Classic Summer Vacations… And a Little Doggy Diarrhea Advice

No matter how experienced a dog owner you are, walking in squishy dog crap is horrible. Here are the hallmarks of doggy diarrhea, and more.

Wally, Zeezee and Chase at the lake. Which one left the smelly surprise?

This past Memorial Day weekend, we opened our family summer camp on beautiful Lake Sacandaga in the foothills of the Adirondacks.

Tunnel through the cobwebs. Turn on the water. Open the windows to get out the dampness. But this year was different and exciting. Over the winter, my husband and I renovated the camp that my family has owned for almost 60 years. If we hadn’t, we would have had a camp IN the lake, not ON the lake.

With the camp having been built in the 1940s, we had discovered that our sleeping attic was held up by two two-by-fours. It was a tear down; it wasn’t a fall down…

You Stepped in What?!

So we open up our lovely renovated camp. The canines are as excited as the humans to be frolicking with their summer doggy friends, begging for cookies from all my relatives (it’s a very close community). We go to sleep and the dogs are exhausted, happy, lake puppies. At 2:20 a.m., my husband is creeping quietly to the w.c. so as not to wake my son and daughter-in-law, only to discover that that soft, warm, squishy feeling between his feet is not wet sand. It’s doggy diarrhea.

Yes folks, summer vacations are here. Dogs running wild on the beach. Dogs eating barbecue. Dogs eating grass. Dogs upset in kennels. Dogs stressed in new surroundings. Dogs with new pet sitters. Dogs with diarrhea.

No matter how experienced a dog owner you are, waking up to or walking in dog crap is horrible. It’s so upsetting to most clients that they just can’t tell me their dog is having diarrhea. They feel a need to explain it. Thoroughly. Lengthy descriptions of color, amount, consistency, not to mention the surface their dog chose to grace with the poop. No dogs seem to choose linoleum. My clients all seem to have new carpet. Or if it isn’t new, they swear that now they’re going to have to get new! Most of these phone calls make me feel like it’s my fault the dog had a bad bout of diarrhea.

After a few minutes of lengthy and often gastronomic description (it’s like pudding; there’s jello in it; a butterscotch sort of color), I try to begin to give advice.

“But you don’t understand, it was ALL OVER. It took me–”

“I understand it took a long time to clean up,” I finally cut them off. Why don’t my clients think I have any personal experience with canine diarrhea? I guess it’s cathartic to share your pain with someone. Oh, and sometimes they tell me what they were wearing when they found the diarrhea. Last week, I guess one of my clients was donning his tux while his Lab was downstairs dressing up the carpets.

Colitis. Ugh!

Yes, summer is a big season for acute bouts of short-lived diarrhea that occur in otherwise healthy dogs. We often call this colitis, or idiopathic colitis. The typical scenario is you go to work in the morning, leaving Bonton happy and normal. You get home from work and when you open your door, you are greeted with the smell of 1,000 meat pies rotting. It smells like they moved a dumpster into your apartment, in 90-degree heat.

When a dog has this type of diarrhea, the most common reasons are dietary indiscretion or stress, or both. The summer season is a time for vacations and a time for picnics, spoiled food and rancid trash. Yummy! Take my dogs, for instance. They LOVE going to the lake. But they sensed us getting ready (stress); they had a three-hour car ride (stress); they met all their doggy friends they hadn’t seen for many months (happy stress); and they were possibly given too many cookies by my 81-year-old aunt (eating disorder stress). So they went to bed exhausted, and one of them didn’t wake us up to tell us he had to go potty… in a hurry.

Dietary indiscretion can mean your dog simply ate something she wasn’t supposed to, or something new or different, or something that just didn’t agree with her. This can be anything from a different food, to grass, to garbage, to leftovers, you name it.

Stress can mean a family vacation, excessive heat, visitors in the home, a stay in a kennel, a pet sitter. In short, any change in routine for your dog can be stressful, even if Bonton is acting like she loves your relatives, or her pet sitter, or even the kennel.

Here are the hallmarks of this kind of diarrhea:

  • Acute onset (diarrhea “out of the blue and on to the carpet”)
  • Urgency, meaning the dog can’t wait to go outside
  • Frequency, meaning you usually come home to many “piles” of poop throughout your home
  • Straining, meaning your dog feels like she has to squat continuously, even when there’s nothing left, which leads to…
  • Mucus and frank blood, signs that the colon is very inflamed
  • Normal demeanor, meaning your dog seems healthy except for the diarrhea

First-Aid Treatment

You can find this information in many places and probably know it already, so I’ll be brief. The hallmarks of treatment are fasting, followed by a bland diet.

Fast your dog. Withhold food for 18-24 hours, even if your dog is hungry. Water can be offered ad lib if there is no vomiting. After the fast, feed a bland diet in small amounts until the stool returns to normal.

Bland Diet Recipe

Chicken and white rice is the doggy version of “a little chicken soup” for an upset tummy.

I like to recommend boiled chicken and white rice, two-thirds rice to one-third skinless, lean, cooked chicken. For vegetarians who hate cooking meat, cottage cheese can be substituted for the chicken.

There are prescription diets available if you don’t want to cook for your pet. Hills makes I/D (intestinal diet) and Purina makes EN (enteritis diet), to name the most popular. All these diets are low in fat and highly digestible, giving the GI system very little work to do so it can heal. This list is by no means exhaustive.

Once your dog’s stool has gone back to looking normal, you gradually add small amounts of the normal diet, and watch the poop carefully! If the diarrhea returns, you may have  simply weaned her off the bland diet too quickly. Go back and start over again.

You should see your veterinarian if your dog is acting ill, is vomiting, is anorexic, or if the diarrhea is continuing. The list of serious conditions that can cause bad diarrhea is endless, and you must seek medical attention in that event.

But My Dog Was Fine!

A classic summer story is this: Your dog is okay on vacation, or fine in the kennel, or great with the pet sitter or your mother, and then the vacation is over. You’re home. And the dog breaks with carpet colitis. It’s all over your house, and you’re wearing your best evening attire when you find it. The dog waits until you’re home!

Many times an angry client is ready to blame the kennel, or the sitter, or the phase of the moon. Blame something! Someone! Blame me. I’m the vet. Couldn’t I see that diarrhea coming with my special Avenger I-Spy Diarrhea Cam? That diarrhea couldn’t have come from nowhere!

Well, yes it could have. And it did. So clean it up and get on with your summer.

Last Words That Might Hinder the Trots

  1. Remember to make sure you’re giving a heartworm preventive with an anti-parasitic for intestinal worms, especially during the summer months.
  2. Keep the garbage tied up carefully and provide no access to compost piles — yours or your neighbor’s.
  3. Ask your relatives at the barbecue to refrain from including your pets in the festivities.
  4. Bring or specify your pet’s normal diet to the kennel, to the sitter, to your mom.

Enjoy your vacation! The dog will be fine… while you’re away.

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.


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