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What Do I Do? My Dog has Diarrhea!

What Do I Do? My Dog has Diarrhea!

               Diarrhea is a common reason for dogs and cats to visit the vet and can be quite frustrating.  Trust me, no one wants to be woken up 6 times a night to take their dog outside, bathe the cat, or scrub diarrhea out of the carpet!  There are multiple causes of diarrhea and treatments vary. What should you do if your pet is experiencing diarrhea?

               Most cases of diarrhea are minor and self-limiting, but what can you do to stem the flow and how do you know when it may be more serious and your pet needs medical attention?

               Causes of diarrhea can range from simple things such as parasites, infections, or eating certain foods or other items that irritate the intestinal tract to chronic issues such as food allergy, inflammatory bowel disease, or metabolic diseases, to very serious issues such as intestinal cancer or something stuck in the intestines. 

               First—one or two episodes of soft or watery stool is no reason to panic, especially if your dog or cat is eating, drinking and acting normal.  You may be able to just hang tight and it may resolve itself.  If your pet is acting OK, but the diarrhea is lasting more than 24 hours, especially if your pet has some urgency to go (asking to go out frequently, having accidents in the house, etc.) consider symptomatic care.  Note: while medical attention should be sought, streaks of bright red blood in the stool are not always cause for alarm and may simply be due to inflammation in the colon.

Things you can do at home: offer a bland diet—one part boiled skinless chicken or lean burger (boil or drain all fat) mixed with 3 parts cooked rice--offer small portions. The fiber in plain canned pumpkin may also help to regulate stool—use a teaspoon a day for cats or small dogs and about a tablespoon per day for larger dogs.

               Probiotics for pets can also help to replace good gut bacteria that get washed out when pets have diarrhea.  Plain yogurt, while safe for pets, does not have quite the same bacteria and is not as beneficial to pets as it is to people.

               Over the counter antidiarrheals are sometimes used.  Ask your veterinarian for proper dosing and don’t use for more than 48 hours.  Some products, like pepto bismol are not safe for cats or pets with certain medical conditions so use caution before treating pets with these drugs and always check with your vet.

               If your pet has diarrhea for more than 2 or 3 days, seems lethargic, is not eating well, is also vomiting, is passing large amounts of blood in the stool or the stool looks black and sticky like tar, he needs veterinary attention.  Your veterinarian may do blood tests, x-rays or ultrasound and it always helps to check a sample of poop for parasites. A variety of treatments such as anti-diarrheal drugs, probiotics, anti-parasiticides, prescription diets, and sometimes steroids or antibiotics depending on the underlying cause may also be discussed. Cases of chronic or recurrent diarrhea may require multiple diagnostics to figure out the cause, and often require a diet change.

If the pet is dehydrated and very ill, a hospitalization with IV fluids may be warranted.  Of course, if a specific underlying cause is found, treatment of that condition may be necessary to resolve the diarrhea.  For instance, cats with thyroid disease commonly have diarrhea as symptom.  Diagnosis and treatment of the hyperthryroidism should resolve the diarrhea as well.

Most cases of diarrhea are not serious and can be managed medically, but some cases need more attention, particularly if your pet’s behavior has changed or she is not interested in food or water.  Seek veterinary attention if diarrhea does not resolve within a day or two and remember to use caution with over-the-counter anti-diarrheal drugs, especially in cats.

This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.