Being a dog parent can be challenging, particularly if your buddy is feeling sick. As much as you’d love your dog to tell you what the problem is, this isn’t going to happen.
When it comes to dog diarrhea, its telltale signs are easy to spot from the beginning, unlike pain, which dogs are very good at hiding from the owner.
Diarrhea is actually one of the most common problems in dogs besides pain, lethargy, and refusing food.
While accidental diarrhea can happen due to many reasons — from indigestion to ingesting a foreign body to bacterial infections — prolonged episodes may herald a serious health problem.
Part of being a health-conscious dog parent is recognizing the negative changes and acting on tackling them right away.
In this article, we’ll focus on dog diarrhea and its many potential remedies, from conventional methods to holistic options.
Dogs & Diarrhea: Understanding the Canine Digestive System
Dogs and people digest food are significantly different.
For example, the shape of a human jaw, as well as our salivary enzymes, start breaking down food in the mouth. Dogs, on the other hand, use their mouths for tearing, crushing, and swallowing food down. Their salivary enzymes mostly serve antibacterial purposes, which allows the dog to tolerate items that would require a visit to an emergency room if a human ingested them.
Food is rapidly processed down to the canine esophagus, entering the stomach in chunks, where the digestive processes take place. Canine stomachs produce acids that are three times as strong as those of humans, so they can digest the food that is pretty much untouched.
In healthy dogs, transit time from the mouth through the small and large intestines should take up to 10 hours, resulting in a properly formed stool.
What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs?
Several factors can trigger diarrhea in your dog.
Diarrhea itself is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying health concern. Most cases of diarrhea go away within 48 hours. However, the time may vary from one dog to another.
Diarrhea triggers can be as simple as an upset stomach, but they may just as well indicate a more severe condition, such as a bacterial infection, parasitic infestation, or gastrointestinal cancer.
That’s why dog parents should be able to determine the underlying cause, and if they can’t do this on their own, they should take their buddies to a vet that will diagnose the underlying condition and ensure it is treated properly.
Below we cover the most common causes of dog diarrhea.
Bad eating habits are an extremely common cause of dog diarrhea. Most dogs will eat just about anything, including foods that shouldn’t end up in their stomach.
This includes junk food, or food that has gone bad, and feces. Bad dietary habits also include compulsive eating, which may have roots in a behavioral problem.
All of the above can cause bloating, upset stomach, gas, or diarrhea.
If you feed your dog with processed food full of chemicals, high in sugar, and with lots of saturated fats, you’ll likely be notified about disruption in your dog’s digestive system because it will often show up as diarrhea.
Unfortunately, it’s often the pet owner that contributes to their dog’s bad eating habits. By trying to satisfy their four-legged friends, or by succumbing to those big puppy eyes, many dog parents find it hard to say no. However, feeding your dog with human food — especially the table scraps — can quickly have them end up with diarrhea.
Too many commercial dog treats can also cause diarrhea. Treats should be given to dogs sparingly, not as the cornerstone of their diet. They should also be of high quality, which means organic, non-GMO ingredients, and no artificial flavorings or aromas.
Sudden Changes in Food
Dog diarrhea after a recent dietary change is quite normal. Many pet parents may not realize that it takes several days for a dog’s digestive system to get accustomed to a new food.
More often than not, if the new food is introduced too quickly, it will likely trigger diarrhea. This often happens when dog parents begin to transition their buddies to an all-natural or raw food diet.
Shifting straight away from dry kibble to raw meat and organs can cause quite a shock in your dog.
Veterinarians advise gradually introduce the new food, a little at a time, by adding some of it to the dog’s current food, until the old food has been entirely replaced.
Diarrhea and gas may be the signs of food intolerance.
All dog breeds can be hypersensitive to certain types of foods, especially to gluten, fat, and dairy. However, some dog breeds are more vulnerable to these intolerances than others.
For example, some Irish Setters and Wheaten Terriers have gluten intolerances. Schnauzers, in turn, are known to have bad reactions to diets that are high in fats.
Knowing specific traits of your dog’s breed can help determine whether or not their diarrhea comes from food intolerance.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine exactly what food your dog can’t tolerate. However, once you find out the cause, it should be avoided at all times.
In order to prevent chronic diarrhea and other digestive issues in their dogs, pet parents should consider supplements that will support the digestive system, such as fiber, probiotics, or vitamins.
We’ll talk about that later in the article.
Now back to the causes of dog diarrhea.
Ingesting Foreign Objects
Dogs are notorious for getting into all kinds of things, and sometimes that means consuming objects that aren’t supposed to be eaten.
Whether it’s spoiled food, garbage, bones, bits of chew toys, toilet paper, or hairballs, foreign objects can cause diarrhea, among other symptoms such as abdominal pain and bloating.
If you suspect your dog has eaten something inappropriate, take it to your vet — they may want to run an X-ray scan.
Similar to humans, dogs can have allergies. Common allergens include pollen, mold, dust, dirt, or certain types of food.
If your dog has an allergy to a particular ingredient, it may trigger symptoms like coughing, wheezing, itching, and even diarrhea. Ask your vets about running a dog allergy test to spot the exact allergens and eliminate them from your dog’s diet and environment.
Bacterial or Viral Infections
Bacteria and viruses are among the most common causes of dog diarrhea. From bacterial infections such as E. coli, salmonella, and streptococcus to viral infections such as parvovirus or coronavirus (not COVID-19, this is a much milder strain of coronavirus), there’s an array of sources and symptoms that can be attributed to these contagions, including diarrhea. Your vet can recommend the best treatment plan to get your pup back to normal as soon as possible.
Drug Side Effects
Antibiotics, sedatives, and painkillers always come with the risk of side effects, including diarrhea. Consult the symptoms with your vet as a different dosage may help eliminate this kind of reaction. If your dog takes antibiotics, you may want to support the growth of the good bacteria in your dog’s gut with high-quality probiotics that will also bolster the immune system and ensure smooth gastrointestinal motility.
Most dogs with a parasite infestation will have diarrhea along with other symptoms such as scooting and throwing up. The majority of parasites, such as hookworm, giardia, tapeworm, roundworm, and whipworm, aren’t life-threatening for adult dogs. However, they can pose a more serious threat for younger puppies or dogs with weak immune systems. It’s also worth mentioning that heartworm disease is life-threatening, so always check with your vet if you suspect your dog has an internal parasite.
Illness or Disease
Temporary illnesses, as well as more severe medical conditions, are commonly accompanied by diarrhea. While some ailments like inflammatory bowel disease derive directly from your dog’s digestive tract, other problems such as liver disease, diabetes, or hepatitis, will still damage your dog’s gut — causing uncomfortable bouts of diarrhea.
Remember that diseases in the gastrointestinal tract almost always involve bloody stools, so take it as a red flag and call the vet right away.
Stress or Anxiety
If you’ve ever had an upset stomach that triggered diarrhea, then know one thing — dogs can experience the same reaction. Much like humans, dogs can feel anxious and stressed, which may lead to bouts of diarrhea. Most cases of anxiety in dogs can be managed with natural compounds such as chamomile and hemp. Others will require behavioral therapy, but the vet may also suggest a variety of medications.
In the next section, we cover all possible options for treating dog diarrhea.
How NOT to Treat Diarrhea in Dogs (OTC Medications)
Before we dive into holistic remedies for dog diarrhea, let’s discuss the conventional treatment options, including human OTC medications. We don’t recommend them because of their high-risk profile, although veterinarians may use them as a means of intervention in severe (and chronic) cases of diarrhea.
A general rule of thumb is to keep dogs away from human medications. That being said, there are three types of man-made medications for diarrhea that can be used in dogs, but never long-term.
Antibiotics for Dogs
“Will antibiotics help my dog’s diarrhea?”
That’s a question we receive quite often from concerned dog parents.
Uncomplicated acute diarrhea in dogs has many possible triggers, but a primary bacterial etiology isn’t common. Diarrhea is often self-limiting, but severe cases may require the use of antibiotics, which is one of the primary methods used by practitioners in an effort to put a dog on a way to recovery.
The most commonly used antibiotic for dog diarrhea is metronidazole. It is primarily prescribed as an anti-diarrheal to reduce inflammation in the large intestine in dogs, cats, and horses.
It’s important that you use high-quality probiotics to support the gut’s microbiome when giving antibiotics to your dog.
The long-term use of antibiotics can have serious side effects, including:
- Skin irritation
- Digestive issues
- Diarrhea (!)
- Increased likelihood of developing secondary infections
Imodium for Dogs
Imodium is a brand name for a non-addictive medication called Loperamide, which slows down the movement of the food content in the digestive tract, encouraging the absorption of excess water.
In dog diarrhea, Imodium should act to prevent diarrhea and limit the repetitive, unproductive straining associated with the condition. Like most OTC medications these days, Imodium can be found in liquid and pill forms, as well as in formulations that contain other ingredients.
As is true with other medications, your dog may experience some Imodium-related adverse reactions, such as:
- Constipation (when you give the dog too much Imodium)
- Weight loss
Other contraindications for using Imodium in dog diarrhea include senior dogs and treatment of diarrhea caused by bacterial infections or toxins.
Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol for Dogs
Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol are two medications that contain the same main active ingredient — bismuth subsalicylate — and the same standard dose. They’re available as pills and liquid.
Although the exact mechanism of bismuth subsalicylate remains unknown, we do know that veterinarians use it to treat upset stomachs, vomiting, and diarrhea in dogs. Both medications coat and reduce inflammation in the irritated digestive tract, and act as acid reducers.
High doses of Kaopectate and Pepto-Bismol can be toxic to dogs, causing the following side effects:
- Black stool
- Bloody vomit
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea (!)
- Gastrointestinal bleeding
What Can I Give My Dog for Diarrhea?
Depending on the cause of diarrhea and your dog’s overall health, there are several natural methods to choose from if you want to bring their stool back to normal. Here’s the list of common holistic options that can improve your dog’s gastrointestinal functioning and help with diarrhea.
Dogs can fast themselves when they have a tummy problem. If you see your dog doesn’t eat for a while, don’t try to get them to eat.
However, if the dog doesn’t take the initiative, you can stop feeding him for 12 to 24 hours. Doing so will give his gut some time to rest and heal. If you deem it too long, you can reduce the fasting window to 6–12 hours of no food and water.
Keep in mind not to fast a puppy. You can do this only with adult dogs.
Once diarrhea has stopped or slowed down, offer your dog some water, starting with just a few teaspoons every few hours (very small dogs) or ½ to 1 cup (large dogs). Never use unfiltered tap water — filtered or spring water is the way to go.
From there, you can start giving your dog some broth or small amounts of bland food (more on this in the next section), but it should be easy on your dog’s stomach. Bone broth is the best option, to begin with, due to its dense nutritional content.
While not the most exciting diet for your dog, a bland diet is often recommended by veterinarians as a way to ease diarrhea and bring the dog’s tummy back to normal. This kind of feeding includes food low in fat and fiber to help your pet form a solid stool.
Some of the bland-friendly ingredients include meals made with boiled meat, bone broth, cottage cheese, pumpkin puree, or white rice on top of other foods that are easy on the tummy. The taste will not be as great as their regular food, but your doggy will thank you for that once the call of nature becomes less frequent and problematic.
As mentioned earlier, probiotics are the good bacteria responsible for keeping your dog’s gut healthy as shown by studies. Probiotics support your dog’s digestive health, immune function, and overall well-being.
If you want to not only treat but also prevent diarrhea in your dog, consider giving him a probiotic as part of his diet. These don’t have to be probiotics in a conventional form. There are many delicious probiotic chews on the market, which are tasty, effective, and safe for dogs with sensitive tummies.
CBD Oil for Dogs with Diarrhea: Does It Work?
Just as with humans, supplementation can be a part of a dog’s everyday routine. Some supplements can also be used as a means of intervention, which might be the case for CBD oil.
By now you probably know what CBD oil is, and if not, we’ve prepared a quick introduction below. CBD oil is now the most talked-about health supplement for both humans and pets. It offers a plethora of health benefits, from reduced anxiety to pain relief to immune boost and neuroprotection.
But does CBD help with dog diarrhea?
Here’s what you need to know.
What Is CBD?
CBD is short for cannabidiol – one of the 115 identified cannabinoids, which are the active ingredients in cannabis plants.
Unlike the other major cannabinoid THC, CBD doesn’t have intoxicating properties, so it won’t get your dog high.
That’s because these two compounds have a different way of engaging with our endocannabinoid systems.
Wait, what… What is an endocannabinoid system?
Also known as the ECS, the endocannabinoid system is a complex regulatory network consisting of neurotransmitters (endocannabinoids) and receptors (CB1 and CB2 receptors). It is a universal system among all mammals, including humans and dogs (1).
The ECS is responsible for helping the body maintain homeostasis — the balance between all important functions.
The ECS controls functions like memory, mood, sleep, body temperature, appetite, fertility, pain perception, stress response, immune health, and gastrointestinal function.
Whenever homeostasis goes out of whack, the ECS sends its endocannabinoids so they can bind to the cannabinoid receptors and help the body regain homeostasis.
The major limitation of the ECS is the short duration of endocannabinoids — and the fact that they aren’t stored for later.
A cannabinoid-deficient ECS may cause further imbalances between other systems and organs, including the gastrointestinal tract.
This is where CBD comes in.
CBD signals the ECS to produce more of its endocannabinoids. It also increases their longevity by inhibiting the set of enzymes that breaks them down. As a result, your dog’s body can efficiently use more of your natural endocannabinoids and restore homeostasis (2).
CBD also acts on several other receptor-based and receptor-independent pathways.
Below we explain how CBD may relieve dog diarrhea.
How Does CBD Oil Help with Diarrhea?
CBD is a natural compound with remarkable anti-inflammatory properties. Its interaction with the ECS also allows it to support a healthy gut microbiome, improve the peristalsis in the GI tract, and reduce abdominal discomfort.
Although no studies have been concluded regarding the use of CBD for dog diarrhea, there are several human studies indicating CBD may have a positive effect on this condition.
A study in 2017 mentioned that cannabinoids such as CBD are responsible for reducing the symptoms of diarrhea and abdominal pain. The study’s data came from several surveys and small cynical studies in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (3).
Some studies have suggested that CBD may affect gut contractions, emptying, transit time, and bowel movements. Studies on mice concluded that CBD had a relaxing effect on the subjects’ hypermotility, which is often associated with diarrhea (4).
Although these studies show promising results, more studies on dogs are needed to confirm if the therapeutic effects on the digestive tract translate into a canine gastrointestinal system.
Is CBD Safe for Dogs?
CBD is generally a safe compound. Many health agencies, including the World Health Organization, have acknowledged CBD as safe and well-tolerated in humans and animals.
That said, products like CBD oil can cause a few mild reactions, such as:
- Dry mouth
- Changes in appetite
CBD is also known to interact with certain medications. It inhibits the CYP450, which is a system of enzymes that plays an important role in drug metabolism. Taking CBD alongside certain pharmaceuticals can cause negative interactions, including toxic levels of the drug in your dog’s bloodstream.
Can CBD Oil Cause an Upset Stomach?
If the oil is suspended in MCT oil, consuming large amounts may also trigger diarrhea, which can make the situation worse. Should that happen, discontinue and look for a product with a higher concentration of CBD per milliliter.
The studies on the safety and efficacy of CBD also list diarrhea as one of the less common side-effects of administering extremely high doses of CBD. However, most dogs can benefit from doses of less than 50 mg of CBD (6).
Final Thoughts on the Things You Can Give Your Dog for Diarrhea
Diarrhea occurs when an individual is experiencing loose or watery stools, which happens approximately three times a day. It is a common issue in humans, but it can also happen to our canine friends.
Symptoms of dog diarrhea are similar to its human analog, including upset stomach, pain, fever, and uncontrollable bowel movement.
Accidental diarrhea can happen to dogs and you shouldn’t be worried as long as the condition ceases after 24 hours. However, persistent diarrhea may require veterinary intervention and the use of some medications.
Fortunately, most cases of dog diarrhea can be managed using home remedies. Besides fasting your dog, transitioning to a bland diet, and supplementing probiotics, you can give your dog herbal supplements like CBD oil.
CBD supports the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is responsible for keeping your dog’s health in a state of equilibrium. The ECS is spread throughout the body, including the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, and gastrointestinal tract.
Several studies have pointed to CBD as the potential solution for easing diarrhea in mice and humans, although no study has looked into its efficacy specifically in dogs. Nevertheless, reports from veterinarians and dog owners suggest that CBD may be a promising compound when it comes to easing GI problems such as diarrhea.
If you want to prevent further bouts of diarrhea in your dog, be sure to take care of their eating habits, provide a stress-free environment for them, and boost their immune system through an active lifestyle and proper supplementation.
- Pacher, Pál et al. “The endocannabinoid system as an emerging target of pharmacotherapy.” Pharmacological reviews vol. 58,3 (2006): 389-462. doi:10.1124/pr.58.3.2
- Corroon, Jamie, and Jake F Felice. “The Endocannabinoid System and its Modulation by Cannabidiol (CBD).” Alternative therapies in health and medicine vol. 25,S2 (2019): 6-14.
- Hasenoehrl, Carina et al. “Cannabinoids for treating inflammatory bowel diseases: where are we and where do we go?.” Expert review of gastroenterology & hepatology vol. 11,4 (2017): 329-337. doi:10.1080/17474124.2017.1292851
- Capasso, R et al. “Cannabidiol, extracted from Cannabis sativa, selectively inhibits inflammatory hypermotility in mice.” British journal of pharmacology vol. 154,5 (2008): 1001-8. doi:10.1038/bjp.2008.177
- Ahmed, Waseem, and Seymour Katz. “Therapeutic Use of Cannabis in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Gastroenterology & hepatology vol. 12,11 (2016): 668-679.
- Huestis, Marilyn A et al. “Cannabidiol Adverse Effects and Toxicity.” Current neuropharmacology vol. 17,10 (2019): 974-989. doi:10.2174/1570159X17666190603171901