The international notoriety bestowed on columnists falls away quickly when the subject of their column is diarrhea.
Suddenly-onset (acute) diarrhea in dogs is one of the most common reasons people contact veterinary practices. Part of it is wanting to fix the problem for the poor pooch and then there is all the emotion and projection we heap upon it.
In normal times, when people are working and kids are in school, coming home to a soiled floor and a dog with an oh-woe-is-me look on its face is not the way to start the evening and end the day. In our haste to clean up and console the dog we often overlook key information our veterinarians may need.
First off, diarrhea in dogs is common. They will mouth almost anything and sometimes swallow it. That is one of the reasons vomiting sometimes accompanies diarrhea. If your dog is keeping firm stools, good for you. Keep doing what you are doing as long as they remain healthy. Next, is the diarrhea severe or does it occur often? These are possible indications of more serious problems. Severe would mean coming home to a real mess in multiple locations, including some that may be bloody.
Although diarrhea is common, as an owner, you should be helping to prevent it from occurring often. Do this by training your pet to “drop it,” whenever you are with them and they pick up something unwanted.
For severe or frequent bouts of diarrhea, have your pet examined by your family veterinarian, especially if the diarrhea is accompanied by frequent vomiting or retching, loss of appetite, weight loss, belly pain or lethargy. Such diarrhea can be caused by more serious things, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, environmental toxins and food allergies.
Most times, acute diarrhea is caused by dietary indiscretion or the pooch eating something it should not have. You may have induced it by making a rapid change in their diet or feeding table scraps, so check the family and your recent memory.
Is your dog very young or very old, or does it have a preexisting condition? If so, most times you are better off calling your veterinarian. If the stool has more than just a small streak of blood, again it’s time to call your veterinarian. The same goes for dark or tarry-like stools. That may indicate a bleed very high up in the digestive tract.
Don’t be fooled by dark, tarry-looking stool in the yard. It is normal for feces to oxidize rapidly, turn dark and then harden.
For the occasional bout of diarrhea in an otherwise healthy adult dog, here are few tips that can help and may save you some money, too: Make sure the dog has access to abundant, clean water to prevent dehydration. If they are not drinking enough initially, try low-salt chicken broth or one of the pediatric rehydration formulas cut in half with water.
For the time being, give your dog small meals of boiled white meat from a chicken with no skin or bones. You also can add white rice.
A trick used by people who travel with dogs for competition includes keeping cans of pureed pumpkin or sweet potato pie filling on hand. These are loaded with fiber and can end diarrhea quickly. You may substitute these for the rice or use them exclusively. I’ve never seen a dog not rush to eat these.
If the diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours it’s time to call the veterinarian.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service.