Diarrhea is the excessive and frequent evacuation of watery feces, usually indicating gastrointestinal distress or Digestive Disorder (see 5). While we humans can just run to the toilet each time we feel pressure on the anal muscles, your dog may have to wait for you to take it outside for a quick "walk".
This is the one situation where proper Dog Housebreaking incurs a problem: A housebroken dog is trained to hold on until it has reached the "relieve location" taught during Toilet training your dog. This training now puts huge stress on your dog in a Diarrhea situation. Imagine you were declined toilet use when you have Diarrhea!
Who Gets Diarrhea
German Shepherds can get Diarrhea just like human beings, for any number of reasons. Let's drill down. The three most common reasons are:
- Wrong diet
- Contaminated water
The most common reason for a wrong diet is feeding a dog table scraps of processed "foods", or worse right away the even more processed crap from a bag ("kibble") or tin ("moist dog food"). While the human body can usually deal with the different forms of sugar, fat, grain, salt, spices, chemical emulsifiers, color and flavor additives, preservatives etc relatively well, a dog's digestive system and metabolism cannot. Every spoonful of processed crap brings your German Shepherd closer to the scrapyard.
Naturally, the dog food companies market their products as nutrient-enriched and balanced diets. However, there are many flaws to this. First, industry-fed dogs on average seem to live 3 to 6 years less than home-fed dogs.
Second, it should be obvious that the metabolism of a Papillon that weighs 8 pounds and is kept in a one-bedroom apartment requires a different diet than the metabolism of a German Shepherd that weighs 80 pounds and gets 3 to 4 hours outdoor exercise a day. Nonetheless, industrial dog food is the same for all dogs, despite the packaging being different - that's marketing, not food.
The next most common reason for a wrong diet is ingesting trash, poop, pee, and anything in between.
Finally, your dog can also show Diarrhea if you change the diet too abruptly.
The most common reason for contaminated water is that the water bowl hasn't been washed and refilled with fresh water for days. Stale water is a very attractive breeding ground for various types of bacteria, worms, and viruses - especially when the water is warm and/or when it has accumulated outside substances like foliage, pollen, bird feathers or feces, etc - or simply dust from inside the house.
The second most common reason for contaminated water is that the tap water could be good enough for us, but may not be good enough for our dog: Since digestion and metabolism of people and dogs are different, it is not unusual that we have no problem with minor impurities of our tap water, while our dog has a problem with that (and vice versa). If you suspect this to be the reason for your dog's Diarrhea (or other ailments), try tap water that has been filtered eg with Brita or similar. Never give your dog sparkling mineral water though, not even the mild form.
Finally, if your German Shepherd is suffering from eg Separation Anxiety (family members, friends, or neighbors can tell you), make it a dog training goal to help your dog with this.
To identify whether your dog's Diarrhea is due to an upset intestinal tract or due to a possible infection, look closely in the diarrhea feces for signs of visible worms and parasites, for blood, mucous or colors that do not look natural.
If you see that the Diarrhea feces are moving or they look unreal (unlike what your GSD presumably ate last), then your dog's body is infested with parasites and you should take your dog to the vet immediately. Better safe than sorry.
Avoiding and Treating Diarrhea
To avoid Diarrhea, try to stick to healthy, natural and varied dog meals, regular meal times, and a consistent feeding routine - as described in House Training a Dog. Serve two or even three smaller meals during the day, not one large meal. Do not make abrupt changes to your dog's diet. When you change the diet materially (say from industrial to home-prepared food), always mix half and half during the first week.
Always provide a bowl of fresh water. Yes, day and night. Serve all food and drink at a temperature between room temperature and the dog's body temperature (as a rule, never hotter than 35 degree Celcius or 95 Fahrenheit). Try to serve it at roughly the same temperature each time.
Strictly avoid all table scraps of processed "foods", and prevent that your German Shepherd is scavenging outside. On-leash walks are not necessary for this, it is really just a dog training issue. With the right training, your off-leash will not scavenge, even if there's an opportunity.
To treat Diarrhea, first do what you read under Warning Signs above. If the Diarrhea does not improve on the second day, consider to take a stool sample and to take your dog and the sample to the vet.
Don't give food during the first day of Diarrhea, but provide plenty of fresh water to which you've added the recommended dosage of electrolytes to replace those lost with the Diarrhea.
If your dog doesn't mind, mix half water and pure pumpkin juice (if it's industrial, make sure it has no added preservatives, sugar, etc). Again, add electrolytes as recommended on the package that you got specifically for situations like Dehydration (see 1), Vomiting (see 29), and Diarrhea. You MUST ensure that your dog drinks the recommended amounts to make up for the loss of fluids and electrolytes.
When you reintroduce food on the second day, start with a mix of half rice and half of whatever your dog got last - and together no more than half of the usual amount of food at that meal time. Continue with this during the entire day, hence two to three times - if you serve the recommended two or three smaller meals, rather than one large meal. If not, seriously consider this now. On the third day, return to the prior diet and amount of food.
Continue to add electrolytes to the water (or to the mix of water and pumpkin juice) for as long as your German Shepherd has Diarrhea. Make sure that the food and drink temperature is right (see above).
Once your dog's feces return to normal, continue with the above for one more day, then return to sensible dog meals, meal times, and feeding routine as recommended in House Training a Dog.
Avoid all industrial dog "food" (=processed crap). If you served your dog industrial dog "food" before, try to switch now. But always introduce a change in diet slowly: During the first week, serve half of what your dog got before, and the other half the new diet.
Can you give back a bit today?