Help! My Dog Has Diarrhoea!

Most cases of diarrhoea in properly vaccinated dogs are trivial in health terms, and though they can be alarming and messy they don’t need you to rush off to your vets – just as you wouldn’t rush off to your doctor on the first sign of an upset tummy and a dose of the runs. That having been said, some cases can be serious, particularly in dogs weakened by other illness or old age, or if they have not been vaccinated.

Dogs that are otherwise fit will usually respond to simple measures designed to provide the lining of the intestine with a rest so it can heal, perhaps supplemented by simple treatments you can administer yourself. More serious cases will require more medication and perhaps even intravenous fluids and hospitalisation. The bottom line is, if you are worried or if the diarrhoea lasts for more than a couple of days, a visit to your vet is in order to ensure proper pet care.

What causes it?

In most cases diarrhoea occurs simply because the intestine has become inflamed and irritated either because your dog ate something that didnt agree with him or because of an infection (anything from viruses to worms). In its early stages diarrhoea seldom causes obvious illness, but if it lasts more than a couple of days your dog will usually start feeling sorry for himself usually because of the loss of salts and fluids from the body and the general discomfort involved. If the inflammation is deeper than just the gut surface then there may be blood in the diarrhoea (this is called dysentery) this is a cause of worry for most owners, but in properly vaccinated dogs it is seldom as serious as it appears. If your dog starts to vomit it usually marks the spread of inflammation higher up the gut towards the stomach.

One serious cause of diarrhoea is the viral infection caused by Parvovirus. This is a fast-spreading disease usually affecting younger dogs and can be fatal fortunately it is easily prevented with the vaccine that all dogs should be given when they are puppies, and annually boosted. Dogs affected with Parvovirus are usually suddenly very ill, with bloody diarrhoea and vomiting. Other viruses and bacteria may cause diarrhoea too, but are usually milder than Parvovirius infections. Although parasitic worms can cause diarrhoea they are seldom present in sufficient numbers in adult dogs to do so, though they can in puppies.

Owners of dogs which are in the habit of scavenging and eating rubbish will often be able to predict a problem before it starts typically their pet turns up looking a bit sheepish and guilty, and this is followed by progressively louder stomach rumblings and whiffy wind and then finally several bouts of diarrhoea. Youll know if you have a dog like this!

Other cases of diarrhoea occur because dogs have eaten something quite normal that just happens not to agree with them as an individual. Again, most owners of such dogs will in time become aware of certain things that their dog cannot eat because it gives them the runs.

What can I do to help?

For simple cases of diarrhoea it usually helps to put your dog on a bland diet of white meats, e.g. white fish (i.e. not mackerel, salmon, herring, tuna, etc) or chicken, together with boiled rice or pasta. This should be fed until the diarrhoea has ceased and the normal diet introduced gradually over a period of about three days. Because diarrhoea strips fluids from the body always make sure your dog has constant access to water to prevent dehydration. In cases which appear to be associated with feeding a particular food, then avoid that in future.

You can buy a number of very helpful over-the-counter treatments for dogs with diarrhoea and other dog health products available without veterinary prescription in the UK. There are a number of products to help sooth the gut lining and absorb any toxins which may be present and also things to help restore salts and electrolytes which may have been lost, and yet more to help establish a proper mix of good bugs in the gut so called pro-biotics and pre-biotics. As for worming, dogs over six months of age should be wormed four times a year to ensure they stay effectively worm-free, whilst a puppy should be wormed at least monthly. Excellent wormers for adult dogs and pups are available without prescription.

While your dog has diarrhoea, give him a rest from his normal exercise routine just like you, he probably doesnt feel much like exercise when unwell. Also remember that there may be germs involved which can infect humans, such as E. coli, so its very important to maintain high levels of personal and household hygiene to protect you and your other family members.

When should I call my vet?

Its an important principle of pet care to know when you should take your pet to your vet as opposed to doing things for yourself. Heres a list of reasons to consult your vet if your dog has diarrhoea:

If your dog loses his normal brightness and vigour.
If the condition worsens for instance if after a couple of days of diarrhoea he starts to vomit, or if dysentery develops.
If your dog stops eating or drinking.
If he becomes dehydrated (if you notice his eyes sink in their sockets, his skin becomes less moveable over his body, his mouth becomes dry or tacky).
If hes not properly vaccinated and up to date with his boosters and hes looking ill along with having diarrhoea especially if youve heard theres Parvovirus in the district.
In multi-dog households, if others start to have diarrhoea too.
If your dog has recurring bouts of diarrhoea, even if mild.

In general, most dogs get over a dose of diarrhoea fairly quickly and without the need for expensive veterinary involvement, and as long as you as an owner recognise what needs to be done for your pet then the whole thing usually settles down within a couple of days.