Down and dirty on diarrhea

Curiosity and gluttony along with a sensitive digestive system make dogs and cats prone to suffer from diarrhea.

In my experience, diarrhea is the No. 1 reason for contacting a vet.

All pet owners have been in this situation before, the animal has diarrhea, now what do you do? Is it worth while taking it to a vet or do I wait a day or two. 

I hope this will shed some light over this dilemma.

Diarrhea is characterized by changes in the stool consistency — runny stool — and the stool’s colour.

Diarrhea can be caused by a disease of the small intestine, large intestine or other organs outside the intestinal tract, the liver for an example.

There are few differences between the diarrhea that is originated from the small and the large intestine. Small intestinal and large intestinal diarrhea have different causes, require different tests to diagnose and are treated differently.

Your vet will ask you instructive questions in order to understand, better locate the pet’s problem, and to plan for specific tests to determine the cause of the diarrhea.  
A pet with diarrhea originated from the small intestine will topically defecate three to four times a day with a large amount of stool in each time.

With large bowel diarrhea there is usually increase in the frequency of the defecation with small amount of stool in each time. If there is blood in the stool it will appear as black discoloration of the stool in case of small intestine diarrhea and red in large intestine diarrhea.

There are numerous reasons for diarrhea. Amongst the hundreds of causes for diarrhea  there are viral, bacterial or fungal infections, Food allergies, intestinal parasites, tumors, diseases of the pancreas, liver or Kidneys and many many other reasons.

The most common reason for diarrhea is probably dietary indiscretion, meaning the pet got into garbage or other rotten food. Some pets are have a very sensitive digestive system and just a change in the pet’s diet can elicit diarrhea.  

When the pet has diarrhea it is not absorbing the nutrients from the diet properly which leads to weight loss and electrolytes imbalance that can have severe consequences if left untreated. Diarrhea may also lead to dehydration and occasionally severe blood loss.

If your pet is normally healthy and has a normal body condition (not too thin or fat) suddenly shows diarrhea, without any other signs of sickness such as lethargy, lack of appetite, etc, you may try attempting treating it before rushing into the vets.

You should follow these tactics:

  • Stop feeding it for 24 hours to rest the digestive system.
  • It is crucial to encourage your pet to drink and stay hydrated. 
  • Make sure your pet has constant access to fresh water; many dogs may also like to fool around with ice cubes, this is another way to get fluids into them. Cats really like running water, so allowing them to drink straight from a tap might do the trick. 
  • After 24 hours providing the diarrhea has subsided, you can offer the animal a small amount of easy-to-digest food such as rice with chicken flesh (without the bones, skin, salt or any other spices) or commercial food carried by veterinarians that is designed for animals with digestive problems.
  • In the first day, you should offer the food in small amounts every three to four hours.
  • Gradually over the next two to three days, if the animal tolerates the food well and the stool is forming back to normal consistency, decrease the frequency of the feeding and increase the amount of food in each feeding.
  • When the pet is back to normal do not switch to its normal diet abruptly, it is better to mix over few days to prevent recurrence of the diarrhea.

Having said that, be cautious. Not every case should be treated at home without the professional help of a vet. If there is no improvement in the pet’s condition after the fasting and the change of diet. Or in cases that the diarrhea is also accompanied by other sickness symptoms such as lethargy, fever, vomiting, weight loss or any other concerning condition.

If the stool or vomit contain blood, it would probably be better idea to go and see your veterinarian right away.

Cat owners be aware; overweight cats are not allowed to be fasted. Depriving food from fat cats even for a short period of time can potentially cause severe liver damage.

Diarrhea may be just a simple and transient condition that may be simply treated at home with a diet change, but often diarrhea is a symptom of a much more severe condition that requires medical treatment.

If left untreated prolonged diarrhea can lead to severe consequences


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About the Author

Dr. Moshe Oz owns Rose Valley Veterinary Hospital, a small animal veterinary practice in West Kelowna.

Dr. Oz has deep love and affection for animals. It was his childhood dream to become a veterinarian, a dream that he has fulfilled when he graduated with honours from KUVM,on 2006. Dr. Oz's special interest is internal medicine and surgery.

In his free time Dr. Oz enjoys training and racing triathlons, including the legendary Penticton's Ironman.

Dr. Oz can be contacted through his website: www.KelownaVet.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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