Dog Troubleshitting: Ultimate Dog Diarrhea Guide (for cats too) [Infographic]
Typically, around January, early February in British Columbia, pet stores and vets see a larger number of dogs come in with either vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal discomfort. Dog parents initially start with home treatment by either fasting their dog for 12 hours or giving bland food with or without success. Some may add pumpkin or slippery elm to the dog’s food and proceed to try to change the dog food with some improvement in dog diarrhea or none at all. When the diarrhea does not resolve itself, dog parents would then take their dog in to the vet who might conduct a fecal examination and give you medication/ dewormer that might resolve the issue. This cycle is probably replicated in Canada or the Northern USA through the Spring till Fall. Our Dog Troubleshitting guide is a checklist that could help:
1) Save your pet’s life (priceless) because you act quickly to see a vet/emergency vet or
2) help you save at a minimum about $250 (a secondary vet visit for other diagnostic testing because you didn’t take the poop in). We coined the term Poop, Scoop and Test to describe the first thing you should do. Pick up what you can of the dog/ cat poop for the vet clinic to test even if you don’t have an appointment.
Why did your dog have diarrhea or vomiting?
Note that there are loads of situations why a dog might have diarrhea or vomiting. In this guide, we’ll cover:
- The main reasons for a dog or cat having diarrhea and/ or vomiting
- Common Household items that could cause your pet to have diarrhea
- Salmonella, E.Coli, Giardia and the causes and treatment for dogs
- Step-by-step guide on what to do if your dog has diarrhea or vomiting and what information to provide to your vet for further diagnostics.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Here are some of the main reasons why a dog has diarrhea and/or is vomiting:
- Disease or parasites
- Change in diet
- Ingesting non-diet related item
A non-exhaustive list of diseases that might cause diarrhea or vomiting include cancer, pancreatitis, IBD, liver issues, diabetes, or kidney disease. In some cases, if the cause is unknown, it is labeled as gastroenteritis, which is basically inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
A change in diet that was too quick could also result in diarrhea. We’ll have another blog dedicated to how to transition pet food at some point. Alternatively, you can read our tips on Method 2 of transitioning from kibble to raw dog food, as some of those are still appropriate for any diet change.
This article is focused on Subject #3 Ingesting non-diet related items as during January through September, we see a lot of customers informally reporting #3 to us. This is a common reason why dogs end up going to a vet or emergency care.
Dogs can explore the world through their mouth and some of them often do so quickly that owners cannot react in time.
Here are some of the household/readily available things that you need to ensure your dog does not ingest. Note that the first 5 items can constitute vet emergencies as they can result in organ failure/be fatal. Marijuana can be fatal for cats and dogs depending on the amount ingested.
CALL YOUR VET if you think your dog or cat has had any of the top 5 following:
- Pesticides (e.g., rat poison) are now made quite palatable for rats to eat but can also entice dogs or cats. Vomiting and diarrhea are symptoms, and this is a vet emergency. Pesticides are typically used in Fall, when it is getting colder, and rats are more likely to move indoors. BC has temporarily banned the use of rodenticide although restaurants and grocery stores are part of the exempt groups.
- Antifreeze – ethylene glycol is toxic in dogs. It can take as little as licking a few drops for a dog to get a lethal dose. Again, this is a vet emergency. Make sure to clean up your garage if brake fluid leaks from your car or motorbike. A lot of people sometimes store a secondary car/ convertible until the weather gets warm. Prevent your dog from drinking from places where antifreeze is added to prevent toilet pipes from freezing.
- Chocolate has theobromine and caffeine, which are slowly absorbed by dogs. These can cause vomiting and diarrhea depending on how much your dog ate, the type of chocolate and how big your dog is. Call your vet to ask for directions on what to do. Chocolate is a problem during and after the Christmas holidays, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween.
- Medications – call your vet immediately.
- Cannabis can cause your dog to vomit excessively and drool. I added Cannabis to this list as it is now legal in Canada and lots of vets are seeing dog’s showing cannabis poisoning. The cannabis poisoning can be from the second-hand smoke or your dog/ cat ingesting edibles or cannabis directly. This is quite serious so please take your dog or cat in to the vet if they are drooling/ lethargic/ restless, and/or having ataxia (difficulty controlling movement).
- Goose poop –could lead to vomiting and diarrhea.
You will likely have heard of the first 5 items as they are quite well-documented. However, from Spring till Fall, we find that goose poop is usually implicated though not widely known for causing diarrhea and/or vomiting in dogs.
Why should you stop your dog from eating goose poop?
Dog owners do not typically not consider goose poo as the cause of their dog diarrhea or vomiting. Usually, dog owners consider their dog eating goose poop as a gross but harmless activity.
However, goose poop can contain salmonella, virulent strains of E-coli, Campylobacter – Helicobacter & Clostridium botulinum. All of these are bacterial infections causing gastrointestinal issues. In addition, goose poop can have giardia.
This is based on a study using a One Health approach. The World Health Organization is a proponent of One Health Initiative. This approach “is to create common ground for several disciplines in order to establish more holistic approaches to diseases shared by more than one species.”1
The study focuses on zoonotic disease and the impact on primarily humans and livestock. The study also “analysed E. coli in Canada geese in the USA, found that more than 95% of their isolates (n = 47) was resistant to a variety of antibiotic substances, such as ampicillin, cephalothin, and sulfathiazole.”1 This is particularly important as vets may prescribe Metronidazole (Flagyl) and when that does not clear the illness switch to fenbendazole (Panacur) or vice versa in the treatment of giardia.
Does salmonella, E. coli or giardia cause pets to have diarrhea and/or vomiting?
Salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter and giardia could be mild for adult pets or they may be asymptomatic. However, for younger animals, that may not be the case. There are lots of studies that point to younger animals e.g., ruminants having problems dealing with giardia. Salmonella, E. coli, giardia and campylobacter could result in clinical signs if the pet is younger, senior, has gastro issues or immune compromised.
We’ve anecdotally heard of lots of dogs vomiting or having diarrhea after eating goose poop or drinking from standing water. Typically, the feedback we hear from customers is that the vet found giardia in the poop.
“Increased exposure to goose feces may potentially lead to the transmission of infectious diseases to wildlife, livestock, pets, and people.” (Graczyk et al. 2008).6
Salmonella in dogs & cats, causes of salmonella and symptoms
According to the paper “Salmonella has been isolated from droppings of Canada geese (0–8% except one site where the prevalence was 20%, n = 50) in UK parklands, and it has been shown that Salmonella bacteria in Canada goose droppings can multiply and survive for up to one month in this environment.”1
Causes of Salmonella in dogs and cats
There are lots of different types of salmonella. However, “many dogs and cats are asymptomatic carriers of salmonellae.”2 That is one way of saying that your dog and cat naturally carry a type of salmonella. From another source, “Veterinarians are faced with a quandary when attempting to diagnose small animals with suspected bacterial associated diarrhea because the isolation rates of these pathogenic bacteria are similar in diarrheic and non-diarrheic animals, and because the incidence of bacterial-associated diarrhea is extremely variable. Salmonella species are commonly isolated from both healthy and hospitalized dogs and cats.”3
Basically, if salmonella is detected in a pet, it is hard to tell if it was because your pet may have had it when it was healthy.
However, it is possible to have heavier bacterial loads from contaminated food (kibble as well as raw food diets) or goose poop, cat poop or an infected dog’s poop.
Symptoms of Salmonella in dogs and cats
Dogs and cats that become ill from salmonella may have diarrhea with potentially blood or mucus. They could be lethargic and potentially could vomit. This could lead to decreased appetite as well. Fever is also a possibility.
The age of the pet, prior illness might lead to complications.
E. coli in dogs, causes of E. coli and symptoms
The study found that “prevalence of E. coli in Canada goose droppings in parks in the USA varied considerably among seasons (as low as 2% in the cold season, and up to 94% in the warmest months; n = 397).”1 For humans, they concluded that the E. coli was not harmful to humans but it was wise to minimize contact with fecal matter. The study however did not look at ingestion of goose poop by dogs.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacteria that is normally an important part of the healthy intestinal tracts of both humans and animals. However, there are types of E. coli that can be quite harmful.
Causes of E. coli in dogs and cats
Similar to salmonella, E. coli naturally occurs in the intestines of dogs and cats. Contaminated food, water as well as goose poop are culprits in dogs getting sick.
Symptoms of E. coli in dogs and cats
Watery diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, dehydration, lethargy, and weakness may all be symptoms of E. coli infection. Similar to salmonella, this tends to affect puppies and senior dogs.
According to the CDC, a harmful type of E. coli transmission to humans is from deer, goats, sheep, or cows. Dogs and cats are excluded as part of zoonotic transmission to humans. “Treatment is not recommended because they (infected pets) do not usually show any signs of illness with E. coli O157.”4 If the diarrhea is severe though, you should call your vet.
Campylobacter in dogs
Same issues, causes as salmonella and E. coli in dogs.
Giardia in dogs, causes of giardia and symptoms
Giardiasis is a chronic, intestinal protozoal infection seen worldwide in most domestic and wild mammals, many birds, and people. Infection is common in dogs, cats, ruminants, and pigs.
“Due to high prevalence of Giardia, geese and swans become suspects of transferring the pathogen to humans, but this potential risk is still not well understood.”1
Causes of Giardia in dogs and cats
Transmission occurs by the fecal-oral route, either by direct contact with an infected host or through a contaminated environment. Most dogs become infected by drinking water contaminated with feces or eating goose poop or other dog’s poop. Your dog can become infected from sniffing an infected dog’s butt and then licking its nose.
“In dogs and cats, animals under the age of 6 months are reported to have the highest infection rates. One study reported that the prevalence was also relatively high in cats between the ages of 6 months and a year.”7 “One study found an increased prevalence among dogs that visit dog parks.”7
Giardia then infects the small intestine, and infected dogs pass microscopic cysts in their stool. You can get giardia from your dogs or cats although according to the CDC, the chances are low.
Giardia genotypes and infection
There tend to be seven genotypes for giardia A to G. Normally, type C and D are found mainly in dogs. Type F mainly in cats and type A and B, affects humans. However, type A and B can also affect dogs and cats. “G. duodenalis assemblage A has been reported in domesticated livestock including cattle, water buffalo, …; and in companion animals including dogs, cats, pet ferrets and chinchillas. In these species, it is usually (though not always) less common than species-specific assemblage types (e.g., assemblage E in livestock, C and D in dogs, or F in cats).”7 Reinfection can also happen to your dogs and cats.
Symptoms of Giardia in dogs and cats
Giardia may produce weight loss and chronic diarrhea. Feces usually are soft, poorly formed, pale, malodorous, contain mucus, and appear fatty. The diarrhea can also have small amounts of fresh blood in it and mucus. Occasionally, vomiting occurs. “Acute, chronic or intermittent diarrhea or soft stools may be seen in some dogs and cats. The stools are typically light-colored and mucoid. They are often malodorous, and may contain undigested fat, but blood is rare. Vomiting occurs occasionally, but fever is not usually present.”7
Diagnosis and Treatment of Giardia in dogs and cats
Most vet offices use the fecal floatation. In this test, the vet mixes pet poop with a special liquid that causes the parasite eggs to float for examination under microscope. However, giardia cysts are only shed intermittently, so you have a 50% chance of finding giardia. The ELISA test for giardia is better with 95% chance of finding giardia according to Dr Karen Becker.
Usually, vets prescribe metronidazole (Flagyl) for giardia. Vets may alternatively prescribe fenbendazole (Panacur), which is deworms the pet as well.5 Note that these medications are used for only dogs and cats that show clinical signs.
We’d recommend dog owners prevent their dogs from eating goose poop.
Dog Troubleshitting Guide Steps: What to do when your dog or cat has diarrhea and/or vomiting?
Our Dog Troubleshitting (all puns intended) is about quickly assessing what the potential causes of your dog’s diarrhea and vomiting could be. It is a quick checklist going through a number of items that pet parents might not consider.
This checklist could help
1) Save your pet’s life (priceless) because you act quickly to see a vet/emergency vet or
2) help you save at a minimum about $250 (a visit for other diagnostic testing because you didn’t take the poop in). We coined the term Poop, Scoop and Test to describe the first thing you should do. Pick up the dog/ cat poop for the vet clinic to test even if you don’t have an appointment.
Note that we are not vets and are providing this guide to help you talk to your vet. We find customers do not ask enough questions and settle on resting the dog’s stomach instead of calling a vet. That could potentially miss an important vet emergency.
- Disease or parasites– Does your dog/ cat have any diagnosed illnesses? Y/ N
- Liver or kidney disease
What to do if your pet has an already diagnosed disease
- When was the last bloodwork or annual check up for your pet?
- Does your dog’s poop look like digested blood e.g., tarry black poop? Let the vet know or take in a sample asap as this is an emergency.
- Poop, Scoop and Test. we coined this term to describe the first thing you should do. Pick up the dog/ cat poop for the vet clinic to test even if you don’t have an appointment. This is an important part of diagnostics that pet parents sometimes fail to understand.
- Is your cat or dog on any drugs or antibiotics? (Write them down and let your vet know.)
- Call your vet asap to book diagnostic testing usually bloodwork, urinalysis or sometimes ultrasounds!
2. Change in diet – have you changed your dog or cat’s diet recently? Y/ N
- If yes, what did the dog/ cat eat?
- Was it a slow transition to the new food or an immediate change? (Read method 2 of this link for slow transition here.)
- If it was a slow transition, has your pet tried that particular protein in the past?
- If no, then look at diseases or #3 for issues with ingestion.
How to deal with food-related dog or cat diarrhea/ vomiting
- Poop, Scoop and Test. Pick up the dog/ cat poop for the vet clinic to test even if you don’t have an appointment.
- Pet Food Sensitivities/ Allergies – Does your pet have food sensitivities to a particular protein e.g., chicken or beef?
- Cat Vomiting – Is your cat long-haired and does it groom incessantly?
- Sometimes cats who groom constantly tend to vomit frequently. The hairball could be lodged in your cat’s system so that whenever it eats, it ends up throwing up. You may sometimes find a hairball or not.
- Try using Vet’s Best Hairball Relief to resolve this vomiting. It contains slippery elm.
- Dog Vomiting – how often is it happening. If there were chunks of pet food and it happens only after eating. Your dog may have eaten too fast (if vomit happened quickly ~<2 hrs?).
- Is it a short-snout dog e.g., French bulldog/ Frenchie, Pug? Does it have a soft palate issue? Elevate your pet food and prevent the dog from playing directly after eating. Discuss soft palate issues with your vet.
Other than diarrhea, if your dog or cat is acting normally and is healthy, you could:
- Rest your pet’s stomach. Give your pet’s stomach a rest from the normal food it eats for about a day or two.
- Feed a bland diet for a few days. You could give either bone broth, kefir, pureed whole pumpkin to help ease upset stomach at the next meal. These are bland diets without fat to ensure that your pet’s diarrhea does not get worse. (Often people use rice, but it can lead to gassiness and a farty dog as the rice ferments)
- Water– always provide water to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can trigger nausea in pets. You can add water to your existing pet food, canned pet food to introduce more moisture. In serious situations of dehydration, please visit the vet for IV fluids if you notice your pet is not having enough water.
- Use Slippery Elm – Alternatively, you could use slippery elm to stop diarrhea. About ¼ tsp of powder for every 10 lbs mixed in bland food or water. It is fine to withhold food for up to 12 hrs but always ensure your dog has water. Honest Kitchen Perfect Form helps your pet move from diarrhea to a solid formed poop.
- Consider Dog/ Cat Probiotics. If your pet was on antibiotics, we’d recommend using probiotics for dogs/ cats to help rebalance your pet’s gut flora. The premise is to provide probiotics (beneficial bacteria) to potentially stifle bad bacteria.
- Should you change your pet’s diet to a vet-prescribed diet? That depends on if you are clear on whether the new food was the cause of the diarrhea. In the human context, it is odd to see people with diarrhea put on a new diet by their doctor. You just eat bland and nourishing foods till your tummy upset goes away.
- Let the cat or dog sleep – as pet parents we sometimes hover over the pet every second. Let them sleep so that they can recover.
- When your dog’s stool is back to normal, try a slower transition if possible.
- Take a stool sample to the vet if the pet’s diarrhea is not resolved.
3. Ingesting non-diet related item – Did your dog or cat ingest any goose/cat/dog poop, sticks, cooked bone or drink from a puddle etc. ? Y/ N
- If IN DOUBT about what it ingested and your dog/ cat is not acting normal, call your vet!
What to do if pet has ingested/ swallowed a non-diet related item
- Poop, Scoop and Test. Pick up the dog/ cat poop for the vet clinic to test even if you don’t have an appointment.
- Ask your vet for bloodwork, urinalysis, and X-ray to help them eliminate the possibilities.
How to prevent Salmonella, E. coli and Giardia in dogs and cats
Why does the FDA have a zero-tolerance policy against salmonella in pet food? The FDA made this change as preventing salmonella is more about ensuring that humans that live with pets do not get sick.
There is already knowledge that dogs and cats may tend to carry salmonella already. They are also able to deal with some loads of salmonella or E. coli infection without being symptomatic.
- Please prevent your dog from eating goose/ dog/ cat poop or drinking from outside standing water. This is especially important for puppies!
- Use a portable dog bottle.
- Buy your dog a muzzle if it is quicker at eating items outside than you can prevent it.
- Use dog wipes to clean their paws/ wash the paws when you get home.
- Pick up dog poop with a poop bag without holes in it.
- Wash your dog bowl for food and water daily.
- Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands after picking dog poop, touching pet food (kibble and raw alike) as well as treats.
- Wipe your dog’s mouth with a dedicated face towel that is frequently washed.
- After diarrhea or vomiting, clean and disinfect household surfaces, your pet’s bed, toys, and/or cat litterbox.
- Wash the dog or cat completely if diarrhea or vomit is caked on their hair, wear gloves if possible.
Note that this guide is to help you think of all the possibilities of why your dog/ cat is having diarrhea/ vomiting. They are not meant to replace Vet advise. The suggestions are provided to help you give your vet better information so that your vet in turn can provide better diagnostics for your pet.
Please comment to let us know what you think about this guide? Is there something you would have liked us to include in this guide? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
- Potential disease transmission from wild geese and swans to livestock, poultry and humans: a review of the scientific literature from a One Health perspective. by Johan Elmberg, Charlotte Berg, Henrik Lerner, Jonas Waldenström, and Rebecca Hessel https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5443079/
- Salmonellosis in Animals by Walter Grünberg , DVM, PhD, DECAR, DECBHM, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Giessen, Germany. Last full review/revision Aug 2020 https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/salmonellosis/salmonellosis-in-animals?query=salmonella
- Raw Meat Diet transcript from Dr. Karen Becker https://karlaspets.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Dr-Becker-Raw-Diet-Article.pdf
- E.coli infection https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/ecoli.html
- Effectiveness of Fenbendazole and Metronidazole Against Giardia Infection in Dogs Monitored for 50-Days in Home-Conditions https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8032893/
- Survey of Canada goose feces for presence of Giardia https://faculty.cnr.ncsu.edu/christophersdeperno/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2016/01/PR91-GiardiainGeeseHWI.pdf
- Giardiasis https://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/Factsheets/pdfs/giardiasis.pdf
- CDC Giardia and Pets https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/giardia/prevention-control-pets.html
- Giardiasis http://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/giardiasis-giardia/overview-of-giardiasis