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Diarrhea in Dogs - When is It an Emergency?

Unexplained diarrhea can be a concerning experience for dog owners. Today, the veterinarians at Paws and Claws Veterinary Hospital explain some common causes of diarrhea, what to do if your dog's stool is bloody, and when it's time to call an emergency vet.

My dog has diarrhea. Why?

Our veterinarians at Paws and Claws Veterinary Hospital treat many dogs suffering from diarrhea. It is common for dogs to experience mild bouts of diarrhea due to mild intestinal distress. This distress can often be linked to food, such as an adverse reaction to table scraps or a new brand of dog food. However, diarrhea can also be a symptom of more serious issues that require immediate veterinary attention.

What are the common causes of diarrhea in dogs?

Diarrhea in dogs is a common issue that a variety of factors can cause. Understanding the potential causes can help manage the condition and seek appropriate veterinary care. Here are some common causes of diarrhea in dogs:

  • Stress or anxiety
  • Change in diet or treats
  • Eating garbage or spoiled food
  • Ingestion of foreign objects such as toys, bones, and fabric
  • Ingesting toxins or poisons
  • Viral infections such as parvovirus, distemper or coronavirus
  • Parasites - roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, Coccidia, or Giardia
  • Bacterial infections - such as salmonella
  • Pancreatitis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Colitis
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Medications such as antibiotics
If your dog experiences persistent or severe diarrhea, it’s essential to consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Is bloody diarrhea in a dog considered an emergency?

The most obvious sign you should contact your vet is when your dog's diarrhea contains blood. There are two types of bloody stools to watch out for when your dog has diarrhea.

Hematochezia results from bleeding in the lower digestive tract or colon. It is bright red in color and indicates certain potential medical complications.

Melena is blood that has been digested or swallowed. This dark, sticky, almost jelly-like blood indicates that a serious problem in your dog's upper digestive tract might be to blame.

If you notice small streaks of blood in your dog's stool, it may not be a cause for worry. However, consistent bleeding or larger amounts of blood could indicate a more serious issue, such as a viral or bacterial infection, parvovirus, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, or even cancer.

If you find blood in your dog's stool, it's best to contact your vet. Describing exactly what you have observed will help your vet provide detailed instructions on what to watch for and whether your dog should come in for a visit based on its symptoms.

When should I seek professional help for my dog's diarrhea?

If your dog has a single episode of diarrhea and is otherwise acting normal, it is likely not a cause for concern. Monitor your dog's bowel movements to see if things clear up. However, more than two episodes could indicate a problem, so it's a good idea to call your vet if your canine companion has two or more bouts of diarrhea.

If your dog is straining to pass a stool but only passing small amounts of watery diarrhea, they could be experiencing a painful blockage due to ingesting a foreign object such as a toy. This is a very serious concern and needs veterinary attention right away. Contact your vet or head to the nearest emergency animal hospital for care.

Recurring bouts of diarrhea over a short period could be a sign of a serious health issue, particularly if your dog is very old or very young or has a compromised immune system. Infections such as parvovirus are extremely serious, contagious, and life-threatening. Contact your vet right away if your dog is experiencing repeated episodes of diarrhea.

Dogs showing other symptoms, as well as diarrhea, should also be seen by a vet as soon as possible. If your dog has any of the following symptoms, contact your vet right away to make an appointment:

  • Blood in stool
  • Unusual drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Weakness
  • Signs of dehydration (Sunken, dry-looking eyes, dry nose, or dry, sticky gums)

If your dog displays any symptoms that cause you concern, contact your veterinarian. Your vet will let you know whether your pet's symptoms indicate that an examination is necessary.

How is diarrhea in dogs treated?

Never give your dog human medications without consulting your veterinarian. Many over-the-counter medications that work well for people can be toxic to dogs.

If your dog has had one or two runny or soft stools, you may want to give it time to recover by fasting for 12-24 hours. A bland diet for a day or two may help to resolve your dog's issue. Plain-cooked white rice with a bit of chicken and some canned plain pumpkin (not pie filling) may help to make your dog's tummy feel better. Once your dog feels better, gradually reintroduce their regular food.

Other things that might help to soothe your dog's upset tummy include natural yogurt, probiotics, peeled, boiled potatoes, cottage cheese, eggs with no oil added, specially formulated dog foods, and medications prescribed by your vet.

When it comes to your dog's health, it is usually best to err on the side of caution. By taking your dog in for an examination, you allow your vet to determine the underlying cause of your dog's diarrhea and recommend the most effective treatment.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog has diarrhea, contact our Tracy vets to book an examination. Our vets at Paws and Claws Veterinary Hospital have experience in diagnosing and treating the causes of diarrhea in dogs.

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