A natural first-aid kit for dealing with canine diarrhoea
My 8-year-old Border Collie, Charlie, has been having diarrhoea recently. I have taken him to my vet's, who said it doesn't appear to be anything serious, just a case of something he's eaten. Unfortunately, he is the type of dog who is always rummaging around and will eat anything. Is there anything I can do to help him whenever he gets these bouts of diarrhoea without having to take him to the vet each time?
Diarrhoea in dogs is such a common problem that it's not a matter of ifit will happen, but rather when.
Diarrhoea, the passage of liquid-like faeces, usually begins with large volumes of stool and causes an increased number of bowel movements. In the normal process of digestion, food takes around eight hours to pass through the small intestine. Over this time the bulk of the food and 80 per cent of the water is absorbed. Whatever is left makes its way to the colon and rectum, and a well-formed stool is eventually deposited. A normal stool contains no mucus, blood or undigested food.
With diarrhoea, food arrives at the rectum in a liquid state, resulting in a loose, unformed bowel movement. This type of rapid transit accounts for the majority of temporary diarrhoea in dogs.
Because diarrhoea can happen at any time and take effect very quickly, it's a good idea to be prepared for when it does happen. Although many people are doing many of the right things when diarrhoea strikes, I think it's always good to have a refresher on the best way to treat the condition. After all, it can be one of the most unpleasant experiences for you and your dog.
What causes diarrhoea?
There are a huge number of reasons why a dog may develop diarrhoea, although the most common one is something that's been eaten. This is especially true over the holidays when you may be hosting family gatherings and cooking richer, fattier or even new and different foods. Although I never recommend giving human food to dogs, invariably many pets get to eat some of this food mostly because the owner gives it to them as a treat.
But even if this isn't the case, dogs have an amazing capacity to acquire some of this tasty food without their owners even knowing. It's very common for dogs to eat dropped food and not uncommon for them to rummage around in bin bags once the food has been disposed of. These leftovers or 'treats' can and do cause many gastrointestinal (GI) complaints.
I've seen many dogs who also love to eat and drink from bird feeders, ponds, bird baths and muddy pools. Dogs naturally scavenge and tend to eat many unusual indigestible things like dead animals, grass, wild and ornamental plants, and pieces of plastic, wood, paper and other foreign materials.
Less common but just as detrimental is stress, allergies, a sudden change in a dog's regular diet or just poor-quality dog food. Food intolerance can also cause rapid transits. Many dogs seem unable to tolerate beef, pork, fish, eggs, spices, corn, wheat, soya, gravy, salts, spices, fats and even some commercial dog foods.
There are also viruses, parasites and bacterial infections that can cause intermittent diarrhoea, with the most serious problems coming from roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, threadworms and Giardia lamblia. These parasites are often the hardest to spot as they seem to appear out of the blue and then disappear just as you're about to take the dog to the vet, only to then reappear a few weeks or even months later.
As you'd expect, many pharmaceuticals can also cause diarrhoea. It's rather common for heartworm tablets, for example, to cause bouts of diarrhoea,
and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and antibiotics are other major culprits.
How to spot diarrhoea
This isn't as silly as it sounds. Anyone who has experienced diarrhoea in an animal will know that it's almost impossible to miss the signs! But it's worth being aware of some of the less obvious signs of impending diarrhoea. Although dogs don't understand what's happening to them, they will certainly feel the urgent need to 'go', and this can cause them a lot of distress, especially if they're stuck indoors with no way to get out.
The first and most obvious sign is when your dog stands anxiously at the door and needs to get out quickly. Other signs of diarrhoea include fever, lethargy, malaise, loss of appetite and dehydration.
A far less obvious sign is when your dog actually strains to go, which may then be misinterpreted as constipation. When an animal has diarrhoea, the natural rhythms of muscle contraction in the GI tract are disrupted, and this can give them the feeling that they need to go even when they don't and the colon is completely empty.
Although most cases of diarrhoea will eventually pass reasonably quickly with no intervention, some higher-risk groups such as puppies, smaller breeds and senior animals can suffer from severe dehydration as a result.
Take a good look!
This may not sound like the most enticing thing to do, but take a good look at your dog's output, and smell and sometimes even feel your dog's faeces. This can tell you a lot about your dog's condition.
Colour.Just the colour of your dog's faeces can say a lot. Red or dark, tarry faeces or red blood and clots may be signs of GI bleeding, while pasty or light-coloured faeces may be due to a lack of bile and indicate a problem with the liver. In these cases, you should immediately take your dog to the vet. Large or rancid faeces may indicate inadequate digestion or absorption.
Consistency.A watery consistency is likely due to rapid transit, while a foamy texture could be a sign of bacterial infection, and greasiness may be due to malabsorption and pancreas issues.
Smell.If the faeces smell like food or sour milk, it could be due to inadequate digestion, or overfeeding in puppies, whereas if the smell is rancid, it could point to gut fermentation issues.
Frequency.Several small stools in the course of a day with mucus, fresh blood and straining indicates colitis, while three to five large stools in a day may be a sign of inadequate digestion or absorption issues.
Your action plan
If your dog is generally healthy and behaving normally except for the diarrhoea, then the first thing to do is stop all food for 24 hours. But it's crucial that you do not stop water, which should be freely available.
Once the 24 hours has passed, you should start feeding the dog a very bland diet that contains little or no fat. White meat like chicken breast is great or, even better, any turkey leftovers after you've removed any grease and fat, ground it down and mixed it with cooked sweet potato or instant mashed potato at a ratio of 50:50. Feed this to your dog two or three times a day for about three days or until stools are back to normal.
You could also try ground beef, although even the leanest beef contains appreciable amounts of fat. Other easily digested foods you could try are cottage cheese, cooked macaroni, cooked oatmeal and soft-boiled eggs. Feed three or four small meals a day for the first two days, then slowly switch the diet back to the dog's regular food.
Other helpful treatments
Bentonite clay.If you look at bentonite clay through a microscope, you will see it's made up of tiny plate-like particles of aluminosilicate separated by calcium ions. These positively charged calcium ions create a highly electrically charged inner layer that literally attracts and traps materials. As the clay travels, it expands like a sponge as it absorbs water and toxins while working its way through the body.
It is effective for improving stool quality in most cases of acute and chronic diarrhoea. Bentonite clay is also classified as a 'smectite' clay, as it has a three-layered crystalline structure that exhibits the characterisitc swelling when exposed to water.
Once the clay has traveled through the digestive tract, it is eliminated from the body along with the toxins it's also picked up. I use this clay (which is available through many health food stores or via the internet) to clear up diarrhoea very successfully. I recommend 1/8 tsp four times a day mixed into a small amount of food. For long-term maintenance and control of chronic diarrhoea, once the stools have responded to the initial clay treatment, I recommend 1/8 tsp for the following week too.
Slippery elm bark.Preparations of this herb cause reflex stimulation of nerve endings in the GI tract, leading to mucous secretions that can protect the GI tract in cases of diarrhoea. I recommend about 1/2 tsp twice daily for each 5 kg (2 lb) of your dog's body weight, mixed in with the bland food diet.
Feeding a bland diet containing bentonite clay and supplementing with slippery elm bark is a good plan for about three days, after which time your dog's stool should be back to normal.
It's also important to make sure your pet has access to clean drinking water at all times and to encourage your pet to drink as often as possible.
If this regimen hasn't worked after 72 hours, or your dog is sluggish, running a fever or feels warm to the touch, don't hesitate to contact your vet.
If you see blood in your pet's stool, or he's weak or shows other signs of debilitation along with the diarrhoea, you should again make an appointment to see the vet.
If your dog seems fine but is experiencing recurrent bouts of diarrhoea, also make an appointment to see your vet.
It's important to take a sample of your dog's stools to your vet appointment even if it's watery. Pool together three different faecal samples, as this will help your vet identify all the potential underlying causes of the diarrhoea.
Paul Boland, BVSc MRCVS, a partner at Alder Veterinary Hospital in Liverpool, has been a veterinary surgeon for 21 years. Combining herbs, nutraceuticals, acupuncture and more recently natural stem-cell enhancers, he is able to treat a large proportion of his patients naturally (see www.naturalhealthvet.com).
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