Learn more about diarrhoea in dogs in this expert article. We cover acute and chronic diarrhoea. We’re going to give you an easy-to-understand guide to sorting these episodes out as quickly, safely and naturally as possible. We will also explain how raw food for dogs can help too.
Diarrhoea – difficult to spell, but easy to understand. No one wants to know about it, or even discuss it, until it comes visiting, and then they want it gone.
What is diarrhoea in dogs?
First, definitions: ‘diarrhoea’ (spelt in the US as ‘diarrhea’) comes from the Greek, meaning, dia – “through”, and rheo, “flow”. Says it all, really. It is defined as ‘loose, watery stools (bowel movements, aka poos). It’s uncomfortable, potentially dangerous and can really change your relationship with your dog, depending on how expensive your living room carpet is.
Second – is this a new thing, a one-off, once in a blue moon, or has the dog been loose for over two weeks? The former is called acute diarrhoea, the latter, chronic. Vets approach them differently.
Keep your dog’s gut healthy with raw dog food
Acute diarrhoea, if not too bad, is pretty common. If the dog has raided the bins or eaten the wrong food, most owners are familiar with mild, self-limiting squidgy poos. The old approach was to starve for 24 hours, then put them on chicken and rice for a few days.
Today, we find chicken to be the cause of some gut sensitivity, and rice too, come to that. We’d suggest white fish and quinoa (buckwheat or amaranth are also good), or just green veggies if you can’t get these more exotic options.
Don’t starve your dog. Meat to veg should be fed at about 80:20 proportions. Feed until the dog is well, then keep going for 2-3 days to allow things to really settle.
With acute diarrhoea in dogs, if the dog is bright and not particularly affected by the problem, just follow the advice above, and most will improve. Adding a bit of marshmallow or slippery elm powder can be a useful addition, too (½ tsp per 10kg bodyweight with each meal daily).
If the acute diarrhoea persists for more than a week, and the dog is fine, then probably worth getting them checked. If they go off colour at all before the week is out (sluggish, hunched or off their food), then get them to the vet that day. They may be dehydrated from fluid loss.
This can make them feel poorly. When they’re like this, they may not fancy drinking, so compounding the dehydration leading to a potentially dangerous vicious cycle. They may need medication or intravenous fluids, so get them to the vet the same day.
Vets, when presented with mild diarrhoea, will generally give you a probiotic and something to bind the stool if they can find no other complications. This, with some good nutrition advice, is often all that’s needed. Metronidazole may be discussed but should be declined unless needed critically.
If the dog is not well, unfortunately, this potent drug, which massively injures the delicate microbiome, might have to be used. Puppies often get diarrhoea. The same rules apply as above. Antibiotics should be avoided unless the welfare of the puppy is at stake.
If you can take a stool sample with you when you take your acute or chronic diarrhoea dog in to the vet, it may help the them select the antibiotic most beneficial to the condition and least damaging to your dog’s gut bugs. Vets can also, if necessary, look for the presence of worms and other bugs like Giardia or Coccidia, which can present with sudden onset or recurrent ‘squits’.
What if my dog is raw fed?
If a dog is raw fed, my experience is (and that of thousands of raw feeding owners I’ve spoken to) that they get fewer diarrhoea issues than kibble fed dogs. If they do happen to get an acute bout, follow the guidance above, but put them on to the blandest raw food you’ve got.
Tripe, if you know they’re good on it, is often a go-to in this scenario. It’s easy to digest, very appetising and probiotic. Don’t use it unless you know the dog is 110% fine with it, from recent experience. If in doubt, go for bland raw turkey, pork or fish products, but, again, only if you know these meats really sit well with their digestion.
Most mild acute diarrhoea will sort itself out. If you’re wise enough to feed raw, you won’t see this messy disease half as often as the kibble fed dog.
Why? The thinking is that the raw fed dog has a minute, but steady stream of beneficial bugs going through the gut every single day from their raw food.
A raw fed dog’s food is packed with important dog vitamins and minerals. Kibble-fed dogs have much less because they are eating a sterile, ultra-processed product. Kibble cannot continually prime, tone and educate the canine immune system, unlike raw food.
If you have an acute diarrhoea dog, before panicking, look at how the dog is. If they’re well, then you’ve got a few days to give bland food, not starve, and see how they go. If you’re feeding either food type (raw or kibble) and you’re looking at a sick dog, then you must get them seen ASAP.
Chronic Diarrhoea In Dogs
Chronic doesn’t mean ‘really bad’. Most people use it like this, but actually, ‘chronic’, to a vet just means ‘long-term’. ‘Chronic suggests the problem is not flash-in-the-pan, self-curing, that it’s hanging about and isn’t going to resolve on its own.
As a practitioner, these are the cases I see a lot and love to work with. You might find my taste in disease strange, but you wouldn’t think this if you had a dog who’s had gut issues for years and a holistic vet, like myself or many colleagues all around the world, was able to transform them simply, just through dietary modification with raw food and supplements.
As in Part 1, let’s hit a few definitions first. We know that ‘diarrhoea’ is a loose, watery stool, but when we’re dealing with long term problems, we need a little bit more accurate detail than that, especially if we’re changing diet and supplements to bring about long term resolution.
I use my Thompson Stool Score when talking to clients about dogs with long-term gut conditions. Colitis, diarrhoea, enteritis, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), IBD are many of the names we give to the unhappy gut. All can benefit from precise, simple descriptions between vet and owner.
The Thompson Stool Score for Dogs
0 – Water
3 – Thin, but will hold together on the ground without dribbling everywhere—uncooked thin cookie dough.
5 – Blancmange – neither liquid nor solid. ‘Scoopable’, but leaves a mess.
7 – Formed but soft. Very soft sponge cake. Not ‘pickupable’, but perhaps cleanly ‘scoopable’.
10 – Perfect cigar or torpedo. ‘Pickupable’ with finger and thumb.
Forgive me, I find food analogies are useful, if unappetising. You can add important detail like colour, smell and uniformity (lumpiness) for extra information. Beware making things too complicated.
Learn more about whether your dog’s poo is healthy.
Causes of Long-Term Diarrhoea
Why do dogs get long-term loose stools? Well, it can be due to genetic factors, infection, poor liver or pancreatic function, disturbed microbiome from prescription drugs and antibiotics or from unknown inflammatory changes in the gut.
The most common cause, by far, though, after ‘dietary indiscretion’, is food sensitivity. Food sensitivity is an uncomfortable situation where the gut reacts to one or more dietary proteins.
Food sensitivities, unlike allergies, may take a day or two to manifest. If you, as a human, were allergic to peanuts or strawberries, then the reaction is obvious and immediate. Food sensitivities are a little more subtle. Sensitivities in humans manifest as feel a little sick, bloating or loose stools associated with that food. It’s common in people, and it’s certainly common in dogs, but under-recognised in the latter, I feel.
Imagine you’re a dog with a chicken intolerance and you’re given beef ‘flavoured’ food. It causes bloating, burping and some mild diarrhoea, and your owner can’t understand it. Unbelievably, dog food only needs to contain 4% beef to be called ‘beef-flavoured’. The rest of the tin/kibble can be chicken, mixed meats, known as ‘meat and animal derivatives’ or even horse. I know – shocking! Explains why so many dogs are loose on so many supposedly different run-of-the-mill ultra-processed foods.
What the owner of the chicken-sensitive pet sees daily is a dog with non-descript digestive issues, like a human. As a human, eventually, the penny drops that certain foods don’t suit you, so you change your diet. A typical example is the poor dog’s poos are never better than a 6/10, for example, but the owner is used to it. To them ‘it’s normal for her’ or ‘they’re sloppy, but what can you do?’. Imagine – that dog going through this discomfort and distress every day of its life. It’s tragic.
I think this picture is typical of a vast swathe of the dogs in the UK and the US. My research suggests that a majority of dogs have less than perfect poops at least 1-2 times every week.
If owners have never known any different, they just continue feeding in the same old ‘good value’ traditional food. Little do they know they might be brewing problems for their dog. Problems might include gastroenteritis upsets, colitis, liver disease, anal gland issues, immune problems, arthritis and obesity. We often find these dogs frequently visit the vets for niggles like hot-spots, recurrent ear infections and anal gland emptying. If you include vets fees with the dog food bill, you might reflect on the real value your economy kibble offers.
Treatments for diarrhoea in dogs
The first treatment, of course, is to change the food. Initially, make sure you’ve discussed the issue with your vet to eliminate any of the more common organ dysfunction/gut issues. A physical exam, blood test and stool test, will often allow them to reassure you that liver and kidney function is ok and there’s no sign of infection or anaemia.
Being a raw food vet, I would suggest changing to a raw food diet is a good idea. If you go for lightly cooked real food, then I can live with that, too. The most important thing is to get your dog off kibble and onto single protein real food meals for a few weeks to assess what effect this has on the stool quality. Talk to any of the quality raw food manufacturers for advice, or discuss with your vet.
Remember: there’s no point in spending time and money on a good quality complete raw food if you continue to feed it rubbish ultra-processed treats. It’s important to note, though, I’m not saying you don’t have to stop feeding treats. Substitute junk food for single protein dried fish or meat treats free of additives. Always read the label on treats. Look for ‘100% meat’ as the only ingredient. You’ll be amazed! You can buy quality treats easily in pet shops, online or at your local raw food retailer.
Let’s create an example: Sammy is a ten-year-old Frenchie. He’s been on McTavish’s oat-based wonder kibble all his life and has been producing ‘porridgy’ poos all this time. Change Sammy over to a quality complete raw food with just one species as the meat and organ source, for example, beef or lamb or duck. Feed Sammy on this for 2 weeks, with a corresponding single protein, treats for the poor boy, and see what effect this has on the stools. After two weeks, repeat with another variety. It’s that simple. Good poos show you you’re on the right path.
If your dog has 6-8/10 quality stools every day, they have a chronic gut illness. It means their whole body is functioning at 20-40% below it’s the optimal level. If you move this stool score to 8/10, that’s wonderful compared to 6/10, but it still means you’re 20% off the money.
A raw food diet, eliminating all but one protein type is simple, economical and effective at treating many mild, but long-lasting gut disorders. Take advice.
Talk to your raw food supplier about how to make a plan for the Sammy in your life. If you don’t know any reputable raw food suppliers, try Google. If that’s not your cup of tea, ask people in the park. I guarantee that one in two of the people you talk to, especially if their dogs are in the peak of physical health, will be feeding raw. Ask them what they did to move over to raw.
As you stand there in the park, be prepared to receive a lecture on how well their dog is doing since moving to raw. They will tell you things like how they regret they didn’t make the change years ago.
And…that ‘our dog used to have those squishy poos till we moved to raw’. ‘Now’, they will continue, ‘we pick up odourless torpedos two or three times, a day and our lives are so much simpler!’ They will typically tell you a dozen happy stories of how their dog is healthier, more energetic, less smelly, and that chronic diarrhoea is a thing of the past.
Raw food can transform the gut and overall health of your dog. Maybe one day you’ll be the one in the park ranting to someone as to how you remember the bad old ‘kibble days’. And how you’re so glad you’ve now seen the light. You’re now a dyed-in-the-wool raw food evangelist. Well done!