If I had a dollar for every time someone asked. . .

There are a lot of things I am asked on a fairly regular basis. Some questions are especially common in and away from work – people call and ask at the clinic, and people who find out I’m a vet ask me in everyday life. Sometimes it’s a common question because it’s a common problem, sometimes it’s a common question because it’s a common occurrence that nobody understands. . . Either way, I’m keeping track! And I’ll be sharing some of the questions, and my answers, here.


Which segues nicely into the first frequently asked question: My dog has diarrhea, should I be worried? What should I do?

Now, the answer to these questions vary greatly from case to case to case.

SHOULD YOU BE WORRIED? Well, ask yourself the following questions:

-Has he vomited? Has his behaviour/attitude/energy level changed? Has he lost interest in food?

Answer yes to any of those, you might want to be worried. Yes to all of the above and you really should have your dog checked out. That’s what I’ll tell you when you call me, at least.

If your dog is bright, alert, happy go lucky as usual, had just one episode of the squirts and is back to business as usual, be less worried. If there’s no vomiting and he still wants his food, be less worried. I’m not saying ignore the diarrhea, just don’t panic!

There are 50 million and one reasons why I dog might have diarrhea. Common things happen commonly, and just a bit of upset tummy is pretty common. Ask yourself, honestly, if the dog could have gotten into anything other than his regular diet – cat food? Puppy food? Garbage? Did you just start a new bag of food? Did you run out of food suddenly and the store was all out of his usual so you picked up something different? Any change in regular diet could lead to diarrhea. And if you or your family are in the habit of sharing table scraps, the wrong table scrap could tip the scale in poop firmness.

If you think that some dietary indiscretion could be at play, especially if this has happened before, then you can probably hold off on rushing to see the vet. Especially if you have a young and otherwise healthy dog. What I do with Ollie when he has some explosive fun? I skip his next meal. If it was a single occurrence, he’ll get his next meal as per usual. Every time but once this resulted in back to normal poops. This is what works for Ollie. Some of my clients have dogs more prone to colitis or gastroenteritis than Ollie is, and their game plan when there’s a flare up of the runs is this: no food for 24 hours, then a small bland meal – either of a gastrointestinal diet previously prescribed, or plain boiled rice and chicken. If this doesn’t get the job done, they come see me and we add in some additional therapeutics.

It seems people make an appointment to see the vet if the diarrhea persists more than a day or two, whether they tried an ‘at home remedy’ or employed the standard ‘wait and see’ approach. When shouldn’t you use a wait and see approach? Well, your typical high risk classes: the very young, the very old, and the ones in between who have pre-existing medical conditions. Anything that makes dehydration a big deal for your dog, makes diarrhea potentially a big deal. The very young and the very old get dehydrated easily. Some conditions and some medications make dehydration more likely, or more dangerous. So, basically, if your dog is not a perfectly healthy adult, you should probably at least give your vet a call the first time there’s diarrhea, and come up with a game plan specific to that case.

And of course, when in doubt, call your vet. We really don’t mind. It’s our job. We’d rather you call us about it now and have it be nothing to worry about, versus come in next week with a huge problem we could have nipped in the bud much sooner if we’d been given the chance. Besides, the longer you wait on a problem, the more expensive that problem can become.

About dottiemaggie

A veterinarian living and working in St John's, Newfoundland. I love my job, and I love my home. Professionally I am passionate about critical care and client education. Away from work I am passionate about enjoying life, spending time with friends, enjoying hobbies of all sorts, and exploring this wonderful province I call home.
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14 Responses to If I had a dollar for every time someone asked. . .

  1. I was worried this post would be a lot more disgusting than the story you told me tonight.

  2. tattytiara says:

    It’s scary how fast dehydration can sneak up on you and become serious. Worth mentioning that a dog eating snow is not getting proper hydration – I learned that the scary way when my old guy recently had a nasty intestinal infection. Great post! It really can be hard to gauge how serious something like diarrhea is.

    • dottiemaggie says:

      Thanks 🙂
      Dehydration is definitely an underestimated problem – I often tell clients that dehydration is essentially a hangover, so it can make your pet feel pretty crummy. It’s amazing how quickly a patient will perk up once we fix their hydration level!

  3. linlah says:

    “Poop Firmness” may become my new call in sick excuse.

    All kidding aside, great advice.

  4. Kate says:

    I thought people who said their dogs have IBS or need special diets (my mom cooks and bakes for her dog…well until Finn came over and tried to eat them) were crazy. But our lab has the grossest, stinkiest farts in the WORLD if he eats anything besides rice and lamb dog food. Considering we have a 2.5 year old we have this conversation nearly daily–
    Me-What are you doing?
    Finn-Feeding Tanner!!
    His food that he doesn’t want to eat. I think in all seriousness, he is really trying to share because he’s not quite at the point yet where he has figured out if he doesn’t like something he can give it to Tanner and pretend he ate it…but I know it’s going to be a rough night in the bedroom. I should start making Tanner go sleep with Finn then maybe he’ll remember it smells like something died when Tanner eats anything besides his very special dog food.
    Funniest thing of my day (besides Candice being a “sucky traveler” I can’t choose–they’re both my favorite!!
    the wrong table scrap could tip the scale in poop firmness.
    Thanks for the laugh!

    • dottiemaggie says:

      dogs and cats DEFINITELY get IBD!
      Dogs can also have food allergies and sensitivities… which can be quite the pain to manage when there’s small children in the house, so I gather from many of my clients 😉

      And always happy to provide a laugh!

  5. janicep says:

    I’d like to thank you for jinxing my household. I read your post shortly after you wrote it, and mentally said thanks to the powers that be that I haven’t had to deal with a sick dog for a while. Then I woke up at 3:00am to hear my little dog puking – in my bed. He was sick all day yesterday, poor little guy; but seems to be sleeping it off today.

  6. i’ve never had a dog, should i be worried?

    i’m not married and i’m almost 30, should my grandma be worried? cus she is.

    but i did have a cat that threw up ALL THE FREAKING time. i finally gave him to my friend. i think he had a nervous stomach or something. he was very skiddish. and he liked to eat fake plants. that could have been part of it

    • dottiemaggie says:

      I wouldn’t be worried. Having a dog is a huge commitment. I avoided it until I was like 25.
      Now, I’m pretty close to 30 and undeniably single. . . you’re at least engaged 😉

      Yeah, I think fake plants might upset the belly of a cat. Just a guess. ;D My old man vomits fairly often… but he’s 20, which is like fifty million years old for a cat, so as long as he doesn’t piss on my shit more than once every 6 months we’re golden.

  7. omawarisan says:

    People seem to have an instinctual ability to seek help when they don’t need it, and not do so when they should.

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