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Things to Do When Your Dog Gets Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a common illness that affects dogs of different ages and breeds. This condition is primarily characterized by soft or loose stool occurring at frequent intervals. Contrary to what most believe, diarrhea is actually a symptom indicative of different health conditions in dogs. Keep reading to learn why your dog might have diarrhea, the health risks involved, and what you can do to help them feel better!

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More often, diarrhea is usually caused by mild health conditions that can easily be treated. Serious illnesses, however, can cause diarrhea and may be harder to treat or manage. In severe cases, diarrhea brought about by serious health conditions can cause complications such as organ failure and cancer development.

The Dog’s Digestive System

The dog’s digestive tract is the main organ responsible for digesting and absorbing nutrients from ingested food ingredients. Food travels from the mouth where it’s mechanically broken down into smaller pieces, then moves to the stomach and intestines for chemical and enzymatic digestion and absorption. The undigested and unabsorbed materials eventually pass out the other end via the rectum.

The last segment of the intestinal tract, called the large intestine, is responsible for reabsorbing water from the digested food and bulking up the undigested part to make it into solid feces. This part of the intestine also houses beneficial bacteria that ferments some undigested and unabsorbed food ingredients like fiber and transforms them into absorbable substances that the body can use.

The presence of beneficial bacteria on the large intestine also plays a role in maintaining proper intestinal health in dogs. The fermentation that these bacteria perform produces lactic acid that can kill pathogenic bacteria and prevent intestinal infection.

What happens when a dog has diarrhea?

There are different mechanisms as to how diarrhea occurs, depending on the segment of the intestinal tract affected. Since the large intestine is the main segment responsible for the reabsorption of water, most diarrhea cases in dogs stem from problems in the large intestine.

When the lining of the large intestine becomes inflamed, such as in cases of bacterial or viral infection, it compromises its ability to reabsorb water, making the dog’s stool soft and watery. Inflammatory processes along the lining of the large intestine also cause breaks along the protective barrier, causing water to leak from the cells of the intestine towards the lumen, leading to diarrhea.

Inflammation also causes an increase in the rate of peristalsis (movement) of the intestinal segment, speeding up the transit of the ingested food. This leads to poor nutrient absorption and water retention, both resulting in diarrhea in dogs.

If the inflammation occurs mostly in the small intestine, nutrient absorption will be compromised, resulting in soft stool that is often fatty or frothy in appearance and consistency.

Common Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs

As mentioned above, diarrhea is considered a clinical sign rather than a primary disease. Several different health conditions cause diarrhea in dogs, ranging from mild and easily treatable to severe and possibly life-threatening.

The most common cause of diarrhea in dogs is food intolerance, also called dietary indiscretion. Dogs are voracious eaters and often attempt to eat anything they can get ahold of. Sometimes, they eat something that their body cannot naturally digest or can trigger an inflammatory response along the lining of the intestine. This often results in diarrhea of varying degrees, depending on how strong their immune response is against the ingested material.

Intestinal parasites are also a common cause of diarrhea in dogs. These parasites attach to the wall of the intestine causing inflammation and damage, resulting in watery and sometimes bloody diarrhea.

Other causes of diarrhea in dogs are viral and bacterial infections. Ingestion of infectious pathogens, viral or bacterial, from contaminated food and water can lead to invasion and proliferation of the pathogens along the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Certain viral and bacterial pathogens target the cells of the intestines, causing severe damage that results in compromised absorption capacity of the dog. This ultimately leads to severe diarrhea which can be fatal if left untreated.

My dog is having diarrhea. What do I do?

The treatment approach in addressing and managing diarrhea in dogs will ultimately depend on the severity of the condition and the underlying cause of the problem. It’s best to contact your vet so a proper diagnosis and treatment protocol can be made.

Mild cases of diarrhea are often self-limiting and will correct themselves after a couple of days.

Diarrhea brought about by food intolerance can be corrected by changing the diet to something that your dog isn’t reactive to historically. Another alternative is transitioning the dog to a highly digestible diet for a week or so until diarrhea is resolved. A highly digestible diet will help ensure proper nutrient absorption and control intestinal peristalsis. This, in turn, will help control the dog’s diarrhea.

Adding fiber supplements to the dog’s diet helps in several ways. The non-fermentable component of most dietary fiber supplements helps bulk up the feces and regulate the transit of the ingesta along the intestinal tract, which helps improve the stool’s consistency. The fermentable component provides proper nourishment to the beneficial bacteria of the large intestine, helping improve the ability of the large intestine to solidify the feces and reabsorb water which improves the fecal consistency.

Probiotic supplementation helps control diarrhea in dogs by introducing beneficial bacteria into the dog’s large intestine. These beneficial bacteria will help improve the intestine’s ability to reabsorb water and fight off pathogenic microorganisms that often cause diarrhea in dogs.

Certain anti-diarrheal medications may be prescribed by your vet. However, there are health conditions where the use of antidiarrheal medications is not recommended. Therefore, you should never give your dog any anti-diarrheal medications without consulting your vet first.

The use of loperamide (Imodium) is NOT recommended in cases of bacterial enterotoxicity in dogs. In such cases, the enterotoxin produced by the pathogenic bacteria infecting the gastrointestinal tract worsens the condition and needs to be eliminated. Loperamide will delay the elimination of these enterotoxins which makes the condition more severe.

Diarrhea caused by intestinal parasites can be treated with deworming medications. Severe intestinal worm infestation will often require more than 2 doses of deworming medicine at 2-3-week intervals for complete eradication of the parasite. Proper identification of the parasite is important so that the correct medication can be prescribed.

Severe cases of diarrhea, such as in cases of viral infections, will need immediate veterinary care. Viral intestinal infections, such as parvoviral enteritis (Parvo), don’t have a specific treatment or cure. Management will rely on supporting the body to fight off the virus on its own while controlling the symptoms that go with the disease. Cases like these require intensive care in a hospital setting and can be fatal if not treated or addressed properly.

Read more:

What Causes Bloody Diarrhea in Dogs?

Everything You Need to Know About Vomiting in Dogs

Everything You Need to Know About Diarrhea in Dogs

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