Dog and cat diarrhea, a common condition in internal medicine, has many possible causes. This can be treated by Dr. George Martin at Plantation Pet Health Center (PPHC) in Frisco.
Why does my dog or cat have diarrhea?
Diarrhea in pets can be quite frustrating for owners and veterinarians! People worry about the health of their pets, while worrying about how to clean it all up at the same time. Diarrhea is basically softer than normal stool (feces) and has varying degrees of severity. It may range from semi-formed to straight liquid. There may or may not be blood or mucus or both associated. There are many possible causes of diarrhea so there is no quick, simple answer.
Common Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs and Cats:
- And many others
- Foreign Bodies
- Drug Reactions
- Dietary intolerance (eating stuff they shouldn’t)
- Dietary Indiscretion (eating stuff we shouldn’t have offered)
- Stress (from boarding, grooming, travel, separation anxiety, storm anxiety, surgery)
- Food Intolerance/Food Allergy
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD)
- Spastic or Hyperactive Colon
- Congenital (from birth) Diseases
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
- Dysbiosis (Bacterial Overgrowth)
- Secondary to Other Diseases
So you can see that there is not a quick answer to the question, “Why does my pet have diarrhea?” Time and energy needs to be invested to swim through the mess, so to speak, in order to narrow the choices down to the most likely cause so that the proper treatment course can be taken.
What happens during my pet’s diarrhea?
The main task of the colon, or large intestine, is to reabsorb water from wastes produced by digestion, and conserve this fluid for reuse by the body. This is one of the many methods the body uses to prevent dehydration. A healthy colon, in a healthy individual, can usually and routinely reabsorb nearly 90% of the normal fluid load it receives without loosening the stool. This is done by a combination of wavelike contractions (peristaltic) that move the stool, halting (compartmentalization) type contractions that hold the stool in one place for a bit; and changes in oncotic pressure caused by the movement of electrolytes. Anything that changes any of these mechanisms can induce diarrhea.
Diarrhea is one example of the “Leave it on the ground and walk away” attitude the body seems to have when it perceives there are things present within it that should not be there. Through diarrhea, the body can be trying to expel parasites, bacteria, bad food components, toxins, drugs, cancers, and foreign bodies just to name a few.
There are also some conditions that trick the body into thinking there are things to expel when there are not such as conditions that swell the intestines. Examples of these would be inflammatory conditions (IBD, etc.), food intolerances, food allergies, cancer, polyps, heart diseases, disease that alter electrolyte balance, etc.
And there are some conditions in dogs and cats that attack the normal function and movement of the intestines. Some of these may be neurologic diseases that make the intestines hyperactive, or metabolic diseases that alter the electrolytes so they cannot help with fluid movement for example.
Home Remedies for Diarrhea
Symptomatic treatment, what can I do for my pet at home? This may buy you a little time, but is often like trying to place just a bandage on a deep puncture wound: it may appear better at first, but the underlying problem is still there and will probably resurface later and in a more severe manner.
Diarrhea causes an inordinate loss of fluid and electrolytes, so the intake of both water and electrolytes usually need to be increased.
Rest The Gut:
In many cases, “resting the gut” is enough to get dog and cat intestines to correct themselves. The dog and cat bodies have remarkable corrective mechanisms within them that can often remedy the issue if just given a little help. Giving ample access to water to replace fluids lost, supplementation with some electrolyte replacement solutions, and withholding food may be all your pet needs. Many veterinarians recommend their pet patients receive nothing by mouth except water and electrolytes for the first 24 hours. Next, starting them back on small amounts of blander, non seasoned foods (the old standby is chicken white meat and rice) to see if they can handle it normally. This method most often works in cases of dietary intolerance or dietary indiscretion.
High Fiber Diets:
The idea behind the high fiber diets is to use soluble fiber which acts as a sponge basically to help absorb more water so there is less in the stool. Soluble fibers are more found in the insides of fruits and vegetables. Two commonly used ones are canned sweet potatoes and canned pumpkin.
(By comparison, the outsides (skins) of the fruits and vegetables; the rest of still other vegetables like carrots, celery, etc.; and many whole grain products have insoluble fibers which are actually more helpful for constipation.)
Over The Counter Medicines:
In some cases these may help, but one has to be very careful as the strengths dispensed for humans may be too strong or toxic to certain pets, and some may cause constipation which can give you another set of issues to address. I would not recommend trying these without consulting your veterinarian to be sure of the safety and proper dosing for your pet’s weight and medical history. These can be like the “bandage on the puncture wound” example. They can mask or hide more serious conditions that will be harder to correct later. They can also be at odds with the “Leave It on the Ground and Walk Away” attempts of your pet’s body by causing things to be trapped inside for longer than necessary.
Probiotics, the “Good Bacteria”:
This is an area that has had a strong following in human and pet medicine circles for decades. Although the idea sounds reasonable and sensible, there are increasing questions as to how well the products available actually work. This is mainly due to the fact that dogs and cats have a VERY low stomach pH (very acidic) on purpose to aid in digestion and to kill pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes before they can invade the body further. The problem is the stomach acid does not discriminate between good and bad microbes. The probiotics that work the best are going to be those that have taken this into consideration by incorporating microencapsulation technology and other such mechanisms to protect the good microbes as they travel through the stomach. Not all probiotics are equal.
I’ve Tried the At-Home Remedies, Now What?
If you have reached this point, the only pragmatic thing to do is have your pet examined by your veterinarian. Sometimes the cause and the treatment can be determined simply from a hands-on physical examination of your dog or cat, and answers to some specific questions. Often though some form of diagnostic tests may be necessary.
Tests for Diarrhea in Dogs and Cats
Tests often used to determine the cause of diarrhea in dogs and cats include:
- Comprehensive physical examination (the starting point for all conditions)
- Fecal (stool) tests (most often used for parasites)
- Blood tests (basic screening tests, or more streamlined less commonly used tests for specific conditions)
- Urine tests (yes, urine tests may lead to the cause of the diarrhea…everything is connected!)
- Fecal cultures (often used to look for abnormal bacteria, fungi, and viruses)
- X-rays (often for finding masses and foreign bodies)
- Ultrasound (helpful for masses, some foreign bodies, and evaluation of internal organs)
- Intestinal Biopsy (through endoscope or surgery in some cases)
Once the results of these tests have been collected and analyzed along with the history and the physical exam findings, your veterinarian can institute a proper course of action for your pet.
Treatment for Diarrhea in Dogs and Cats
Depending on the cause, treatments may include one, few or many of the following:
- Dietary Changes
- Dietary Supplements
- Other Disease Specific Medications
- Surgery (in some cases)
Rest assured that most cases of diarrhea in dogs and cats, once their cause is determined, can be successfully treated.
If your dog or cat is experiencing diarrhea and you would like further information from the Plantation Pet Health Center, please call 972-731-0001 to schedule an appointment or complete an Online Appointment Request.