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Diarrhea in Dogs

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At least one case of diarrhea is inevitable in the life of a dog. There are two main types of dog diarrhea -- acute and chronic -- and vets say it's important to recognize the difference between them. Acute diarrhea starts suddenly and lasts for a few days to a week or two. Most acute cases can be handled at home. It can be caused by stress.

"It's one of the most common calls we get,'' said Sandi Sawchuk, DVM, University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, Madison. "Most owners don't want their pets to be sick. For others, it's a quality of life issue, because the dog is relieving itself in the house, and they want that problem solved fast.''

Chronic diarrhea in dogs involves continual diarrhea with some good days and some bad days. The diarrhea consists of watery, soft-formed feces that are coated with mucus or blood. Over time, it can cause dogs to lose weight, develop rough coats, or be lethargic.

Acute diarrhea

"Acute diarrhea can be caused by problems outside the digestive system, such as stress,'' Sawchuk said. "Typical causes can include a change in diet, a change in living conditions or a new person in the house, or any other kind of change in the dog's life that causes some tension.''

Generally, acute diarrhea in dogs can be solved with simple but cautious steps: cut the amount of food usually given, and provide bland foods that will give the dog's digestive system a much-needed rest. In many cases, the diarrhea will go away.

When it won't, it's time to consider that the dog might have a case of chronic diarrhea, necessitating a trip to the vet.

Chronic diarrhea

"There are many causes of chronic diarrhea,'' explains Jennifer E. Stokes, DVM, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "Primary intestinal causes can include parasites, which are very common, food allergies or a sudden change in food, the presence of a foreign body, infections, toxins, or cancer. Non-intestinal causes include metabolic diseases that come from organs such as the pancreas, liver or adrenal glands.''

Stokes says that the following symptoms could indicate chronic diarrhea in your dog:

  • Behavior clearly illustrating sickness or lethargy
  • Bloating or abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Dehydration, which can be detected by dry or tacky gums
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Passage of large amounts of blood in the feces

The first thing a vet will do is test for the presence of intestinal parasites. "The first test that should be done is a fecal floatation, which assesses the feces for the eggs of intestinal parasites,'' Stokes said. "However, because intestinal worms shed eggs intermittently, even if the first fecal floatation is negative, it is ideal to perform at least two more.''

If floatation tests are negative, the next step is to consider a change in diet, mostly to detect the presence of a food allergy. If nothing shows up, an antibiotic regimen is a logical next step. "Typically, either amoxicillin or metronidazole are prescribed for 7 to 14 days,'' Stokes said. "Many dogs have antibiotic-responsive diarrhea.''

Additional tests may be needed, including routine blood work, radiographs or ultrasound, or intestinal biopsies.

The good news is that chronic diarrhea is less common than acute diarrhea, and all the more reason, say vets, for owners to learn the differences between these two very different sources of discomfort in their pets.

Credit: Reveiwed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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