What Do You Know About Diarrhea?

I had a customer ask me this question the other night…so I’ll tell you what I know about diarrhea. Diarrhea is the bowels way of flushing out things that are either not useful or things that are invasive to the digestive tract, such as way more Mexican food than we needed to eat or parasites/bacteria that we’ve consumed and have caused havoc inside the digestive tract. Dogs and cats can easily have these problems as well, but they are unable to tell us what may have been the problem. If only they could say “ugh, I’m never eating that again!”, but they can’t, so off to the vet we go!

Once we are at the vet, we test them for bacteria and parasites in the poop, maybe do an x-ray or ultrasound to see if anything is inflamed, get some antibiotics or antiparasitics (if the tests are positive, which they usually aren’t) and are sent home. Awesome! Everything should be back to normal in a day or two. So, what if the diarrhea doesn’t go away? We just spend a pretty penny at the vet’s office and our pet tested negative for everything, so now what?

When people come to me with this question, I start by asking several questions of my own before giving any answers or devising a plan of attack.

  1. How long has your dog/cat had diarrhea?
  2. What do you feed your pet?
  3. Has your pet eaten anything new lately?
  4. (And this one is REALLY important) How much food do you feed your pet each day?

If the diarrhea has only been going on a couple of days and the pet has tested negative for anything dangerous, I will suggest the bland diet for a few days and that should help. The bland diet for dogs, for those of you who just asked what it is, is boiled chicken breast, brown rice and canned pumpkin. Mix up enough for about 4 feedings, I use a casserole dish, and scoop it out as needed. * If your pet is allergic to chicken, use ground turkey…if your pet can’t have turkey, use frozen tilapia fillets. The bland diet for cats is a little tricky, but you can try plain chicken baby food mixed with a small amount of pumpkin, add some warm water to make it smell more appealing. Pair that with some Optigest and that should do the trick. **Let me know if the cat won’t eat it and I can give you more suggestions.

If your animal has had diarrhea for more than a few days, has tested negative for everything, has done well with the bland diet but is back to having diarrhea once you’ve started feeding them their normal food, I’ll definitely suggest a diet change. We tend to feed our pets the same food, every day, for their entire lives and that can lead to a food intolerance (NOT THE SAME AS A FOOD ALLERGY). When this happens, the body can no longer absorb nutrients properly from this food source and treats it more as an invader, causing inflammation and tummy upset, basically shooting it out of the body as useless trash. So, if your dog has been eating nothing but chicken and rice his whole life, let’s try lamb and peas or something other than the main protein and carb he’s been eating. If we have an intolerance, the elimination diet will usually do the trick. Once your pet is pooping normally, give him a VERY small piece of chicken, or whatever it is we think he can’t tolerate, and see what happens. The digestive tract of a dog or cat is only about 12-14 hours long, so you’ll know pretty quick if that food was the problem…but let’s hope for just gas, rather than another bout of diarrhea.

Okay, so what if you’ve done the elimination diet, had the tests, etc. and it’s gotten better here and there but there is still some diarrhea…what could be causing the problem? Maybe you’ve been leaving your pet at grandma and grandpa’s house, while you were working and didn’t know that grandpa was giving your pup extra snacks…like, A LOT of extra snacks. Maybe he’s giving your dog a lot of extra snacks with chicken or artificial crap in them? If you have any sort of pet sitting, daycare or dog walker activities happening, ask for the details regarding treats or whether the dog is eating plants or anything else you don’t but should know about.

Now…you come to me, telling me that you’ve already tried all of these things and nothing is helping your poor pet. You casually mention that you’re animal is actually at a healthy weight…meaning, despite the ongoing diarrhea for weeks or months, your pet isn’t losing weight. This is a HUGE clue! My next question is “how much food do you feed your pet?”.
The reason for this question is because, 1. a dog or cat with chronic, long-term diarrhea should be super thin from lack of nutrients and 2. when the body gets WAY more food than it needs, it has to get rid of the excess fats and that can cause diarrhea.

I had a customer once, whose cat was having chronic diarrhea for a long time. They tried everything they and the vet could think of. One time, while ringing them out for their pet food, I asked how much the cat ate each day. They said they fed one cup of dry food as well as a 5.5oz can of wet food to a 10 pound cat, each day. Holy cow! That was about 300 extra calories per day…of course the cat was always pooping! There was no where else for that extra fat and protein to go. They cut back the food to the recommended feeding, which was 1/8 cup dry food and one 5.5oz can of wet food and the cat was pooping normally in a day or two.

Another customer, the other day, said that she was told by her vet to feed her 6-month-old St. Bernard puppy 6 cups of food a day. Not 6 cups of Puppy Chow, specifically, but 6 cups in general. So, when the customer put the puppy on a high protein, low carbohydrate food, she continued to feed 2 cups, 3 times a day. She couldn’t figure out why the puppy was gaining the weight he needed to, but was leaving mud puddles all over the yard. Of course, this advice was given after all the aforementioned steps were taken to make sure the dog was healthy, but I have a feeling that too much food was the problem. I’m still waiting on confirmation on this one but I’ll update the post when I find out.

The moral of the story here, is that when it comes to pet diarrhea, we need to think “outside the box” as they say. We don’t always need to change the diet and we don’t always need to assume the animal “can’t have chicken”, because sometimes it can be other things. If our pet will eat everything we give them, let’s make sure we are giving what they need.

I really didn’t think finding a picture for this post was necessary or possible without being super gross.

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