“My dog has watery stools” is common complaint heard by veterinary offices. Watery stools, or diarrhea, can be a symptom of many different medical problems. The severity of diarrhea can range from being a simple, upset stomach to a major medical emergency. However, in most cases if a dog has watery diarrhea (i.e. there is mostly water and just a small amount of fecal material in the stool) it should be considered a medical emergency.
My Dog has Watery Stools - Why?
Diarrhea is a symptom of many different diseases and illnesses in dogs, but it is not it’s own disease. While diarrhea is a common malady in dogs, it can be difficult to determine the actual cause. Some of the most common causes of acute onset diarrhea (diarrhea that occurs suddenly and occurs at least 3 times in a 24 hours period) include:
- Dietary indiscretion
- Parasite infection
- Viral infection
Dogs are well known for being opportunistic when food is around, and getting into and eating just about anything. Many times, however, what a dog eats can come back to haunt him, in the form of gastrointestinal upset, with vomiting and diarrhea occurring.
Digestion upsets from eating something can occur in many ways. Abrupt changes in diets, feeding an unfamiliar treat or some table scraps, getting into the trash, getting into something outside, any many other things can prompt an upset stomach and cause diarrhea in your dog. Depending on the amount eaten and the cause, many dogs can be treated at home by being held off of food for 24 hours, then started back on a bland diet gradually until their stool returns to normal. In other cases, medical intervention may be required to help the dog recovery more quickly.
Unfortunately, dogs sneaking a meal out of the garbage don’t tend to discriminate between actual foodstuffs and the wrappers, containers and other items in the trash. If you suspect your dog has eaten a foreign object, call your veterinarian immediately. While some items may decompose in the stomach and pass benignly through the dogs body, other items will not. Because the digestive tract is a long series of ever-smaller intestines, many things ingested may not make it all the way through to pass naturally, and if allowed to get stuck in the intestines, will require surgery to remove. However, if prompt medical attention is sought immediately after suspected foreign body ingestion, it may be possible for your vet to induce vomiting and retrieve the item before it passes through the stomach.
Parasites are a common cause of diarrhea in both puppies and adult dogs. Intestinal parasites such as hookworms and roundworms are most commonly found in puppies, but any dog is at risk for infection. Roundworms are extremely widespread in puppies, and left unchecked they can cause severe respiratory and intestinal problems, and even death. Puppies only a few weeks old can have a severe, life threatening infection, and in addition to having these long, spaghetti-like worms in their stools, the dogs will have a large, pot-bellied appearance and rough hair coat.
Giardia is a single-celled protozoa that lives within the dogs intestines, easily transmitted from dog to dog via contaminated water and food sources, as well as in the soil. Giardia is very common in areas with high concentrations of dogs, such as in boarding kennels and dog parks. Diarrhea is the most common sign of Giardia, though some dogs may have the parasite and show no symptoms. Fecal screening can help to diagnose Giardia, so that the dog may be treated. This is especially important, as Giardia is a zoonotic parasite, and can be transmitted to children and adults from affected dogs.
In dogs under 2 years old and especially in puppies, any time diarrhea is a symptom, canine parvovirus must be considered as a possible cause. This viral disease is extremely serious, and often fatal without intensive medical care. Parvo attacks the cells that line the intestines, damaging and killing off this vital part of the body that absorbs nutrients and liquids into the body. This damages causes profuse, malodorous watery diarrhea, along with a high fever, lethargy and vomiting. The volume of diarrhea quickly causes severe dehydration in affected dogs, and young puppies can die after only an hour or two of severe symptoms as a result. Parvo can be diagnosed through a antigen test at your vets office.
My Dog has Watery Stools – What Should I Do ?
Because there are so many possible causes of watery stool and diarrhea in dogs, it is up to the owner to be vigilant in both caring for and watching the dog, and making a decision when a veterinarian’s care might be needed.
In mild cases of diarrhea, where stools are soft but do not contain blood or mucous, and the dog appears otherwise normal (energetic, eating and drinking normally, bright and responsive) it may be possible to treat an episode of diarrhea at home by using a bland diet.
If the diarrhea progresses to being more watery (more water than fecal matter), contains blood or mucus, or if the dog is acting in any other way ill, a veterinarian should examine your dog to help diagnose and treat him before he becomes seriously ill.
At the vets office, fecal screening may be recommend to determine if internal parasites are the cause of the diarrhea. If a dog has eaten, or is suspected to have eaten a foreign object or a large amount of food, radiographs may be performed to check the contents of the stomach, and ensure everything will be able to pass uneventfully through the intestines.
Depending on the severity of your dogs illness, a full blood panel may be recommended to determine the level of dehydration in your dog (their pack-cell volume, or PCV), to check for an elevated white blood cell count (that may indicate an infection as the cause of illness), as well as full chemistries to check on the status of the bodies major organs (liver, kidneys, etc) and make sure they are all functioning correctly.
As dehydration is the most common side effect of diarrhea, your vet may opt to administer IV or sub-cutaneous (under the skin) fluids to help correct the dehydration.
While some episodes of diarrhea can be treated uneventfully at home, it is never a bad idea to have your vet examine your dog if it has had watery stools. Your veterinarian will be able to help figure out why your dog is experiencing diarrhea, and more importantly, how to treat it.