Help! My dog has a loose stool!
Well, you wouldn’t be a true dog owner if you didn’t spend time assessing, talking or even sharing photos about your dog’s bowel movements. Here at My Pet Nutritionist, we’re not averse to a poop pic (we get quite a few in a day), but there are some common reasons why your dog may develop high scores on the Bristol Stool Chart. Technically that’s a chart for humans, but we can learn similar lessons. Here is our Ultimate Dog Stool Guide on colour and consistency.
So, let us take a look at some of causes of runny poops in dogs.
It goes without saying that a nasty gastro bug can result in runny stools. It can be all sorts of different colours, but more often that not it can be described as like turning a tap on! Infections can be a result of bacteria, parasites or virus and you may notice other symptoms like lethargy, vomiting or abdominal pain. In some cases, due to the irritation in the gastrointestinal tract, you may find specks of blood in the stool too. If nothing sinister, a fast followed by a bland diet will start to show improvements, but if there are other clinical signs or no improvements then its always best to get your dog checked out by your Vet. A vet call is always warranted for young puppies or elderly dogs.
2) Gut Dysbiosis
Stool consistency strongly correlates with all known major microbiome markers. What this means is good poops are a sign of a healthy gut. But you knew that!
Gut dysbiosis is when there is an imbalance between the good and bad bugs found in the gut. This can be for a number of reasons:
- Antibiotic use
- Steroid use
- Diet diversity
- Environment – exposure to toxins
- Birth method
- Use of flea and wormer treatments
When we are looking to heal the gut, we follow the 4 R’s.
- Remove (food antigens that could cause reactivity)
- Repair (the gut lining/endothelial, possibly known as leaky gut)
- Restore (the good bacteria in the gut)
- Replenish (with enzymes if necessary to reduce immediate inflammation)
Signs of gut dysbiosis will usually manifest as regular sub-optimal bowel movements, if you think they may be an issue faced by your pet, we are more than happy to help!
3) Food Sensitivities/Allergies
Allergies are in fact incredibly rare (at around 10%), but sensitivities are one of the most common issues discussed here at My Pet Nutritionist.
An allergy is the result of an over-zealous immune system. It's like going for the theory part of your driver’s test when you are told you are limited with how many clicks you can make on your hazard perception. Well, in cases of an allergy, the immune system didn’t get the limited clicks memo and gets a little trigger happy!
The basic function of the immune system is to get rid of potential threats; it can do this by engulfing parasites, and you guessed it, causing a swift exit in the form of diarrhoea.
But diarrhoea is also a sign of a food intolerance. Rather than an immune response per se, an intolerance involves the digestive system; in short, it struggles to process a particular food. This can be due to a lack of enzymes to digest a particular food, a sensitivity to chemicals found in certain foods or health issues like irritable bowel syndrome (which is often linked to bacterial overgrowth, stress, post-infection and genetics).
In cases of food sensitivities, an elimination diet is the first port of call, to establish the key offender and we again follow the 4R’s in gut healing.
Our pet’s stress response is much like ours as a human. Eustress or good stress can improve alertness and motivation and provide a helping hand in performance. But distress is the one we need to worry about, especially if it becomes chronic.
Stress is generally known as the fight or flight response. The cascade of changes occurring in the body redistribute resources; blood is directed to the brain and limbs to figure out what to do, and whether to run away or stand and fight.
Despite us making evolutionary progress, neither us or our dogs have yet evolved past this response and so even potentially minute stressors result in this redistribution of resources; taking ours and our dog’s ability to effectively digest food with it. Digestive function returns when the parasympathetic system kicks back in; once the stressor has passed (but incases of chronic stress, this doesn’t occur).
In times of chronic stress, food is ingested, but not digested properly. This also explains why you may notice your dog has “adrenaline” poops on walks, or when they get particularly excited. As they are doing their zoomies, the body interprets it as stress and so directs resources where they are needed (not to the effective digestion of food). This is short lived and the dog’s next poop that evening has usually returned to its normal presentation but, under long term stress, this lack of digestion demonstrated by recurring loose stools, can result in a range of health issues thanks to the malabsorption of nutrients.
If you consider your dog’s loose stools are generally associated with certain stressful events, the key is to remove the trigger where possible. Counter conditioning is often successful in supporting their future stress-responses.
Stress does deplete essential nutrients, so opting for a fresh-food diet with excellent bioavailability is vital in supporting your dog during these times.
5) Underlying Malfunction
Loose stools are the result of food being passed through the colon too quickly; with less fluid being absorbed by the body, the result being that puddle in your garden. As we mentioned earlier, a lack of digestive enzymes can be a reason for this.
The digestive system comprises the GI tract, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. If there is an underlying malfunction in any of these, you may find abnormal stools.
The pancreas makes enzymes which break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. If the pancreas isn’t running on all cylinders, maldigestion can occur. Equally if there is any damage or inflammation to the gut, the pancreas is over worked and under paid. For more information on conditions affecting the pancreas, check out our blog here.
The liver is a bit like the superhero of the body, it has a range of functions like removing toxins, breaking down nutrients to produce energy, producing substances that regulate blood clotting and it also produces bile (which works with lipase produced by the pancreas)which is necessary in the digestion of fat and to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K. For more information about supporting liver health,check out our liver disease blog here.
Nestled between the lobes of the liver is the gallbladder which acts as a reservoir for bile. So, this too is necessary for effective digestion of fats. (Although technically bile is a hormone and not a digestive enzyme.)
So, if loose stools are a regular occurrence in your pet then it could be worth exploring potential underlying issues. Although you would likely notice other clinical symptoms too.
All dogs are different, and despite what you may have heard, there is no perfect diet. Like new data is suggesting, different insulin responses across individuals for the same foods can occur and the microbiome is in fact like a fingerprint (completely personal), to say that the same diet will affect each dog in the same way is incredibly short-sighted. If your dog develops loose stools, there is a reason. Once more sinister causes are ruled out, the more benign reasons can be tackled, and this involves looking at the dog in front of you. What do they need and what can they tolerate?
If you need support in figuring this out, we are here to help.
Thanks for reading.