what can cause diarrhea in dogs

The only thing worse than knowing your dog is not feeling well is not knowing why they’re not feeling well. And when it comes to our dogs experiencing diarrhea, it can become challenging when we’re unable to rule out the usual suspects for the source of illness. 

So what can cause diarrhea in dogs? The leading causes are due to dogs ingesting substances like food, poisonous plants, or having an adverse reaction to a medication, etc. 

But sometimes the source of illness or the reason does not fall neatly into one of those categories. Continue reading as we explore some of those pesky uncommon causes for diarrhea in dogs. Understanding these unusual causes will arm you with the ability to diagnose and remedy the problem quickly, ultimately restoring your dog’s health. 

What Can Cause Diarrhea in Dogs?

Some of the reasons for what can cause diarrhea in dogs are due to dramatic changes to their environment. These reasons include:  

A move to a new home: 

While you and your family may be fully aware that you’re moving, your dog may be left entirely out of the loop. It’s usually not until the actual move date that your dog realizes some significant changes are happening. 

Dogs are Creatures of Habit:

Dogs are creatures of habit and thrive on routine.  It’s our job as dog parents to make them feel safe and secure.  And abrupt change to their lives can throw them off emotionally, causing them to feel emotionally unstable, anxious, and nervous. 

Sometimes this anxiety can wreak havoc on their bodies. And your more sensitive dogs may start to get anxious weeks before the move, especially once they begin to see their home empty-out.

Unfortunately for your dog, this anxiety can result in an upset stomach. And unfortunately for you, the result is often an unpleasant house-warming gift- diarrhea in your new home.

How to Plan Ahead:

So if you’re planning to move to a new home, you can alleviate some of your dog’s stress by letting your dog tag along with you for trips to your new home. It’s best to do this throughout the entire moving process so that you can get as many visits as possible before your official move date. 

Doing so will help your dog get familiar with their new surroundings. If you want to aim for some added comfort, bring along some of their toys, treats, or blankets.  

It will provide your dog with some relief and keep them active while you’re busy getting your new home settled. It will also leave your dog’s scent in your new home.

Speaking of which, if you have a yard, engaging in some outdoor playtime would be highly beneficial during your visits to your new home. Playing outdoors will help your dog associate his new home as a fun space. It will also allow them to mark their territory around your yard. 

Marking is your dog’s official way of saying, “I own this.”  So all the better for them to feel like their new home belongs to them. If you don’t have a yard at your new home, then you can opt for taking your dog out for a few walks around your new neighborhood. It will help acclimate your dog to their new home and their new community. 

Going for walks will enable your dog to mark around their home, and it’s also a great way to meet your new neighbors and their dogs. Therefore, the move-in day should be a breeze and not have such a traumatic impact on your dog’s emotions, body, or your brand new furniture.

A New Pet-Sitter or Boarding Facility:

Another reason for what can cause diarrhea in dogs is when they don’t respond well to new people. A new pet caretaker or boarding facility can sometimes trigger a mild form of anxiety in the same way as if they had to adjust to moving to a new home abruptly. 

And when you’re away from home, the last thing you want to hear is that your dog has been suffering from diarrhea, especially if they were perfectly fine before you left. 

How to Plan Ahead: 

The best way to avoid this dilemma is to schedule a few walks with the new pet-sitter well in advance of your trip. This way, your dog can get familiar with their new friend and start to bond and build a relationship with them before the official pet sit. 

And similarly, if you plan to have your dog stay at a boarding facility, it’s best to schedule a few daycare visits leading up to your trip. Making these preparations will allow your dog to get acquainted with the facility and the handlers that work there. They will also be able to make some new friends in the process in this situation as well. 

Time away from our dogs is already challenging enough. It’s hard when we miss them so much and are not there to care for them if something goes wrong. But just taking a few minutes out of your busy schedule to properly plan your dog’s care can help your dog adapt to change healthily and seamlessly. 

If you want to learn more about what can cause diarrhea in dogs, the American Kennel Club drafted a comprehensive list and helpful article on the subject.  

Treatment: 

While what can cause diarrhea in dogs can vary, the remedies are usually the same. So let’s take a moment to consider a few treatments that you can do at home 

Hydration: 

When your dog has diarrhea, it’s essential to provide them with access to plenty of clean water. Since stool primarily consists of water, your dog can become dehydrated after a rough bout of diarrhea. So after every time your dog has diarrhea, it’s best to give them access to water directly afterward. 

It’s also best to change their water frequently and wash their bowls daily, particularly while they’re sick. Keeping their water bowls clean and replenished daily will help to remove any harmful bacteria from their bowls. It’s a best practice in general for their care. 

Fasting: 

The next thing that you can do is give your dog’s stomach a rest with a meal fast. It’s no different from us humans. When you’re experiencing diarrhea, food is the last thing on your mind. Giving your stomach time to pass the bacteria that is causing the imbalance and stress on your body is vital. 

Tailor fasting based on your dog’s age and health: 

However, the ability to fast depends on your dog’s age and health. If you have an adult dog in good health, you can generally do a 24 hour fast or just skip one of their daily meals if the diarrhea is not severe. 

But puppies and senior dogs may require more nourishment even with an upset stomach. Their food may offer some nutritional value to help their immune systems fight off the bacteria causing diarrhea. 

Also, since puppies are still growing, a 24 hour fast might be too much on their systems. And senior dogs tend to require supplements and medications that need to be taken with food. So, in general, it’s best to determine if a fast is appropriate for your particular dog. 

Reduce Portions: 

Either way, if you must feed your dog while they’re experiencing diarrhea, it’s a good idea to reduce the portion size of their meals significantly. Doing so will help relieve the stress on their stomachs. Otherwise, their diarrhea will just persist. 

A great way to further alleviate stress on your dog’s stomach is to feed them a bland diet as opposed to your dog’s regular food until their stool returns to normal.   

Bland Diet:

After you complete a meal fast, you’ll need to remain cautious with your dog’s stomach. You can do this by giving them a bland diet for a few days. 

A typical bland diet to treat diarrhea is one of boiled chicken breast (unseasoned) and plain white or brown rice. I prefer to use brown rice because it offers more nutrients. You can prepare one cup of rice at a time. Allow one pot of rice to serve as a “batch” that you can portion out with the chicken. 

Add Hydration to the Meal: 

It’s also great to add some organic or low sodium chicken broth to the meal. It will provide some flavor and hydration. Otherwise, you can opt for merely adding fresh water instead of keeping the meal entirely dry. 

Try Plain Coconut Water: 

Adding some form of water to the meal will make it easier for your dog to digest as well. And if you want to kick things up a notch, you can just add some plain coconut water to their meal or directly to their water instead. 

Coconut water is an excellent way to replenish your dog’s system with electrolytes, which get lost through diarrhea. Electrolytes are essential for restoring hydration. Just make sure that it’s pure coconut water and has no other ingredients. Zico Coconut Water is a good brand for this and an excellent way to keep your dog hydrated after a bout of diarrhea.

Bland Diet Portion Size: 

As previously mentioned, you want to reduce the portions of your dog’s meal while they’re trying to recover. The rice should be a more considerable portion than the chicken. A 2-1 ratio is ideal. Again just make adjustments based on the size of your dog and their standard meal size. 

Be careful with your rice portions: 

It’s important to note that the rice can bind your dog up a bit where they may not eliminate after a few days on the bland diet. This means that they may go from having diarrhea to not having a bowel movement at all for a day or two. 

That’s normal in some cases, but it’s a delicate balance. If you overdo the rice, your dog will go from suffering from diarrhea to suffering from constipation. So be careful not to overdo it on the rice. 

Quick Tip: 1 cup of cooked rice can yield about 2-3 meals for your dog, depending on their size. 

Return to Regular Meals:

Once your dog’s stool has returned to a firm and healthy consistency, it’s safe to put them back on their regular diet. Your dog should generally recover within 24-48 hours of treatment. However, if not, then it’s time for a trip to the vet. 

When to See a Vet:

If your dog’s symptoms persist more than 24-48 hours max without any improvement, then it’s time to take a trip to the vet. 

Your veterinarian may request a stool sample and prescribe an antibiotic for your dog. Metronidazole is a common one that is prescribed by veterinarians because it helps to stop the bacteria or parasite from growing. And dogs tend to recover rather quickly from this medication. 

The vet may also give you some probiotics which will help restore the good bacteria into your dog’s stomach so they can maintain healthy digestion. And probiotics can easily be added to your dog’s meals. 

Emergency Signs: 

However, if the diarrhea is severe and contains blood, or your dog becomes lethargic, then you must take your dog to the vet right away

These symptoms are indicative of a more serious issue. But you can prevent symptoms from progressing if you take your dog to the vet immediately. 

I’ve had personal experience with this while I was caring for one of my client’s dogs. She had diarrhea, which seemed to improve but then would return a week later even after providing a bland diet. 

Then one day, it returned and contained blood. I took her to the vet immediately. After an assessment, the veterinarian advised that it was great that I came in right away after seeing blood in her stool. 

It turned out that she required a stomach flush to restore a healthy balance to her stomach. While she recovered quickly, we learned that there was an issue with her diet. Her parents subsequently changed her food, and she’s had the best stool ever since! 

Conclusion: 

To recap, harmful ingested substances or food are not always the source of what can cause diarrhea in dogs. Being aware of this fact and some of the unusual causes which we discussed here can help you significantly as a dog parent. 

You’ll be more equipped to identify and remedy the problem quickly and heal your dog’s health. But more importantly, you’ll be able to become proactive in preventing it entirely. 

Because the upside to these uncommon causes is that they’re easier to manage and prevent. Simply taking the time to plan for ways to help your dog adapt to a significant change in a healthy way will put your dog’s mind, emotions, and body at ease.

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