Diarrhea and vomiting are two of the most common reasons dogs are brought into the vet’s office. Here is a guide to help you understand how to deal with both of these problems. Because both diarrhea and vomiting have a multitude of causes ranging from minor to life-threatening, if you have any doubt as to the cause or severity of your dog’s diarrhea or vomiting you should not hesitate to contact or visit your vet immediately.
Diarrhea – loose, unformed stool – can be caused by no more than a small gastrointestinal upset or a bout nerves or it can be a symptom of a more serious problem requiring immediate care such as parvovirus or a twisting or collapse of the bowel area. Chronic diarrhea can also indicate an underlying disease such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, pancreatitis and certain tumors including lymphoma and adenocarcinoma. However, two of the most common causes of diarrhea in dogs are intestinal parasites such as giardiasis and roundworm and dietary causes such as switching food too quickly or eating spoiled food.
Diarrhea is categorized based on the location of the problem causing the diarrhea. Diarrhea is considered large bowel when the problem causing the diarrhea occurs in the colon or large intestine. Symptoms of large bowel diarrhea are feces with mucous (sometimes the feces will look like jelly) and red blood. Your dog may strain to defecate, and the amount of feces produced may or may not be larger than normal. Some causes of large bowel diarrhea are gastrointestinal parasites (giardiasis or roundworm for example), inflammatory bowel disease, tumors, large bowel bacterial overload, dietary changes or indiscretions, medications and stress. Diarrhea is considered small bowel when the problem is located in the small intestines. Symptoms of small bowel diarrhea include increased feces volume and changes in feces color. In general, there will be no mucous in the feces, and your dog will not usually strain to defecate. Some causes of small bowel diarrhea are small bowel bacterial overload, inflammatory bowel disease, other malabsorption diseases, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, food allergies, tumors and gastrointestinal parasites.
If your dog has diarrhea that contains a lot of blood or mucous, if his stomach seems bloated, if his gums are pale or a strange color, or if he seems upset, lethargic, weak, or in pain he needs to go to the veterinarian immediately. Repeated diarrhea in puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with any pre-existing health condition also requires veterinary assistance.
If your young or middle-aged generally healthy dog has diarrhea, but seems otherwise normal, you can try a homecare remedy to see if the diarrhea resolves itself. You should of course put a phone call into your vet to make sure this is appropriate for your dog before starting on the homecare remedy. To treat diarrhea at home, first do not give your dog any food at all for about twelve hours, but allow him all the fresh water he wants to drink. It is important that your dog drink because diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Upon consultation with your vet you may also mix your dog’s water with an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte® – generally one gives ½ water and ½ electrolyte solution. After 12 hours, you can begin feeding your dog a small portion of 3 parts plain boiled white rice and 1 part plain white meat boiled chicken breast. Feed him this bland diet in small quantities four times a day until his diarrhea resolves. Your vet may also allow you to give your dog a small amount of Pepto-Bismol® or Kaopectate®. However, it is essential that you adhere to your vet’s recommendation regarding the safety and the dosage of these medications because they contain subsalicylates which can be harmful in dogs in elevated doses. If your dog’s diarrhea does not disappear after a day or two on a bland diet, take him to the veterinarian. Of course, if at any point, your dog seems to get worse, you should take him to the vet.
Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of undigested food or stomach contents. The active effort of vomiting will usually require your dog to visibly contract the belly. Vomiting is to be distinguished from regurgitation in which there is a backflow of food contents without any active effort on the part of your dog. With regurgitation your dog may cough, but will not heave his belly.
Vomiting can be the result of a multitude of underlying conditions from a minor stomach upset, fear, or excitement to a true medical emergency such as an ingestion of toxic substance, acute pancreatitis, or even bloat. Vomiting can also be caused by many underlying diseases and condition such as ulcers, tumors, diabetes mellitus, or worms.
You should visit your veterinarian right away if your dog is vomiting repeatedly, seems very weak, or has a swollen belly. Vomiting in puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with any pre-existing health condition also requires veterinary assistance.
Vomit that contains red blood or digested blood, a dark substance that looks like coffee grounds, also means your dog needs immediate vet attention. The red or digested blood generally indicates your dog is bleeding internally, usually at a point somewhere between his mouth and bowels.
Vomit that looks and smells like feces also requires immediate veterinary attention. Vomit with a feces-like odor or appearance can be a sign of intestinal obstruction.
Projectile vomiting – in which the vomit is ejected forcefully and a considerable distance from your dog’s mouth – also requires a visit to the vet. Projectile vomiting is often caused by an obstruction somewhere in your dog’s stomach.
If your dog repeatedly tries to vomit but nothing is produced, especially if these actions are accompanied by a swollen and painful abdomen, this is often the sign of bloat, a life-threatening condition requiring immediate medical attention.
You should also take your dog immediately to the veterinarian if you suspect the vomiting has been triggered by your dog’s ingestion of a toxic substance or any non-food item.
If your young middle-aged generally healthy dog who seems otherwise normal and whose bouts of vomiting do not adhere to any of the “go to the vet” triggers above, upon checking with your vet, you can try a homecare remedy. To rest your dog’s stomach, withhold food for at least 10 to 12 hours. You should also withhold water for the first 4-6 hours, but give your dog an ice cube to lick hourly. You are trying to rest his stomach, but you do not want to dehydrate him. After 4 hours, you may offer your dog 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water every two hours until the 10-12 hour rest period has elapsed. Upon consultation with your vet, you may also mix your dog’s water with an electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte® – generally one gives ½ water and ½ electrolyte solution. After 10-12 hours, you may resume allowing your dog normal access to water and you can begin feeding him a small portion of 3 parts plain boiled white rice with 1 part plain white meat boiled chicken breast. Feed him this bland diet in small quantities 4 times a day until his vomiting resolves. Of course, if at any point, your dog seems to get worse, you should take him to the vet.