Dog Diarrhea - How to Firm Up Dog Poop

Soft, gooey poop is not a joy to clean up at all; worse still if it is runny stool. It’s messy and icky but more importantly, it is an indicator of poor gut health.

All dogs get diarrhea at some point of their lives, just as we do.  You can prevent soft stool but you won’t be able to totally prevent diarrhea. The next best thing you can do is know as much as you can about what causes diarrhea then limit the number of times and duration of occurrence.

In both dogs and humans, diarrhea is the body’s natural way to purge itself of a toxin or pathogen. If diarrhea lasts for more than 48 hours, it might be a sign of an underlying health problem.

In this article, we shed light on when to call it an emergency, what you should do if it is and what you can do if it isn’t.

Understanding the canine digestive system

First, let’s have a basic understanding of how a dog’s digestive system works. The key difference between us and dogs is our jaws. We can chew sideways and grind our food. Our dogs can’t.

Canine jaws are made to crush and tear. That’s about it then they swallow chunks of raw food, especially meat (fresh and not so fresh). That is why their salivary enzymes are designed to kill bacteria.

Their stomach acids are 3 times stronger than ours, so dogs can digest chunks of food. Under normal circumstances, food travels through the entire digestive tract in 6 to 10 hours (at the most) to produce a firm, well-formed stool.

Whatever that cannot be absorbed into the system is expelled as waste. At times, this system runs into some problems and causes the runs. When this occurs, dogs’ natural instinct is to nibble raw grass.

Dog DiarrheaPhoto by sergio souza from Pexels

Why? Cellulose or fibre from greens is hard to digest. It helps to 
absorb excess liquid build-up in the intestine. At the same time, fibre bulks up matter in the gut and helps to move everything along out.

Soft stool or diarrhea?

Next, let us differentiate soft stool from diarrhea. If you look at the poop chart below, you can see representations of consistency from 1 to 7.

poop chart

The 4th and 5th are undesirable soft or loose turd while numbers 6 and 7 are considered diarrhea. Number 3 can shift to 2 or 4 depending on the dog’s diet. 

Why is my dog's poop always soft?

The ideal doo-doo is a number 2 on the poop chart. It has a firm shape with sections and does not leave smudges behind, nor does it flop over and lengthen like Plastic Man. Yet it is slightly soft when you press it, like Play Doh.

By soft or ‘loose stool’ we mean that it has the consistency of number 3 to 5 in the chart. These categories tend to leave smudges when you pick them up. They also don’t hold their shape. So what causes dog faeces to be this way?

Does overfeeding a dog cause loose stools?

Yes, as explained by Dr. Danny Tufaro, a veterinarian based in New York City, USA. A common symptom of overfeeding (aside from an overweight pet) is normal or good stool consistency in the morning, then it gets softer later in the day. According to Dr. Tufaro, this is a very common issue, especially with the more caloric dense dog food on the market.

Pet nutritionist Ruth Hatten offers more tips on the topic. If your dog’s poo is mostly firm but only occasionally soft, there is no cause for concern. You should bring your dog to the vet for a better diagnosis if the poop doesn't firm up after 48 hours and any of the symptoms below are present.

    • Very loose stool for more than 48 hours
    • Blood in the poop
    • Dog stops eating normally
    • Dog’s energy level drops suddenly
    • Vomiting
    • Fever
    • A sore or sensitive belly
    • Blackish stool

Dog diarrhea – probable causes

According to a study on dog chronic diarrhea published in a veterinary journal, diet is the most common and primary cause of diarrhea. The other causes are associated with the organs and other diseases.

Experts in the American Kennel Club (AKC) lists 12 common triggers for loose stool:

  1. Dietary indiscretion: Eating garbage, spoiled food, dead animals or inedible objects — the vets call this “garbage toxicosis” or “garbage gut.”
  2. Change in diet: It may take a few days for a dog’s digestive system to adapt to new proteins. That’s why many dog-food manufacturers recommend that you go slow when you switch from one brand of food to another.
  3. Food intolerance: Many dogs are lactose intolerant. Milk, yoghurt, ice cream and whipped cream can cause the runs in some dogs.
  4. Allergies
  5. Parasites: Roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, Coccidia and Giardia will cause illness in puppies or in adults with weak immune systems.
  6. Poisonous substances or plants
  7. Virus infections: Parvovirus, distemper and coronavirus are among the common viruses.
  8. Bacterial infections: Salmonella, E. Coli and a host of bacteria can be the cause.
  9. Illnesses: Kidney and liver disease, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer can disrupt the digestive system.
  10. Antibiotics and other medications
  11. Stress or emotional upset

How to know when dog diarrhea is serious

Here is a veterinarian guideline:

  • Acute diarrhea: lasts for less than 14 days
  • Chronic diarrhea: persists longer than 14 days
  • Presence of other symptoms: severe bloody diarrhea, generalized signs of illness (weakness, fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, dehydration) 

Diagnosing diarrhea

Once you’re sure that your dog has diarrhea, not the occasional tummy upset, it is best to let the vet do a proper diagnosis. You’ll need to bring a sample of fresh stool for the vet to do this effectively.

The vet will need your dog’s historical background, a study of the faeces to differentiate whether the diarrhea is of small bowel or large bowel origin, and run tests on whether any pathogens are present. Diagnostic tests may also include X-rays, biopsies of the intestinal tract, endoscopy, ultrasound and exploratory abdominal surgery.

Clinical treatment for dog diarrhea

Treatment depends on the cause and seriousness of each case. It can range among the following:

  • Withholding food for 12 to 24 hours
  • Feeding small amounts of an easily digested food at frequent intervals.
  • Feeding home-cooked bland diet
  • Antidiarrheal agents, dewormers and or probiotics
  • Intravenous fluid therapy
  • Antiemetic and/or gastroprotectant medication
  • Antimicrobial (selected cases) medication
  • Probiotics

What to feed dogs with loose stools?

Most cases are mild and can be treated at home in the preliminary stages. Normally, the first step is to put the dog on a 12 to 24-hour fast for its gastrointestinal tract to settle. Then, introduce foods that can normalize stool consistency.

Here are some methods to try:

  • Rice water (boil high-quality rice in a lot of water, remove the grains, and offer the dog the creamy white soup that’s left)
  • White rice
  • Boiled plain pumpkin
  • Yogurt or cottage cheese which has beneficial bacteria, for lactose tolerant dogs
  • Probiotics (these are also found in yogurt)
  • Boiled potatoes, without skin
  • Cottage cheese
  • Plain protein sources such as egg (no butter or oil) or chicken (without skin)
  • Herbs such as fennel have gut-soothing properties

Different methods work for different dogs. You might need to experiment a little to find the right formula. 

Nutritional management, as described above, is one of the proven methods of managing acute diarrhea. When diarrhea stops, you can slowly reintroduce its normal diet over a few days in incremental portions.

For pets with signs of acute large bowel diarrhea, a high-fiber diet is often used instead of a bland diet. 

Probiotics has been proven to shorten the duration of diarrhea, as supported by studies and testified by pet nutritionist Ruth Hatten. Hatten also claims that feeding a natural, fresh and human grade diet to your dog can go a long way to improve your dog's poop. 

Raw meat diets can bring balance to a dog's entire body, including its digestive and immune systems, thereby improving overall health and achieving optimum wellness. She also supports supplementing food with probiotics, especially if you're changing your dog's diet or it has recently been on medication.

Will pumpkin firm up dog stool?

Yes! But this doesn’t mean you should load each meal with pumpkin. This fibre-rich food is also high in vitamin A, which should not be given in excess quantities to dogs.

Pumpkin eases digestion

Photo by Anna Tukhfatullina Food Photographer/Stylist from Pexels

Pumpkin eases digestion in several ways. The soluble fiber content in pumpkin adds bulk to poop by absorbing water. Fiber fermentation produces beneficial fatty acids that supply energy to cells, stimulate intestinal sodium and water absorption, and lower the pH level of the large intestines.

Fiber also acts as a prebiotic or food for the existing good bacteria in the gut and lowers the pH level. By stimulating the growth of good bacteria, this inhibits growth of harmful bacteria.

How much pumpkin should I give my dog?

It depends on the size of your dog. If it is tiny, add only 1 tablespoon or less. If your dog is huge, a maximum of 4 tablespoons per meal is enough. Do not give more than this as you could cause constipation or an overdose of vitamin A.

Can pumpkin help with dog constipation?

Yes, for mild constipation. The same portions apply but you need to keep your dog well hydrated at the same time. Otherwise, it will worsen the constipation.

Can bone firm up my dog’s stool?

Yes, but give raw bone and not the marrow, as mentioned by Dr. Jodie Gruenstern in the Innovative Veterinary Care Journal


Diet and overfeeding are typical causes of soft poop whereas diarrhea can be triggered by a long list of things. Excess of water is definitely not the cause of either, so be sure to keep doggo hydrated, especially when it’s having the runs.


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