Diarrhea is a common issue seen daily at our practice. Often times the cause of the diarrhea is identified fairly quickly and the usual culprit is ingestion of a toxin in food or just a very rich food item. Toxins (like bacteria-laden carrion, cat feces, moldy foods) and foods with hard to absorb molecules ( gravy, ham, and other spicy table scraps) affect the whole gastrointestinal tract by either making the bowel wall secrete too much water or drawing the water from the blood and other cells. This results in the acute onset of watery stools and a rushed visit to the veterinarian. There are also cases in which dogs and cats have suffered loose stools for months or even years. In these chronic cases, we suspect that the root of the problem lies with GI motility, malabsorption, allergic food reactions or intestinal bad bacteria overgrowth.
The GI motility can be affected physically by foreign objects that dogs eat like plastic, cloth toys or items, rocks, sand, hair, etc. Motility can also be sped up by parasites, bacterial infections, and systemic diseases. For example, Hyperthyroidism ( excessive acting thyroid hormones) could cause a faster metabolism resulting in a sped up movement of food in the GI tract thus resulting in loose stools. Other systemic illnesses include Addison’s disease ( poorly functioning adrenal gland), Liver disease and Kidney disease.
Your veterinarian will need to perform a complete physical exam on your dog along with pretty standard diagnostic tests like a fecal exam ( to rule out parasites), a blood chemical profile (rule out organ dysfunction), a complete blood count ( to rule out anemia or infections), an electrolyte panel ( check for adrenal function) and a urinalysis to rule out kidney disease. Perhaps they will need to take some X-rays to rule out the possibility that your dog has something blocking the intestine. An ultrasound can be very useful in diagnosing pancreatitis or cancer.
Dehydration can quickly become fatal if your dog continues to have diarrhea, especially in small breeds, seniors and puppies/kittens so you need to seek veterinary care. The treatment options are usually fluids, motility drugs, vitamin B 12 ( to help repopulate the good bacteria), probiotics and a bland diet. Most cats and dogs get better with outpatient care but some might need intravenous fluids/ antibiotics and hospitalization.
Parasitic infections that cause diarrhea in dogs and cats can be easily prevented with monthly heartworm medication that include dewormers (like Heartguard and Advantage multi). Keeping an eye on your dog outdoor activities can prevent them from eating dead animals, feces from other animals or any garbage. Limiting table scraps to unseasoned bits of lean meats, veggies and fruits will prevent pancreatitis.
In some cases of chronic diarrhea, we have spectacular results using acupuncture and Chinese herbals along with using food therapy principles. Whichever the cause, diarrhea can seriously affect the health and quality of life of your pet companion so a thorough veterinary workup is necessary.