Having a pet at home is very much like having a baby at home. They need special care and attention to prevent health problems. Pets, especially when young, are prone to diseases. It could be allergies, digestion issues or even diarrhea. Occasional bouts of diarrhea are common if you have a dog or cat in the house. Diarrhea occurs in pets because of many reasons, but the most common cause is dietary indiscretion. Here we look at the causes, symptoms and treatment options for pets with diarrhea.
Dogs and cats are by far the most common pets in most households. Just like humans, they too can fall sick and have health problems if proper care and attention is not provided. Among the various ailments that can occur in pets, diarrhea is quite common. And when that happens, your pet requires immediate treatment including medical care. Hence, pet owners must be aware of what to expect when their pets have diarrhea and how to manage it, preferably before the problem occurs.
Causes Of Diarrhea
Diarrhea can occur in dogs and cats because of various reasons, but the most common cause is a dietary indiscretion, which means your pets consume something that they should not have eaten and their body tries to eliminate this food substance. This is why the occasional bouts of diarrhea are more common among dogs than cats.
Cats have the habit of vomiting to get rid of the unwanted food, while dogs are more inclined to have lower gastrointestinal problems and diarrhea. Moreover, many dogs are indiscriminate eaters, whereas cats are more selective about what they eat.
A sudden change in diet can also result in diarrhea in pets that are given the same food every day for a long time. Once the pets are used to the same type of food, their digestive system gets accustomed to this diet and any deviation from the menu can cause diarrhea. Hence, it is important to get them used to a variety of foods. If your dog or cat has a strong gastrointestinal tract, they can easily digest different types of foods regularly and not have diarrhea.
In such cases of diarrhea, it is not the problem with the different food. It is because your pet’s digestive system has been conditioned to digest only a specific type of food. Giving the same food to your dog or cat deprives the pet of the various nutrients that it requires and this can have a negative impact on the pet nutritionally and physiologically.
IBD And IBS
Food allergies or sensitivities can also cause diarrhea in both dogs and cats. Veterinarians may cite the cause as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is nothing but a response to something in the pet’s diet. Both conditions can cause intermittent loose stools or diarrhea.
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas that usually causes loose feces. Feline hyperthyroidism also has diarrhea as a symptom.
Viral and bacterial infections in the digestive tract can result in diarrhea. Microscopic parasites such as Giardia can also cause intermittent diarrhea that can be difficult to diagnose.
Stress is another cause of diarrhea in some pets. Diarrhea caused because of stress occurs when peristalsis, which is the wave-like motion of the GI tract that moves food through the intestines, is increased due to anxiety or stress.
Get Your Pet Used To A Varied Diet
It is important to diversify your pet’s diet to include a variety of foods with different nutrient contents, which helps in strengthening the gut microbiome and makes the digestive system more resilient. Almost 80 percent of your pet’s immune system is located within the gastrointestinal tract. So, ensuring a varied diet that focuses on creating good gut health makes your pet healthier.
The transition from regular food to a varied diet must happen slowly. If you switch the diet overnight and expect your pet to digest the new diet immediately, chances are that they may suffer from diarrhea because of the sudden change in food and may require medical assistance.
A slow dietary transition may take days or even weeks for most dogs, and often weeks to months for cats. Experts recommend feeding 10 percent new food blended with 90 percent old usual food for some days. Pet owners must observe their pet’s stool for any irregularities and then slowly increase the quantity of the new food. The process must be slow enough to prevent any major bowel changes.
There can be many symptoms of diarrhea such as frequency, urgency, loose watery stools, and even straining.
Many pet owners mistake constipation for diarrhea as they see their pet hunched up, but nothing much seems to be happening. What looks like constipation in this instance may just be another sign that the pet has diarrhea. Diarrhea upsets the normal rhythmic contractions and sensations of the GI tract, causing your pet to feel the constant need to excrete. This makes the pets hunch and strain.
When the pets pass the stools indoors, it is easy to spot and tell if the have diarrhea. But, if they poop outdoors, it can be hard to diagnose. Pet owners must check for loose, brown or watery stools. If you find any, your pet is more likely to have diarrhea than constipation.
Fever Or Dehydration
Other symptoms that occur along with diarrhea include lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, and dehydration. Usually, young, healthy pets have a single episode of loose stool or diarrhea, and it’s done. But, if your pet is having chronic bouts of diarrhea, then they risk of becoming debilitated and sick.
Pet Diarrhea Treatment
Although your pet is having bouts of diarrhea, and still behaves normally and looks healthy, the best thing to do is to withhold food for 12 hours. But, continue providing sufficient water, as diarrhea can dehydrate your pet. A short-term fast enables the GI tract to recover and restore itself. Tissues heal faster when they are given ample rest.
Experts recommend following the 12-hour food fast with a bland diet. They also suggest cooked, fat-free ground turkey and 100 percent canned pumpkin. If canned pumpkin is not available, you can use fresh, steamed pumpkin. You may also give them cooked sweet potato or cooked white potato.
Though some veterinarians recommend a bland diet of ground beef and rice, even the leanest ground beef is high in fat, which can worsen the condition. Avoiding rice is a good idea as rice is a very starchy carbohydrate that tends to ferment in the GI tract. This also provides a food source for bacteria to thrive. Rice also hardly provides much in the form of calories or nutrition.
Soluble fiber also delays gastric emptying, slowing down GI transit times and helps to reverse the effects of increased peristalsis. When pets have diarrhea, they can lose important electrolytes such as potassium, which puts them at risk of dehydration. Hypokalemia, or low potassium levels, can result in cramping, fatigue, weakness and heart rate irregularities.
Most dogs and cats like pumpkin, which is an excellent source of potassium and is also safer for diabetic pets than rice. As dogs and cats don’t have a nutritional requirement for grain, feeding a pro-inflammatory food like rice when they’re already suffering from a gastrointestinal upset is not a good idea. Moreover, rice may sometimes contain arsenic. Instead, mix the turkey and pumpkin in a 50/50 proportion and feed it to your pet until diarrhea stops. If it doesn’t stop in about three days on a bland diet, take your pet to a veterinarian.
Slippery elm is a natural fiber source that is effective in treating episodes of diarrhea, as it reduces gastrointestinal inflammation and acts as a non-irritating source of fiber to bulk up the stool and slow down GI transit time.
Give your dog or cat half a teaspoon or a capsule for each 10 pounds of body weight with every bland meal. Add a good-quality probiotic once the stool starts to firm up. Besides slippery elm and probiotics, sometimes herbs such as peppermint, fennel or chamomile also help treat diarrhea. These are especially helpful for the cramping and other uncomfortable GI symptoms that often accompany diarrhea.
When To Visit The Veterinarian
- If your pet’s diarrhea becomes chronic and doesn’t ease even after five days, pet owners must collect a sample of the stool for the veterinarian to analyze the cause.
- If your healthy dog or cat develops intermittent loose stools suddenly, although you didn’t switch their diet, or they haven’t eaten anything they shouldn’t have, then it is better to take the pet to a veterinarian.
- Puppies and kittens, small adult pets and older animals can become dehydrated from even a single episode of diarrhea. If your dog or cat seems fine and healthy after a bout of diarrhea, owners must still observe their behavior. If you notice any lethargy, fever or change in behavior, call the veterinarian.
- If your pet has recurring bouts of diarrhea that does not stop, or if diarrhea lasts more than three days, pet owners must call the veterinarian. Take your pet to the vet if your pet is passing blood in the stool or if you notice any weakness or other signs of debilitation along with diarrhea.
- Close supervision of very young dogs is important. If you have a cat who is obsessed with your houseplants, again, supervision is essential.
- Puppies naturally harbor internal parasites. If the mother dog had parasites during pregnancy, the litter will also harbor parasites.
- Many veterinarians administer a universal de-wormer to every puppy they see. The problem is, there’s no such thing as a universal de-wormer. Roundworm, hookworm, tapeworm, coccidia, and giardia all require different de-wormers. One universal de-wormer that eliminates all those parasites is a myth.
- Keep potentially toxic houseplants out of the reach of your pet. It’s important that your house is puppy- and kitten-proof.
- Ensure that all the rooms in your house are free from potentially deadly plants and pests. Young pets are inquisitive about their environment, and they investigate everything using their mouths.
- Remember to pick up any food you drop on the floor.