While it’s certainly not the most glamorous of topics, your assistance dog’s bowel movements—along with her urination—is an important window into her health. Diarrhea in dogs is defined as frequent loose or watery stool, with “frequent” being relative to your hearing, guide, or service dog’s normal pooping habits; there may also be an increase in volume in addition to or instead of an increase in frequency.
Is It Serious?
As we’ll get to in a minute, there are numerous causes of diarrhea in dogs, ranging from relatively harmless to medical emergencies. It’s important to note, though, that all diarrhea can be dangerous regardless of its cause.
That’s because it puts a dog at risk of dehydration,especially once it’s lasted for about a day. It’s crucial that your assistance dog replenishes lost fluids to stay healthy, alert, energized, and able to perform her tasks. If your assistance dog performs physically demanding tasks or is working in hot weather, the risk of dehydration increases. If your dog won’t willingly drink more water, she’s probably going to need IV fluids from the veterinarian.
Diarrhea in dogs commonly resolves after a bout or two. If your dog’s loose or watery stool keeps up for more than a day, check in with your vet. Some other signs that something serious is going on—and that you should promptly visit your vet—include blood in the stool, very dark or tarry stool, vomiting, lethargy, weakness, fever, and refusing to eat or drink beyond an acute episode.
Common Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs
Here are just some possible causes of diarrhea in dogs:
- Food intolerance
- Food allergy
- Intestinal parasites
- Consuming spoiled food
- Exposure to a toxic substance
- Ingestion of foreign matter
- Medication side effects
- A virus or bacterial infection (gastroenteritis)
- Irritable bowel disorder (IBD)
- Kidney, liver, or other organ disease or failure
- Certain cancers
Diagnosing Diarrhea in Dogs
Because so many varied things can trigger diarrhea in dogs, diagnosis can be tricky—particularly on your own. To help your vet figure things out if it comes to it, pay attention to the details of your assistance dog’s illness. Note when the diarrhea starts, what it looks like (including color, consistency, texture, and contents), how often it happens, how urgently it comes on, and any additional physical or behavioral symptoms. Collect a stool sample for your vet, too.
Your vet will use the available clues and a physical examination to determine which tests to perform. A fecal exam is likely, and urinalysis and blood work are often ordered as well. X-rays or other imaging may be used to see what’s going on inside your service, hearing, or guide dog’s digestive tract. More serious interventions like an endoscopy, exploratory surgery, or tissue biopsies are sometimes necessary.
Treating Diarrhea in Dogs
Obviously, the appropriate treatment for your assistance dog’s diarrhea depends on its cause. Generally, refrain from feeding your dog for 12 to 24 hours following a bout of diarrhea, but allow free access to water and encourage her to drink.
Then, introduce a small amount of bland, easily digestible food prepared at home, like some boiled chicken or turkey and cooked rice or sweet potato. If no more problems occur, gradually reintroduce her regular dog food by mixing increasing amounts in with the homemade diet.
Consult your veterinarian before giving your assistance dog any medication. Often, diarrhea in dogs just needs to run its course as a natural part of flushing out a viral or bacterial infection; administering antidiarrheal drugs interfere with this process. Follow all other treatment advice from your vet. Also, ask about a probiotics supplement, which can help restore a healthy environment in the gut and promote digestive and immune health.