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Is Your Puppy Healthy? Problem Stools
Why Does My Puppy Get Diarrhea? If Your Puppy Has Diarrhea

Please remember that the information in this article cannot cover every situation and this article only provides a general overview of a limited number of causes and treatments of puppy diarrhea.  Each situation is different and your dog's care must always be based on his exact situation.  YOU and your veterinarian are always the ones that know your pet best and it is ALWAYS up to you to provide proper veterinary care when necessary.  You should never dismiss symptoms of illness in your dog based on an internet article or on statements made by an outside, third party.  Additionally, the decision to treat your dog yourself is always a serious matter and carries the risk of failure - death - so do not take on this responsibility unless you are prepared to live with the consequences. 

Having bred and raised Cockers for over 20 years, I've had to deal with a number of health issues in puppies.  One of the most common (and most dangerous) health issues in puppies is diarrhea.  Some cases of puppy diarrhea are simple and will resolve with little or no treatment.  Other cases may be due to serious illness and could require prompt veterinary treatment to save the puppy's life.    To avoid serious health complications, puppy buyers and breeders should watch their puppy or puppies constantly for signs of illness and loose stools. 


Diarrhea is not a disease in itself, but is an easily recognized symptom of a problem within the intestinal system.  Diarrhea is a "catch-all" term for a number of changes that can be seen in bowel movements.  These changes can include one or more of the following:

  •  An increase in frequency of defecation.

  • Changes in fluid content of the stools (sometimes causing a loose consistency).

  • Changes in the volume of feces produced.  This change can include increased water content and the presence of undigested dietary fiber or unabsorbed nutrients in the stool.

An owner may notice a variety of changes in the appearance of their dog's stool during a bout of diarrhea.   Stools may be of a soft, unformed consistency, may be watery, may contain mucus or blood and the color of the stool can range from brown, to yellow, to black, to green, to gray or bright red.  The stool may be very smelly or normally smelly or may have little or no odor at all.  It's important to note that the stool can still be formed and may not always appear soft or loose.  A dog with diarrhea may also have bad breath, flatulence, abdominal pain, bloating and grumbling guts (intestinal bubbling due to excessive gas).


Your puppy's stool should be firm, formed, generally brown and should not stink excessively.  Because changes in bowel movements can be the first indication of serious illness or disease, and because puppy's can dehydrate very quickly (posing a serious risk of death for young dogs), owners should continuously monitor their puppy's bowel movements.  This doesn't mean you need to check stool samples under a microscope, but it does mean that you need to know what is "normal" for your puppy.  The term "normal" means that you should know several facts about your puppy's regular bowel movements.  These facts will include:

  • Frequency of BMs

  • Consistency of BMs

  • Color of BMs

  • And in some instances, the odor associated with his BMs.  (Some serious illnesses are characterized by a particularly foul, smelly stool, so knowing that your dog's stool doesn't smell "normal" can be important.)

Knowing what constitutes a normal bowel movement and bowel schedule for your puppy can help you spot bowel changes or problems as soon as they start.  Hopefully this will be before they are a serious health threat to your puppy. 

Keep in mind that if you are seeing foreign objects in your puppy's stool (bits of plastic or rubber, strings, etc) your dog is definitely in need of closer supervision!  You may need to check your puppy's toy box for old, deteriorated toys, the children's rooms for chewed up toys and/or other areas around the house that may have items inappropriate for your puppy to have access to.

Is Your Puppy Healthy?

As you are learning and monitoring your puppy's normal bowel habits, you will also need to learn and monitor several other indicators of your puppy's health.  You will need to know his "normal" eating and drinking habits, general daily activity level and routine, and his basic physical and mental condition (weight, alertness, temperament).  You should also be familiar with your puppy's normal temperature.  (A healthy puppy should have a temperature of 1010 to 1020. 

Another item to become familiar with is your puppy's "color".  This means his gum color.   Check your healthy dog's mouth occasionally so you will know what color his gums usually are.  That way you will be able to determine if he is "pale" during an illness.  While checking the mouth, press a finger on an area of the gum, above the upper teeth, with a finger.  The pressure will blanche the area and then it will refill with blood after pressure is removed.  You want to be familiar with a normal refill rate for your healthy puppy's gums.   If your puppy should become ill, knowing what is "normal" for your puppy in the areas I've specified above will help you recognize changes that could indicate a health problem.

Basically, if your puppy has a normal temperature and stool, is eating and drinking normally and is participating and interacting in normal activities with you and your family, then chances are he's a pretty healthy puppy.   This isn't an ironclad rule, of course, but these indicators are generally a good way to evaluate your pup's current health status.

If you notice any changes in your puppy's temperature, behavior, stool and/or eating and drinking habits, then you should begin to monitor the puppy for further changes or problems.   Keep in mind that changes in any one of the above areas can indicate a serious problem that needs veterinary attention.  Additionally, simultaneous changes in more than one of the areas listed above should be viewed as a red flag and should prompt you to immediately call your vet for medical advice regarding the puppy.  Needless to say, if your puppy is lethargic, has a fever, is not eating or drinking, is vomiting and has diarrhea, you should RUN, not walk, to the nearest veterinary clinic!! 

Problem Stools

At this point you should know how to evaluate your puppy's general "health" and you should have a picture of what is "normal" for your puppy.  From here, let's address how to know if your dog's stool indicates that there is a serious threat to his health.  The first step in identifying a problem stool is to know the types of stools you may see.  Certain types of stools can be indicative of specific diseases or illnesses and can help pinpoint the internal location of the disorder (large intestine or small intestine) so if your dog is ill and needs medical attention, it will be important that you correctly identify the type of stool your puppy has been having.  


This is the most commonly seen bowel problem.  Soft stools are not necessarily runny or watery, but will have a consistency similar to soft ice cream.  There will generally be little if any real form to the stool.   Soft stools may be a result of over-eating, excessive fat intake, ingestion of trash, changes in food, food allergy, stress, parasites, over-heating or over-excitement or may be the first sign of serious disease.  This type of stool is due to a problem in the small intestine. 

  • Watery, Brown Diarrhea:

Watery diarrhea can quickly become a serious health risk.  Do not ignore this situation.  Prompt treatment is important to prevent dehydration. If your dog has watery diarrhea for more than 24 hours, despite supportive care and treatment, you will need to take the dog to your veterinarian.  Your puppy will also need to go to the vet's if it will not drink or cannot keep food and/or water down.  In serious cases, the pup may need to go on IV fluids and/or receive other medical treatment.  Watery, brown diarrhea may be due to ingestion of trash, disease or bacterial infection and is indicative of a problem in the small intestine.

  • Soft, Mucusy Diarrhea:

This type of diarrhea can be the result of eating trash, changes in diet, internal parasites,  and/or disease - parvo or corona virus, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.   A mucous stool may be formed with a mucus sheath or the stool may be watery and stringy with mucous and possibly blood.  This type of stool can be an indication of serious disease.  You should seek prompt veterinary care for your dog if you see mucous diarrhea.

  • Soft Yellow, Green or Brown Stool:

This type of diarrhea is generally associated with bacterial enteritis or viral infections but may also be seen with other intestinal issues.  This type of stool requires careful monitoring and may be indicative of the need for immediate veterinary attention.

  • Watery, Brown Diarrhea with Blood:

If your puppy develops diarrhea with blood in it,  you need to contact your veterinarian immediately.  Most pet owners are not knowledgeable enough to differentiate between "emergency" bloody diarrhea and bloody diarrhea that can be monitored for further developments, so please seek expert advice as soon as possible for this situation.   

While one or two stools with a small amount of blood are probably not an immediate health emergency (if the puppy is normally active, eating and drinking), this CAN be an indicator of a serious illness, disease or injury.   Depending on the age, condition and general health of a sick puppy, some instances of severe bloody diarrhea could result in a puppy becoming dehydrated within 12 to 48 hours.  Dehydrated puppies can die in a matter of hours, so it's always best to take a case of bloody diarrhea seriously. 

Bloody diarrhea can be the result of internal injuries, bacterial enteritis (intestinal infections), ingestion of foreign objects (especially sharp objects), intestinal upset due to stress or changes in diet, parasitic infection (worms, Giardia, Coccidia) or diseases such as Parvovirus.   Stools with blood may be due to conditions which cause bleeding from either the small or large intestine.


A black, tarry stool is the result of blood in the small intestine (upper gastrointestinal tract).  The black color is the result of the blood being "digested" as it moves through the intestines.  This type of stool can be seen with intestinal damage from disease, ingestion of foreign objects, cancer or any other disease or injury that results in hemorrhage into the small intestine.  You should seek immediate veterinary care if your puppy has a black, tarry stool.

  • Gray, Greasy Stool:

Gray, greasy stools are often the result of excess fat in the feces.  This is most often the result of excessive amounts of  fat in the dog's diet. This type of stool may be particularly foul smelling and so greasy that it will leave an oily spot on paper. This type of stool may also be due to a disorder that causes mal-digestion or mal-absorption of food.   

  • Formed, Bloody Stool:

A normally formed stool with fresh blood is also considered a health emergency.  This type of stool is seen when there is bleeding from the large intestine or anal glands.  Bleeding may be due to damage from a foreign object, rectal cancer or ulceration of the colon or rectum.

Why Does My Puppy Get Diarrhea?

Puppies are notorious for constantly getting into and eating or chewing everything.  This behavior often leads to stomach upset and other intestinal problems, which can result in diarrhea.  Ingestion of trash, poison, grass, plants, pieces of chewed items or other foreign objects can all trigger diarrhea.  Puppies have been known to swallow jewelry, balls, children's toys, safety pins, paper clips, pens......just about anything they can get in their mouth!   If your puppy is a scavenger, be aware that larger items that are ingested can cause full or partial intestinal blockage, which can cause various stool changes in your dog and which are major medical emergencies.  Your puppy could also suffer intestinal damage from a sharp foreign body in the stool (undigested bone fragments, a sewing needle or sharp fragments of chewed plastic items) and this damage will cause changes in the dog's stools and will most likely require a trip to the veterinarian's.  

Puppies may develop diarrhea from several different types of food issues.  These can include food poisoning, eating foods that are too rich or too fatty and, in nursing puppies, mother's milk that has become infected or tainted due to infection or chemicals, medications or poison that the bitch has been exposed to.   Remember that the dam may not have to ingest a poison or chemical for the puppies to be exposed to harmful products that could cause diarrhea.  Pesticides and other lawn treatments may get on the dam's nipples, feet and hair if she lays or rolls in the yard while outside going to the bathroom.  Once back with the puppies, these chemicals could be ingested or absorbed through the skin as the puppies nurse and crawl on mom.  Additionally, flea and tick preventatives, shampoos or sprays that are used on a nursing mother could cause problems for nursing puppies.  You should never use any chemicals around your house, yard or on your bitch without first checking with your veterinarian and/or  checking all manufacturers warning labels. 

Recurring episodes of diarrhea may be due to a specific diet.  It is always possible that your puppy is sensitive to one or more ingredients in a specific food.  A change in diet may help alleviate recurring cases of diarrhea.  However, you must avoid sudden changes in your puppy's diet.  Abrupt changes in food or water can also trigger diarrhea.  Be sure and check with your breeder about the type of food your new puppy is eating.  Stock up on this brand and formula BEFORE bringing the puppy home.  If you are unable to stock up before the puppy comes home, your breeder should be willing to give you a small amount of food to last you until you can get to the pet store.   You should never switch brands or formulas of food overnight or during times of stress (such as when a puppy is adjusting to a new home).  Changes in food should only be made when the puppy is settled and if he is not showing any signs of illness, stress or other upset or trauma.   

To change foods or formulas, you should begin by substituting a small portion of the regular food (1/4 or less of the normal ration) with an equal portion of the new food.  After 2 or 3 days of this mixture, reduce the old food by another 1/4 of the ration and increase the amount of the new food accordingly.  Keep doing this every few days until you are only feeding the new food.  

Another food related cause of diarrhea is over-feeding.  While it's rare for young puppies in a normal environment to actually over-eat, some puppies can be sensitive to certain ingredients and increased consumption of these certain ingredients can cause a digestive problem.   An example of this would be cow's milk.  Many puppies and dogs have an intolerance for cow's milk and may develop diarrhea if they are given even small amounts of this product.  Another food ingredient that commonly causes this type of problem is fat.  Too much fat in the diet often results in chronically loose stools.  Puppies or dogs that tend to gulp their food or gorge themselves when feeding may also be prone to diarrhea.  This type of behavior may require owners to limit food intake and to devise methods to slow feeding.

Remember that new types of treats, feeding of people food (the canine vacuum cleaner routine around young kids!) or ingestion of cat food or your older dog's food, can all lead to stomach upset and diarrhea.   New items (food, treats) in your puppy's diet must be added gradually, in small amounts, over a number of days and you must monitor your puppy constantly to make sure he doesn't sneak into the cat's food (or the real favorite - the litterbox!!! YUCK!) or any other sources of inappropriate food. 

Stress can also trigger diarrhea in your puppy.  Leaving the only home he has ever known and suddenly being in a new home, with a new schedule, new people, new activities and having to adjust to an entirely new world is traumatic for any puppy (or dog for that matter!).  This type of stress often leads to diarrhea.  Stress diarrhea can also be caused by more minor occurrences such as a trip to the groomer's or the veterinarian's or by visitors coming to the home.  Visits by children that over-excite and encourage a dramatic increase in your puppy's physical activity are especially stressful.  

Unfortunately, stress can also allow things like COCCIDIA and GIARDIA, (small, normally occurring protozoa in the gut) to suddenly over-run the puppy's natural defenses and multiply unchecked.  (Click on the links above for further information on these parasites.)  This unchecked increase of parasites in the intestines can further compromise the puppy's immune system and normally occurring bacteria may also begin to multiply unchecked.  The resulting bacterial and parasitic "infection" from this stress reaction often results in bloody, mucusy diarrhea and often requires veterinary medical attention to resolve.   (Giardia is usually treated with Metronidazole, while cases of Coccidia are generally treated with Albon.  Other antibiotics could also be necessary if the puppy develops a bacterial infection associated with a Coccidia or Giardia infection.) 

And last, but certainly not least, illness and disease are major culprits in many cases of diarrhea.  Bacterial diseases that can trigger diarrhea include Escherichia coli, Campylobacter jejuni and Salmonella.  Like Coccidia and Giardia, many of these bacteria are routinely present within the dog, but do not create a problem unless the animal is stressed or the immune system is weakened by another health issue. 

Parvovirus, Corona virus, Rotavirus and Distemper are some of the viral diseases that can cause puppy diarrhea.  Most of these diseases are potentially deadly to young puppies, but most are also diseases that can be prevented with appropriate vaccinations.   Distemper and Parvo are notoriously deadly to unvaccinated young dogs, while Corona and Rota viruses produce less serious disease and do not have such a high mortality rate.  (Most veterinarians do not recommend Corona virus vaccine because the disease is not especially life-threatening and the vaccine carries some risk of reaction.)

Cancer and diseases of the pancreas or thyroid can also cause diarrhea.  As with the diseases above, it's vitally important that your puppy receives prompt and appropriate veterinary care.  Some of these diseases have very quick, deadly consequences, so you cannot hesitate to secure veterinary assistance. 

If Your Puppy Has Diarrhea

If you have a dog that develops diarrhea, it will be important that you follow the following guidelines:

  • Keep fresh water available at all times unless advised otherwise by your veterinarian.  If your dog cannot or will not drink, be prepared to offer supportive therapy (subcutaneous fluids) and/or alternative fluid  intake (pedialyte) and/or to seek veterinary care (IV therapy).   Your dog should not be allowed to go more than a few hours without drinking.  A dog that does not drink can dehydrate very quickly, especially if the dog is suffering from diarrhea.

  • Monitor your dog's diet as instructed by your veterinarian.  This will usually mean limiting or eliminating high fat foods or treats and people food and will include guarding against raids in the trash can, the cat's food bowl, the kitchen/dining room floor, etc.   Your veterinarian may even recommend not giving your dog any food for 24 hours.  Many cases of common and severe diarrhea will improve if the gut is allowed to rest.  Don't think that your vet is being mean or that Buffy is going to starve if she doesn't get her normal meals.  Withholding food from your pet for one day will not hurt her.

  • Complete dosing of all prescribed medications as instructed by your veterinarian.  Successful treatment of diarrhea will depend on giving the correct dose of medication at the correct times.

  • Monitor your dog for signs of relapse, failure to improve or abnormal behavior.  If your dog does not respond to treatment in the appropriate time-frame, contact your veterinarian immediately for further instructions.

Remember,  soft stools are a sign that you should monitor your dog's situation closely, but a serious case of diarrhea - blood in the stool, black, tarry appearance of the stool, diarrhea that is accompanied by vomiting, lethargy, anorexia - means you should seek veterinary attention promptly.   

Do not stop supportive therapy until the dog has firm, formed, normal stools.  In addition, keep in mind that young puppies with severe cases of diarrhea may dehydrate quickly.  Immediate treatment of young dogs is crucial to avoid serious complications.  To be sure that you know when to seek veterinary help, owners should learn the signs of dehydration.   


The first step in recognizing a lack of hydration in your dog is to know the normal elasticity of your healthy dog's skin.  A hydrated dog's skin will be loose on the back, shoulder and neck areas.  You should be able to easily "lift" this skin away from the body structure.  This loose skin should quickly smooth itself and snap back into position if a fold is lightly pinched between the thumb and forefinger and is lifted slightly away from the body.  If it's hard to pinch up a fold of skin on your dog's neck or shoulders and/or if a raised fold doesn't immediately resume a smooth appearance when released, then your dog is dehydrated. 

If your dog becomes dehydrated, you will need to re-hydrate him as quickly as possible.  This can be done with oral, subcutaneous or IV administration of fluids.   The severity of the dog's condition will determine which type of fluid treatment is needed.  If the dog is not seriously ill or dehydrated and is willing to drink, an available source of fresh, clean water may be all that's required.  If the dog 's situation is more serious (on-going diarrhea or illness) you may need to offer or administer a fluid/electrolyte supplement.   You can purchase unflavored Pedialyte in the baby section of any grocery store for this purpose.   If the puppy is not willing to drink this by itself, you can try adding canned chicken broth (available in the soup section of the grocery store).   Many pet stores also carry a product called Rebound that is specifically designed to re-hydrate  sick animals.

If your puppy still refuses to drink despite your best efforts, try using a dropper or syringe to force-feed the solution into the dog's mouth.  The easiest method to administer liquids orally is to pull the corner of the mouth forward and out (with the nose/chin tilted up) to form a "pouch" in the cheek.  Slowly administer the necessary amount of medication or liquid into the "pouch" as the dog swallows.  Don't administer the liquid too quickly or the dog could get fluid into the lungs.   The amount of fluids needed to re-hydrate or prevent dehydration will vary by age, weight and condition of the dog.  Symptoms of illness (vomiting or diarrhea) will also impact the amount of fluids needed.

The administration of sub-cu or IV fluids is beyond the scope of this article, so I will not address these options other than to say either treatment may be necessary for a moderate to severely dehydrated puppy or for a puppy that is suffering from on-going diarrhea and/or vomiting.  Personally, I think all breeders should learn how to administer sub-cu fluids as this can mean the difference between life and death for sick or weak puppies.  

I know some of you will say your vet will do whatever needs to be done if you have sick puppies, but I have to say I've never seen a vet or vet tech willing to put as much time and effort into my puppies as I do.  Additionally, these people may not be immediately available in an emergency situation and time is of the essence when treating a dehydrated animal, especially a puppy that has very limited reserves anyway.  I think anyone that takes on the responsibility of breeding a litter should have the knowledge and be prepared and able to immediately assist sick or weak puppies.


Supportive therapy for mild to moderate diarrhea may include Immodium AD (dosed by weight), Pepto Bismol or Kaopectate (again dosed by weight) and plenty of fresh, clean water.  Some people also recommend:

  • Giving a little canned pumpkin.

  • Medicating with Probios (source of "good bacteria" for the gut, especially beneficial after antibiotics have been given).

  • Giving NutriCal (concentrated, high-calorie, low-volume nutritional supplement).

  • Giving Rebound, chicken broth and/or unflavored Pedialyte - mixed or individually.

  • Withholding food for 24 hours OR

  • Cutting normal diet to 1/2 of regular intake OR

  • Switching to a bland diet for a day or two.  Bland diets may include:
    • Commercial/veterinary formulas

    • Baby food/cottage cheese/plain yogurt mixture.

    • The following recipe can be used to make your own bland diet at home:

      • 1 cup cooked, low-fat meat  - chicken or you may boil hamburger to remove the fat
      • 2 cups bland grain
        • Cottage Cheese
        • White Rice
        • Cooked oatmeal
      • 2-4 tablespoons boiled Sweet Potato
      • 1-3 tablespoons Yogurt
      •  Add appropriate dosage of Probios
      • DO NOT add any oils or fats to the diet mixture
    • Continue feeding a bland diet for 1-2 days after stools return to normal.
Caring for a dog with moderate to severe diarrhea may require veterinary treatment and/or home care that includes some of the above as well as:

  • IV fluids

  • Subcutaneous fluids

  • Electrolyte replacement

  • Special diet

  • Medication


If your puppy shows any of the following signs in conjunction with diarrhea, it's probably time to see your veterinarian:

  • The dog is acting very sick or unusual.

  • The dog has repeated episodes of vomiting or is vomiting blood.

  • The dog's rectal temperature is above 103 degrees F.

  • The dog is lethargic and shows no interest in food, water or activities that would normally elicit an excited response (toys, balls, etc.).   

  • The dog appears dehydrated.

  • The dog appears "shocky" - may seem dazed, the gums may feel tacky or dry and/or may appear pale.  Or the gums may be slow to return to pink when a finger is pressed on the gum tissue and then removed. 

  •  The dog appears unsteady on its feet and/or is having other motor-skill problems.

  • The dog appears bloated and/or is showing signs of abdominal pain.

  • The dog has tried repeatedly to defecate, seems to be straining significantly, but nothing is coming out or there are only small amounts of blood coming out.

  • The dog is passing significant amounts of blood in his stool.


If your puppy is suffering from diarrhea, I would suggest postponing any unnecessary events that might cause further stress.  This would include scheduled visits to the groomer or the veterinarian and any activity that might over-heat or over-stimulate the dog.  If you should need to have the dog seen by your veterinarian for the diarrhea, be sure and post-pone any vaccinations (even if they are due!) or any other procedure that might further tax the dog's immune system.

Please remember that the information in this article is not intended as a substitute for veterinary care.  This article does not discuss or address all of the possible causes of diarrhea nor does it cover all of the treatments that may be appropriate for diarrhea.  The purpose of this article is to share information that I have found useful with my own dogs.   You should always consult your veterinarian if your puppy is showing symptoms of illness.


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Last revised: January 06, 2006