If you’re a dog owner, you’ve no doubt dealt with a bout of doggie diarrhea at one point or another. Vets usually recommend a bland diet–boiled chicken and rice–but this may not be the best solution for all pets. A quick internet search will probably yield you a million confusing suggestions, so I’ll keep it simple for you by sharing my tried and true 24 hour cure for occasional dog diarrhea.
Before we begin, a couple of caveats: I am NOT a vet. I have been studying and successfully applying holistic animal care to my dogs and horses for more than half my life, but that doesn’t make me a vet, if that matters to you. Secondly, the recommendations in this article apply to the canine species only, not cats. Sorry cat people, I’m more of a dog lady. Thirdly, the recommendations in this post are applicable for occasional diarrhea, not chronic and continuing.
If your dog’s diarrhea persists longer than 2 days or comes in frequent bouts, consult a vet. Also see your vet immediately if there is blood in the stool.
Now, onto the fun topic of dog diarrhea.
How It All Began
My dog Shaia, the adorable labradoodle pictured with me in the sidebar, suffered repeated bouts of diarrhea as a puppy, and although the longterm treatment involved my finding her ideal diet + repairing her digestive tract, I learned a lot about diarrhea along the way. Lucky me! (Click here for my recommendations about what to feed your dog).
Shaia had a few food allergies (probably a result of taking multiple rounds of antibiotics as a puppy) coupled with the tendency to eat anything and everything in site. And junk is plentiful in city parks and on sidewalks where she grew up, let me tell you. “Leave it!” is my most often used command. She’d get the runs anytime she ate chicken, other dogs’ food, cat food, or any assorted disgusting treats/stale pizza off the street.
Causes of Dog Diarrhea
When something irritates the gut–the small or large intestine–regulated bowel movements (peristalsis) increase in speed. The body is attempting to expel the irritant or toxin, so transit through the bowel speeds up. Contents of the intestines move at a much faster rate, which doesn’t allow for normal removal of fluid from the bowel, and diarrhea results.
This isn’t a bad reaction (though it’s pretty unpleasant for you and your dog): if your dog ingests a toxin of some sort, the body is doing its job in expelling it rapidly. This is why I don’t recommend PeptoBismol or KaoPectate, which will certainly stop your dog up but will delay release of offending agent.
- eating indigestible substances such as garbage and decayed food
- eating dead animals, too much grass, certain plants, and pieces of plastic, wood, paper, or other foreign materials
- switching your dog’s food suddenly. You need to make gradual changes in foods.
- food allergies (chicken, chicken fat, chicken by-products, corn, dairy, and wheat are common culprits)
- eating too much protein or fat-rich food (I once fed Shaia too much fat skimmed off the top of the bone broth and that caused the runs. Getting into the cat’s food will do it too).
- stress, a sudden move, or anxiety
- parasites (giardia is common in dogs). If your dog seems to get diarrhea on a regular basis (say, every 3 weeks), bring a stool sample into your vet’s office to check for parasites.
- IBS or IBD causes chronic diarrhea
- chronic stress
Of course, some dogs have iron stomachs and can eat anything and be fine. My dog certainly is not one of those.
How to Alleviate Dog Diarrhea in 24 Hours
First off, pull your dog off his food as soon as you notice the runs. Refrain from feeding him his normal diet for 24-48 hours, but do NOT withhold water. During this time, make a batch of white rice, and give him that twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening, mixed with a powdered probiotic. I usually add a boxed onion-free (onions are toxic to dogs) beef or chicken broth. Or you could make a bone broth with no onion. The broth is excellent for the minerals that can be depleted when your dog gets diarrhea. Make sure he stays well hydrated.
NOTE: if your dog is diabetic, don’t fast him or change up his diet dramatically. Check with your vet.
If you have some seaweed on hand (and who doesn’t really?), grind that up and add it. Because I’m super crunchy, I always have kelp, toasted nori strips, or some kind of sea vegetable in my pantry for broths and soups.
The next day, instead of regular kibble or your dog’s usual diet, brown up some ground turkey or lower fat ground beef (like 90-95% lean if you can find it. Higher fat content is irritating to sensitive guts), and make him a mix of pumpkin and browned meat with white rice.
If you are certain your dog is ok with chicken, you can use plain boiled chicken breast, but chicken is a common allergen and can cause diarrhea. You can use mashed sweet potato too. Pumpkin is very soothing to the GI tract and feeds the good bacteria. It’s a great source of fiber to help bulk up stool. My dog doesn’t do well with chicken or turkey, so I use ground beef, lamb, or you could use fish such as salmon too. How much you feed depends on the size of your dog. My dog is around 65 pounds and I give her about one cup of white rice with 1 tbsp pumpkin and 1/2 – 3/4 cup ground meat. Add powdered probiotic.
IMPORTANT: too much pumpkin can actually cause diarrhea (because of the fiber), so don’t overdo it: 1 tbsp per feeding for large dogs and 1 tsp per feeding for small dogs.
You can also use a supplement like this pumpkin-based Firm Up which is specifically designed to help firm your dog’s stool during a bout. I keep it on hand and use it as needed. There are directions on the package for how much to feed based on weight. I mix this with the white rice and ground meat.
Give your dog the pumpkin/ground meat meal with white rice and probiotic twice on this day (the day after you fed the white rice-broth mixture). I feed at 8am and again at 4pm. The diarrhea should resolve on this day. If not, you can continue this feeding routine for another day or so until your dog recovers. He may be constipated for a day or 2 after a diarrhea bout, so continue with the probiotic and pumpkin for a few days after if need be. Pumpkin works great for constipation too.
You can also give enzymes to help break down toxins or remnants of whatever he ate. If your dog has a sensitive GI tract or farts a lot, consider giving enzymes and probiotic daily in his food, and also experiment with the best diet. It’s possible the gastric upset is due to too much protein from a grain free diet (some dogs do well with a little non-irritating grain like rice or oatmeal), or he may need a chicken-free protein.
Some vets suggest having slippery elm on hand. You can offer about a half a teaspoon or a capsule for each 10 pounds of body weight with every bland meal (source). You can also give your dog powdered glutamine, which is very healing to the digestive tract, but don’t feed that long-term.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.