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What To Do When Your Puppy Has Diarrhea

puppy on potty pad

Most puppies recover from bouts of diarrhea within 48 hours. BradyCramm/iStock/Thinkstock

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It is never fun to wake up to diarrhea on your rug. And if you have a puppy, I can almost guarantee it will be on a rug — not linoleum or tile. For some reason, diarrhea is attracted to carpeting.

Diarrhea from a puppy is usually worse than at other life stages. To begin with, while mature dogs try to avoid stepping in diarrhea, puppies (at least some puppies) revel in loose stool. They romp through it, spread it and, unless they are very ill, simply have fun. Plus they want to help you clean it up and spread some on you, too!

The Dangers Of Puppy Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be a serious problem in puppies, however — not just a big mess. This is especially true for very young puppies and toy breed puppies. Puppies under 4 months of age or under 10 pounds don’t have a lot of reserves to call on. If they get diarrhea, they can go from happily playing to down and out very quickly.

A puppy with diarrhea almost always rates a call to your veterinarian. This is to get guidance on what home therapy you can try and what dose to give for your pup. Puppies metabolize many medications differently than mature dogs, so dosages need adjustments.

If your pup is vomiting as well as having diarrhea, you need to go to your veterinarian.

The same rule follows if you see any blood in the diarrhea or vomit. Ditto if your pup is weak and/or not eating. Remember, puppies are small and don’t have many reserves to help them through a crisis.

At the veterinary hospital, your puppy may need fluids — given under the skin or intravenously. Medications to slow down the bowels and act against infectious bacteria may be needed. A stool sample will be checked for parasites. Your veterinarian may run some tests to rule out parvovirus infection. Luckily, most puppy diarrheas are minor events.

Deciding Whether To Go To The Veterinarian

  1. Is your puppy vomiting? If yes, take him to the vet. If no, simply call the vet.
  2. Is there blood in the diarrhea? If yes, off to the vet. If no, just call.
  3. Check gum color. If pink, just call. If pale, head to the clinic.
  4. Get a stool sample and take it to the veterinary hospital.
  5. Encourage drinking.
  6. Feed bland food.

What To Do When Puppy Diarrhea Happens

Always try to save some of the loose stool when you clean up. A paper towel swipe is often enough. Simply stick that in a re-sealable plastic bag. If you see a parasite or incriminating evidence like a chewed piece of plastic, make sure you add that. The stool sample should go to your veterinarian even if your puppy doesn’t have to. Drive with a window open or the air conditioning on even with a tightly closed bag. Trust me on this.

After you have washed off your puppy, you need to evaluate him. Check his gums for color. Unless your puppy has pigmented gums (these look black), the gums should be pink. If you press on the gums, they will blanch and turn white. As you remove your finger pressure, the color should return almost instantly. Pale gums or slow return of color could mean anemia or shock. Anemia is most likely with a puppy with diarrhea — probably from internal parasites. If your pup is pale, you should head to your veterinarian. Enough of a parasite load can kill your puppy just from anemia.

So what can you do safely at home to help a pup with diarrhea? Start by encouraging him to drink. Puppies, especially those really young and really small ones, can dehydrate quickly. Make sure your puppy has access to fresh water at all times when he has diarrhea. Yes, this may mess up housetraining a tad, but he needs the fluids. Bigger pups, such as medium, large and giant breeds, often enjoy having some ice cubes in the bowl. The cold water is enticing — or maybe they just like chasing the ice cubes around! Stick to tepid water for the small guys.

You can entice a reluctant drinker with a low-sodium bouillon cube in the water or a few drops of liquid from some tuna canned in water. Pediatric hydration fluids for human babies work well, too, if your pup will drink them.

Stick to bland food. That might be boiled, unseasoned chicken or hamburger with some rice, or a prescription diet for intestinal problems. This is only short term. You want your puppy back on his regular diet as soon as possible, but make the change gradual when you switch back. You can also add a small amount of plain, canned pumpkin to his diet. Check with your veterinarian for a safe dose for your puppy’s size. The pumpkin has fiber that helps to bind loose stool.

Tracking The Cause Of Puppy Diarrhea

Try to figure out why your pup has diarrhea to begin with. The stool sample may indicate a parasite. That is a nice clear-cut answer. Your veterinarian will then give you the proper medication to treat that parasite. This is not a “one size fits all” situation. Different parasites require different medications.

Internal parasites are one of the top reasons for puppy diarrhea. These can range from worms you can sometimes see in the stool to protozoa and coccidia, which can only be seen with a microscope. Worms may not appear themselves either, but their eggs are usually present in the stool. These parasites are why a stool-sample evaluation is so important.

Dogs tend to develop some immunity to intestinal parasites as they age but puppies are generally at their mercy. These parasites drain nutrients from a puppy and may cause slow growth, poor coats, a pot-bellied appearance and diarrhea. Large- and giant-breed puppies especially may show slow or poor growth due to the lack of proper nutrition. Some of these parasites may even be transferred to your puppy in utero so they have a head start on causing havoc.

If the stool sample is clear of parasites, try to think of what your puppy had access to for a day or so before the diarrhea started. Did he get some unusual dog treats? Did you have friends with small children visiting who might have snuck him some extra snacks? Did you give him a special treat like a small piece of ham from your own dinner?

Think beyond traditional dog food items. Puppies explore with their mouths. A curious puppy might eat a worm in the garden, chew on some flowers or swallow a piece of leather. Puppies like to check out leaves and anything they can find outside as well as inside.

I find that my puppies tend to clear up from uncomplicated diarrhea in 24 to 48 hours. Certainly if the loose stools persist longer than that, you should schedule a veterinary exam.


By: Dr. Deb M. Eldredge

Feature Image: BradyCramm/iStock/Thinkstock