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What to Feed a Dog With Diarrhea?

If your dog is experiencing diarrhea it can be frustrating, or even distressing, for both you and your furry family member. There are many possible causes of diarrhea in dogs, ranging from mild to severe. Luckily, mild cases of diarrhea in a dog who is otherwise happy and healthy often resolve on their own or with some at-home care. You may be wondering, what can I give my dog with diarrhea? Offering the right foods is one thing that can help alleviate your canine companion's tummy troubles! In this article, we'll explore possible causes and symptoms of diarrhea, when it's necessary to see the vet, and what you can do at home - focusing primarily on what to feed to help ease discomfort.

What causes diarrhea in dogs?

Diarrhea is defined as soft, unformed, or loose stools. If your dog is suffering from diarrhea, you may also notice them defecating more frequently, straining to poop, or having accidents in the house.

There are many possible causes of diarrhea in dogs, ranging from mild and easily treatable to more severe health conditions. These include:

  • Abrupt diet change
  • Intestinal parasites (such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms) or protozoa (such as giardia or coccidia)
  • Certain viruses, like parvovirus or distemper
  • Bacterial infections, such as salmonella, clostridium, E coli, leptospirosis, or bacterial overgrowth
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Eating unhealthy foods, toxic foods, those high in fat, or too many treats or table scraps
  • Dietary indiscretion (eating things they shouldn't, like getting into your trash)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis
  • Cancer
  • Other systemic disease such as endocrine disorders or organ dysfunction
  • Shock (such as from heat stroke or an allergic reaction)

What to do if your dog has diarrhea?

If your dog is having acute diarrhea, it's important to determine if you should see the vet right away or if it's safe to try at-home care first. You should see a vet if you notice diarrhea with any of the following signs:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea appears black or tarry, indicating the presence of digested blood
  • Diarrhea does not resolve within 48-72 hours
  • Your dog is suffering from chronic (long-term) diarrhea
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Dog diarrhea - home treatment options

If your dog has diarrhea once or twice and is still acting like themselves, you can try the home treatment options listed below. Be sure to follow up with your veterinarian if there is no improvement in your dog's diarrhea within two to three days, or if they develop any new symptoms.

Replenish fluids

Diarrhea causes a dog to lose a lot of water through the digestive tract; so, when your dog has diarrhea, it is important to ensure that they always have access to fresh water. Signs of dehydration in dogs include sunken eyes, dry/tacky gums, and prolonged skin tent. If you are concerned your dog is becoming dehydrated, contact your veterinarian.

Withhold food for 12-24 hours

If your otherwise healthy adult dog has diarrhea, it may be best to give them a break from food for 12 to 24 hours. Never withhold water. This fast can allow the gastrointestinal tract to rest and recover.

There are certain times when it is risky to fast your dog, such as in young puppies, elderly dogs, or those with certain underlying health issues. It is best to speak with a veterinarian before fasting your dog.

Feed a bland diet for 3-5 days

Break the fast by feeding small amounts of a bland diet. These diets, which can be made at home or purchased from your vet, are highly digestible and reduce peristalsis (intestinal contractions) to give the GI tract a rest. They are also lower in fiber and can help slow stool production.

Home-cooked bland diets are generally composed of a carbohydrate and protein source in a 2:1 ratio. Start by offering a few tablespoons every few hours. After that, gradually increase the portion size and decrease the frequency of these meals. You can feed a bland diet for three to five days, before gradually transitioning back to your dog's normal food. Home-cooked diets are not complete and balanced, meaning they lack key vitamins and nutrients, and therefore are not meant for long-term use.

The following are some safe foods for dogs with upset stomachs:

  • Plain rice. Rice is a commonly recommended carbohydrate in a home-cooked bland diet. Boiled rice is easy to digest and gentle on the stomach. When preparing the rice, you should boil it in water with no added ingredients or flavoring.
  • Boneless, skinless, boiled chicken breast. Chicken is a commonly recommended protein for a home-cooked bland diet. It should be boiled in non-salted water, drained, cooled, and cut into small pieces or shredded. Do not use any oil, butter, salts, or spices, some of which can be toxic to dogs.
  • Additional carbohydrate sources include cooked sweet potato, oats, or pasta.
  • Additional protein sources include pan-fried lean ground beef or turkey, with as much fat removed as possible.
  • Prescription veterinary gastrointestinal diet. If you don't wish to home cook or if you need to feed your dog a bland diet longer-term, your best bet is to purchase a prescription bland diet. Ask your vet for diet recommendations.
  • Pumpkin. Pumpkins have high soluble fiber content that may help regulate your dog's digestion, absorb water, bulk up stool, and relieve diarrhea, without over-stressing their GI tract. Pumpkins may also include prebiotics that support the development of good bacteria, thereby helping improve the dog’s gut health. If you choose to add pumpkin to your dog's diet, you can cook it yourself or use plain canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling).

Consider probiotics

Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that can help restore the balance of "good" bacteria in your dog's gut, support their immune system, decrease stress, and help reduce inflammation. Probiotics for dogs come in many forms, such as flavored powders like Purina Fortiflora, that can be mixed with a meal. While probiotics can be given at any time, they can be especially helpful as a natural remedy for acute diarrhea. Although probiotics are generally considered very safe, is best to consult with your vet before adding any supplement to your dog's diet.

Foods to avoid when a dog has diarrhea

Certain foods can cause or exacerbate diarrhea in our furry family members. If your dog is having diarrhea, it is best to stick to a bland diet for three to five days. During this time it's also important to avoid treats and table scraps, especially those that may be high in fat or salt. It's also important to never give human or over-the-counter medications, such as Pepto-Bismopl or Immodium, unless directed to do so by your veterinarian.

Digestive health tips for dogs

It's not always possible to prevent your dog from having diarrhea, but the following tips can help promote their gastrointestinal as well as overall health.

  1. Provide your dog with a healthy, WSAVA-compliant complete and balanced diet and regular exercise.
  2. Ensure your dog is up-to-date on vaccinations.
  3. Ensure your dog is free of parasites. You can do this by staying on top of your pet's monthly parasite preventives and getting routine fecal tests as recommended by your veterinarian.
  4. Store spoiled food and garbage in a safe area, and keep any toxic foods, plants, or household products well out of reach.
  5. Prevent your dog from eating or drinking anything they find on the ground.
  6. Minimize stress at home. Provide a safe space for them to destress, and avoid potential triggers. Use pheromones, anti-anxiety supplements, or medications as recommended by your veterinarian.
  7. When changing your dog's food, do so slowly over the course of a week.
  8. Have regular yearly wellness exams with your veterinarian to catch health concerns early.
  9. Probiotics can be used as a supplement to help support gastrointestinal health.

Diarrhea is no fun, but adhering to the guidelines outlined in this article can help ease your dog's gastrointestinal discomfort at home. These strategies include providing them with plenty of fresh water, giving them a break from eating, gradually reintroducing one of the bland diets mentioned above, and adding probiotics. If your dog's diarrhea is not improving with these techniques, or your pet gets worse instead of better, contact your veterinarian right away.

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