My Pet Has Diarrhea -- Now What?

From checking for dehydration to cooking up bland food, here's how to treat your pet's diarrhea

Let’s face it: sooner or later, your pet will have diarrhea. Messy? Um, yes. Cause for immediate concern? Not always. A simple bout of the stuff usually lasts only one or two days. Call your vet if it lasts longer, if your pet has fever or seems lethargic, or if you see any blood in the stool.

But diarrhea is more than watery stools that occur more frequently than usual. Straining to poop could also be a sign that your pet has it. What appears to be a bout of constipation (your pet is “hunched over” for long periods) is really an increase in the normal rhythm of the intestinal tract, known as peristalsis. Your pet feels the urge to go but has nothing to pass.

Treatment varies from veterinarian to veterinarian but usually involves removing all food for the first 12 hours and always keeping water available, since dehydration is a fairly common side effect. To check for it, pinch your dog or cat's skin; if it "tents," take her to the vet -- and bring a stool sample with you.

Then, slowly introduce bland, easy-to-digest, fat-free foods over the next few days. Good home-cooked choices are rice, sweet potatoes and lean ground meat that has been cooked and blotted to remove fat -- but always check with your vet first. 

While diarrhea is a fact of life, there are some common triggers you can try to avoid. They include:

  • sudden changes in normal diet -- for example, abruptly substituting a different food, feeding table scraps or your pet raiding the garbage container.
  • food allergies, which could also cause inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • stress, which can cause increased rhythmic motion of the intestinal tract. This cuts down on the body’s ability to absorb fluid, causing watery stools.
  • intestinal parasites, which can damage the intestinal lining and interfere with its ability to properly function.
  • infections -- viral or bacterial -- which may cause diarrhea that can lead to death. 

Karen B. Gibbs is a writer and editor based in Lacombe, La.

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