The most common cause of diarrhoea in puppies and dogs is the food they eat. Commercial dog food contains many ingredients that dogs can be sensitive to. Understanding what can trigger gastrointestinal upset, checking food labels for problem ingredients and adjusting a dog’s diet will prevent food related diarrhoea.
When transitioning from one food to another it is important to do so gradually to avoid the onset of diarrhoea.
Is my dog’s food giving him diarrhoea?
Various factors contribute to digestive upset and diarrhoea in dogs, such as poor quality ingredients, food sensitivities, and dietary changes. However, there are 5 main signs and observations to help you identify whether your dog's diet is the culprit behind their loose stools.
- Consistency and Frequency: Pay close attention to the consistency of your dog's poop and how often they are experiencing diarrhoea. Diarrhoea caused by food presents as loose, watery, or unformed stools, ranging from light brown to yellow coloured with a pungent odour, that occur frequently throughout the day.
- History of Sensitivities or Allergies: If your dog has a known history of food sensitivities or allergies, they are often more prone to experiencing diarrhoea when exposed to certain ingredients or allergens. Be mindful of their previous reactions to specific foods or ingredients, as this will help you pinpoint the cause of their current diarrhoea.
- Itching or Scratching: If your dog’s diarrhoea presents alongside itching, scratching, gnawing of the paws or hives in the ear, it is likely that their food is the source of the problem.
- Sudden Onset: If your dog's diarrhoea appears suddenly, without any other apparent cause such as a change in environment or medication and they don’t appear unwell, consider whether you recently introduced a new brand or type of dog food or made any dietary changes.
- Other digestive symptoms: Excessive gas and abdominal discomfort that accompanies the diarrhoea suggests that they are struggling to digest their food
Why would a dog’s dry food cause diarrhoea?
A dog's food can cause diarrhoea for many reasons. One common cause is food sensitivities or allergies. Just like humans, dogs can develop adverse reactions to certain ingredients, such as grains, proteins, or artificial additives. When a sensitive dog consumes these allergens, it can trigger an immune response, leading to digestive upset and diarrhoea.
Well known and well marketed dog food does not make it a good quality. Many dry foods on the market are ‘endorsed by veterinarians’ but contain low quality ingredients and minimal meat content which have a detrimental impact on dog digestion.
There are 5 main points to consider when looking at the ingredients in dog food.
- Inadequate Nutritional Balance: Poor quality dog food may lack the necessary balance of essential nutrients, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. It may contain insufficient amounts of these nutrients or use low-quality sources.
- Fillers and Artificial Additives: Many dog foods contain a high proportion of fillers, such as corn, wheat, or soy. These ingredients offer little to no nutritional value and are harder for dogs to digest. Additionally, poor quality dog foods may use artificial additives, such as preservatives, flavours, or colourings, which are not beneficial for a dog's overall health.
- Subpar Protein Sources: Dogs require high-quality protein in their diet for muscle development, energy, and overall well-being. This means fresh or dried protein. Dog foods which contain inexpensive protein sources of lower biological value, such as by-products or rendered meats (often described as meat meal or meat derivatives), are less digestible or contain lower amounts of essential amino acids.
- Excessive Use of Grains and Fillers: Many dog foods may rely heavily on grains or fillers as the primary ingredients (this includes rice). This can lead to an imbalanced nutrient profile and make it harder for dogs to digest their food properly, resulting in diarrhoea.
- Lack of Transparency in Ingredient Sourcing: Poor quality dog foods may have vague or misleading labelling regarding the sources of their ingredients. It can be challenging to determine the origin or quality of the components used, making it harder to assess the overall nutritional value and safety of the food.
Why would a dog’s raw food cause diarrhoea?
Feeding a dog a raw food diet can sometimes result in diarrhoea. There are 5 main points to consider if your dog has diarrhoea on a raw diet.
- Dietary Changes and Transition: Dogs transitioning from a processed commercial diet to a raw food diet can experience digestive upset, including diarrhoea. Raw food diets often have different macronutrient compositions and consist of raw meat, bones, and organs, which can be a significant change for a dog's digestive system.
- Bacterial Contamination: Raw meat, especially poultry, can carry harmful bacteria like Salmonella or Campylobacter. While dogs have a more robust digestive system than humans, they can still be affected by these bacteria and develop gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhoea. Proper handling, storage, and hygiene practices when feeding raw food are crucial to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination.
- Imbalanced Diet: Raw food diets need to be carefully formulated to ensure a balanced nutrient profile for dogs. If the diet lacks appropriate proportions of essential nutrients, such as proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, it can lead to digestive disturbances, including diarrhoea. Too much offal or rich cuts in the food are often the culprits of diarrhoea.
- Intolerance or Sensitivities: Just like with any other diet, some dogs may have specific sensitivities or intolerances to certain ingredients in a raw food diet. For example, a dog may have difficulty digesting certain types of meat or organs, causing digestive upset and diarrhoea.
- Poor Quality Raw Food: It is important to choose a recognised raw food manufacturer who are DEFRA licensed. Labelling should be comprehensive including ingredients, nutritional analysis and composition, the company name, address, registration and DEFRA licence should all be displayed. Do not purchase raw dog food that does not include this information or that is sold unfrozen.
What is the most common ingredient in dog food that causes diarrhoea?
Grains, particularly wheat, corn, rice and soy. These ingredients are known to be potential allergens or irritants for some dogs. Whilst grains are a natural part of a dog's diet and can be well-tolerated by many, certain dogs may have sensitivities or allergies to them.
When a dog with a grain sensitivity or allergy consumes food containing these ingredients, it can trigger an immune response and lead to gastrointestinal upset, including diarrhoea. Symptoms may also include itching, skin irritation, and other allergic reactions.
It's important to note that not all dogs are sensitive to grains, and the prevalence of grain-related allergies or sensitivities can vary among individual dogs. Each dog's dietary needs and sensitivities are unique, and what causes diarrhoea in one dog may not affect another.
What is the best dog food for diarrhoea?
When selecting the best dog food for diarrhoea or for dogs with a sensitive stomach, it's important to focus on easily digestible, high-quality ingredients that promote gastrointestinal health.
- Limited Ingredient Diets: Dog foods with limited ingredients minimise the chances of triggering sensitivities or allergies. Options include a single source of animal protein and easily digestible carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes.
- Novel Protein Sources: Introduce novel protein sources to help identify and avoid potential allergens. Novel proteins, such as venison, duck, or lamb, are less commonly found in dog foods and are better tolerated by dogs with food sensitivities.
- High-Quality Protein: Choose dog foods with high-quality animal protein sources listed as fresh, dried, freeze-dried or cold compressed as they provide essential amino acids necessary for muscle repair and overall health. Avoid foods with ‘meat meal or derivatives’
- Digestible Carbohydrates: Easily digestible carbohydrates, such as sweet potato, pumpkin and butternut squash, provide energy without further irritating the digestive system.
- Limited Fat Content: Opt for dog foods with a moderate or lower fat content, as high-fat diets can cause digestive upset. However, ensure that the food still provides adequate levels of essential fatty acids for overall health.
- Probiotics and Fibre: Consider dog foods that contain added probiotics or prebiotic fibres, which support a healthy gut microbiome and aid in digestion. These ingredients restore balance to the digestive system and promote firmer stools.
- Moisture Content: Wet or canned dog food can be beneficial for dogs with diarrhoea, as it provides additional hydration and is easier to digest compared to dry kibble. Ensure the wet food is of high quality and meets the necessary nutritional requirements.
Should you withhold food when a dog has diarrhoea?
In general, it is recommended to withhold food for a short period of time when a dog has diarrhoea. This temporary fasting allows the dog's gastrointestinal system to rest and recover. The duration of the fasting period may vary depending on the cause and severity of the diarrhoea.
Fasting for 12 to 24 hours is sufficient for the dog's digestive system to settle down. During this time, it is important to provide access to fresh water to prevent dehydration. After the fasting period, a bland diet can be gradually reintroduced. A bland diet usually consists of easily digestible foods such as boiled chicken and steamed sweet potato. Start with small, frequent meals and observe how the dog's digestive system responds.
How long does food related diarrhoea last in dogs?
In most cases, food-related diarrhoea in dogs is temporary and resolves within a few days although it will vary depending on the underlying cause and individual circumstances.
If the diarrhoea is caused by a sudden change in diet or the introduction of a new food ingredient that doesn't agree with the dog's digestive system, it will resolve relatively quickly once the problematic food is removed from their diet. Transition to a bland diet until the diarrhoea has passed to alleviate symptoms, promote recovery and then begin the transition again more slowly.
In some instances, it takes a bit longer for the digestive system to return to normal. This can occur if the diarrhoea is caused by a more significant dietary change, a food sensitivity or allergy, or if there is an imbalance in the dog's gut microbiome. In such cases, it may take up to a week or two for the dog's stool to firm up and for the gastrointestinal system to stabilise. Adding Kefir or Bone Broth to the diet during this time will assist with replacing lost fluids and healthy gut bacteria.
Can changing food give a puppy diarrhoea?
Yes, changing a puppy's food can potentially cause diarrhoea. Puppies have sensitive digestive systems that may be more prone to gastrointestinal upset when their diet is changed abruptly. There are 4 main points to consider when changing a puppy’s food.
- Dietary Transition: Puppies require a gradual transition when switching from one food to another. Abruptly introducing a new food can disrupt the balance of their gut bacteria and cause digestive disturbances, including diarrhoea.
- Different Ingredients: New foods may contain different ingredients, nutrient profiles, or formulas that can be unfamiliar to the puppy's digestive system. Certain ingredients may be harder for the puppy to digest, leading to loose stools or diarrhoea.
- Sensitivity or Allergies: Puppies, like adult dogs, can have sensitivities or allergies to specific ingredients in their food. Switching to a new food that contains an ingredient the puppy is sensitive to can trigger an immune response and result in gastrointestinal upset, including diarrhoea.
- Higher Fat Content: Some puppy foods may have higher fat content than the previous diet. A sudden increase in dietary fat can cause digestive upset and lead to loose stools or diarrhoea.
If you need to change your puppy's food, it's important to do so gradually. Start by mixing small amounts of the new food with the current food and gradually increase the proportion of the new food over a week or two. This gradual transition allows the puppy's digestive system to adapt to the new food more easily and reduces the risk of diarrhoea.
To treat diarrhoea in dogs, it is important to pinpoint the underlying cause and seek appropriate treatment. Digestive upset in dogs has 9 main common causes.
Most cases of diarrhoea can be managed by treating by fasting or a bland diet until the diarrhoea passes. Add Kefir or Bone Broth to the diet for additional hydration and healthy bacteria to support the digestive system. Veterinarian treatment should be sought if your dog is showing concerning symptoms such as black or red diarrhoea, lethargy, pain or the diarrhoea has persisted for several days.
Diarrhoea in puppies
The duration of diarrhoea in puppies varies depending on the underlying cause. While occasional loose stools may not be a cause for concern, persistent diarrhoea can be a sign of an underlying health issue and lead to dehydration if not treated promptly. If your puppy has severe diarrhoea, it's important to monitor their condition and consult a veterinarian if it persists for more than 24-48 hours or if it is accompanied by other concerning symptoms.