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When to Take a Dog with Diarrhea to the Vet

dog diarrhea

The most common presenting dog symptoms to our Indianapolis veterinary clinic are allergies and itchy skin, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Dog diarrhea causes – Parvo

positive parvo test dog diarrhea in dogs

One dot good, two dots bad.

Parvo is a very contagious viral diarrhea of young, unvaccinated puppies. Parvovirus attacks rapidly dividing cells like those that line the intestines and those that fight infections. So not only does parvo cause severe bloody dog diarrhea it also makes puppies susceptible to bacterial infection. Dog diarrhea caused by parvo is often profound and debilitating, requiring intensive care hospitalization.

Untreated, survival from parvo is less than 25%. With intensive veterinary care, including several days (and hundreds of dollars worth) of intensive care, including antiviral drugs, antibiotics and fluids, survival can approach 75%.

Parvo is easily prevented with a series of cheap, VERY effective vaccines. As long as a puppy drinks their mother’s milk within the first 12-24 hours after birth, most puppies receive a dose of antibodies from the mother that protects the puppy against parvo for the first 2-3 months of life. Starting at between 6-8 weeks then, we give parvo vaccine, boostering the vaccine every 3 weeks until the dog is at least 12-16 weeks old.

Dog Diarrhea causes – worms

Common veterinary intestinal parasites in Indiana include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, Giardia and coccicia. All of these can be detected through routine screening of a stool sample, so it’s often critically important that you bring a stool sample with you to every dog diarrhea appointment.

Parvo and Worms – Separating Fact and Fiction

FICTION: “Parvo has a distinctive smell. In fact, if a puppy with diarrhea DOESN’T smell a certain way, he doesn’t have Parvo”.

FACT: Oh, if only life were that simple. The scent generally associated with parvo is caused by blood in the stool. Dogs with bloody stool because of hookworms have exactly the same smell. MORE IMPORTANTLY, if a puppy is diagnosed with Parvo BEFORE there is blood in the stool, the chance of antivirals being effective is MUCH GREATER. Did you know Parvo can be cured with antivirals if we catch it soon enough?

FICTION: “I don’t see any worms in her poop, so therefore, she doesn’t have worms”.

FACT: Adult worms intend to stay inside the body. The only time you see part of a worm outside the body is either if a) the worm excreted part of its body on purpose – like the crawling egg sacs of the dog tapeworm, which are not really the worm itself, only bags of eggs, the adult is still inside, or b) if the entire worm is dead and passes in the stool because of deworming! Roundworm, hookworm and whipworm adults stay in the body, and release only MICROSCOPIC EGGS in the stool, that can only be found by sending the poop to the lab. Giardia and coccidia aren’t even really worms, they themselves are microscopic organisms.

FICTION: “My breeder dewormed her, therefore there is no way my dog can have worms”.

FACT: Most worms take about 3 weeks to develop from an egg into an adult, and all dewormers kill only the adults. So first of all, puppies require a SERIES of dewormings to make sure we get any worm that was still an egg on the day of presentation. More importantly though, the yellow stuff breeders give puppies, that they got from the feed store, is effective against only roundworms and hookworms, and only if given in series, but doesn’t treat whipworms, giardia, tapeworms or coccidia, any of which can make a puppy sick.

FICTION: “Parvo is the only potentially deadly diarrhea disease of puppies. If it’s not parvo, your dog will be fine.”

FACT: I have seen dogs bleed out from hookworm infestation. I have seen them starve because of overwhelming roundworms. I have seen them develop debilitating, dehydration-inducing illness and death from coccidia.

FICTION: “Blood in a dog’s stool is really bad, isn’t it?! He must be REALLY sick!”

FACT: This fiction is a little counter-intuitive. I want to make it clear that BLOOD IN THE STOOL DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY MEAN PARVO. Obviously, I don’t want to belittle bloody stool as a veterinary symptom because sometimes it’s really, REALLY bad news. However, dogs and cats have a peculiar habit of dripping little bits of blood from their rectum after prolonged episodes of diarrhea. I presume the stress on the colon, the straining, the inflammation present within the diarrhea-laden intestines contribute to this, but in general, I’m much less worried about the three drops of blood, and much more worried about what caused the diarrhea in the first place and how to make it stop.

Dog diarrhea causes – garbage guts, food poisoning, and stress

Stress in dogs, be it from anxiety, or too much excitement, either good stress or bad stress, causes a change in the normal intestinal bacteria, or “normal flora” in the gut. Bacterial flora changes from stress are essentially the same as those caused by food poisoning, including Salmonella and E. coli in dogs.

Every animal, every human, every dog, has a ton of intestinal bacteria in our gut all the time. These bacteria are intimately involved in the digestion and absorption of our food. In the case of dogs, especially, when the intestinal bacteria get used to digesting one particular brand of kibble, any change in what you feed those bacteria can cause diarrhea and a change in the bacterial population. When the population of bacteria changes, then, a dog might no longer be able to properly digest the same diet she used to. Diarrhea from an intestinal bacterial shift can last days or even weeks.

Veterinarians “reset” the normal intestinal flora in dogs with three steps:

  1. Antibiotics – that stay in the gut eliminating inappropriate bacteria
  2. Probiotics – that repopulate the gut with friendly bacteria
  3. Prescription intestinal food – that the above probiotic bacteria can easily digest.

Natural home remedies for diarrhea in dogs

dog diarrhea

Is cottage cheese good for dogs with diarrhea?

  1. Antibiotics – are prescription drugs and should be obtained from your veterinarian. Please do not try to order antibiotics online. Sorry!
  2. Probiotics – can sometimes be purchased from pet stores, but are often less effective than veterinary supplements that use proprietary strains of bacteria. We used to recommend yogurt more often for diarrhea in dogs, but it turns out the Acidophilus bacteria good for human digestion, found in human yogurt, are not the best bacteria for dog digestion. They’re better than nothing, mind you, but they’re not the best. Veterinary probiotics that are more effective contain other bacteria, like the Enterococcus faecium found in Fortiflora, or the Bifidobacterium animalis found in Prostora Max Canine.
  3. Bland dietthis is where you can really help at home! Most veterinarians will recommend a very common bland diet, consisting of cooked rice, and a fat free protein like fat free cottage cheese, or cooked skinless boneless chicken breast, or boiled 95% fat free ground beef.

DO NOT FEED BLAND DIET FOR MORE THAN 48 hours without a veterinary consultation, since ongoing diarrhea can lead to dehydration.

Dog diarrhea NOT caused by Parvo or Worms is a diagnostic challenge

At Leo’s Pet Care, if we are presented with a dog who has NEVER received a proper SERIES of vaccines ( visit this related blog post about puppy vaccines ) we usually run the parvo test first before running any other tests. If that test comes back NEGATIVE though, then we must go through a more complex series of fecal stool tests, medication trials, diet discussions…

When should you take a dog with diarrhea to the vet?

Great question! Ideally, you should at least phone your veterinarian to notify them of your dog’s problem immediately, even if you don’t intend to rush your pet in. Reason being, we can document the problem, keep track of frequency of the problem, and guide you with personalized advice.

What about Imodium or Pepto Bismol for diarrhea in dogs?

Do not give your dog any human medications without direct veterinary discussion. Yes, there are lists online that will give you what look like perfectly good prescribed doses for imodium and pepto bismol, some of which might not hurt your dog. Or, they might mask the symptoms of a more severe disease or cause a stomach ulcer far worse than the diarrhea you’re treating. I strongly recommend you stick to the above home remedies of bland diet and probiotics until you are able to contact your family veterinarian.

Take your diarrhea dog to the vet immediately if…

  1. Your dog is otherwise happy and tail wagging, but diarrhea continues more than 48 hours.
  2. Your dog acts sick along with the diarrhea – lethargy, decreased appetite, vomiting
  3. There is more than a few spots of blood (some dogs will pass a few drops of blood from straining that aren’t a big deal – use common sense and your best judgement here)
  4. Your dog has a fever (normal body temperature is up to 102.5F)
This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. My daughter bought a german shepard mix about 6 months old. Supposedly had all her puppy shots up to date. She is extremely active, eats extremely well, has been a good dog. But has had diahrea off and on for the few weeks we have had her and about once a week it is full of fatty, bloody gunck. I have been feeding her chicken and rice, with some pumpkin ( to add fiber) and diatomaceous earth ( to kill any worms and such) I have also started adfing Turmeric once a day. She is very playful, eats twice a day drinks a normal amont of water and does not have a fever but still poops fatty blood mess at least once a week. Any ideas…vet said most likely worms.

  2. My 6 months old shih tzu is having diarrhea her stool has some blood, shes happy she play with me even shes having diarrhea.. She was admitted by her vet 3 hours ago and now waiting for tomorrow for the result. I pray shes not having parvovirus bcoz her vet says if its parvo its 50/50 for her to survive ???

  3. I just bought a golden retriever puppy today. Lady said he was born November 24, 2016. He thew up in car, and when we got home. Lady also said he has his 1st shots And was treated for Parvo, and was dewormed. He has diareaha and it’s watery, green in color. Is this normal to him being dewormed?

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