Dog Diarrhea - Common Causes And How To Treat It

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 possibly an indicator of poor gut health.

In both dogs and humans, diarrhea and vomiting 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.

As dogs love eating things they shouldn’t, it can lead to a pretty upset stomach. Most dog diarrhea and vomiting can be treated at home. However, there are other cases where a visit to the veterinarian may be in order.

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 some bacteria.

Their stomach acids are 3 times stronger than ours, so dogs can digest chunks of food and even bone. 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 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 barely or don’t hold their shape. So what causes dog faeces to be this way? 

Another common misconception is that scores 3 to 5 is diarrhea which isn’t true. Diarrhea will result in grades 6 and 7.

Causes of dog diarrhea

Diet is the most common and primary cause of diarrhea in dogs however dogs that went through a stressful event are known to empty their digestive system in liquid poos which can last for a full day for some anxious dogs. The other causes are associated with the organs and other diseases.

There are 11 common triggers for dog diarrhea including:

  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

If you observe the following symptoms, in addition to dog diarrhea or vomiting, take it to the vet immediately: 

  • Loss of appetite or thirst 
  • Lethargy
  • Pain
  • Blood in the stool (observe to see if your dog’s stool is dark, blackish or has visible blood)
  • Reduced or non-existent urinations

Your dog is likely to be even more compromised by diarrhea if it is a young pup, a senior dog or already has an ongoing medical problem.

    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.

    How to treat dog diarrhea

    To stop dog diarrhea, there are different treatments depending on the severity. Some cases may require specific medication or therapy whereas others may be resolved on their own with simple care. 

    Clinical treatment for dog diarrhea

    Treatment from the veterinarian can range among the following:

    • Withholding food for 12 to 24 hours
    • Feeding small amounts of 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

     Home treatment for dog diarrhea

    When treating your dog with diarrhea and vomiting at home, try the following: 

    • Withhold food for about 12 hours so that your dog’s GI is able to rest. 
    • Choose the right food for dog diarrhea.
    • Ask your veterinarian before feeding your dog any medication

      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.


      Will pumpkin firm up dog stool?

      Yes! But this doesn’t mean you should load each meal with pumpkin. Too much fiber can have the opposite effect.

      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.

      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

      You can also feed your dog bone broth from Petcubes as it has all the nutritional necessities raw bones contain whilst being gentle on its stomach.


      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 your dog hydrated, especially when it’s having the runs. When your dog is having diarrhea or is vomiting, it may cause panic when you do not know what to do so it is best to be prepared now before it happens.


      Reviewed by: 

      Dr Francis is one of the top wildlife nutritionists in Asia. Originating from Montreal, Canada, he left at 21 to pursue his Masters and subsequently a PhD in wildlife nutrition at Oxford Brookes University. Instead of taking the path of common animal science to learn about farm animals, or through the veterinarian space and taking a certificate in nutrition, he took the road less travelled to dive deep into the world of animal ecology, metabolism and nutrition.