Puppy Diarrhea:  Should you be Concerned?

Many types of puppy diarrhea require veterinary treatment.

Puppy diarrhea was the last thing on our mind when we recently added another puppy to our “herd.”  Puppy Diarrhea is so common that most owners never give it a second thought, but it immediately shot up a red flag in our household. 

Not only is diarrhea in puppies a mess, it makes housebreaking nearly impossible.  But that is only half the story, the presence of diarrhea in puppies signify something is wrong.  Sometimes VERY wrong!    

Some diarrhea is self-limiting, but many cases can lead to tragic outcomes.  Whether our new little baby’s diarrhea was simply from stress or had a more sinister origin, we wanted to get to the root of it immediately especially knowing that the root cause of the diarrhea can be passed to other dogs and even humans.

What causes diarrhea in young puppies?

  1. A Change in Diet
  2. Ingestion of something that should not be eaten
  3. Parasites
  4. A Viral Infection
  5. Stress

Puppy diarrhea wreaks havoc with a young dog's intestinal tract, interferes with house training, causes grief for his owner but worse, yet, can be fatal if not addressed.  Before you panic, consider the fact that many cases of diarrhea in puppies have a reasonable explanation and a relatively easy cure.  But some cases are far more dangerous and any time the puppy has diarrhea AND vomiting, it’s time to see a veterinarian.


One of the major causes of diarrhea in puppies in a new environment is stress.  An eight-week old puppy has little experience except for her mother and litter maters and now she is thrust into a situation where she may be the only dog among humans. 

She may have had to take a plane trip or an extended car ride to arrive at your home.  Everyone wants to pick her up, play with her, dot on her, pamper her and she has never had that much attention in her entire life.  New sights and sounds, new smells, new people, and new adventures, all these changes are bound to cause stress.  It would be enough to stress even an adult dog.


Lucky is the puppy that comes from a breeder that provides a large bag of food.  Most, however gives you either a small sample or nothing at all, expecting you to stop at the store and purchase the accustomed diet.  When this is not possible, an abrupt change in diet can bring on puppy diarrhea, even in an adult dog, but changes such as this can be more confounding in puppies.

Even changing from a low-quality diet to one high in protein and nutrients may cause diarrhea in some puppies.

Even overeating can cause a dog’s stool to change from nicely formed to a puddle.

Ingesting Something Weird

Puppies are curious.   Putting things in their mouths is how puppies discover their environment.  When puppies explore with their mouths, some of the substances they investigate invariably gets ingested.  If that substance, whether it is a food, plant or chemical is toxic, one of the first signs of distress is diarrhea. There is no limit to what a puppy will put in his mouth, so good supervision goes a long way towards eliminating this threat.


Worms and other parasites may be present in the environment (yours or the breeders) or they may have inherited them directly from their mother through the mother’s milk.

Reputable breeders will put all puppies on a worming schedule, but they may or may not cover all possible parasites, leaving some still circulating in the puppies intestines.  This is often the case with protozoan parasites such as Giardia or Coccidia. All dogs have coccidia in their system.

When a dog is stressed such as when they are shipped via airlines or moved to a new home, the stress of it causes Coccidia to arise and cause diarrhea.

Even humans get Giardia when they drink water that is contaminated such as if you were to drink water from a stream.  Dogs and other animals can get Giardia and when they have this parasite, they are plagued with diarrhea.

De-worming may be all that is required to get the diarrhea under control.  However, a trip to the vet accompanied by a stool sample may be needed to confirm this diagnosis.

Viral Infections

Worse case scenarios fall into this category and include the dreaded viral disease, Parvo.  A highly contagious disease invades the lining of the small intestines producing nasty, foul smelling, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, depression, and dehydration. 

The virus is often fatal in puppies, but not always.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to differentiate this life threatening viral disease from many other diarrhea-causing problems, so the best advice is to take any sign of diarrhea seriously. 

One thing I learned quickly years ago as a young vet tech, you don't mess with Parvo!

Treating Puppy Diarrhea

Treating Diarrhea

  •      Canned pumpkin can help firm up a dog’s stool,  (not the pumpkin pie variety)
  •      Back to the original diet, if change of diet is the culprit
  •      Worming for Coccidia and Giardia or other parasites
  •      Hydration using Pedialyte
  •      Reducing stress in the environment
  •      Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate  sometimes work

Serious Cases of Puppy Diarrhea

When diarrhea indicates, you have an ill puppy, you need to act quickly.

When a puppy has a severe case of watery diarrhea, you cannot ignore the fact that your puppy may be gravely ill and dehydrated.  This is the time to take the dog to the vet.  If the watery puppy diarrhea also contains blood, consider this a medical emergency and run do not walk to the closest veterinary hospital.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Not all puppy diarrhea is preventable, but there are steps to assure that your little one won’t suffer.

  1. Always thoroughly vaccinate the puppy according to the veterinarian’s recommendations.

  2. Have a stool sample checked (and sometimes rechecked)  Follow directions for worming your puppy.

  3. Maintain a clean environment.

  4. Puppy proof your home and garden to prevent puppy from getting into something she should not.

  5. Do not change foods abruptly.

  6. Keep stress levels low:  a little stress is a good thing for puppies (and people); too much stress and it can become toxic.

  7. Avoid places such as dog parks until the puppy is older and has gain full immunity to viral diseases such as Parvo.  Otherwise, take sensible precautions when you are out and about with your puppy.

Our Puppy’s Diarrhea outcome?  Well, we immediately wormed her for Coccidia and Giardia (two protozoan parasites commonly found in our area.)  Since we went through the food sample that the breeder provided very quickly, we went back and bought a five pound bag just for her. 

This time we were taking no chances weaning off her old food and onto our new food.  It took about a week, but since she never showed any ill effects from the diarrhea, we were lucky.  It all cleared up and now we have a very sweet puppy that we are beginning to housebreak.

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