Small brown puppy being held by a vet wearing a white coat.

Dealing with diarrhea in pets

Get help with this unpleasant (but nearly inevitable) part of life with pets

No one likes the smell or look of it, but diarrhea — a word derived from the ancient Greek meaning “flow” and “through” — is a fact of life when you live with a pet.

According to veterinarian Brett Begley, it’s one of the more common conditions that brings a dog into a veterinary clinic.

Call it what you will — the squirts, Montezuma’s revenge, firing the chocolate laser or any other colorful and unsavory euphemisms — diarrhea is no joke.

What causes diarrhea?

Both external and internal influences can bring about the condition. “Dietary indiscretion” is a possible external cause. As Dr. Begley notes, “Many dogs are not discriminating about what they eat.” A change in diet, eating garbage, leaves, things they find in the street all can cause it.

Diarrhea from external causes is not as common in cats since they are less adventurous, more finicky eaters.

When it comes to internal factors, a variety of diseases and illnesses can make pets more susceptible to diarrhea. If you’re concerned about internal factors, consult your veterinarian for more information.

Treating your pet at home

Even if your dog has a mild case of diarrhea that lasts for a day or two, it’s always a good idea to call your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may first suggest switching to a bland, easy-to-digest diet to help to bulk up the stool. Your veterinarian can also suggest a prescription diet, if necessary.

Don’t treat your pet with over-the-counter diarrhea medications for humans. Some contain aspirin, which cats are sensitive to, and dogs can be. It will make your pet’s stomach distress worse.

When to take your pet to the veterinarian

Different signs can indicate a pet’s diarrhea is serious and requires quick veterinary attention:

  • Duration of more than a day or two
  • Large volume
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Decrease in appetite (anorexia)
  • Decrease in water consumption
  • Vomiting

In addition, if your pet seems weak and lethargic, don’t wait two days to call. If he can’t drink enough water to make up for the liquid he’s losing, he will become dehydrated and need professional attention.

Bring a stool sample to your appointment

It’s valuable to bring in a small, fresh (less than six hours old) stool sample when you visit the veterinarian with your pet. She can check the fecal sample for intestinal parasites and other microscopic organisms that can cause diarrhea.

What if your dog or cat is prone to diarrhea?

“Feed your pet a consistent diet,” advises Dr. Begley. “They won’t get bored. If you give them treats, keep them the same, too. Commercially available dog foods are tested to be nutritionally sound and balanced. And if you switch brands, do it gradually.”

In addition to Dr. Begley’s professional advice, one longtime dog owner adds this tip for people with diarrhea-prone cats and dogs: “Always have lots of paper towels handy.”

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