Diarrhea is a disorder describing the condition of excessive and frequent evacuation of mostly liquid feces.
The reason why the feces are mostly liquid is that in a Diarrhea situation a disorder
- prevents the orderly metabolism of foods (for example breakdown of fats) and/or
- leads to excess water being absorbed into the feces matter.
In both cases, the frequent evacuation results from the organism trying to expel irritants, allergens, or pathogens, and it quickly leads to dehydration.
Normally, feces consist of about 75% water and 25% solids: mostly dead bacteria and indigestible food matter such as cellulose, but also minor amounts of cell debris, bile pigments and died leukocytes (white blood cells). Conversely, in a Diarrhea situation feces can be as much as 98% water, hence the big risk of dehydration.
- Medicaments, in particular:
- Microbes, in particular:
- pathogenic bacteria - typical here are salmonella, E(scherichia) coli or shigella, and campylobacter (very common in chicken)
- viruses - like CHV (canine herpes virus), the leading cause of death in young puppies!
- parasites - like Giardia, Crypto(sporidium), Toxoplasma gondii (all protozoa), or hemoparasites (bacteria that infect the blood)
- Lactose intolerance:
- dogs, like people, do not normally produce lactase after weaning (lactase persistence is a recessive inherited gene defect)
- and so most dogs cannot metabolize lactose (the prime sugar in milk products) and they may suffer Diarrhea or other conditions after consuming certain foods.
- Fructose or artificial sweeteners like Sorbitol.
- Something ingested:
- industrial and even boutique commercial pet food may contain one or more of the above, and/or impurities, pollutants, contaminants, allergens, and even toxins - all of which can cause Diarrhea
- raw food (real raw food, not the many commercial brands that claim to sell "raw food") may contain one or more types of the pathogenic microbes listed above, because the lack of prolonged incineration lets the naturally occuring microbes in raw food thrive until it gets eaten - which too can cause Diarrhea (and much worse)
- or the dog may have scavenged outdoors or indoors a substance that the dog's metabolism is not used to digest, and so the organism responds with Diarrhea to expel the irritating matter.
- Related conditions, such as Crohn's disorder (Crohn's disease is another misleading naming in allopathic medicine) and Ulcerative Colitis, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), Celiac disorder (Celiac disease is another misleading naming in allopathic medicine), and even Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism.
So, be aware that again, Diarrhea is nothing but the name of a symptom. Unless the physician analyses the cause of this condition, no amount of medicaments is going to provide cure, every drug will merely suppress or palliate the symptoms, and so the Diarrhea may pause or stop but the organism will soon show its sickness through other symptoms.
While we people can just run to the toilet each time we feel pressure on the anal muscles, your dog may have to wait for you to be taken outside for a quick walk to relieve. Therefore this is the one situation where complete Dog House Training may lead to a problem:
A fully house-trained dog is trained to hold on until the dog has reached the "relieve location" taught during the toilet training part of complete House Training. This training aspect now puts huge stress on the dog in a Diarrhea situation - imagine you were declined to visit the toilet when you have Diarrhea!
Who Suffers Diarrhea
Even worse, in our modern food chain meat is loaded with antibiotics and steroids! Thus the higher the declared "meat" content in the "pet food" that you may have been buying for your dog, the more antibiotics your dog will have received, even without any prescription.
Because if there's any real meat in an industrial "pet food" packet (instead of the typically grinded bones) then for cost reasons it is the most contaminated meat: the meat that is not eligible for human consumption.
- spoiled food (scavenged)
- contaminated water (puddles)
- sniffing or even licking the anus or genital of a sick dog, or excrements.
As for drinking water, if you live in an area with tap water impurities (this is a water tester) then the water for the dog may need to be filtered too (a Brita filter can do). For outdoor water bowls, make sure foliage doesn't spoil it. And never give your dog sparkling mineral water, not even the mild form, because dogs cannot metabolize the gas.
Additional but comparatively rare causes of Diarrhea are:
- stress (whether stress from the Pack conflict or from Separation Anxiety)
- abrupt change in diet (always introduce new foods incrementally)
- feeding convenience food table scraps or snacks (these are full of sugar, fat, grain, salt, spices, chemical emulsifiers, color and flavor additives, preservatives, etc).
- very soft to liquid stool
- different smell of stool
- signs of dehydration (sunken eyes, slow capillary refill time in the gums, lethargy, general malaise)
- severe if nausea (balancing problems, wobbly walk)
- possibly signs of abdominal pain and/or cramps
- in some cases concomitant vomiting and/or bloat
- rarely fever (for dogs a rectal body temperature of and above 39.2C / 102.6F), then sign of infection
- rarely blood in the stool, then sign of
As the most common causes of Diarrhea are medicaments, microbes, and something ingested, the easiest way to prevent Diarrhea is:
- Aim to prevent superfluous medicaments, foremost steroid and antibiotic blanket treatments greedily prescribed merely to suppress or palliate some symptoms without even bothering to identify the cause of the condition!
- Aim to prevent needless or excessive exposure to pathogens (untended dog parks, vicinity of bins or garbage disposals, in and around vet practices and animal clinics)
- Aim to prevent scavenging and industrial pet "food".
Serve two or even three smaller meals during the day, not one large meal. Do not make abrupt changes to your dog's diet, introduce any new foods incrementally (replacing a quarter per day is fine).
Provide steamed rice at the very least twice a week: besides its nutrients, rice has a cleansing effect on the intestines. Quinoa is a great but more costly alternative.
Aim to serve all food and drink at a temperature between room temperature and dog body temperature. Try to serve foods at roughly the same temperature each time, not sometimes hot and other times cold. All common sense really.
If you have a generally nervous dog (signs are aggression, frequent barking, pacing around, trembling, or twitching) then also prevent stress:
Be aware that most cases of Diarrhea are self-limiting and self-healing within a couple of days without any treatment because Diarrhea is a way for the body to expel irritants.
As always, but contrary to the all too common practice, treatment of Diarrhea should only begin after the cause has been identified! Else you pay for merely suppressing or palliating the most apparent symptom at the time - and so soon for ever more symptoms.
How can you attempt to identify the cause yourself?
Often this is easy by combining an observation with basic common sense. For example, as it relates to the three key causes of Diarrhea:
- If the dog is on the first two or three administrations of a medicament, and nothing much else changed, likely the medicament causes the Diarrhea.
- If you saw that the dog was scavenging at some trash place, and nothing much else changed, likely a pathogenic microbe causes the Diarrhea.
- If neither of the above is the case, likely the dog ingested something unsuitable or unusual, which may not cause an infection (because there is no microbe involved: eg with industrial "pet food" the three hours long incineration kills off all microbes) but disturbs the digestive system nonetheless, such that it tries to expel the offensive substance.
Other times we may have missed a critical observation and so all common sense is in vain. Then is only left to look closely at the dog's present behavior. Often this will allow to rule out an infection, eg:
- sudden Diarrhea without any behavioral signs before and after
- before the Diarrhea the dog's behavior suggested sickness (sudden pacing around, nervousness, or lethargy), but after the Diarrhea the dog quickly shows relief and behaves normal.
Conversely, if after the Diarrhea the dog's behavior continues to be unusual or worsens (eg increased or more frequent episodes of nervousness), or if other symptoms follow (skin conditions, continued lethargy, increased or reduced demand to eat or drink) - in addition to the Diarrhea or replacing it - then the underlying Digestive Disorder likely involves a serious infection from some pathogenic microbe, and it would be wise to end the DIY diagnosis at this point and seek a quality veterinarian who is eager to first identify the cause.
For this, a quality veterinarian will prescribe a complete blood count rather than a stool test, because a single stool test rarely identifies the cause and so typically is a waste of money: multiple bowel movements produce different results, and many pathogens are able to hold on inside the bowel for quite some time.
If instead your vet suggests a stool test and subsequently a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy, then clearly you are still stuck with a greedy ordinary allopathic vet: those procedures are costly.
If after the diagnosis of the cause your vet aims to prescribe antibiotic treatment, then again clearly you are still stuck with an ordinary allopathic vet even if the cause has been identified as bacterial infection: Antibiotics must never be provided for conditions of the digestive system because of what antibiotics cause to the digestive system!
Sensible treatment of Diarrhea will target the cause of Diarrhea:
If the cause was found to be a medicament then the worst (but common practice) is to treat the Diarrhea with a second medicament. While that may resolve the Diarrhea, think:
The first medicament caused Diarrhea (and likely further "side effects"), thus already the first medicament made the dog sick, and the body shows its sickness through symptoms, Diarrhea being one of them. How foolish is it then to try to treat a mere symptom caused by the first medicament with yet another medicament?
And where will this chain reaction end? When the bank account is empty, or when the dog succumbed to sickness?
Thus instead I would strongly suggest to thoroughly consider how sensible the first medicament is, and what other means of treatment may work towards the same goal?
While temporary Diarrhea is no reason to stop say a cancer drug if its benefits outweigh all its damage(?), be aware that even in the case of cancer the drug isn't the most sensible and certainly not the only treatment option.
If you can safely avoid the first medicament that was found to cause Diarrhea, you will not need any treatment at all.
Next, if the cause was found to be a microbe then what microbe was found? An otherwise healthy dog can very well cope with bacteria in the digestive system, thus paying for antibiotic treatment does not only do harm but is useless too: it doesn't provide benefit, only damage.
Conversely worms, viruses, and protozoa can pose a real threat if they reached the intestines and proliferate there, and so caused the Diarrhea. But antibiotics do nothing against worms, viruses, and protozoa anyway.
While there are effective over-the-counter drugs for all types of worms including hookworm, if the cause was found to be a virus or protozoan you'll need a quality veterinarian to achieve cure, not treatment of symptoms.
Finally, if the cause was found to be something ingested that doesn't involve pathogenic microbes then no treatment is indicated but rest instead.
Be aware that when allopathic vets come to this diagnosis they cannot charge you anything beyond the basic consultation fee, and so the standard allopathic treatment protocol in this case is to talk you into an abdominal x-ray "to rule out any obstruction".
But let's face it: If there were an intestinal obstruction that the dog's body systems can't deal with (intense retching, or intense defecating, like in Diarrhea!) then the dog wouldn't have made it to the vet anyway.
Yes, there is a remote chance but it's hardly bigger than the chance that your dog (or you) take a walk and get hit by an airplane engine falling from the sky. So forget about it, and certainly don't pay for that.
Some general closing comments:
- Don't give food during the first day of Diarrhea, because you don't want to congest or irritate a struggling digestive system with more food matter. Allow it to empty itself entirely, so that all body systems can focus on healing rather than on metabolizing more food. Remember that the Diarrhea is merely a symptom, and just one of them.
- Always provide plenty of fresh water. And if the Diarrhea extends to a second day, either add the recommended dosage of electrolytes or better even, prepare a rehydration solution like this in order to replenish essential micronutrients:
- half a liter (17oz) spring water or non-carbonated mineral water
- the juice of one small cucumber
- the juice of an orange, lime, lemon, or any melon (whatever you have)
- half a teaspoon of some quality sea salt
- a tablespoon of some quality honey.
- Stir until pretty much dissolved, then serve at room temperature and motivate your dog to drink it. Three times a day is the minimum.
- Do not even think to give your dog (or your child or to take yourself) a commercial electrolyte or "energy" drink: Pedialyte, Gatorade, Redbull & Co are known to be loaded with synthetic additives and even carcinogens. Sorry to put things straight, they are neither good for people nor for dogs.
- When you reintroduce food on the second day of Diarrhea, start with:
- a third rice
- a third carrots
- and a third chicken or lamb.
- All steamed and cooled before serving, together with plenty of fresh water or with the above rehydration solution.
- By all means, serve two or three smaller meals during the day, not one large meal.
- If by the end of day two the dog's Diarrhea condition has not significantly improved, you should take your dog to a quality vet early morning on day three.
Make sure to avoid industrial "dog food" for at least a full week after the Diarrhea has ended, even if normally you can't resist their marketing: A digestive system that is only just recovering must not immediately be harmed with the many toxins in industrial "dog food". If later you wish to change the diet, introduce any new foods incrementally (replacing a quarter per day is fine).