Doc Dawg, featuring Dr. Christy Michael, DVM

On The Chart:  Doggy Diarrhea

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Dr. Christy MichaelCommon Causes

Let’s face it, no matter how diligent we are, our canine companions can occasionally develop embarrassing problems like diarrhea. Causes for such a simple symptom can range from issues as simple as stress, parasitism, diet change or indiscretion, to complex health issues such as gastroenteritis, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease or food allergies, to name just a few.

Common Treatments

Often an uncomplicated episode or two of simple diarrhea will resolve with treatment as simple as a bland diet (e.g. boiled white rice, boiled white-meat chicken, cottage cheese) but sometimes the treatment can become much more complex.  Treatment for more serious diarrhea may require fluid therapy from your veterinarian, antibiotics, dewormer, pain relief, stomach protectants, dietary adjustment, lifestyle changes, or other treatment depending on the cause.  Some dogs may require brief hospitalization while others may need longer, more intensive treatment.  The question we all ask is – how do you know when it is time to see your veterinarian?

While not glamorous, diarrhea is one of the most common complaints of my emergency room (ER) patients and there are definitely times when a visit to either an ER or your regular veterinarian is necessary.  Reasons to have your dog examined for diarrhea on an emergency basis would include severe, profuse, watery diarrhea; bloody diarrhea; suspicion that your dog is in pain; known exposure to a toxin; or other concurrent symptoms such as vomiting or loss of appetite.  Reasons to have your dog examined on a more routine visit with your regular veterinarian may include long-term diarrhea, visible parasites in diarrhea, or repeated or intermittent episodes of diarrhea over time.

If you do have your dog examined by a veterinarian for diarrhea, it is always a good idea to collect a stool sample if possible, in case your pet is unable to provide a fresh sample at the vet.  Use plastic bags and gloves, and always wash your hands after handling feces — some diseases can be transmitted between animals and people!  Depending on your dog’s history and physical examination, your veterinarian may recommend analysis of a fecal sample, blood work, or other specific tests.

Everyday Measures

It may seem weird, but it’s important to pay attention to your dog’s bowel movements.  Even if they go outside off leash in a fenced yard, go with them to watch for any signs of problems.  Watch what they lick or eat, both indoors and out, and restrict access to inappropriate materials.  Avoid feeding rich table scraps that can be challenging to digest.  Remember: a healthy diet goes a long way toward a healthy gut and a healthy dog!

Dr. Christy Michael is an ER veterinarian at DoveLewis, Portland’s unique non-profit 24-hour emergency animal hospital, at 1945 NW Pettygrove in Portland, OR. Learn more about DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital at dovelewis.org.