Dealing with diarrhea is equally as miserable for you as it is for your puppy. It's possible your puppy is experiencing diarrhea as a result of eating a few too many treats, or it might be a sign of something more concerning. Follow this useful questionnaire to help narrow down what could be causing your puppy's diarrhea, how to approach treatment, and how to prevent future episodes.
Addressing Your Puppy's Diarrhea
Figuring out why your puppy is sick often takes some detective work. There are several potential causes of diarrhea in young dogs, and most of them are treated very differently. Fortunately, you can use these six questions to help narrow down what could have brought on your puppy's loose stool and get them on the mend.
1. Has my puppy been under stress lately?
Leaving their mom and adjusting to a new environment can be a lot for a little puppy. Anxiety can sometimes cause digestive upset in dogs, referred to as stress colitis. Consider whether your puppy has experienced any recent stressful events that could have spurred these symptoms. Watch them for signs of anxiety such as hiding, shaking, drooling, yawning, or holding their tail between their legs.
How to Help
If you think this might be the case, the first step is to minimize your pup's stress level and help them feel more comfortable. A bland, highly digestible diet and probiotics can also help firm up the stool, although medication to reduce inflammation within the guts may be necessary.
It's also possible for stress to trigger intestinal parasites like coccidia. Puppies may carry this parasite without any symptoms, then as soon as they experience a stressful event, they can develop diarrhea. Your veterinarian can run a fecal test to see if your pup has coccidia, then prescribe an oral dewormer to treat it.
2. Is my puppy up to date on vaccines?
Puppies are very vulnerable to viruses like parvovirus and canine distemper. These diseases are highly contagious and life-threatening, which is why veterinarians strongly recommend vaccinating against them. If your pup hasn't completed their entire series of vaccines (usually two to three vaccines given three to four weeks apart until they're about 16 weeks old), they're at risk of getting sick. It's important to remember that pets don't have full immunity until two weeks after their last puppy vaccine.
How to Help
Review your puppy's vaccine records to see if they've been adequately protected. Also, think about where you've taken them within the last week or two. If your pup isn't up to date and has played with other unvaccinated dogs or walked in public areas, there's a high chance they were exposed. Other signs of these viral infections include lethargy, vomiting, lack of appetite, sneezing, and nasal discharge.
If caught early enough, some cases can be treated at home under the guidance of your veterinarian, although more advanced symptoms need hospitalization with aggressive supportive care. Unfortunately, if left too long, these viruses can be fatal, so have your puppy tested and treated early to give them the best chance of fighting the illness.
3. Has my puppy's diet changed recently?
In some cases, you might not know what type of food your puppy was eating with the breeder or shelter before you acquired them, so a diet change could have been unavoidable. Or maybe you weren't a fan of the brand your pup was on, so you decided to switch it. Either way, an abrupt diet change could lead to diarrhea.
How to Help
If you realize that you did perform a quick switcheroo, you don't necessarily want to change them right back to the old food because this can irritate the intestines even further. Instead, try to combat the loose stool by mixing the diets together. From there, slowly add more of the new food and less of the old over the next two weeks. Mixing the diet with a little cooked chicken and rice or another bland food can also help take some stress off the digestive tract.
4. Has my puppy been dewormed routinely?
Parasites like roundworms, coccidia, hookworms, whipworms, and giardia can easily be passed from the mother dog to the puppy through fecal ingestion, nursing, or even within the womb.
How to Help
Review your puppy's records to see if they've been regularly dewormed. Most vets recommend giving a prescribed dewormer every two weeks for the first few months of a dog's life, and then monthly thereafter.
Why isn't one puppy deworming enough? Several doses are given to kill all life stages of the parasites. Not to mention, puppies are more likely to eat feces and become reinfected. Ask your vet about a deworming schedule for your pup, or have a fecal exam done to check for any intestinal worms.
5. Did my puppy get into the garbage or eat anything they shouldn't?
Dietary indiscretion, known as "garbage gut," is common in puppies. They're exploring the world for the first time and don't yet know the command "Leave it," so chances are they'll eat anything that might taste good. Fatty foods or things they're not used to (like a handful of rich treats when Grandma comes to visit) can upset their stomach.
How to Help
In many cases, giving your pup a bland diet and probiotics for a few days will resolve the loose stool, but if there are other signs present, such as vomiting, they'll need additional treatment. There are also several human foods that are toxic to dogs and can cause diarrhea, such as chocolate, avocado, pecans, among others.
However, it's not just food items to worry about. Puppies usually won't hesitate to taste plants or other household materials. Substances like antifreeze, rat bait, fertilizers, and cleaners are highly poisonous to dogs. If you think that your puppy may have gotten into something toxic, seek urgent veterinary attention or call a pet poison service right away.
6. Does my puppy like to chew or eat toys, socks, etc.?
Most puppies can and will eat anything they can fit in their mouths. Unfortunately, these items don't always fit through their intestines. Think about whether your pup likes chewing on things they shouldn't. Have the ears on any stuffed animals gone missing? Did the squeaker in their toy vanish recently?
How to Help
Diarrhea isn't the most common symptom associated with an intestinal blockage, but it can happen. More typical signs include not eating, vomiting, lethargy, and abdominal pain. An intestinal foreign body is a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment, including possible surgery.
When to Seek Veterinary Care
Persistent diarrhea in puppies can become dangerous quickly. These small, young dogs can experience harmful dehydration due to fluid loss, so an exam with a veterinarian is always warranted to make sure they're safe. If your pup experiences any of the following symptoms in addition to diarrhea, see your vet right away.
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea with blood
- Pale gums
- If the diarrhea has gone on for 24 hours or longer
Diagnostics for Diarrhea
The first thing your veterinarian will do is perform a physical examination. Along with listening to your puppy's heart and lungs and evaluating their overall health, an exam will allow them to feel if your puppy has any tenderness in their belly and assess their hydration level. Based on these findings, they could recommend several different tests.
- Parvo SNAP test: Ruling out life-threatening canine parvovirus is often one of the first tests performed on sick puppies. The test requires a small amount of stool on a swab and takes under 10 minutes to get results.
- Fecal test: This exam can help identify any live worms, worm eggs, or the presence of any parasitic organisms, such as Giardia. Your vet will collect a small amount of stool (bring a fresh sample with you to the visit if you can!) and examine it under the microscope. If they see any parasites, an appropriate dewormer can be prescribed.
- Radiographs. X-rays will give your doctor a better idea of what's happening internally. They can give insight into whether your pup has an intestinal foreign body, hiatal hernia, or other condition that could be the cause of the stomach upset. Radiographs don't always give a definitive diagnosis, so a barium study (where your dog ingests a liquid that will show up on the X-rays as it moves through the intestines), ultrasound, or endoscopy could be necessary.
Tips for Dealing with Messy Puppy Diarrhea
Even if the cause of your pup's diarrhea has been identified and they're on the road to recovery, the diarrhea might continue for a day or two. Use these tricks to keep your puppy (and your home) clean.
- If possible, keep your pup confined to an area free of carpeting that's easy to clean and disinfect. Puppy pads can work if you're able to monitor your pup to keep them from chewing on or eating the pads.
- Bowel movements might be more frequent, so take your pup out more frequently than usual to prevent indoor messes.
- Keep feces cleaned up to prevent your puppy from eating it and possibly becoming reinfected.
- Give your little one "back end baths" as needed or use wipes to keep their bottom clean. Long-haired breeds can benefit from a shave around their rear to keep the hair from becoming soiled.
- Use proper hygiene (hand washing, use of gloves, etc.) when cleaning to prevent the spread of any diseases.
- Avoid letting your puppy interact with other pets until they're completely recovered.
How to Prevent Diarrhea in Puppies
Preventing diarrhea in puppies is far less messy and easier than treating it. Use these measures to keep your pup's stool healthy.
- Have your puppy vaccinated and dewormed as recommended by your vet.
- Keep your puppy away from public areas until they have full immunity -- at least two weeks following their final vaccine dose.
- If you must switch your pup's food, do it gradually over two or more weeks.
- Minimize stress in the household and introduce new changes slowly.
- Limit the number of treats and table scraps your pet gets to avoid an upset stomach.
- Keep your pup from eating feces or other things while on walks or in the yard.
Treat Puppy Diarrhea with Care
While some people choose to fast a dog with diarrhea to give their digestive tract a break, withholding food from a puppy can be harmful. Growing puppies need to eat every few hours and risk developing low blood sugar without food.
Based on the answers to these questions and your veterinarian's findings, you can put the right treatment into action to help your puppy. Once they're on the mend, keep them hydrated, clean, and comfortable until they're back to feeling like themselves.