Caring for a dog with the "runs" can be a nightmare. It's gross, smelly, and often ends up in messy disasters. The unexpected urge to "go" when dogs have diarrhea can lead to many unsightly accidents. On top of all that, it can make your dog feel awful. Ignoring the issue is not an option.
Diarrhea can occur for many reasons. Ultimately, something agitated your dog's gastrointestinal tract enough to disrupt the normal digestive process.
In most cases, it's a temporary issue that will disappear within a day or two. But sometimes, it can be a days-long affair or a chronic problem.
Because diarrhea is so uncomfortable for dogs, your furry friend's appetite will likely plummet. As a result, you have to be careful about how and what you feed them.
There's a fine balance between giving your dog the sustenance it needs to stay healthy while providing its gastrointestinal tract enough time to recover.
Whether your dog is in the throes of diarrhea now or you want to prepare yourself for the inevitable, you've come to the right place. Here's a breakdown of what you need to know about feeding a dog with diarrhea.
Diarrhea 101: Why It Happens
First things first, let's talk about what diarrhea is and how it happens.
Diarrhea is loose stool. Depending on the severity of the situation, it can come out as slightly moist and formless or as a straight-up liquid. Either way, it's not difficult to identify.
Healthy poop holds its shape and has a uniform color. Meanwhile, diarrhea loops on the ground and may take on a dramatically different color than your dog's normal poop.
So why does this happen?
As mentioned earlier, it's an issue with the gastrointestinal tract. There are a number of reasons why it can occur. For some dogs, it's a matter of eating something the stomach doesn't agree with.
Dogs love to get into garbage and consume things we humans would never imagine eating. Sometimes, they eat something that throws off that delicate gut microbiome, resulting in diarrhea.
In other cases, dogs can develop food sensitivities. Certain ingredients can cause diarrhea flare-ups, requiring a switch-up in foods. Dogs can also get diarrhea from parasites, medical issues, and other health problems.
The good news is that diarrhea isn't always a major cause for concern. It can be alarming, but it's normal for dogs to get diarrhea at some point. Feeding the right foods and taking the correct steps can resolve the situation and get your dog's system back on track.
What to Do When Your Dog Has Diarrhea
So you've noticed a change in your dog's behavior and see that signature runny stool. What now?
There are a few things you should do to give your dog much-needed relief.
Monitor Them Closely
The most important thing to do is watch your canine companion. Diarrhea is a painful experience that will likely cause noticeable behavioral changes. Your dog may not be up to its normal playful self. That's OK, and it's normal.
However, you need to monitor them closely and note any additional side effects. While diarrhea is usually not a major issue, you must pay attention to ensure that it's not a symptom of pressing medical problems. More on that soon.
Consider taking notes about your dog's diarrhea episodes, marking how often they need relief. It's also wise to jot down some descriptors of the stool's color and consistency. This information will help you spot changes and could come in handy if you need to take your dog to a vet.
Provide Plenty of Water
Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration.
Your dog is losing tons of liquids, so you must always provide fresh water. It can feel counterintuitive, but the last thing you want to deal with is dehydration and the health complications that follow.
Make clean water readily available and encourage your dog to drink as much as possible.
Hold Off on Food (If Possible)
Here's an important tip:
Withhold food for 12 to 24 hours!
The goal of diarrhea recovery is to give your dog's GI tract time to recover. Putting more food, especially foods that caused the issue in the first place, will only exacerbate the problem. You want to give their system enough time to heal before introducing soothing foods.
Vets typically recommend withholding food for at least 12 hours. In some cases, they may ask that you hold off on feedings for a full 24 hours.
If you're like most dog owners, it may be difficult to feel like you're starving your dog. But trust us: It's the best thing you can do to help them overcome diarrhea.
That said, there are some exceptions. You must consider your dog's health and life stage before withholding food. If your dog needs regular feeding to stay healthy, you may need to jump straight to soothing foods and avoid withholding.
Generally, this rule applies to puppies, senior dogs, toy breeds, and canines with medical issues. Depriving these dogs of food can lead to more problems than diarrhea you're attempting to fix!
Healthy adults can go a day without food, but it's best to avoid this step entirely if your dog falls into one of the aforementioned categories.
Related: Why Do Dogs Eat Cat Poop?
When to Take a Trip to the Vet
Diarrhea is usually nothing more than a temporary problem. But it could also be a sign of something more serious. Here's where paying attention to your dog's health and behavior is crucial.
You want to make a note of any additional symptoms and go to the vet if you feel that there's something more nefarious going on with your dog's health.
Generally, you should go to the vet if you see any of the following issues:
- Bloody stool
- Vomitting alongside diarrhea
- Substantial loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Extreme lethargy
- Visible signs of bodily pain
Many vets also recommend a checkup if diarrhea affects your puppy, senior dog, toy breed, or dog with medical issues. The same goes for bouts of diarrhea lasting more than two days.
If you see any of these symptoms could point to deeper underlying medical issues. Your vet can perform intensive testing to diagnose the problem and provide the appropriate treatment.
What Can I Give My Dog for Diarrhea?
After the 12- to 24-hour recovery period most dogs need, you can reintroduce food. However, you must start with soothing foods that support the digestive tract. Immediately jumping back into your pup's usual diet can be a step back, worsening the problem.
Here are some suitable foods that can help your dog's system recover and provide the sustenance they need to get back in good health without causing more issues.
We all know that protein is the single most important macronutrient your dog needs to survive. Your standard dog food formula may contain a few different protein sources. But when you're dealing with diarrhea, simplicity is key.
Provide low-fat protein sources that are bland and easy to digest. The go-to for most dog owners are lean chicken breast. Boil the chicken until fully cooked before shredding or chopping it into bite-sized chunks. Other lean proteins you can try are turkey or low-fat ground beef.
Make sure to remove any skin and fat. The goal is to provide your dog with pure protein and nothing else! Let the meat cool down to room temperature before feeding it.
Fortunately, most dogs won't care that you're providing flavorless meat. They'll love the taste and be happy to get something in their system!
Potatoes are a fantastic food to give dogs with diarrhea. It's a digestible starch that's both delicious and high in fiber. The fiber can help absorb liquid in your dog's gut and promote healing.
You can use standard white potatoes, but sweet potatoes are a better choice. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and are healthier complex carbs. Whatever you use, don't forget to cook them!
Raw potatoes contain solanine, which can potentially be toxic to dogs. Plus, raw potato chunks can increase the risk of choking or forming a GI blockage.
Boil or bake the potatoes until soft, allow them to cool, and chop them into manageable pieces. Like with chicken, avoid any added fats, oils, or seasoning. Keep it simple!
Carrots are another great food to try. They offer similar benefits to potatoes: Carrots are high in digestible fiber, absorb water, and can add tons of much-needed bulk to your dog's stool. Furthermore, carrots are a fantastic source of Vitamin A and beta-carotene.
It's possible to provide raw carrots. As a snack, these raw veggies are great for dental health. But if your dog is experiencing diarrhea, it may be better to boil them for added softness. You don't want to take additional risks when helping your pup recover from diarrhea.
Boil the carrot until they're relatively soft. Then, chop or mash them. You can also mix the carrots with the potatoes for added flavor.
Pumpkin is a fleshy vegetable that's chock-full of digestible fiber. Therefore, it's perfect for addressing bouts of messy diarrhea. It also has the added perk of introducing probiotics into your dog's gut.
Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that help to maintain the gut microbiome. It keeps things healthy and can promote regularity moving forward. Throw in the digestible fiber to bulk up the stool; it can be something worth permanently adding to your dog's diet.
If it's the right season, you can chop pumpkin flesh, boil it until it's soft, and create a tasty mash for your dog. But if you prefer an easier route, you can also use canned pumpkin puree. However, you must ensure that it's natural pumpkin puree and not pumpkin filling.
The pumpkin filling you use for pie is full of sugar and preservatives. You want the natural stuff without any additives.
Plain rice will be your dog's best friend as they overcome diarrhea. Rice is ultra-absorbent, full of fiber, and super easy to digest. It's a recipe for success and can do wonders to get your dog's poops back to normal.
Plain white or brown rice will work, but the former tends to be the go-to. White rice is cheap, easy to find, and usually presents no problems from a digestion standpoint.
Steer clear of the packaged or precooked rice kits. They often have seasoning and preservatives. Instead, go for a cheap bag of white rice!
Wash the rice thoroughly before preparing it according to the directions. If you have a rice cooker, you can use that. After the rice cools, add a few spoonfuls to your dog's bowl. You can also add some of the previous foods we recommended to create a tasty, multi-ingredient mash.
Porridge oats are an excellent alternative to plain white rice. Like rice, oats have great fiber content. They also act as a binder to strengthen the stool and promote regularity.
You don't want to provide a ton of oats. This is a food that's best in moderation. But during bouts of diarrhea, it can absorb excess liquid and even help regulate blood sugar levels.
Use plain porridge oats and prepare them according to the package instructions. Don't feed raw oats. They can cause more digestive trouble. The oats you provide need to be soft and fully cooked.
Prescription Dog Food
Your vet may recommend prescription dog food products, and they're worth considering if diarrhea occurs frequently. These formulas are only available with a veterinary prescription and usually contain hypoallergenic ingredients and novel protein sources.
Most also include high-quality sources of dietary fiber while having super low-fat levels.
Prescription foods can be on the pricier side, but they may be the best option if you have a dog that can't afford to not eat for 12 hours.
Specialty Food Formulas That Offer a Bland Diet for Dogs
If you don't want to go the prescription route, you can try OTC commercial dog foods formulated for dogs with sensitivities. These foods are readily available and can tackle a wide range of health concerns.
Many formulas have limited ingredients, sticking to the bare essentials to avoid any triggers that cause diarrhea. They may also have high levels of digestible fiber, probiotics, easy-to-process proteins, and more.
Plenty of great options are on the market today, but here are a couple of top-rated foods worth trying.
Diamond Care Sensitive Stomach Formula Adult Grain-Free Dry Dog Food
This recipe from Diamond is grain-free and marketed toward dogs with sensitive stomachs. It's a limited-ingredient recipe that uses a single source of protein: Eggs. The egg product gives the food a crude protein analysis of 25 percent, making it a suitable choice for most healthy adults.
The food is perfectly balanced to meet your dog's needs and contains a few extras to promote diarrhea recovery and regularity. These include probiotics to establish and maintain the gut microbiome, digestive fibers, and plenty of nutrients to support your dog's overall health.
It's a simple formula, but it can do wonders to address diarrhea and minimize the risk of unwanted stomach issues.
Hill's Science is no stranger to specialty formulas. The brand makes many prescription dog food products and recipes to combat specific health issues.
This particular formula is for sensitive stomachs.
What makes this product so effective against diarrhea is the beet pulp. Beet pulp is a highly digestible fiber that does double-duty as a nourishing prebiotic. Not only does it create firm stools, but it introduces healthy bacteria to avoid issues moving forward.
The recipe is easy on the digestive system and includes several extras to nourish the coat and promote better overall health. Ingredients like chicken, brown rice, and cracked pearl barley are simple.
However, the simplicity makes it far easier on the stomach than dog foods with more complex formulas.
A Final Word
Try these foods the next time your dog struggles with messy diarrhea. After withholding food for a bit, introduce these foods slowly to get your dog's system back on track. Focus on providing a bland diet for dogs with plenty of fiber.
Whether you make meals yourself or purchase one of our recommended sensitive dog food formulas, the right diet can provide much-needed relief.
Diarrhea can be awful, but taking the right steps to promote recovery makes all the difference. Give these foods a shot to minimize discomfort and return to firm, easy-to-pick-up poops!