Evidence Based

Diarrhea – Causes, Symptoms and Remedies

Written by: Kristina Lalovic
Every dog experiences a diarrhea at some point in their life. Learn about the easy ways to treat it at home. But while the condition of watery stool is not always alarming, dog owners should know when it is time to consult a vet.

Most dogs experience diarrhea at least once in their lifetime. Being among the most common afflictions in dogs, it shouldn’t surprise you if your dog has diarrhea few times a year. There’s nothing strange in it, as the watery stool might be caused by many things.

Sometimes when diarrhea doesn’t disappear right away dog owners start panicking and don’t know whether they should bring their dog to the vet or not. Even if it’s always better to be cautious when talking about your pet’s health, under certain conditions simple diarrhea can also be cured at home.

The truth is, dogs can sometimes get diarrhea, just like humans. And we don’t always seek medical attention when this occurs. The same goes for dogs.

But while usually this condition isn’t considered as alarming, some serious issues could still be hiding behind this benign symptom. So if you’re a dog owner, knowing the differences between light and severe stages of diarrhea might be really helpful.

Today, we will talk about what could be causing your dog’s diarrhea, what are the ways to determine if you should bring your dog to the vet or not, and how to treat diarrhea at home.

What Is A Diarrhea?

Diarrhea is when bowel movements become loose and watery. This is a result of an increased transition of fecal material accompanied by a decreased absorption of nutrients, electrolytes, and water.

The watery stools are usually followed with an increased volume and increased frequency of defecating. It can last for a couple of days, and it can occur several times a day.

Acute diarrhea lasts for a shorter amount of time and is something you shouldn’t worry about. The light diarrhea can be cured quickly with simple remedies and it disappears with no medical help.

But in some cases, diarrhea might not be so simple to treat. Even if it is not considered a disease, it can be a symptom that might indicate another illness. Sometimes diarrhea can be a result of a life-threatening illness such as cancer.

Also, if completely untreated diarrhea could become serious because it can cause dehydration and malnutrition.


There are plenty of things that could result in diarrhea. They can go from eating the wrong kind of food, or too much of certain foods, to stress or parasites. So let’s list them out:

  • Diet indiscretion happens when a dog eats something new or inappropriate.(2) Eating foods with a lot of sugar and fat or too much rich-in-fiber treats might cause an irritation resulting in diarrhea.
  • Diet Change is among the most common causes of diarrhea as well. Switching from one food to another causes trauma in the digestive system that can cause a watery stool.
  • Intestinal worms are more common in young puppies and can cause small and large bowel diarrhea.
  • Infections caused by bacteria or virus can also lead to diarrhea. (3) Young puppies are more prone to having these kinds of infections.
  • Stress is among frequent causes of diarrhea, just like in humans. Sudden changes of environment, or similar stressful situations, might end up in having a watery stool.
  • Metabolic diseases such as pancreas, liver or thyroid disorders can upset the environment in the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Medications of certain type can also cause diarrhea. Antibiotics might be one of them.
  • Inflammatory disorders, just like in people, can be the reason why your dog develops diarrhea.

For the most acute diarrhea, the real cause is never determined, because it can usually disappear within two to four days. And that doesn’t leave enough time to do a proper examination.

If a dog behaves rather normally and is receiving regular monthly parasite prevention, then the occurrence of diarrhea can be treated appropriately at home.

On the other hand, if diarrhea recurs after a week again, or lasts more than four to five days, a visit to the vet might be necessary. Not treating the diarrhea might lead to developing chronic diarrhea that can be a more serious condition.(4) We will go back to this later, but let’s first see what are the best ways to cure a dog’s diarrhea at home.

Treatment and Remedies

Having a dog with diarrhea might not be only sad to watch because your dog could be straining from tummy cramps, but it can also be quite messy. So, many owners ask themselves How do I stop my dog’s diarrhea?.

Diarrhea makes dogs lose a lot of liquid, nutrients, and electrolytes. So each of them has to be treated gradually. Here what you can do.

Good to know: Know that some plants and trees can also lead to diarrhea. Knowing this can support your dog’s gut health especially if you are gardening.

1. Fasting

This is a crucial step for curing diarrhea as this might calm your dog’s stomach very quickly.

Your dog might actually stop eating on his own, but if he doesn’t, stop feeding or giving water to your dog for 6 to 12 hours. Most animals avoid food when they have any digestive disease. Fasting is good because other food might excessively burden the stomach and cause more irritation. Also, during diarrhea, your dog’s body won’t absorb many nutrients from the food he eats. That’s why it makes no sense to give your dog to eat right away.

But, if your dog is prone to hypoglycemia(5), you can give him a few honey licks each hour if he seems too weak.

If diarrhea stopped after the fast, start introducing water first. Give a tablespoon of water to small dogs and half a cup to large dogs every few hours in order to hydrate them.

When you make sure our dog is getting sips of water for at least 6 hours, you can gradually introduce food. But, be aware that your dog shouldn’t eat any kind of food in this stage. Wrong food might lead to recurrence of diarrhea which will exhaust your dog.

2. Bland Food

If after fasting, your dog’s diarrhea still hasn’t stopped try feeding him with bland food. A low-sodium and low-fat chicken soup might be a great way of balancing your dog’s electrolytes levels.

Unseasoned chicken breast is often recommended in dogs that have diarrhea. Make sure to boil and remove any residual fat from the chicken meat and then serve it with plain white rice. A few tablespoons of yogurt might also soothe the stomach irritation.

If you see that after 24 hours your dog’s stool is getting firmer and your dog has now a good appetite, you can slowly add his regular food to the bland diet meals. If there’s no improvement, and diarrhea continues despite the fasting and bland diet, you should better call your vet.

Good to know: Bland food is one of the most common reasons on why your dog won’t eat

3. Probiotics

Probiotics are very important in maintaining healthy bacteria in the intestine. By doing so, they also boost the immune system and keep the digestive tract healthy.

Dogs can also benefit from probiotics.(6) Especially if the diarrhea is caused by an infection or by antibiotics, probiotics will be very beneficial to your dog. There are several ways of introducing these ‘good’ bacteria to your dog’s nutrition, but with diarrhea, not all of them will be acceptable.

Serve some yogurt to your dog, or even mix it with his water, so the probiotics can travel faster to the intestines. If your dog doesn’t like it, or for some reason, you feel that it might not be enough to cure the irritated bowels, then choose probiotic supplements that should be given between meals.

How To Recognize An Alarming Diarrhea?

sad old dog

If none of the above helped cure diarrhea, then your dog might be at risk of dehydration and weight loss. Sometimes, persistent diarrhea might also be a result of another illness.

If you see some of these signs, it is the right time to see your vet:

  • Continued diarrhea
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Excessive amounts of blood in stool(7)
  • The medication is causing diarrhea
  • Pale, white, bluish, or gray gums
  • Presence of worms in stool
  • Diarrhea repeated several times in a row

Good to know: Learn what to do if you notice a blood trail in a dog’s poop.

Also, if you suspect that your dog might have ingested a toxin or a foreign body, you should seek proper medical help.

What If Your Dog’s Diarrhea Recurs a Couple Of Times In A Month?

If your dog is having occasional diarrhea that shows and disappears a couple of times within a few weeks, you should schedule a vet check-up immediately. The check-up will probably include a stool test that is performed to rule out certain parasites and infections. So if diarrhea is the only symptom your dog is showing, be prepared for the visit and bring a stool sample.

If your vet can’t tell the cause from the stool examination, and your dog seems to be experiencing other symptoms too, blood testing, ultrasound or x-rays may be necessary. Your vet might suggest some supplements or dietary changes, but he could also prescribe medications.

Large Bowel Diarrhea

Large bowel diarrhea is among common problems in dogs. This condition is often diagnosed by a response to treatment rather than through testing.

The causes of large bowel diarrhea might be very different. They can vary from parasites, allergies to certain compounds found in food to more serious problems like systemic illnesses such as fungal disease or even cancer. The problem with this condition is that the causes are difficult to diagnose.(8)

If your dog’s diarrhea symptoms start to worry you, you should talk to your vet. First, your vet will check if your dog doesn’t have whipworms parasites that can often cause a large bowel diarrhea. Not all preventives protect dogs from whipworms, so he might recommend new anti-parasiticide in order to rule out the parasite infection.

If diarrhea still continues after the whipworm treatment, the next step might be taking antibiotics. Large bowel diarrhea may be caused by bacteria called Clostridial colitis (9), so a proper treatment should be implemented. Some dogs can have this bacteria and not feel any consequences, while others can become really sick.

Another way to cure large bowel diarrhea is by introducing a fiber-enriched diet. Sometimes simply adding fiber-enriched food to your dog’s nutrition might cure diarrhea and help your dog regain a normal bowel movement. Your vet will guide you into selecting a fiber diet that your dog will benefit the most from. Another alternative might be introducing a hypoallergenic diet. In this case, the diet has to be followed strictly with no addition of treats or other types of food in order to be successful.

Only if none of the above helps in curing your dog’s diarrhea, a vet might suggest more test. He will probably ask for a blood test that would determine the overall health. If your dog loses weight too, this step might be crucial in finding out what is causing diarrhea.

Small Bowel Diarrhea

Similarly to the large bowel diarrhea, the small bowel one can also be caused by many different things. The causes might be parasites, dietary sensitivity or allergy, bacterial overgrowth, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, Addison’s disease or even cancer.

Your vet will first do a fecal examination to check if there’s any presence of parasites such as hookworms, roundworms, whipworms. The sample of your dog’s stool might also show the presence of protozoal organisms or a bacterial overgrowth. If your dog has a parasite infection an environmental control will be needed, as these parasites can survive in the soil for a long period of time. (10)

Even if the fecal exam is negative, the fecal sample might be fake due to a large amount of water in stool and the vet might still prescribe anti-parasites.

The next step your vet will probably take is including a new type of diet, as your pet might be sensitive or allergic to some foods. The cure might be in choosing a type of food your dog hasn’t been fed before.

A course of antibiotics might also help in the case in which your dog has a bacterial overgrowth. An antibiotic called Tylosin might also help with GI inflammation and promote the growth of good bacteria in the small intestines.

If none of the above helps to get your dog back to normal and your dog is still suffering from diarrhea, more advanced testing will be needed. The vet will want to know the levels of critical vitamins and their absorption. These tests could indicate an exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in which the pancreas doesn’t produce well digestive enzymes needed for breaking down food properly. When in lack of these enzymes, the nutrients found in your dog’s food are simply not absorbed.

The last guess would probably Addison’s disease, that isn’t easy to diagnose. Your vet will look for more symptoms than just a small bowel diarrhea and those include weight loss, shivering, loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting and electrolyte imbalances. In order to determine whether your dog has Addison’s or not, your vet will have to check if your dog’s body produces enough cortisol.

Good to know: Severe diarrhea can be a sign of hemorrhoids in dogs

Some more extensive testing will be needed if none of these options are causing the condition on small bowel diarrhea. It could reveal a threatening disease, and it means that a few days more of diarrhea should never be neglected. You could end up saving your dog’s life simply by trying to cure the watery bowel movement.

On the other hand, if your dog doesn’t experience diarrhea often, and there are no other worrying symptoms, try implementing some of the treatment techniques we have described above, and your dog will be back to normal quite soon.