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What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs?

How to Diagnose and Treat Diarrhea in Dogs

Diarrhea is a prevalent problem for dogs. Even worse, it can be a serious issue that quickly leads to dehydration. What people want to know most, though, is how to treat diarrhea in dogs. Let's look into that as well as the common causes of diarrhea in dogs and how veterinarians diagnose the ailment.

What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs?

"There are many causes of diarrhea in dogs," says Dr. Jennifer Coates. "The most common are intestinal parasites (e.g., roundworms, hookworms, Giardia), bacterial infections or overgrowth, dietary indiscretion (e.g., garbage ingestion or an abrupt diet change), and inflammatory diseases (e.g., diet intolerances or allergies)."

"Diarrhea can also be a common side effect of some pet medications, including antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and heart medications,” says Dr. Jules Benson, VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance. Some dogs will even have bouts of diarrhea when their diet is altered or they are overly stressed.

How is Diarrhea in Dogs Diagnosed?

Identifying the cause of the diarrhea will vary in difficulty. "To diagnose the cause of severe or prolonged diarrhea, veterinarians will perform a thorough history and physical exam,"  says Dr. Coates, adding that "in some cases, they may also need the results of blood work, a urinalysis, fecal examinations, X-rays, abdominal ultrasounds, specialized laboratory tests, and even exploratory surgery or endoscopy with tissue biopsies."

Sometimes the cause could be as simple as your dog eating something from your trash. Whatever the cause, it is important that the diarrhea is treated accordingly.

How to Treat Diarrhea in Dogs

Treatment for diarrhea in dogs will be dependent on what’s causing it, so it’s important to consult your veterinarian if you notice an issue with your pet’s health. “If the diarrhea is being caused by an underlying condition," says Dr. Benson, "the vet will work to control that, while advocating treatment that will alleviate your pet’s symptoms.” This could include the use of anti-diarrheal medication containing kaoilin and pectin.

According to Dr. Coates, many diarrhea-causing diseases are easily diagnosed and treated. However, some disorders are not curable and must be managed with medication and/or dietary modification.

"Diet also plays a large role in the management of most cases of chronic diarrhea in dog," says Dr. Coates. "For example, symptoms of food intolerance or allergy may completely resolve with a hypoallergenic or novel protein diet."

Discuss with your veterinarian which dog foods may be best for your pet. Your pet's doctor may also want to prescribe medications to help alleviate nausea, excess gastric acid production or gastrointestinal inflammation.

When Should You Go to the Vet?

Diarrhea that has lasted for more than 24 hours could indicate something more serious than a simple stomach bug, and if left unchecked can lead to dehydration. “However, if your pet’s stool is bloody, dark or tarry, if he seems lethargic or has lost his appetite, or is also vomiting, don’t wait 24 hours,” says Dr. Benson. “In those cases, you should get to the vet as soon as possible.”

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