Pets Experiencing Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a common presenting complaint at any Veterinary Office. Chances are, at some point your dog or cat has had a bout of diarrhea in the past. Diarrhea can vary from loose, soft, semi-formed stool to completely loose and runny. In some cases, you may even note blood or mucus in it. In more severe forms, diarrhea can present as black and tarry in nature. Knowing what is conditions are more commonly associated with diarrhea will help set your mind at ease and allow a better history of clinical symptoms when you visit the veterinary office.

Since there are so many causes of diarrhea, it is helpful to make classifications based on where the diarrhea is most likely originating. Symptoms of small bowel (small intestinal) diarrhea are characterized as mildly more frequent than normal eliminations, larger amounts, and sometimes associated with the passing of excess gas (flatulence). Dogs with small bowel diarrhea may vomit, and in cases of chronic diarrhea may have weight loss. This contrasts with symptoms of large bowel (colon) diarrhea which may include increased frequency/urgency, straining, or even blood or mucus present. There is a 3rd category of diarrhea, extra-GI, in which the problem originates outside of the GI tract, diarrhea presents as secondary to that disease state.

The actual causes of diarrhea vary greatly and it may also be helpful to look at the categories of disease which may predispose a dog to diarrhea. Dietary intolerance or indiscretion (eating a sock) may both result in some form of diarrhea. Bacterial causes are also common, especially in the summer months when dogs may be more likely to be exposed. Viral causes of diarrhea such as Parvovirus can also be considered, especially in younger dogs without a history of proper vaccination. GI parasites are also known to cause diarrhea and dogs who swim in lakes may be more likely to acquire Giardia, a protozoan parasite. Finally, potentially more serious disease states including many types of cancer, endocrine disorders (Addison’s), pancreatitis, or torsion or interception may cause diarrhea.

Many cases of diarrhea can be managed with good supportive care with the aid of your veterinarian. In those cases, preventing dehydration, antibiotics, and dietary modifications are likely to result in a good clinical outcome and resolution of clinical signs. If a GI parasite is suspected, a fecal examination will help diagnose the type of worm or Parasite Present, and the most effective medications to eliminate it. When a more serious underlying disease state is suspected, your veterinarian may suggest blood work, radiographs, ultrasound examination or other diagnostics tests to help make the correct diagnosis. In severe cases, hospitalization may be required to make sure your dog is stable and provide intravenous medications and fluid therapy or even surgery if an obstruction is present.

Cause of diarrhea can vary from mild signs and disease to severe or even life-threatening illness. Providing a proper history, and bringing a fecal sample to your veterinarian is the first step towards getting your pet on the road to recovery.