Why Does My Puppy Have Diarrhea?

Puppy laying on a blanket

Diarrhea is never a pleasant condition, but when your puppy is dealing with it, it's not a fun situation for anyone. If you're working on training your pup to go outside, diarrhea can also be a challenge to your house-training, as your furry friend may not be able to physically make it outdoors before he goes. Find out more about puppy diarrhea below, including what might cause it and when it's a serious situation to speak to your vet about.

Why Does My Puppy Have Diarrhea?

Puppies can have diarrhea for a wide variety of reasons. Remember that young dogs are still growing, and their systems are still getting used to living life and digesting all that your pup eats. Something as simple as a change in diet or the introduction to new food could cause diarrhea as the puppy's system adapts to different ingredients.

This doesn't mean you shouldn't change your dog's food. The food meant to nourish a young dog isn't the same as the food that nourishes an adult or senior dog, and it's important that you're giving your canine companion the ingredients he needs to live a healthy, active life. Just know that diarrhea might occur for a few days as your puppy adapts to the new food.

Other reasons for puppy diarrhea can include:

  • Stress. When a dog is anxious or stressed, his stomach might become upset — this is similar to what can happen with some people. That upset stomach, along with odd eating habits and other issues that arise from stress, can lead to diarrhea. Every dog is different, but common stressors for puppies can include moving to a new home, separation anxiety or changes in your home, such as a new baby or someone moving out.
  • Eating inappropriate items. Binging on human food, eating out of the garbage or taking in anything that's not consistent with his normal diet can cause your dog to develop GI issues, including diarrhea.
  • Dog parasites. Worms and other parasites can cause symptoms that include diarrhea. Puppies could have parasites from living previously in unsanitary conditions or from their mother at birth.
  • Bacterial infections or other illnesses. Drinking contaminated water can lead to bacterial infections that can cause diarrhea, and other health conditions can also include stomach issues as symptoms.

How to Treat Puppy Diarrhea

In most cases, temporary puppy diarrhea is not serious and can be easily treated. In fact, you start with some of the same things you might do for yourself if you have some stomach issues:

  • Reduce how much you feed the puppy. Give him his regular food in smaller portions at a time to make it easier to digest.
  • Give plenty of water. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can cause or exacerbate health issues. Make sure your pup has plenty of clean water to drink.
  • Avoid treats and snacks. Don't feed your dog treats or human table food when he's dealing with diarrhea. Anything out of the norm could increase his symptoms.

You might also want to minimize stress for your pup where possible. Take time to ease a new puppy into your home, for example, or introduce a new baby slowly and carefully to reduce your dog's anxiety.

In many cases, taking these steps for a few days reduces the issues and your puppy's stool returns to normal once he adjusts to the new food or situation or the offending ingredients pass through his symptom. If your dog has soft stools normally, you can also use something like FortiFlora canine probiotic supplements to boost his digestive health. 

When Is Diarrhea a More Serious Concern?

If diarrhea is extremely frequent (which can lead to issues like dehydration) or if it's lasted longer than 2 or 3 days, you may want to contact your vet for assistance. But there are some other issues that typically warrant a call to the vet even sooner:

  • Blood. Blood in your pup's poop is a serious sign that can mean something is wrong other than basic food discomfort or stress. Call your vet as soon as possible if you see this sign.
  • Black or tarry stools. Thick, sticky, very dark stools are also signs of potential internal issues and warrant an ASAP call to your vet.
  • Loss of appetite. If your pup isn't eating much or at all, check in with your vet on what steps you should take to care for him.
  • Frequent vomiting. Pups that can't even keep water or food down could be at risk of dehydration, and this might indicate something serious is wrong, so check with your vet if you see this symptom too.

Can You Prevent Puppy Diarrhea in the First Place?

Digestive systems, even in puppies, are complex, and they can react unexpectedly to a variety of internal and external factors. So, you can't always 100% prevent diarrhea in puppies. But you can take steps to minimize the risks, including feeding your puppy high-quality food that's appropriate for his age, weight and needs. You might also need to test different foods or work with your vet to find options that fit your puppy. For example, some dogs respond better to grain-free dog food while others might not be able to stomach something with a specific type of meat. You can also ask your vet about using food that's fortified with live probiotics

For more information about caring for puppies, check out the Purina.ca puppy articles

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