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Managing Your Dog's Diarrhea at Home

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Managing Your Dog's Diarrhea at Home

Diarrhea is one of the most common ailments of dogs. Eating spoiled food (garbage raiding) or a foreign object are two causes of the acute or sudden onset of diarrhea. Poor nutrition can cause several conditions that result in chronic diarrhea. Despite the cause, several remedies are available to comfort your dog.

What Causes Diarrhea in Dogs?

Although eating something unexpected is most likely to cause diarrhea, other causes include food intolerance or food allergies, intestinal tract diseases, antibiotics, other medications, and stress or anxiety

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Food Allergies and Intolerances

A food allergy requires previous exposure to the substance causing the adverse reaction, whereas a food intolerance does not involve the immune system. Due to overexposure, dogs fed a single protein source can be allergic to that food. This is often the case with kibble-fed dogs, who are always given the same food throughout their lives. Food intolerances are usually caused by additives or synthetic ingredients added to commercial food.

Gastrointestinal Diseases

Diseases of the intestinal tract include gut microbiome imbalances, leaky gut syndrome (LGS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), colitis, and small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). 

The gut microbiome is a complex community of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that constantly evolves over the dog's lifetime. Dietary changes have a significant impact on the composition of the gut microbiome. Dysbiosis, an imbalance of the gut microbiome, directly affects the immune system. Antibiotics are a major cause of dysbiosis as they cause a significant decrease in the diversity and richness of the gut flora. 

Leaky Gut Syndrome occurs if the gut microbiome is imbalanced and the mucous membrane of the intestinal tract shrinks and cracks. The holes or cracks in the lining allow partially digested food, toxins, yeast, allergens, or other pathogens to penetrate the tissues beneath it and enter the bloodstream, causing an immune response. Inflammation is triggered throughout the body.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder. IBD is the most common cause of chronic diarrhea and vomiting in dogs. It can occur in both the small and large intestines, frequently with multiple bowel segments affected simultaneously. IBD is linked to imbalances or dysbiosis of the gut flora of the intestinal tract. 

Colitis is a general term for intestinal tract inflammation that results in reduced water absorption and a decreased ability to store feces in the colon. Colitis can be acute or chronic. Stress is the leading cause of colitis in dogs. 

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is the presence of excessive levels of abnormal bacteria in the small intestine. As food enters the small intestine, it continues the digestive process initiated in the stomach and begins the nutrient extraction and absorption process.  

Under normal conditions, bacterial colonies that inhabit the mucosa aid in breaking down the partially digested food to prepare it for absorption into the bloodstream. However, when SIBO occurs, the imbalance of the bacteria types prevents this critical phase in the digestive process, leading to malabsorption and malnutrition. Diarrhea is a common clinical sign of SIBO. 

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is caused by the premature activation of digestive enzymes released by the pancreas. It results in severe pain. Pancreatitis can be acute, sudden onset, and often severe, or chronic, long-term inflammation that is less painful and may not be detected. Acute pancreatitis can be life-threatening, requiring immediate veterinary care. Diarrhea, along with vomiting, is a common clinical sign of pancreatitis. 

Overuse of Antibiotics

The overuse of antibiotics is as prevalent in veterinary medicine as in human medicine. A study that analyzed prescriptions of antibiotics in dogs deemed for therapeutic use from May 2008 to May 2009 was conducted at a veterinary teaching hospital. The results were disturbing!

There was a confirmed infection in just 17% of the cases of all prescriptions written! There was a suspected infection in 45% of the cases, and in 38%, there was no documented evidence of infection.

Any time you give your dog medicine, metabolic pathways are disrupted. In the case of antibiotics, diarrhea is the main clinical symptom of metabolic abnormalities. The equilibrium of gut bacteria is upset by antibiotics, which frequently kill off the "good" bacteria and promote an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

Ironically, one of the most common treatments for diarrhea is the antibiotic Metronidazole or Flagyl. Many veterinarians automatically prescribe this, even for repeated bouts of diarrhea, despite the growing evidence that Metronidazole can cause long-term negative impacts on our dog's gut microbiome. 

Studies have revealed that it is an excellent treatment for a Clostridioides difficile or "C. diff" infection. However, it has no medicinal benefits for dogs' inflammatory bowel disease or acute diarrhea.

Other Causes of Diarrhea

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that are specifically produced for dogs include carprofen (Novox or Rimadyl), deracoxib (Deramaxx), firocoxib (Previcox), meloxicam (Metacam), and grapipant (Galliprant). They are prescribed for their pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. However, one of these drugs' most common side effects is diarrhea.  

Intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, Coccidia, or Giardia can cause diarrhea. Performing a simple fecal analysis can determine if this is the problem.

Stress and Anxiety 

Stress and anxiety also cause diarrhea in dogs. Stress for dogs results from separation, environmental, and social anxiety. 

Separation anxiety is typically thought to be the cause of stress in dogs. Separation anxiety can occur after regular routines are changed due to schedule changes for pet parents. Moving to a new home or having new caregivers can also create stress.

Dogs that experience anxiety linked to a specific place, a vet clinic, or loud noises such as sirens or fireworks suffer from environmental anxiety. Social anxiety is when your dog is anxious about being around new people or other animals. This is often the case with dogs that were not well-socialized as puppies or suffered from traumatic events.

The causes of the stress and anxiety will need to be addressed to get diarrhea under control long-term. If your veterinarian wants to use anti-anxiety medications, consider all of the adverse side effects of those drugs. Another treatment option is finding the root cause and using training and desensitization techniques. Home remedies for bouts of diarrhea will provide temporary relief.

Managing Diarrhea at Home

Simple bouts of diarrhea or gastrointestinal upset can be managed at home without consulting your veterinarian. However, if you think the diarrhea is severe enough to cause dehydration, visit your veterinarian as soon as possible. 

One simple test to assess the hydration level of your dog is to pinch the fur at the base of the neck and pull it upward or tent it. The skin should spring back down automatically and quickly when you release it. Your dog may be moderately dehydrated if it stays tented or slowly returns to normal. Another test is to examine your dog's gums. They should be moist and pink in color. Dry or tacky gums are a good indicator of dehydration. 

Calm the Digestive System by Fasting

Fasting your dog will allow her body to rest and heal without expending energy for digestion Fasting also provides a break from ingesting toxins such as pesticides or herbicides often found in food. The gut microbiome follows the circadian rhythm of the body. Fasting creates a different environment in the gut, with beneficial bacteria flourishing.

Due to the threat of hypoglycemia, toy breeds, dogs under 10 pounds, and young puppies under six months should not be fasted longer than six to eight hours. Adult dogs can be comfortably fasted for 12-24 hours, even up to 48 hours if you ensure proper hydration. 

You can always provide water, but you may have to limit the amount your dog drinks. Too much water can prolong diarrhea. Start with one cup of water in the morning and the evening. 

If your dog shows improvement six hours after the last episode of diarrhea, you can offer her low-sodium bone broth. Bone broth will help restore your dog's digestive system and improve her immune system.

Chamomile, peppermint, and ginger tea can be substituted for water at one cup in the morning and one in the evening. The tea can ease cramping by relaxing the muscles in the stomach and intestines and reducing gas, indigestion, and nausea. 

Add Bland Foods After the Fasting Period

After a twelve-hour food fast, a dog should be able to resume eating. However, it should initially be offered a bland low-fat diet to prevent relapses of diarrhea. Small amounts of their regular food with marshmallow root or slippery elm powder mixed in are good to give initially. If feeding a raw diet, feed leaner muscle meats and omit any organ meats if possible until their stool is normalized.

Providing plain canned pumpkin to your dog can help relieve signs of diarrhea. After fasting, give one tablespoon of canned pumpkin for every fifteen pounds of body weight. Pumpkin has a high fiber content, aiding in regulating the digestive tract. Use plain pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling that contains spices and sugar. 

One problem with using pumpkin is its starch level. Providing dogs with too much starch has been shown to cause inflammation throughout the body and degenerative diseases in dogs. Too much starch can also disrupt the balance of beneficial and harmful bacteria in the gut microbiome.

Another option for relief from acute diarrhea is activated charcoal. You can purchase encapsulated activated charcoal in most health food stores and online. Giving your dog one capsule for every twenty-five pounds of body weight is usually enough to firm up its stool.

Contrary to popular belief, feeding your dog chicken and rice is not ideal for restoring an imbalanced gastrointestinal system. Rice is high in starch and can ferment in the GI system, feeding dangerous bacteria. The harmful bacteria may cause diarrhea, so rice should be avoided, especially after bouts of diarrhea. 

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Herbs that Can Aid the Digestive Tract

Several herbs can offer relief and speed up your dog's digestive tract recovery. For acute diarrhea, using these anti-inflammatory herbs for 3-5 days will aid in healing the intestinal tract.  

Slippery Elm

Slippery elm is a soothing herb that calms mucous membranes. It is a safe, gentle, and effective herb for your dog's inflamed intestines. Slippery elm should be given with food. Placing it in warm water will result in a gelatinous product that can be combined with other foods. The dosage is: 

  • Small dogs: ¼ teaspoon three times a day
  • Medium dogs: ½ to ⅔ teaspoon three times a day
  • Large dogs: ¾ to 1 teaspoon three times a day

Honest Kitchen's "Perfect Form" is an herbal supplement that contains papaya leaf, plantain leaf, slippery elm, pumpkin seed, pectin, papain, and fennel. This supplement can be given daily to maintain optimal gut health or as needed for diarrhea treatment.

The benefits of slippery elm and Honest Kitchen's Perfect Form are usually seen within 24 hours, with your dog's stool thickening within 24-36 hours.

Although slippery elm is an excellent herb for calming diarrhea, the tree is now endangered due to the Dutch Elm disease that has ravished the elm population in the United States. Marshmallow root should be used instead whenever possible.

Marshmallow Root 

Marshmallow root is good for calming the gastrointestinal tract and reducing inflammation. Providing this herb to your dog will reduce inflammation, increase urine production to remove excess water in the body, inhibit the growth of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the intestines, and boost the immune system.

Create a tincture of 20 drops of marshmallow root to 1 ounce of water. Dose as follows:

  • Small dogs: 1 dropperful three times a day
  • Medium dogs: 2 dropperful three times a day
  • Large dogs: 3 dropperful three times a day

Plantain

Plantain is an herb that pulls toxins from the gut mucosa, reducing pain and inflammation. The best treatment method is to make a fresh, strong tea from crushed leaves daily. Use a teaspoon of crushed leaves in a cup of boiling water and dose as follows:

  • Small dogs: 1 dropperful three times a day
  • Medium dogs: 3 dropperful three times a day
  • Large dogs: 4 dropperful three times a day

Restoring the Gut Microbiome

The gut microbiome is likely out of balance after bouts of diarrhea. Adding prebiotics and probiotics to your dog's diet will help restore the natural balance of the gut microbiome.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are soluble dietary fibers that withstand digestion throughout the GI tract, allowing them to enter the colon undigested. In the colon, they ferment and create short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that stimulate the growth and activity of the body's beneficial bacteria. 

Prebiotics improve the composition of the gut flora by providing food for the beneficial bacteria, decreasing inflammation, supporting the immune system, and reducing the overall risk of disease. 

Larch arabinogalactan

Larch arabinogalactan is a soluble fiber found in small amounts in carrots, pears, corn, coconut, shiitake mushrooms, and some herbs like echinacea and astragalus. True larch arabinogalactan, the wood gum of the Western Larch tree, is an FDA-approved prebiotic that promotes beneficial bacteria development and activity, resulting in a balanced gut flora that helps with food transitions and unsettled stomachs. 

Larch aids in loose stool, constipation, and the health of our dog's anal glands. This is especially important for raw-fed dogs because the reduced size of their stools may not be capable of expressing the anal glands naturally as they pass through the rectum.

Mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms include shiitake, maitake, oyster, reishi, lion's mane, turkey tail, Cordyceps, button, Chaga, and king. The benefits of mushrooms include anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-allergy, and tumor reduction properties. 

Mushrooms stimulate the gut microbiome and the immune system, promote the health of the heart, liver, and GI tract, manage diabetes, and delay aging. They are also used to prevent and treat intestinal parasitic diseases.

Chicory Root

Chicory root benefits include improvement in digestion, anti-inflammatory properties for the GI tract that aid with constipation, acts as an antioxidant, and acts as an antiparasitic as the natural oil emitted by chicory is thought to assist in the elimination of intestinal parasites. 

Additional Prebiotics

Other natural prebiotics that benefit the gut microbiome include garlic, burdock root, dandelion greens, apples, asparagus, and bananas. Garlic has been demonized for dogs, but it has many beneficial properties and is only toxic if given in large quantities.

Probiotics

Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can be used to naturally prevent and manage a variety of ailments, including diarrhea, by restoring the natural balance of good and bad bacteria. They also aid in regulating your dog's gut immune system and reduce inflammation, which is one of the leading causes of diarrhea.

Probiotic yeast 

Saccharomyces boulardiii treats acute diarrhea and other digestive issues caused by chronic gut inflammation. This strain is also antibiotic-resistant. Many benefits of Saccharomyces boulardii have been identified, including the stimulation of antibody production against Clostridium difficile toxin A, the rapid re-establishment of the gut microbiota, stabilization of the gastrointestinal barrier function by strengthening the enterocyte tight junctions (critical with Leaky Gut Syndrome), and enhancement of the mucosal immune response.

Probiotic Bacteria

Bacilli strains of probiotics are spore-forming bacteria that overcome harmful bacteria in the gut. With their anti-inflammatory properties, they are used for inflammatory digestive diseases. Bacillus subtilis assists in the absorption of water in the colon, which aids in the control of diarrhea. It can also improve the severity of clinical signs in more chronic forms of diarrhea, such as inflammatory bowel disease and colitis, when combined with Enterococcus faecium.

Akkermansia muciniphila is another probiotic bacterial strain that has recently shown remarkable benefits for your dog. It normally resides in a healthy gut lining. Treating your dog with Akkermansia muciniphilaI promotes a healthy GI mucosal lining and supports the motility within the GI tract, preventing diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

Pediococcus acidilactici, a bacterial probiotic used with B subtilis and other probiotics, has considerably reduced the time dogs take to recover from gastroenteritis.

The commercially available probiotics in capsules are dehydrated bacteria that reanimate when rehydrated. There are products labeled as dog probiotics, but analysis of these products revealed the same contents as those found in human probiotics. Interestingly, they are often much more expensive than those labeled for humans! 

You can mix the contents of the probiotic capsules with two tablespoons of full-fat plain yogurt and filtered water. Provide the mixture to your dog between meals on an empty stomach. Do not add to your dog's meal, as the digestive enzymes in the stomach will deactivate the bacteria. Since it is a liquid, the yogurt and water mixture will pass through the stomach quickly, avoiding the negative impact of the stomach acid and digestive enzymes on the bacteria. 

Goat Kefir as a Probiotic

Kefir is a fermented food that has the consistency of drinkable yogurt. Goat kefir is more easily digested than cow milk kefir. It is rich in protein, calcium, and billions of probiotic bacteria. Kefir boosts your dog's immune system, aids digestive tract disorders, and improves bone health. 

Dogs can have the following amounts:

  • Small dogs: 1 tbsp once a day
  • Medium dogs: 2 tbsp once a day
  • Large dogs: 3 tbsp once a day

The Role Digestive Enzymes Play

Three main digestive enzymes are created in your dog's body: protease to break down proteins, amylase to break down carbohydrates, and lipase to break down fats. Sometimes, your dog will benefit from supplementing digestive enzymes, especially if there are bouts of diarrhea caused by pancreatitis.

The digestive enzymes are produced in the pancreas. The enzyme output may be compromised when the pancreas is inflamed or irritated. 

Veterinarians should rule out exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI, that causes damage to the pancreas if the dog presents with a bad case of vomiting and diarrhea in conjunction with weight loss and a voracious appetite. This is especially significant in German Shepherds and Rough-Coated Collies, as they have a genetic predisposition to EPI.

Reduce the Risk of Additional Bouts of Diarrhea

To avoid prolonged diarrhea or recurrent bouts, slowly reintroduce solid foods to your dog. Utilizing probiotics daily for at least a few weeks will also help recover the inflamed gut.

Over several days, begin to reintroduce all of the foods you had fed previously, but add them back one at a time to see if a specific food causes a relapse. Monitoring the stools will help you know if you are on target with the foods offered. If the stools start to get firmer and less frequent, you are on the right track.

When to Call Your Vet

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If your dog's diarrhea lasts two or more days, contact your veterinarian. The cause of diarrhea can be bacterial, viral, or caused by intestinal parasites or the ingestion of foreign bodies like socks or toys.

Parvovirus can cause bloody diarrhea, a life-threatening condition if your dog becomes too dehydrated. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you see bloody diarrhea. 

It is crucial to have your dog's stools analyzed for parasites and treated for parasitic infections to prevent transmission to humans, especially children or immuno-compromised adults. Giardia, a protozoan that lives in the intestinal tract, can be accidentally transmitted to young children who tend to put their hands and other objects in their mouths.

In general, you should contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the following signs accompanied by your dog's diarrhea:

  • Lack of energy or extreme fatigue
  • Dry, tacky gums
  • Reduced skin elasticity
  • Lethargic behavior
  • Bloody stools
  • Elevated temperature

Your veterinarian will perform blood tests and analyze the stool to determine the root cause of diarrhea. To rehydrate your dog, intravenous or subcutaneous fluids may be needed until the diarrhea has subsided. Other treatments may be offered for parasitic or bacterial infections.

Takeaway Bites

  • Diarrhea is usually caused by something your dog ate that its body did not like!
  • Fasting your dog is the first step in managing diarrhea at home.
  • Herbs, probiotics, and digestive enzymes can offer relief and enhance the healing of the gut microbiome.

References

Course Links

Articles from future units will be accessible once you have completed that unit.

Unit 1 - Learning About The Gut Microbiome 

Unit 4 - Free Feeding Can Be Detrimental 

Unit 4 - Pesticides Plague Your Dog Daily 

Unit 5 - Prebiotics And Probiotics Boost Your Dog's Health