A complete guide to managing diarrhoea in puppies and adult dogs
Diarrhoea is a very common condition characterized by loose, watery faeces. Almost every one of us has experienced diarrhea at least once and puppies are no exception.
But diarrhoea in puppies can be very dangerous if prolonged. The dehydration resulting from diarrhoea is life-threatening and should be managed immediately.
We can manage mild diarrhoea at home with some home remedies. If symptoms are worsening, immediate veterinary care is required.
Here, one thing should be crystal clear; not all types of diarrhoea should be stopped. Diarrhoea caused by viruses and poisoned food should never be stopped because it worsens the condition.
This article will provide a comprehensive guide about symptoms, causes, treatment, home remedies and veterinary care of diarrhoea in puppies. Let’s get familiar with the symptoms first.
Symptoms of diarrhoea in puppies
Due to an infection or inflammation of the digestive tract, the speed of the bowel movement is increased. The water in the intestine is not absorbed into the blood. This leads to loose, watery faeces. We divide the symptoms according to the severity of the disease into mild and severe. Let’s take a look.
Mild symptoms of diarrhea in puppies
- Increased frequency of pooping in the house
- Increased volume of faeces due to presence of water in intestine
- Loss of control when pooping
- Increased stool fluidity
- Unusual smell of faeces
- Blood in loose faeces
- Brown to red colour of faeces
- Swollen belly due to swollen intestine
- Pain reflex when touching the belly
- Shooting diarrhoea
- Pale colour of mucous membranes (the membrane inside the lips, eyes, and surface of gums)
- Severe dehydration, and
- All mild symptoms
Causes of diarrhea in puppies
The list of the causes of puppy diarrhoea is extensive, but we can narrow it down to four general causes. Let’s discuss them one by one.
Dietary causes of diarrhoea
Contaminated and toxic foods
Diet is the most significant cause of non-infectious diarrhoea. Whenever your puppy experiences diarrhoea, first rule out that it has not ingested anything bad or contaminated. When unsupervised, a puppy can eat raw meat, offals, dead insects, contaminated milk, and spoiled food from the bin.
These foods are contaminated and can cause acute infections disturbing digestive mobility. Also, some foods like chocolate are highly toxic to dogs.
Overeating always leads to diarrhoea in puppies; they don’t know how much to eat. Always offer measured food in small meals 3 to 5 times a day, especially during hot and humid conditions.
Never change the diet immediately or too quickly. If you need to change the dog food brand or incorporate some homemade food into the puppy’s diet, always do it slowly and gradually.
Food allergies or intolerance
Sometimes, puppies are allergic to some foods. Raw chicken meat, dairy products, soya and wheat gluten, are common food allergens in dogs. If you use a commercial food containing these ingredients and your puppy suffers from diarrhoea, it may be due to allergies and intolerance.
Infectious causes of diarrhoea in puppies
In infections, the diarrhoea or watery stools are also accompanied by fever, bloody faeces, vomiting, gas, and foul smell.
Infectious causes of diarrhea in puppies include:
Major culprits for diarrhoea of bacterial origin are E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Clostridium spp, and yersinia spp. Most bacterial infections are associated with the ingestion of contaminated food and water. This diarrhoea usually responds to antibiotic treatments like ciprofloxacin, gentamycin, amoxicillin and sulfa drugs (Antibiotic responding diarrhoea).
Viral diarrhoeas are the most dangerous ones. Viral infections damage the internal lining of the digestive system and cause severe inflammation. They also make the dog more prone to bacterial infections.
The most important viral infections of puppies are as follows.
Canine parvovirus infection is the most common viral cause of diarrhoea in puppies up t 6 months of age. It is a highly contagious disease and is potentially fatal to unvaccinated or partially vaccinated puppies.
Clinical signs of canine parvovirus infection include anorexia (loss of appetite), lethargy and fever, followed by small bowel bloody diarrhoea, vomiting and severe dehydration. Immediate veterinary care is required to save the life of the dog.
Canine distemper (Not applicable in Australia)
Canine distemper is a fatal viral infection of dogs after rabies. Once the nervous signs appear, recovery is very difficult. The disease affects the whole body and is characterised by a diphasic fever (once fever occurs, then subsides on its own and then comes again with disease symptoms), diarrhoea, discharge from the eyes, muscular twitching and fits. This disease is prevented by annual vaccination (in rabies prone countries) because once the disease sets in, veterinarians also have limited options.
Moreover, rotaviruses and coronaviruses of dogs can also cause severe digestive issues and shooting diarrhoea.
Parasitic infection and infestations causing diarrhoea in puppies
If the puppy is vaccinated against the above-mentioned viral diseases, has not ingested any contaminated food, and is not responding to antibiotic treatment; parasites are likely the culprits. When puppies lick the soil, they can take up eggs of parasites that develop and grow inside their bodies.
A common parasite that causes diarrhoea in puppies in Australia is Coccidia. It is spread through a puppy unconsciously eating dog pooh that is infected with Coccidia eggs, in the soil. A vet can diagnose this parasite by performing a faecal examination. Treatment can consist of administering antibiotics for 5-25 days and possibly longer depending on the severity of the infection.
Dozens of parasites can cause diarrhoea. If you see the small thread-like roundworms or tape-like worms in the puppy’s stools, immediately give it anthelmintic (worm killing) drugs. Many parasitic infestations are prevented by prophylactic deworming every three months.
Stress, anxiety and travel
A puppy can get diarrhoea when it is under stress due to a change of environment and an increasingly common cause is separation anxiety. Studies in humans are increasingly showing us how intimate the link is between the gut microbiota and brain regulation.
Furthermore, mice fed probiotic bacteria were found to have increased levels of chemicals, that regulate emotions, in their brains. These chemicals reduced anxiety and depression.
If you’re concerned about how your pup’s anxiety might be causing their diarrhoea; we’ve compiled 10 ways to stop separation anxiety in your puppy.
If you’ve recently brought your new puppy home, we have some helpful tips on surviving the first days with your pup and how to make this transition less stressful.
Other causes of stress include; recent disease of other body systems, severe environmental conditions, irritation around the anus, and long, especially air travel. In these conditions, try to familiarize the puppy with the new environment, be playful, and release stress. This kind of diarrhoea subsides naturally with time.
Irritation in the rectum and anus
Sometimes, if there are no signs of infection and dietary conditions are the same, irritation around the anus or inside the rectum can cause the puppy to strain and pass stools rapidly. In this type of diarrhoea, the puppy will also be rubbing its rear on walls or hard objects.
Treatment guidelines for diarrhoea in puppies
Diarrhoea caused by each of the causes mentioned above should be managed accordingly. Following are some important guidelines to keep while managing diarrhoea in puppies.
Off-feed the puppy for a while
Many people wonder whether we should starve the puppy when it is suffering from diarrhea?. The answer is yes, but not for long. Puppy diarrhoea due to dietary causes will abate when skipping 2-3 meals. Off-feeding a puppy also helps in viral diarrhoea because the inflammation and pain will increase when solid food is eaten.
But remember, do not withhold food to a puppy for more than 12 hours. Also, a rehydration solution with electrolytes is recommended to maintain the balance of hydration.
Withhold the food for 8-12 hours and then start by giving small quantities of semi-liquid diets. If the puppy stops eating, consult your veterinarian because puppies don’t have sufficient body reserves to allow for this.
Find the cause of the puppy’s diarrhoea
Remember that all types of diarrhoea should not be stopped. When facing puppy diarrhoea, the first thing to do is find the cause. This is necessary for determining the appropriate treatment. Critically rule out all the dietary causes and keenly observe for other developing signs and symptoms.
Correct the cause
Some types of diarrhoea are self-limiting and subside with time, such as diarrhoea due to overeating, dietary changes and stress. Infectious diarrhoea cannot be stopped until the cause is resolved.
- Bacterial diarrhoea is treated with antibiotics. Broad spectrum antibiotics are applied before the pinpoint diagnosis because there is almost always a mixed infection of many types of bacteria. Some of the broad spectrum antimicrobials used for diarrhoea are amoxicillin, cephalosporin, enrofloxacin, gentamicin etc. the use of antibiotics is prohibited in many countries without the veterinarian’s prescription.
- Viral diarrhoea should not be stopped until there is significant dehydration. Some antiviral drugs are used, but their efficacy has not been studied.
- Parasitic infestations should be treated with intravenous metronidazole along with oral anthelmintics like albendazole, oxfendazole, oxiclozanide etc. This should also be done under the supervision of a certified veterinarian.
Many commercially available antidiarrheal drugs are readily available over the counter.
These act in different ways to:
- decrease the speed of bowel movement
- to alter the consistency of faeces
- to relieve the pain
Commonly used antidiarrheal drugs include
- bismuth subsalicylate (1-3 ml/kg /day)
- aminopentamide (0.1-0.4 mg/kg twice daily)
- isopropamide (0.2-1 mg/kg twice daily)
- propantheline (0.25-0.5 mg/kg twice daily)
- loperamide (0.08 mg/kg thrice daily)
These drugs decrease digestive motility and only relieve the symptoms of diarrhoea.
The other signs like vomiting etc., are treated separately. Also, antidiarrheal drugs do not address the cause of diarrhea, i.e. bacterial infection etc.
Puppies don’t have much water in their body and can’t risk losing fluids. The biggest effect of diarrhoea on the body is dehydration. A puppy is normally hydrated and has enough water if
- Their coat is not dull
- Mucous membranes have a fair glossy look and pink colour
- Eyes are not sunken back
Dehydration levels can also be measured by skin tent and twist test. To do this, grab the skin of the puppy’s shoulder, lift it up to make a tent, twist, and release. If the skin returns to normal within 1-2 seconds, the hydration status is within the acceptable range. But if it takes more than 3 seconds, your puppy needs fluid therapy. Therefore, immediate veterinary care is required.
To maintain and re-establish the puppy’s normal hydration status, you can orally give rehydration solutions like Lectade. These solutions not only fulfil water requirements but also correct the electrolyte imbalance due to diarrhoea. As a general rule, three times the amount of water lost in diarrhoea should be given to prevent dehydration.
In bacterial infections, the bacterial toxins cause significant damage to the walls of the intestines. To minimize that damage, commercially available activated charcoal is effective. Activated charcoal is available in powder or ready-to-use liquid form. One thing to remember is that activated charcoal should be administered after taking the faecal samples for analysis.
Consistency modifiers do not decrease the course of the disease. They just modify the consistency of the poop and help prevent dehydration. Commercially available Kaolin-pectin can be used for this purpose.
Prevent the transmission to other puppies
This is the most important point to remember when there is more than one puppy at home. Infectious agents spread quickly by shedding in the faeces of infected puppies. Isolate the puppy exhibiting diarrhoea and maintain critical sanitation measures to avoid the infection’s spread.
Breeders need to be particularly cautious when a puppy is affected by diarrhoea, a parasitic infection such as Coccidia can spread rapidly through dogs and puppies.
Home care and remedies to stop diarrhoea in puppies
There are a few home remedies that can quickly stop mild diarrhea in puppies. Here are some steps you should follow first:
- Provide the puppy with plenty of clean, warm water.
- Always feed the suffering puppy less than required during the course of the disease.
- Split the bigger meal into 2-3 smaller ones.
- Regularly check the temperature, pulse and respiration of the puppy.
- Critically observe for any symptoms other than diarrhoea. If you’re ever unsure consult a veterinarian immediately as puppies can dehydrate quickly without proper treatment.
Our top 3 puppy food recipes to help stop diarrhea in puppies are listed below.
Home remedies can stop diarrhoea and help to rehabilitate the normal function of the digestive system.
- Stop giving your puppy their normal food and instead provide boiled chicken with rice. Freshly boiled rice with bland chicken is a good choice for a puppy. It provides a source of energy and protein but is also a good stool consistency modifier.
- When the infections are treated with antibiotics, the normal bacterial microflora (beneficial bacteria) is disturbed and should be re-established. A small quantity of yoghurt with boiled rice at regular intervals is very effective. Restoring the beneficial gut bacteria should be made a priority; a study has shown that an imbalance in the gut bacteria of dogs has been linked to aggression and anxiety.
- Some veterinarians and experienced breeders recommend the use of pure pumpkin for puppies with diarrhoea. You can use finely sliced pumpkin and offer it to your puppy along with boiled chicken.
The final word
Diarrhea of dietary origin can generally be managed at home. Even a mild bacterial infection can often be corrected without a hospital visit. But if the signs of dehydration prolong, veterinary care is required. Also, you should call your veterinarian when the suffering puppy vomits for the first time or has bloody diarrhoea.
This content is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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