By Veterinarian, Dr. Michael Sterns
Congratulations— you have a new puppy! But what should you do the first time your bundle of furry love gets sick with something unpleasant like diarrhea or loose stool? While most episodes of gastrointestinal distress are not cause for extreme alarm, there are a few things you can do to help ease the symptoms and make sure your puppy’s long-term health is protected. Diarrhea can affect a young dog’s health in many ways, primarily through dehydration, but in some serious cases, there is also the possibility of organ damage if left untreated.
Below I’ll share what symptoms to watch out for, what to expect from your veterinarian and tips to improve your pup’s gut health and digestion.
At Home - What to Look For
First, if your pup is acting normal outside of the diarrhea, keep an eye on them for a few hours to determine if the loose stool was a one-time incident or a more prolonged situation. Many puppies have digestive systems that are learning to acclimate to new foods and environmental factors to build a healthy gut microbiome.
If your puppy has diarrhea by itself (with no other symptoms), wait no more than 48-72 hours to reach out to your veterinarian. However, if your pup has diarrhea in addition to other symptoms like extreme tiredness or lethargy, they stop eating/drinking, or show signs of distress you should take your puppy to a veterinarian as soon as possible
Before you visit the vet, try to get a sample or photo of the loose stool if you can. You might also bring a list of the type of food your puppy was eating prior to the gastrointestinal distress.
At the Vet’s Office - What to Expect
When a puppy requires medical attention due to diarrhea, the first thing your veterinarian will probably do is check for parasites and pathogens like Giardia and Clostridium difficile (C-diff). The immune systems of young puppies may not be developed enough to sufficiently fend off these invaders, particularly if your pup was separated from their mother at an early age. This makes them much more susceptible to contracting infections.
Your vet may want to get a stool sample from your puppy, which will be analyzed in a lab to check for the presence of a number of different harmful microbes. If your vet finds Giardia, C-diff or other harmful pathogens, he or she will most likely recommend treatment with an antibiotic or dewormer, depending on what the results of the fecal test indicates. These medications may be necessary to help your young pup get rid of the infection. The downside of these medications is that they wipe out many of your puppy’s healthy bacteria along with the pathogen. Fortunately there are steps you can take during and after this treatment to help naturally balance your pup’s gut health.
Your Pup’s Diet & Improving Gut Health
Some puppies might not test positive for any of the standard pathogens; in these cases, you and your vet may want to consider changing your puppy’s diet. Whether you’re feeding commercial food or preparing your puppy’s food at home, be sure that the food contains all of the calories, vitamins, and minerals that a growing puppy needs. Sometimes changing diets too rapidly can cause diarrhea, and you should transition to new foods over a seven to ten-day period.
You might also consider adding a dietary supplement, like a probiotic or a prebiotic, to help support your puppy’s digestive health. Probiotics are live microbes (like bacteria and fungi) that can grow in your puppy’s gut, bringing with them a whole host of health benefits. Prebiotics are a kind of fiber that usually comes from plants; they provide food for certain kinds of bacteria in the gut, making it easier for good bacteria to colonize and confer health benefits onto your puppy.
For dogs with chronic digestive issues including diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation we now have an option to introduce whole new bacterial communities of healthy dog specific microbes to your pup from a product developed by AnimalBiome. They offer Gut Microbiome Restoration Supplements given by capsule over the course of about 1 month, and my patients have had excellent success in cases of recurring diarrhea and loose stool not due to infectious or nutritional causes. Administering these capsules seems to rebalance the pup’s gut and normal stools are the end result.
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