Many pet owners wonder what to feed a dog with diarrhea. It's a common condition in canines that has many causes. Understanding the different types of diarrhea dogs can experience will help you decide how to best care for your four-legged family member.
Types and Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs
It's no laughing matter when a dog has runny poop. In some cases, the upset stomach has a simple explanation, such as "garbage gut" or dietary indiscretion, where a dog ate something they shouldn't. Other times, the picture is more complicated, because diarrhea in dogs is often a symptom rather than a diagnosis.
Some of the illnesses and conditions that can lead to diarrhea include:
- Canine parvovirus
- Distemper virus
- Food allergies
- Stress or anxiety
- Sudden change in diet
- Intestinal parasites
- Bacterial infections
- Toxin ingestion
- Addison's disease
- Liver disease
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
- Intestinal cancer
Pet parents should have a veterinarian examine their dog to determine the exact cause of their pet's diarrhea in order to find the best diet to address the underlying cause.
What to Feed a Dog With Acute Diarrhea
Acute diarrhea comes on suddenly and lasts for less than a few days. In general, acute diarrhea can result from garbage gut, a sudden change of diet, or picking up a bacterial or viral infection. Diet plays a key part in successful treatment. Feed the wrong food, and you could prolong the gastrointestinal upset.
Reset the Digestive System
For cases of acute diarrhea, where your dog is otherwise feeling well -- and is not behaving lethargically, vomiting, or displaying any other concerning symptoms -- it can be beneficial to rest their digestive system. By withholding food for 12 to 24 hours, you allow the gut to repair and recover. Whether to feed a dog during this time is controversial, but many veterinarians believe that food stimulates the gut to contract and extends the time a dog with diarrhea is ill.
However, you should never fast a puppy with diarrhea. Puppies can develop low blood sugar very quickly, so fasting for several hours can be harmful.
Always ensure plenty of fresh, clean drinking water is available. Your dog will need to drink a lot to replace the fluid lost through diarrhea. If they aren't drinking water, your dog could be at risk for dehydration. Puppies are particularly vulnerable to becoming dehydrated. Seek veterinary advice and consider bringing them in for an exam if you are concerned.
Bland Diet for Dogs With Diarrhea
After 12 to 24 hours, reintroduce food via a bland diet (rather than your dog's regular diet).
- The rule of thumb for DIY dog food is to offer bland, low-fat meats, along with easily digestible carbohydrates such as rice, boiled potatoes, or pasta.
- Avoid flavoring with milk, butter, cream, or oil, as these can trigger diarrhea, even in healthy dogs.
- Some dog owners will feed eggs, particularly scrambled eggs, to dogs with diarrhea, which should be avoided, as sometimes this can exacerbate the problem.
Best Bland Diet Ingredients
The perfect dog food to treat diarrhea includes a mix of:
- Boiled white potato or mashed potato (no milk or butter)
- Baked or boiled sweet potato, without skin
- Boiled white rice, pasta, or millet
- Boiled skinless, boneless chicken
- Boiled rabbit or white fish
- Lean, boiled pork loin
- Ground turkey, baked as a loaf
- Lean ground beef, drained of fat
- Plain canned pumpkin (just plain pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix!)
- Rice water
Once your dog is feeling better, some other foods that can help with their soft stools are:
- Plain yogurt or cottage cheese
Importance of Fiber
Dog owners might think canned pumpkin is a strange item to feed their dogs, but it's actually an excellent source of fiber. Adding fiber to the diet encourages the absorption of more water within a dog's stool and decreases the intestines' pH level.
Fiber can also aid in the growth of "good" bacteria that promote the proper function of the execratory system. The fiber in canned pumpkin can also help minimize the growth of "bad" bacteria that leads to irritated intestines and diarrhea.
Typical Bland Diet Recipes
A bland diet for dogs should be a mixture of 2 parts digestible starch to 1 part lean protein. Try this easy, low-fat recipe.
- Two boiled boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 3 cups of cooked white rice
- Finely chop or shred the chicken breast. Mix thoroughly with the rice. Use within a few days of preparation. Freeze extra portions as needed.
Another popular diet recommended by Dr. Karen Becker involves making a mixture of 50 percent cooked ground turkey and 50 percent canned pumpkin. You can also substitute fresh cooked pumpkin, cooked sweet potato, or mashed potatoes.
It's important to note that these simple, bland diets aren't ideal for long-term care. Their limited ingredients are designed to be gentle on the intestinal tract but don't contain all the vitamins or minerals your dog needs. If you would like to cook your dog's food after they've recovered from diarrhea, be sure to find a balanced, veterinarian-recommended home-cooked recipe.
How much should you feed your dog when they have diarrhea? It's important to reduce the portion size initially to avoid overwhelming the intestinal system.
- Begin by feeding your dog 1 to 2 tablespoons of bland food every couple of hours.
- Slowly increase the amount you offer them until you reach their appropriate daily volume. Gradually feed less frequently until you're only feeding them a few times a day.
- Using this guideline, you can estimate how much your dog should get each day: they should eat approximately 1/2 cup of food for every 10 pounds of body weight.
- As soon as your dog's bowel movements start to firm up, you can gradually switch them back to their regular diet.
Limit Treats and Extras
Monitor your dog for any recurrence of diarrhea, and avoid giving them treats or chews during this recovery period. Table scraps are never a good idea and are particularly bad for your dog when they have an upset intestinal tract.
Your veterinarian may recommend that you give your dog over-the-counter medications or supplements for stomach distress such as Kaopectate, Pepto Bismol, or psyllium. Never give your dog any medications without speaking to your veterinarian first and follow their dosing instructions carefully.
What to Feed a Dog With Chronic Diarrhea
Diarrhea is considered chronic when it has either persisted for more than 7 days or the symptoms come and go for a period of weeks or months. Chronic diarrhea most commonly arises when the stomach upset is a symptom of a serious internal problem, such as liver or kidney disease, dietary allergies, or problems with the intestinal lining.
Talk to Your Veterinarian
For cases of chronic diarrhea, the treatment options may be more complex. It's important to take your dog to your veterinarian to investigate the underlying cause of diarrhea in case it's due to a serious medical condition.
Dietary Treatment of Chronic Diarrhea
A combination of medication, dietary supplements, and an appropriate diet, such as a prescription dog food can usually help alleviate the diarrhea. Some effective commercial foods available for dogs with diarrhea include the following:
- Hill's Prescription Diet i/d Canine Stress Rice, Vegetable & Chicken Stew - A dog with chronic diarrhea may be experiencing undue stress leading to an unhealthy gastrointestinal tract. This diet contains microflora to help restore the intestine's bacterial balance, as well as high fiber and low-fat content. This food requires a veterinary prescription.
- Hill's Science Diet Adult Sensitive Stomach and Skin Salmon & Vegetable Entrée Dog Food - Available in a canned formula, your veterinarian may recommend a novel protein food if your dog's chronic diarrhea is due to an allergy to a common protein source. Other protein varieties are available, including venison, lamb, kangaroo, and d/d Canine Potato & Duck Formula.
- ProPlan EN Gastroenteric Fiber Canine Formula - This food has a higher fiber content and contains a prebiotic to support your dog's intestinal tract. It comes in a dry and canned version, and you must have a veterinary prescription to purchase.
- Royal Canin Large Digestive Care Dog Food - This food is made specifically for large dogs with digestive problems. It has high-quality protein, microflora, and digestible fiber. A prescription is not required, although you should consult with your veterinarian first to ensure it's a good choice for your dog.
Prevention of Diarrhea
Dog diarrhea is a common occurrence. Try to talk with your vet before your dog has an episode to make sure you're prepared with recommendations on treating diarrhea at home using home remedies or over-the-counter medications. While most dogs will have diarrhea at some point in their lives, you can help avoid severe cases by implementing these preventive measures.
When to Contact the Vet
If your dog is otherwise acting fine and not showing any other concerning symptoms, it's probably not necessary to race to the vet at the first sign of runny stools. However, if diarrhea lasts for more than a day or two, a call to the vet is a good idea.
If your pet displays other symptoms of illness, you should contact the veterinary office or bring them in right away. This could indicate a serious problem. Seek professional care if your dog exhibits any of the following signs in addition to diarrhea:
- Lethargy, depression, or weakness
- Signs of pain or discomfort
- Pale gums, or gums that are yellow-tinged
- Stools that are black or tarry
- Blood in the stool
- Decreased appetite
- Rough or dull coat
The following are situations that warrant contacting the vet immediately:
- Your dog might have eaten something poisonous.
- Your dog isn't fully vaccinated.
- Your dog is a puppy.
Treating Your Dog With Diarrhea
When your dog has diarrhea, it can cause you to worry. Just don't panic. Know that diarrhea is a common concern nearly all dog owners must handle at some point. By providing your dog with supportive nutritional care and seeking help when needed, you can ensure your beloved companion recovers quickly.