is mild but your dog has any other signs of illness, your veterinarian may also recommend hospitalization. For those pets with a mild illness, at-home care often includes rest, oral medications and a bland diet of boiled chicken and white rice. Your veterinarian may recommend a dose of fluids before sending your pet home.

Patients with obstruction or foreign bodies may require surgery to evaluate the intestine and remove the foreign objects. Your veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate pet meds for your dog’s diagnosis. Anti-secretory drugs, intestinal protectants or prescription dewormer pet medications are the most commonly prescribed medications. Rarely, prescription pet antibiotics are prescribed.

Living and Managing Dog Diarrhea

Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s time guidelines for deworming puppies. Parasitic infections that cause diarrhea in dogs can be easily prevented with monthly dewormers (most heartworm medication for dogs also prevents intestinal parasite infection!).

Keep your dog up to date on her parvovirus vaccine. Watch your dog so that she does not eat anything from the garbage or from other inappropriate sources. Garbage can be dangerous to your dog’s health, especially if very fatty food is eaten, or if non-food items such as bones or food wrappers are ingested. Keep all medications and household cleaners out of reach of your dog as well.


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