Diarrhea in puppies and dogs is a common illness symptom which can be the result of various health problems, some more serious than others.
Diarrhea can come on suddenly and go away within 24 to 48 hours (acute diarrhea), or it can occur and recur over a period of time (chronic diarrhea).
Different characteristics of diarrhea, such as the color and consistency, can indicate to a certain extent the possible location (e.g. small intestine or colon) and the possible cause of the problem. Familiarize yourself with these characteristics so that if and when your puppy has diarrhea, you will have a better idea as to the seriousness of the problem.
Common Not-Too-Serious Causes of Puppy Diarrhea
Common causes of diarrhea in puppies are food and stress-related, such as:
A puppy may have a bout of acute diarrhea if he has eaten too much, eaten something spoiled, or something not quite agreeable or digestible.
Sudden Change in Diet
Another possible cause of puppy diarrhea is a sudden change in the puppy’s diet, e.g. from one brand of dog food to another, or from kibbles to canned food, etc. If you want to change your puppy’s food, be sure to make the switch gradually over a period of at least one week.
To start the switch, add about 10% of the new food to 90% of the old food on the first day. Thereafter, over the next few days, gradually increase the new food to 25% while decreasing the old food, and so on.
Switching over slowly and gradually puts less burden on the puppy’s digestive system and diarrhea will be prevented.
Food Intolerance or Allergy
Some dogs and puppies may develop food intolerance or even allergies to certain ingredients in their food, and as a result diarrhea occurs. Dogs and puppies with food allergies also have itchy skin and recurrent ear infections.
This is a rather common cause for diarrhea in puppies. Many puppies develop diarrhea under stressful situations, most likely caused by a change in his environment, e.g. boarding at a kennel, first day at training school, visiting the vet, and so on.
The above food- and stress-related diarrhea cases are generally not serious. The symptom will go away within a day or two after the root cause has been addressed.
For this type of puppy diarrhea, you can most likely handle it yourself at home. Observe the puppy to see if there are sudden changes in his condition.
Make sure that he is drinking enough water to stay hydrated, and that he has plenty of rest and is stress-free.
More Serious Causes of Puppy Diarrhea
While an occasional bout of acute diarrhea is usually not serious, a puppy with chronic diarrhea is another story.
It usually indicates that there is a serious underlying health problem that is causing the diarrhea. Prompt veterinary attention is essential as the cause can be life-threatening if left untreated.
Some causes of chronic diarrhea in puppies include:
Puppies with worms, especially roundworms (Over 95% of puppies are born with roundworms) have chronic diarrhea, accompanied by vomiting. Worms that look like strands of moving spaghetti may be found in the stool or vomitus.
Other Intestinal Parasites
Giardia and Coccidia are also intestinal parasites that cause diarrhea. If your puppy is infested, he will show symptoms of diarrhea which is foul-smelling (sometimes with traces of blood or mucus).
Other symptoms include vomiting, dehydration, and appetite loss.
Two common viruses that cause diarrhea in puppies and dogs are parvovirus and coronavirus.
Puppies with parvovirus have diarrhea, very often accompanied by vomiting, sometimes fever.
Puppies with coronavirus mainly suffer from diarrhea (vomiting is uncommon). Unfortunately, there is no treatment for both parvovirus and coronavirus infections.
All you can do if your puppy has these infections is to take good care of the puppy and manage the symptoms, such as preventing dehydration and controlling diarrhea and vomiting.
Canine distemper is another viral infection that causes puppy diarrhea, which is usually accompanied by vomiting, fever, and respiratory problems such as nasal discharge, and coughing.
Puppies under four months of age and dogs that have not been vaccinated against canine distemper are most susceptible to infection.
When to See a Vet
As you can see from above, a puppy with diarrhea may be suffering from a serious health condition. Therefore, diarrhea should be monitored very carefully.
Take your puppy to the vet immediately if:
- The diarrhea persists for over 24 hours.
- The puppy has bloody or profuse diarrhea.
- The diarrhea is accompanied by vomiting.
- The puppy is dehydrated.
- The puppy is weak or has a fever (103.5°F or above).
Before you visit the vet, it is advisable to collect a sample of your puppy’s feces for analysis and diagnosis.
Home Treatment of Puppy Diarrhea
If your puppy has a bout of mild diarrhea but is otherwise active, alert, and playful, it is possible to handle the diarrhea at home.