Diarrhea is a defense mechanism that flushes toxins and irritants from the body. Pathogens from spoiled or bad food can quickly be eliminated before they are absorbed and potentially cause more damage.
Diarrhea is not a disease, but a symptom of dysfunction in the digestive system. Dietary indiscretion and stressful situations are two of the most common causes of diarrhea in dogs. Most cases are self-limiting and simply run their course.
If an underlying cause for the diarrhea is identified it should be treated. Diarrhea can easily result in dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which can be addressed with adequate water and the use of a bland diet or broth.
There are several ways to address your dog’s diarrhea at home. Simple cases typically resolve within 24 to 48 hours and require no to mild intervention. If your dog is experiencing any of the following symptoms combined with diarrhea, it is appropriate to seek out veterinary attention before beginning any course of treatment or supportive care:
- Black, tarry stool
- Large amounts of fresh, bright red blood
- Decreased to absent appetite
- Abdominal distention or bloat
- Hunched appearance or protective of belly
- Vocalizations including increased panting and groaning, especially when belly is touched
- Diarrhea that has persisted despite treatment for 48 hours or longer
- Puppies, small breed dogs, pregnant dogs, geriatric dogs, or those suffering from chronic conditions may need intervention sooner since diarrhea can quickly weaken and dehydrate these animals.
For dogs with uncomplicated, acute onset of diarrhea, the most common recommendation is to first rest the gastrointestinal system. Once the digestive system has had some time to recover, bland food can gradually be reintroduced. Homeopathic and over-the-counter medications may be used under the guidance of a veterinarian.
- Give no food for 6 to 12 hours, some recommend 24 hours*
- If there is no vomiting, offer plenty of fresh water to prevent dehydration, which is a common after-effect of diarrhea.
- If there is vomiting or you suspect an upset stomach, avoid water for the first few hours and then slowly offer small, increasing amounts.
*Puppies, small breed dogs, and those with some underlying medical conditions that may deplete glucose may also need to be supplemented during this time with small amounts of honey or karo syrup every hour or as often as needed. Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar may cause shakes or tremors and can become serious if not addressed. If this is the first time your puppy or small dog has needed this type of intervention, please consult a veterinarian before attempting treatment.
**Some holistic veterinarians recommend using rice water instead of tap or filtered water.
Rice Water Instructions
Boil 1 cup of high-quality white rice (not Minute or brown rice) in 4 cups of water for approximately 30 minutes. Remove the water and allow it to cool. Some dogs suffering diarrhea are nauseous or uninterested in drinking or eating. Adding a small amount of chicken broth or chicken baby food may increase your dog’s interest.
For the first four to five days following a bout of diarrhea, feed a bland food in gradually increased amounts. A mix of half white rice and half low fat meat (chicken, lean ground beef) is an excellent, natural bland diet. As an alternative to meat, low-fat cottage cheese may also be used.
Avoid using foods with too much fiber at this stage, since it can actually worsen diarrhea. These bland diets are great for recovering from diarrhea, but are not nutritionally balanced or adequate for long-term feeding.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that may be given to increase the amount of “good” bacteria inside the gastrointestinal tract. Maintaining the mucosal barrier of the gut wall and enhancing cellular repair within the gastrointestinal tract are two potential benefits.
Probiotics are especially helpful in preventing and limiting diarrhea when dogs are on antibiotics or experiencing a stressful event, such as boarding or traveling. Yogurt with live cultures may be used, but acidophilus cultures sold by many health food stores and veterinarians may be more effective in limiting diarrhea.
Probiotics can be purchased in a powdered form and added to your pet’s food or water. Most dogs do well with probiotics containing between 2 and 5 billion CFUs (colony forming units) per day. Some dogs may actually experience an increase in diarrhea with certain types of probiotics or when administered higher levels of CFUs.
If the diarrhea is severe, you may want to consider an over-the-counter medication to help reduce fluid loss until the fasting, bland diet, and probiotics have a chance to work. Pet owners preferring a natural course of therapy often avoid over-the-counter medications such as Kaopectate and Pepto Bismol because they contain salicylates.
Loperamide (Imodium) is an over the counter medication considered safe for use in pregnant humans. The published dose for loperamde in dogs is 2 mg for every 40 lbs of body weight no more than two to three times per day. Loperamide can cause gas resulting in abdominal discomfort. Please note that Collie dogs are especially sensitive to loperamide, so never use it for longer than five days and only under the supervision of a veterinarian.
Amino acids can be used to help intestinal cells recover. L-Glutamine is a common amino acid used in dogs for this purpose. Recommended dosing is 500 mg per 25 lbs body weight per day. Several digestive support products sold for animal use contain L-Glutamine, so make sure to read labels before offering additional amounts.
Some dogs may experience abdominal discomfort and gas when starting amino acids. Consider starting with a reduced dose and gradually increasing to a therapeutic level. Be especially careful giving glutamine to dogs with seizures and epilepsy as they may have an increased risk of side effects.
Slippery elm and Boswellia are available over the counter to treat diarrhea in humans. Some veterinarians have found success using these products in animals. The herbs are believed to reduce inflammation and protect mucous membranes.
Slippery elm can be purchased in powdered form and mixed with food or yogurt. The most commonly recommended dosage is 1/4 teaspoon per 10 lbs of body weight. Boswellia can be given at 2 1/2 teaspoons per 22 lbs of body weight once daily.
Keeping your dog current on vaccines and regularly treating for internal parasites with dewormers can decrease your pet’s risk for infectious diarrhea. Feeding a quality dog food can also reduce the chances for diarrhea secondary to intolerance.
Before beginning any at-home treatments for diarrhea it is wise to first consult a veterinarian familiar with your pet. Certain conditions may increase the risk associated with attempting to treat diarrhea at home.