Diarrhea is part of the canine condition. Most dogs do not have what could be called a discriminating palate. Their willingness to sample almost anything that vaguely resembles food is responsible for a large proportion of acute diarrhea cases (I know there’s nothing “cute” about diarrhea; in this context “acute” means “of short duration”).
Thankfully, diarrhea that results from dietary indiscretion is relatively simple to treat. Some cases resolve on their own, but most owners are looking for ways to reduce the severity and duration of their dogs' symptoms. Minimizing diarrhea serves everyone’s best interests. Diarrhea is a quality of life issue for both dogs and the people who have to clean up the messes they make and/or get up in the middle of the night to let them out.
Two types of dietary therapy are helpful in the treatment of diarrhea. Which is best depends on the kind of diarrhea that a dog has. When the problem lies primarily within the small intestine, dogs develop what is called small bowel diarrhea (hence the name). Dogs with small bowel diarrhea typically produce large amounts of soft stool but do so just a few times a day. When abnormalities are centered in the colon, affected dogs will usually strain to produce small amounts of watery stool frequently throughout the day. This is large bowel diarrhea.
Small bowel diarrhea responds best to a bland, low fat, easily digested diet. White rice combined with either boiled white meat chicken (no bones or skin), cottage cheese, or tofu are all easy to prepare at home, and similar commercially available, prescription diets are also available. For large bowel diarrhea, a high fiber diet has been shown to be beneficial. Ideally, both soluble fiber (the type colonic bacteria use for food) and insoluble (indigestible) fiber should be included. It appears that fiber helps decrease straining and encourages the innermost surface of the colon to heal. Foods that are high in fiber are widely available (many are advertised to help with weight maintenance).
If you are unsure of what type of diarrhea your dog has (some dogs have symptoms associated with both), one way to hedge your bets is to prepare a bland diet as is described above and then add psyllium mucilloid (a source of soluble fiber) to it. Psyllium mucilloid (e.g., unflavored Metamucil) is available over the counter and can be given to dogs at a dose of one teaspoon per five pounds body weight.
Of course, treating diarrhea at home is only appropriate when a dog is otherwise feeling fine. If any of the following apply, it is safest to first consult with your veterinarian:
- The diarrhea is profuse, frequent, and very watery.
- The diarrhea contains more than just a streak of blood or is dark and tarry.
- The pet is vomiting, lethargic, depressed, and/or in pain.
- The pet is very young, very old, or has a preexisting condition that could make it unable to handle even mild dehydration.
Dr. Jennifer Coates