Help, my pet has diarrhoea

One of the most common reasons pet owners seek the help of a veterinarian is because their pet has diarrhoea.

Whether it is a regular occurrence for a pet with an over sensitive digestive system or a one off event, it always signifies that something is not right and requires action to firm those stools up again. This article explains in simple terms some of the more common causes of diarrhoea in dogs and cats, and how best to deal with the problem.

OK, so you have noticed your pet has diarrhoea. The first question to ask yourself is to describe the nature of the faeces. The consistency, colour and even smell of the faeces gives the veterinarian vital clues as to the cause.

What you should do

  • If your pet has recently developed diarrhoea (and/or vomiting) and seems depressed, lethargic or flat, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • If your pet is off his/her food completely, or is unable to hold down water, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • If your pet’s diarrhoea (or vomit) contains a large amount of blood or is very dark looking, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • If you suspect your pet has a high temperature or is dehydrated, contact your veterinarian immediately.
  • If none of the above apply, first of all starve your pet for 24 hours. Make sure plenty of water is available during this period (not too cold), but no food at all. Once your pet has been starved for 24 hours, offer him/her a small amount of chicken and rice. If it is eaten, continue feeding small amounts of chicken and rice 3 times a day for the next 5 days. This bland diet will be gentle on the digestive system as your pet recovers. The majority of cases of sudden onset diarrhoea will respond to this protocol.
Get in touch for an appointment

Here are some questions to ask yourself, so that you are well prepared to answer any questions your veterinarian might ask if you end up seeking his/her advice.

How long has your pet had diarrhoea for?

Has your pet suffered from episodes of diarrhoea in the past? If yes, there may be a dietary intolerance to deal with and therefore specific foods to avoid.

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Is your dog/cat bright and well or depressed and lethargic?

If the latter is true, more urgent diagnostics and treatment may be necessary.

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How is your pet’s appetite?

If your pet is still eating it is a good sign that the cause of the diarrhoea is a simple one that is easy to fix.

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Is the diarrhoea watery or just slightly loose?

If it is very watery then it suggests fluid is being actively secreted into the intestines, and there is more of a danger from your pet suffering from dehydration due to fluid loss.

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Has there been any vomiting at all?

If your pet has been vomiting too then the disease is affecting the front end of the digestive tract (oesophagus, stomach and small intestine) in addition to the back end (small intestine and large intestine). This could be due to something your pet has eaten, or due to toxins in the bloodstream that make the animal feel nauseous.

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Is there any blood in the diarrhoea?

Blood can take on two forms; bleeding into the small intestine results in black faeces as the blood is partly digested by the time it reaches the anus. Bleeding into the large intestine or rectum leads to reddish faeces, with more fresh looking blood. The nature of the blood and the colour of the stool tells us the location of the problem. Puppies and kittens commonly have streaks of blood in their faeces; this is often no major cause of concern. Copious blood in the faeces however is a huge worry and needs immediate veterinary investigation to check for nasties such as anticoagulant toxicity, severe infections and tumours.

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Which of these two descriptions best fits the diarrhoea:

A) your pet is producing huge amounts of explosive diarrhoea a couple of times a day at most, or B) your pet is straining to defecate and passing small amounts of mucus covered diarrhoea 4 or more times during the day. If the answer is A, the small intestine is the source of the problem whereas if the answer is B, the large intestine is where the disease is. This is also important in how the diarrhoea is treated.

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Could your pet have swallowed an object that is lodged somewhere?

This is far more common in dogs, particularly those that play with sticks and toys, or those that are given bones to chew. However it does happen to cats occasionally, with things such as elastic, string or cotton. If your pet has swallowed something that is stuck it will usually be vomiting first and foremost, and off its food. An object stuck in the intestine somewhere will often cause diarrhoea though, which can lead to rapid dehydration. This scenario requires urgent veterinary attention, for Xrays and possible surgery.

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