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Puppy Diarrhea:  Should you be Concerned?

By Janice Jones |Last Updated March 25, 2019

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!   

Puppy DiarrheaPuppy Diarrhea

As I breeder, the last thing I wanted was to bring a sick puppy into our home.  Germs spread easily from dog to dog and if the diarrhea was contagious there was a good possibility that I'd have a disaster in the making.

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.

A sick puppy with diarrheaPuppy Diarrhea

What is Puppy Diarrhea?

A quick search reveals this definition of diarrhea:

"a condition in which feces are discharged from the bowels frequently and in a liquid form."

Diarrhea can be caused by a variety of different things in puppies and while diarrhea is diarrhea, the causes of puppy diarrhea are somewhat different that the problem in adults.

Older Puppies and Adults

Anything that causes diarrhea in puppies can also affect adult dogs but there are a few additional causes to be concerned about if you have an older dog.

Medications such as antibiotics may cause diarrhea in dogs the same way it affects us.

Some metabolic diseases of the pancreas, liver or thyroid result in some diarrhea too. Cancer, colitis and inflammatory bowel disease also causes diarrhea in adults.

What Causes Diarrhea in Young Puppies?

  1. A Change in Diet or an Adverse Reaction to Food (Food Intolerance) 
  2. Ingestion of something that should not be eaten including poisons and toxins 
  3. Internal Parasites 
  4. A Bacterial or 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.

An Abrupt Change in Diet May Cause Puppy Diarrhea

Most reputable breeders will provide a large bag of food for your puppy when he goes home.  Alternately, they will tell you what food he is eating so you can stock up beforehand.

In the case where you are not given a bag of food and the food that puppy has been eaten is not available, you will need to substitute.  This is where problems arise. 

Even adult dogs can suffer from diarrhea with an abrupt change in food.  Diarrhea is worse in puppies because they tend to get dehydrated quickly without intervention.

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.

You can prevent this type of diarrhea by communicating with your breeder and insisting on a bag of food.  Ask also about the puppy's feeding schedule and amount of food he normally ingests.

Ingesting Something Weird May Cause Puppy Diarrhea

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. 

Let's not forget that our ancestral dog was a scavenger, looking for edibles from the environment.  That long standing trait is still present in our companions today and even young puppies will learn quickly what's good to eat and what's not so taste.   

Unfortunately puppies are not as skilled at this as the adults.

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. Expect small puppies to check out grass, dried leaves, sticks, small stones, or anything else they find outside.  

If he ingests a foreign object, there is always the chance of a bowel obstruction so a bit of puppy proofing before your puppy comes home is always a good idea.

Human food and raw diets are not recommended initially.  

Internal Parasites Can Cause Puppy Diarrhea

Worms and other parasites such as giardia may be present in the environment (yours or the breeders' if you just brought the puppy home) or they may have inherited them directly from their mother through the mother’s milk.

Most experts recommend that breeders worm their puppies every two weeks beginning at 2 weeks of age.  The thinking behind this practice is that some worms such as roundworms and hookworms can be passed directly from the mother. 

This means that if the mother has worms, she may pass them onto her pups even before birth.  This can cause a major infestation in the neonate.

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 puppy’s intestines. 

This is often the case with protozoan parasites such as Giardia or Coccidia. Mother dogs may have a dormant stage of coccidia but through the stress of pregnancy, they become active and can infect the pups.

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.

Deworming may be all that is required to get the diarrhea under control.    No one medicine will treat all types of parasites, so the best course of action is to take a fecal sample to your vet for analysis before you try any over the counter worming medicines.

Viral and Bacterial Infections as a Cause of Puppy Diarrhea

Worse case scenarios fall into this category and include the dreaded viral diseases, Parvo and Distemper. 

Parvo is a highly contagious disease that invades the lining of the small intestines producing nasty, foul smelling, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, depression, and dehydration. If not treated, it can be fatal.

Distemper is another viral disease that starts out as fever, poor appetite, coughing and discharge from the nose and eyes.  It later moves on to cause vomiting and diarrhea and then affects the nervous system.

Both of these diseases are easily prevented through vaccinations.

Bacteria can also cause diarrhea in puppies

Bacterial infections can also cause diarrhea in puppies.  According to Dr. Wendy Brooks reporting in Veterinary Partner, three types of bacteria are responsible for infections in puppies that cause diarrhea.

These problems begin with contaminated food or through fecal contamination.  They are also problems that can pass to humans. (Zoonotic)

Campylobacter bacteria can cause diarrhea in dogs, cats, humans, and other animals. People can become infected by ingesting contaminated food, water or drinking raw milk.

Salmonella is a common culprit in cases of food poisoning and can be a big problem in puppies, especially those that eat a raw food diet. Diarrhea is one of the symptoms when puppies encounter the Salmonella bacterium.

Escherichia coli or E. coli is a bacterium that most people have heard of and is probably the most common bacteria in the world.  It is more of a problem in young puppies than adults and can cause diarrhea and dehydration.

Stress Can Cause Puppy Diarrhea

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. 

Stress looks different in different puppies, but watching them closely, you might see these stress signs:  Licking their lips, turning away from you or yawning.

A puppy that is stressed is licking his lipsThis puppy is stressed: He is licking his lips as a calming mechanism.
A puppy is turning away from the camera, a sign os stress.This puppy is obviously stressed. She won't look at the camera.
This puppy is yawning, another sign of stress.Diarrhea in puppies can be caused by stress. This puppy is stressed and is using yawning as a calming mechanism.

Treating Puppy Diarrhea

If you have a puppy who has diarrhea, the best course of action is to gather a stool sample and head to the veterinarian. 

Your veterinarian will be able to rule out some causes and suggest treatment options.  You will want to let your vet know a bit about the puppy's background.

  • Where you obtained the puppy and the worming history
  • Vaccination history
  • Type of Food and any changes that may have resulted in diarrhea
  • Puppy behavior:  Did you notice your puppy eating or drinking anything other than his food and fresh water?
  • Do you feel the puppy was under a bit of stress recently? (Signs of a stressed puppy include licking lips, yawning, looking away, hiding, tucking his tail under his body) If any of these are present for more than a few minutes, expect stress.

Unless you are sure there is no major causes of the diarrhea in your puppy, you should not begin a home treatment plan. If you feel that the diarrhea is due to stress or a bit of dietary indiscretion, here are a few treatments that may work for your puppy.

Fast

Many experts recommend a 12 to 24 hour fast for your puppy suffering from diarrhea and this is sound advice for healthy puppies that big such as medium, large, and giant breeds. 

They have enough body weight to support such a fast.  If, on the other hand your puppy weighs a pound, a fast may not be recommended.

Dr. Robert Silver of the Boulder's Natural Animal recommends a rice water diet.

"To make rice water, boil one cup of white rice in four cups of water for 15 to 30 minutes (depending on your altitude) or until the water turns creamy white.

Decant the liquid and allow it to cool. You can serve the rice water to your dog as often as she will drink it. If she isn’t interested, mix a teaspoon of chicken baby food (or another flavor that your pet likes) in the rice water to increase its palatability.

(Hint: One cup of white rice makes a lot of rice water!)"

Hydration Matters When Treating Puppy Diarrhea

Make sure your puppy drinks plenty of fresh water.  If you see that little water is being drank, consider serving chicken or beef broth or providing human Pedialyte. Diarrhea can cause dehydration in your puppy.

If the puppy refuses to drink, add water to the food and see if he will eat the food.  If he is not drinking or eating, call your vet.

Bland Diet May Help Reduce Puppy Diarrhea

Make a batch of boiled white chicken meat and white rice.  Have your puppy eat this food until the stools have become normal.  If he won't eat this food, call your vet.

Canned Pumpkin

Canned pumpkin, the plain kind not the pie filling as been known to be effective against both constipation and diarrhea.   Dogs usually love the taste and you can feed your puppy a spoonful several times a day.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria that aid digestion (these are also found in yogurt) but you can purchase probiotics in pet stores and online.  Always follow the directions on the container. 

Here are a couple that I have found helpful.  I have used both so I can't really say one works better than the other.  It is just a personal choice to use a powder or a gel.

Fortiflora

Bene-bac

These probiotics are also good for adult dogs who are experiencing stomach distress, especially if they have been placed on an antibiotic for other problems.


If your puppy's diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours, call your vet.

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


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

  • Always thoroughly vaccinate the puppy according to the veterinarian’s recommendations.
  • Have a stool sample checked (and sometimes rechecked)  Follow directions for worming your puppy.
  • Maintain a clean environment.
  • Puppy proof your home and garden to prevent puppy from getting into something she should not.
  • Do not change foods abruptly.
  • Keep stress levels low:  a little stress is a good thing for puppies (and people); too much stress and it can become toxic.
  • 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.

Puppy Diarrhea, Treated and Puppy is healthy and happy.

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