Causes of upset stomach and diarrhea in dogs
Food and Diet: A dog’s stomach stores and breaks it down into small particles. These smaller particles provide all the energy, nutrients and vitamins the body needs to function. A dog’s intestines absorb these small particles and send them throughout the body so each cell in the dog’s body can restore its energy supply. If your dog has an upset stomach or diarrhea, it could be a sign that something is wrong in either of these organs. Dogs are also known to be scavengers. They pick up almost anything they can find that smells appealing to them (even in the trash) and eat it. Those are the most common causes of upset stomach and diarrhea in dogs.
If your dog has the habit of eating almost anything and regularly has an upset stomach or diarrhea, they most likely ingested food that is not good for them. This includes spoiled food and dangerous toxic human food such as bones, chocolate, grapes, onions, garlic, and more! They could even have ingested an inanimate object like plastic, cans, shoes, laces, underwear, toys (etc), and resulted in gastrointestinal (GI) upset. If this is the case and you know they ate an object like this, seek immediate veterinary attention.
Sudden changes to your dog’s diet can also cause an upset stomach and diarrhea. You should change a dog’s diet gradually in a process called titration. This means giving the old diet in larger proportions with small additions of the new diet at the beginning and slowing adding more new diet and phasing out the old. This process should take about 2 weeks. This allows the dog’s digestive system to get used to the new formula. If your dog has a sensitive stomach or a medical condition such as food intolerances or allergies to certain proteins, they should eat a special diet food prescribed by a veterinarian.
A prescribed diet can help decrease GI triggers and prevent serious health issues later. The best way to find out if this is just a one-time case of upset stomach and diarrhea, or a serious medical condition, is to visit a veterinarian. They will examine your pet and discuss with you the best treatment. They will also give advice on what to give a dog for diarrhea.
The way a dog eats can also increase the likelihood of it having an upset stomach. Habits such as eating too much, too little or too fast (bolting) can contribute to the discomfort.
Viruses: An upset stomach and diarrhea caused by viral infections are more serious and need immediate attention. Viruses like parvo and corona are particularly notorious for this. Their symptoms can start as any other common upset stomach and diarrhea but worsens in hours. If some viral infections are not seen and treated by a veterinarian, the animal’s condition can decline rapidly and can even lead to death from dehydration and other complications. If your dog is not up to date with vaccinations, or if vomiting and diarrhea are severe, with copious volumes and abnormal color like red or black, seek veterinary care immediately.
The dog’s age, immune system and overall condition: Older dogs, convalescing animals, and puppies are more likely to have problems with their digestive system because they likely have compromised immune systems. Some conditions require a special diet and any deviation from it can cause an upset stomach or diarrhea in the dog.
Stress: Just as with humans, dogs suffering a stressful situation can trigger upset stomachs and diarrhea. Examples of this condition include car trips, fireworks noise, and separation from their owner for dogs that are very anxious. This leads to an imbalanced gut microflora (dysbiosis) and results in “stress colitis”.
Worms: Deworming your dog is as important as feeding it a good diet. Parasitism in dogs can cause upset stomachs and diarrhea in canines of all ages, breeds, and sizes.
Symptoms of an upset stomach and diarrhea in dogs
There are some general clinical signs and symptoms of an upset stomach and diarrhea that you can look for. Note that these signs can be associated with other health problems and only a veterinarian can tell you what to do or what is the right treatment for your pet. Remember, if a dog manifests any of these signs, it is a sign that something may be wrong.
- Loss of appetite
- Hearing loud rumblings noises from the dog’s tummy
- Dog producing excessive gas (flatulence)
- Dehydration, especially if it vomits or has diarrhea (This can be tested by lightly pulling up on the skin between their shoulders creating a “skin tent” and releasing it. If it stays elevated for longer than 2 seconds, that is correlated with dehydration)
- Depression, dullness and a general loss of interest in their surroundings. For the example, a normally playful dog may become quiet.
- Excessively grass eating. Eating some grass is normal for dogs. Grass has a soothing effect on their digestive system and most dogs display this behavior. However, eating excessive grass is a sign that your dog’s digestive system needs some help to function well.
- Loose stools (a dog’s stool should be firm with a shape that is easy to pick up- it should not be watery or runny) or stools with blood in it.
- Different color stools – a dog’s stool will reflect its diet. If a dog eats carrots or beetroot you will find his stools to be a little orange, however, if your dog only eats dog food, your dog stool should have a dark brown color. Stools that are yellow, green, red or pitch black are a concern and indicate that an infection is taking place in your dog’s digestive system. Seek veterinary help immediately.
- Frequent vomiting. If it contains blood, white foam/bubbles, yellow colored bile or pieces of chewed items that should not be in there (such as shoes, plastic etc) it is usually a sign that there is something more serious going on. Seek veterinary help.
- Swelling / Bloating of the abdomen with or without pain on palpation is an emergency situation. Do not wait. In some cases, the dog will make gagging motions, but leads to nothing being vomited up. This often comes before bloating of the abdomen and is a sign to get veterinary intervention.
Usually, if you can guarantee that your dog has not ingested anything apart from his/her normal diet, you should monitor your dog for the next few hours and see if the signs of discomfort persist. If the signs do not go away, or if you think that your dog has eaten anything out of his diet, especially foreign objects, see your veterinary doctor immediately.
Diarrhea, vomiting, swelling of the abdomen and visible signs of pain (like whining or crying when a sensitive part is touched) may indicate something more serious is happening in your dog’s body. If you notice any of those signs or if your dog is not behaving as it should be, take your dog to a veterinary hospital immediately for treatment without delay.
What to do when your dog has diarrhea?
For someone who has never experienced a dog with an upset stomach and diarrhea before, it can be overwhelming. Many owners ask themselves, “What should I do? When should I take my dog to see a veterinary doctor?”.
Fast the Dog: The first thing to do with a dog showing visible signs of stomach upset is to withhold food for 12 to 24 hours and observe his behavior. This is helpful because sometimes the dog’s stomach just needs to rest after an upsetting episode. To know if your dog is getting better, after the fast, you may give it food in very small amounts, especially for the first normal meal it takes. If after eating his first meal, it can hold food in his stomach for the next hour, repeat the process giving your dog a little bit more food until it starts to eat normally again.
Water: Give the dog access to clean drinking water and watch how he drinks. If he drinks less or much more than usual, or if he vomits after drinking water, seek veterinary care immediately. Do not wait longer than 12 hours after observing the first symptoms to take your dog to a veterinary hospital. Your dog could be dehydrated and can lead to serious complications, especially if it is a puppy or an older animal.
Bland Diet: If your dog goes through the fast and shows no sign of pain, continue treatment by giving it a bland diet for the next 24 hours. If your dog still acts sick after fasting and symptoms remain, you should see a veterinarian immediately. Examples of bland diets that you may give to your dog include cooked or boiled rice, cooked white pasta with no sauce, boiled mashed potatoes, boiled carrots and boiled chicken as they are easily digestible. Note that when you cook these items, do NOT season them, even with salt or pepper. This can lead to salt toxicity which can propagate dehydration and adverse effects. You may also request from your veterinarian a special dog canned food that aids recovery from digestive problems.
Gas Relief: One of the common signs of digestive upset is flatulence (release of excessive gas). If that is the only thing you notice in your dog, then there may not be a serious problem. A change in diet or bad feeding habits probably caused it. Ask your veterinarian what you can give to your dog to help you with this matter. Self-medicating can be dangerous. Your dog may have other health issues that may get worse with the administration of a non-veterinarian prescribed medication, even if it is over the counter.
What are other options to give my dog for diarrhea?
- Probiotics: Probiotics are microscopic bacteria that boost the efficiency of the immune system and aid digestion in your dog’s body. They are the “good bacteria” that are needed in your dog’s body to keep a health digestive system. Click here for a detailed article on natural probiotics for dogs.
- Parsley: Feeding your dog fresh parsley leaves also helps reduce the incidence of flatulence.
- Exercise: Sometimes, all your dog needs is just a stroll. How often do you take your dog on a walk? Overweight dogs that do not exercise regularly release more gas. Regular exercise helps reduce flatulence.
- Digestive Enzymes: Digestive Enzymes are proteins that aid digestion and are beneficial for your dog’s health. Amino acids, trace minerals, and digestive enzymes are all part of the Rockwell Pets Pro Natural Vitamins. Find out more about Natural Dog Vitamins.
- Healthy Diet: Some fruits and vegetables that we may consider as healthy for us may not be good for dogs. Examples of toxic vegetables and fruits for dogs include garlic, avocados, onions, grapes, pineapple etc. Any of these may not only cause an upset stomach but can cost your dog his/her life. Consult your veterinarian for an appropriate diet plan for your dog. They can tailor a diet protocol for your individual pet’s needs.
- Feeding habits: How does your dog eat? Does he eat too much, too fast? If he does, then he may be swallowing air along with his food which would cause flatulence. Give your dog food in small amounts. There are some special food bowls and apparatuses that help a dog eat slower. They incorporate mental stimulation i.e. puzzles to unlock food.
Also, please consult your veterinarian. Pets experts will help you make the best decision concerning your dog’s health and diet. Your veterinarian should have the medical history of your dog. With the proper information, they should be able to diagnose what is wrong with your pet and prescribe treatments. They can also recommend any other necessary steps you need to take to improve your pet’s health.
You should report any cases of severe stomach upset (with or without blood) – such as vomit or diarrhea – to your veterinarian immediately.
Finally, you should know that prevention is better than treatment. Feed your dog the right food, vaccinate them for common viruses, deworm them if necessary, and report any problems to your veterinarian as soon as they start.