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Dog or Cat Has Diarrhea? Here's What You Can Do At Home.

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Diarrhea is one of the most common problems that brings both cats and dogs to the vet.

Loose stools aren’t any fun for your pet, and having to clean up the resulting messes and get up in the middle of the night to let your pet out to relieve themselves isn’t very much fun for you either. So what can you do and how can you best help your pet when their stools aren’t exactly right?

Of course the answer depends on what else is going on with your pet and what the likely cause of their diarrhea is.

If your pet is otherwise acting normally — normal energy, normal appetite, no vomiting, etc. — they're up-to-date on their vaccines, aren't very young or old, don’t have any significant pre-existing medical conditions — Addison’s disease, kidney failure, etc. — and there's no blood, straining, or foreign material associate with their diarrhea  then it’ll likely be ok to try and “ride out” your pet’s diarrhea for 24-36 hours.

Treating Your Pet's Diarrhea At Home

  • Let them rest (no excessive exercise)

  • Ensure that they have ready access to plenty of fresh water – keep them hydrated

  • Feed them a highly digestible, low-fat diet (often called a “bland diet”) such as one of the options listed below.

    dog-cat-eating
    • Boiled chicken breast (boneless, skinless, no seasonings) + boiled white rice (no seasonings) — mix in a 1:1 ratio and feed in small, frequent meals throughout the day. *You can replace the chicken breast with cottage cheese or boiled low-fat ground turkey or beef.

    • A prescription low-fat, highly digestible diet available from your veterinarian — e.g. Royal Canin Digestive Low Fat, Hills I/D, Purina EN, or others.

  • If your pet isn’t drinking very well, you can also add water and a little bit of (low sodium) chicken broth, or some of the water from the rice boiling process, to any of the above diets to increase moisture content of the diet.

  • Adding probiotics may help. You can try regular, unflavored, probiotic-rich yogurt, or you can pick up a probiotic like Purina’s FortiFlora, Nutramax’s Proviable, or Iams’ Prostora Max.

  • You really must always be very careful giving any over-the-counter (OTC) human medications to your pets! And this includes such common “antidiarrheals” as Imodium, Kaopectate, and Pepto Bismol. For one, they can be toxic to your pets — especially Kaopectate and Pepto Bismol in cats. But also because, depending on the cause of your pet’s diarrhea, these medications may do more harm than good. For example, if your pet’s diarrhea is a result of a bacterial or other toxin within their gut, then the diarrhea can actually function as a protective mechanism to help clear that toxin from their digestive system. If you give a medication that shuts down their gut motility (like Imodium does), you prevent one of the body’s mechanisms for trying to heal itself, increasing the chances of a prolonged illness and worse secondary effects. ALWAYS check with your veterinarian prior to giving your pets any OTC medications for their diarrhea!

What If Home Treatment Doesn't Work? What If They Aren't "Otherwise Normal?"Dalmatian-dog-sleeping.jpg

If your pet’s energy level is lower than it normally is, they’re vomiting, or have a significant pre-existing medical condition that would make them less able to deal with the effects of dehydration, then you shouldn’t let their diarrhea go on any longer than two episodes before visiting your veterinarian. Similarly, if your pet is very young or in their “later years,” then their diarrhea also shouldn’t go unevaluated beyond two episodes. Dehydration, electrolyte and acid/base imbalances, and a whole host of other complications of diarrhea can set in quickly. Waiting too long will only prolong your pet’s suffering, and it will likely make diagnostics and treatment more expensive too (see more on this below).

What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs and Cats? A Lot of Things!

The list of possible causes of diarrhea in cats and dogs is long and varied. Some of the common causes are listed below, but this list is by no means comprehensive.

  • Viral, bacterial, and parasitic conditions
  • Rapid dietary change
  • Gastrointestinal toxins
  • Food hypersensitivity
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Systemic endocrine or metabolic conditions
  • Medication reactions

What’s important to note about the partial list above is that the severity of the conditions that can cause diarrhea ranges from less severe (some viral infections, rapid diet change, etc.) to quite severe and potentially life-threatening (intestinal ulceration, digestive obstruction, pancreatitis, Addison’s disease, etc.), and regardless of the cause, prolonged diarrhea can lead to debilitating dehydration, electrolyte and/or acid-base imbalances, protein loss, and a host of other secondary problems (including a possible intussusception).

Along with debilitating dehydration, electrolyte and acid-base imbalances also occur with prolonged diarrhea, because it isn't just fluid (water) that's lost during diarrhea episodes. Also lost are electrolytes (e.g. sodium, potassium, and others) and the alkaline secretions of the intestinal tract. These three processes — dehydration, electroylte imbalances, and acid-base imbalances — all cause wide-reaching problems within the body. And to make matters worse, they also (quickly) become "vicious cycles," feeding off of each other and spiraling out of control, leading to severe illness and even death when not recognized and corrected in time.

When in doubt, when concerned, or when the diarrhea extends beyond a day or two your best bet is to have your pet — and their poo — evaluated by your veterinarian. No amount of internet searching, and no number of trial and error home remedy attempts can compete with the comprehensive history taking, thorough physical examination, diagnostic testing, and the ability to prescribe safe and effective medications or supplements that only your veterinarian can offer.

What Your Veterinarian Is Likely To Do And How They Can Help

  • History: Like any good investigation, a thorough questioning is crucial to the process of determining the cause of your pet’s problems. It’s true for your pet’s diarrhea. It’s true for ANY problems your pet might be having. Typical historical questions your vet may ask when your pet is presented with diarrhea might include… How long has the diarrhea been going on? What does the stool look like — what color is it, is there any blood, etc? (Here’s where it’s really nice if you’ve brought a fresh sample of it, or at least a clear picture of it — I know, we’ve got the best job, don’t we!) They might also ask things like “Is your pet on any medications or supplements?,” “What is your pet’s regular diet?,” “Has your pet recently gotten into the trash or compost?,” “Has your pet been around multiple other pets — including in your own home — and are those pets similarly affected?” The list truly goes on and on, and gets refined and adapted depending on your answers. History taking is truly an art… and a very important one at that!

  • Physical Examination: Along with the history, the importance of a thorough physical examination truly cannot be understated. Ironically, and rather importantly, these are two things (history taking and a physical exam) that “Dr. Google” (or “Dr. Bing” — is that even a thing?) will NEVER be able to do! Your vet will evaluate and pick up on important things during the course of their physical examination. These include whether or not your pet’s abdomen is painful, or if there is abnormal fluid present within their abdomen. Whether or not there is a mass or foreign body within your pet’s rectum, or elsewhere within your pet’s digestive tract or other body systems. They’ll be able to evaluate if your pet is dehydrated, or hypovolemic (low blood volume). There really is a wealth of important information that your vet will obtain from their physical examination of your pet.

  • Diagnostic Testing: Depending on what your vet is finding during the course of the history taking and physical examination, they may well be recommending certain diagnostic tests to help “rule in” or “rule out” potential underlying causes. (It’s kind of like the TV show “House,” except for we’re (typically) not that arrogant and we’re also not so “willy nilly” about recommending a crazy expensive battery of tests.) Often times the first “go to” test for investigating diarrhea in cats and dogs is a fecal float and smear — a test that looks primarily for intestinal parasites and abnormal intestinal bacteria. There are also quick “bench side” tests to look for specific infectious organisms like Giardia and Canine Parvovirus and Feline Panleukopenia. Similarly your vet might recommend blood testing to evaluate for the presence of diarrhea-causing conditions such as pancreatitis (cats and dogs), hyperthyroidism (predominantly cats), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (both cats and dogs), or others. Radiographs (“X-rays”), ultrasound, or other diagnostic imaging modalities may also be necessary. Which tests they’ll recommend will be based on their “index of suspicion” for each of the potential underlying causes of your pet’s diarrhea.

  • Treatments: Some pets and some conditions require little to no treatment beyond a “bland diet” and “tincture of time” to resolve the diarrhea. However, many cases, and most that go on for greater than 24-48 hours need some treatment. What’s best, what’s safe, and what’s likely to be most effective will best be determined by the results of the history, physical exam, and diagnostic testing discussed above.


There’s (almost) everything you need to know about diarrhea in cats and dogs. I know it’s a lot of information, but it just "had to get out." (Sorry, couldn’t pass on the potty pun ;-) Here’s to a speedy and complete recovery from the diarrhea. Both for your pet’s sake, as well as for yours and your carpet’s!

 

Topics: Kidney Failure, Cats, Dog, Addison’s Disease, Dog Tips, Cat Tips, Diarrhea, Bland Diet

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Please do not ask emergency or other specific medical questions about your pets in the blog comments. As an online informational resource, Preventive Vet is unable to and does not provide specific medical advice or counseling. A thorough physical exam, patient history, and an established veterinary-patient-client relationship is required to provide specific medical advice. If you are worried that your pet is having an emergency or if you have specific medical questions related to your pet’s current or chronic medical conditions, please contact or visit your veterinarian, an animal-specific poison control hotline, or your local emergency veterinary care center.

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