Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

Diarrhea in Dogs: When is It an Emergency?

Our North Providence vets understand you might be feeling concerned if your dog has been experiencing unexplained diarrhea. In this post, you'll learn some common causes of diarrhea, what to do if your dog's stool is bloody, and how to treat this symptom of stomach upset. Plus, when it's time to seek a vet's help. 

Dog Days of Diarrhea

Our vets at Ferguson Animal Hospital have treated many dogs suffering from diarrhea. 

Mild bouts of diarrhea are very common in dogs and often occur due to mild intestinal distress that can happen from time to time. Intestinal distress is typically tied to food; whether this is an adverse reaction to your dog eating a small amount of food or substance that didn't agree with them, such as table scraps, or from switching to a new brand of dog food that isn't suitable for them. 

That said, your dog may have diarrhea for more serious reasons, some of which require immediate veterinary attention. 

What are the common causes of diarrhea in dogs?

Here are some potential reasons your dog may be suffering from diarrhea: 

  • Anxiety or stress 
  • Eating spoiled food or garbage 
  • Ingesting foreign items such as bones, fabric, or toys 
  • Ingesting poisons or toxins 
  • Change in diet or treats
  • Bacterial infections such as salmonella
  • Viral infections such as coronavirus, distemper or parvovirus
  • Colitis 
  • Parasites, such as hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, Giardia or Cocidia 
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease 
  • Kidney or liver disease 
  • Medications such as antibiotics 
  • Pancreatitis

As you might imagine, it can be difficult to know when your pooch's symptoms should prompt you to contact your vet, since diarrhea in dogs has such a wide variety of potential causes. In some cases, you should consult your vet right away. 

Is bloody diarrhea in dogs an emergency?

The clearest sign that you should contact your vet about your dog's stomach upset is if you see blood in your dog's diarrhea, since this is a veterinary emergency. Two types of bloody stool indicate a more serious underlying health issue. 

Hematochezia is when bleeding occurs in the colon or lower digestive tract. The blood is typically bright red and indicates certain potential medical problems. 

Melena is blood that has been swallowed or digested. This sticky, dark blood is almost gelatinous and indicates a serious problem in your dog's upper digestive tract. 

While singular streaks of blood are often a fluke, if bleeding is consistent or if there is a large amount of blood, this is a clear indicator of a much bigger problem, such as a bacterial or viral infection, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, parvovirus, or even cancer. 

If you find blood in your dog's stool, in any amount, it is always best to contact your vet, describing exactly what you have observed will allow your vet to give you detailed instructions on what you should be watching for, and if it makes sense for your dog to come in for a visit based on their symptoms.

When is diarrhea a reason to contact an emergency vet? 

If your dog has a single episode of diarrhea and is otherwise acting normal, it is likely not a cause for concern. Monitor your dog's bowel movements to see if things clear up. More than 2 episodes could indicate a problem, so it's a good idea to call your vet if your canine companion has two or more bouts of diarrhea.

If your dog is straining to pass a stool but only passing small amounts of watery diarrhea, they could be experiencing a painful blockage due to the ingestion of a foreign object such as a toy. This is a very serious concern and needs veterinary attention right away, contact your vet or head to the nearest emergency animal hospital for care.

Recurring bouts of diarrhea over a short period of time could be a sign of a very serious health issue, particularly if your dog is very old, very young, or has a compromised immune system. Infections such as parvovirus are extremely serious, contagious, and life-threatening. Contact your vet right away if your dog is experiencing repeated episodes of diarrhea.

Dogs showing other symptoms as well as diarrhea should also be seen by a vet as soon as possible. If your dog has any of the following symptoms contact your vet right away to make an appointment:

  • Blood in stool
  • Unusual drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Weakness
  • Signs of dehydration (Sunken dry-looking eyes, dry nose, or dry, sticky gums)

If your dog is displaying any symptoms that cause you concern, contact your veterinarian. Your vet will let you know whether your pet's symptoms indicate that an examination is necessary.

How is Diarrhea in dogs treated?

Never give your dog human medications without consulting your veterinarian. Many over-the-counter medications that work well for people can be toxic to dogs.

If your dog has had one or two runny or soft stools, you may want to give your dog some time to recover by simply fasting for 12 - 24 hours.

A bland diet for a day or two may help to resolve your dog's issue. Plain-cooked white rice with a little chicken and some canned plain pumpkin (not pie filling) may help to make your dog's tummy feel better. Once your dog feels better gradually reintroduce their regular food.

Other things that might help to soothe your dog's upset tummy include natural yogurt, probiotics, peeled boiled potatoes, cottage cheese, egg with no oil added, specially formulated dog foods, and medications prescribed by your vet.

When it comes to your dog's health it is usually best to err on the side of caution. By taking your dog in for an examination you give your vet the opportunity to determine the underlying cause of your dog's diarrhea and recommend the most effective treatment.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Does your dog have diarrhea? Contact our North Providence vets today to book an examination for your pup. Our vets have experience in diagnosing and treating the causes of diarrhea in dogs. 

New Patients Welcome

Ferguson Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of North Providence companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

Contact Us

Book Online (401) 349-4280