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Ask The Vet: Diarrhea in Dogs After Boarding

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Diarrhea in dogs after boarding is upsetting for many dog owners to witness. You pick up your pup after not seeing him for a few days, and all you want to do is cuddle and celebrate your reunion. Next thing you know, your dog has several bouts of terrible diarrhea, and the last thing you want to do is pick up messes. What's up with dogs who develop diarrhea after boarding? Veterinarian Dr. Crnec explains some possibilities.

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Diarrhea in Dogs After Boarding 

All dog parents know that diarrhea is the most common manifestation of intestinal disease. In most cases the diarrhea is acute – characterized with rapid onset and slow recovery.

Milder cases of diarrhea can be transient, self-limiting and occurring without any accompanying signs and symptoms. Severe cases of acute diarrhea require veterinary attention and are often accompanied by a wide range of signs varying from minor to potentially life-threatening.

The most common causes of acute diarrhea in dogs are dietary indiscretions (such as eating spoiled food or non-edible items), food allergies and intolerances to particular foods or ingredients, presence of intestinal worms, certain types of bacterial and viral infections and treatment with certain drugs (such as NSAIDs).

Another particularly common, but rarely mentioned and explained cause of diarrhea in dogs is staying at a boarding facility. In fact, according to some studies, during or following a boarding experience, more than 70 percent of the dogs will manifest loose bowel movements.

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Cause Number 1 – Stress

For most dogs being kenneled is a stressful experience. Even dogs that have been previously boarded can be equally stressed as dogs visiting the facility for the first time. The number of boarding times does not reduce the amount of stress triggered by the stay.

To be honest, it is not hard to imagine why a dog would be stressed. Simply put, the dog is separated from its human family, in an unknown place and surrounded by strangers, barking dogs and unfamiliar sights, smells and sounds.

It goes without saying that some dogs are more resistant to stress. Nevertheless, most of the dogs are visibly stressed and develop stress-induced diarrhea within the first hours of arriving at the boarding facility. Often the diarrhea will contain a significant amount of mucus and sometimes a little bit of blood.

Cause Number 2 – Dietary Changes

Sudden changes in the dietary habits inadvertently cause diarrhea. The changes may refer to the type of food or the feeding schedule.

To avoid such problems, most boarding facilities recommend that you provide your dog’s current food formula. They will serve the food you provide while sticking to your dog’s usual feeding schedule.

If you ignore this recommendation or if your dog’s stay in the facility has been prolonged and the food you provided is not enough, the facility will have to find a suitable feeding alternative. In such cases, to prevent potential issues, most kennels use dry food formulated specifically for dogs with sensitive stomachs. Even this choice may trigger diarrhea but the chances are significantly smaller.

It should be accented that some dogs may develop an upset stomach if the offered water is different than the one they are used to.

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Cause Number 3 – Excitement

We already explained the role of stress in the development of boarding diarrhea…but what about excitement? Can excitement cause diarrhea? As weird as it may sound, the answer is yes.

Sometimes, a dog can be perfectly well and pass normal, solid stools while staying at the boarding facility and then develop an upset stomach and diarrhea as soon as it gets home.

Fortunately, there is a completely logical and evidence-based explanation to this peculiar phenomenon. Namely, when we are excited we feel like we have butterflies in our stomachs. Dogs feel similarly. The excitement caused by coming back home and seeing mom and dad after a long time of being separated affects the digestive tract.

In a nutshell, the more excited the dog is, the more likely it is to gulp down its food thus triggering digestive upset followed by diarrhea. Luckily, in the majority of cases, excitement-induced diarrhea is a transient and self-limiting condition (resolves on its own within 48 hours).

To prevent this issue, many boarding facilities in their discharge papers instruct the dog parent to withhold food and water for several hours upon returning home.

Cause Number 4 – Stomach Bugs

In boarding facilities, thorough and proper disease screening is of paramount importance. In order to accept your dog, most kennels require papers confirming your dog is up-to-date with its preventative vaccines and deworming protocols. Plus, boarding kennels have strict cleaning protocols and regularly disinfect their premises.

However, doggy boarding facilities are much like daycare centers for kids. In spite of all efforts and many precautions, infectious agents can spread.

Realistically speaking, boarding facilities cannot be 100 percent germ-free. What is more, not all vaccines are 100 percent effective. Therefore, although the chances of picking up some stomach bug from the kennel are extremely low, it is not impossible.

The list of diseases that can be picked up is particularly long. However, the list of stomach bugs associated with diarrhea is significantly shorter and usually includes infections with certain types of bacteria (E.coli and Salmonella), viruses (Canine Distemper, and Canine Parvovirus), protozoans (Giardia and Coccidia) and parasites (intestinal worms).

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Cause Number 5 – An Underlying Condition

This cause is directly linked with stress. It is a well-established fact that stress is a powerful trigger. Simply put, if your dog has some underlying medical condition that causes neither problems nor issues, once the dog experiences a stressful event, the stress may cause the underlying issue to become evident.

The most common stress-triggered underlying medical conditions are inflammatory bowel disease and pancreatitis. Another common issue is infestation with intestinal parasites. A dog that harbors intestinal worms can be asymptomatic at home, but once its habits are changed, the symptoms may become noticeable. Last but not least, dogs suffering from chronic diarrhea are likely to have more severe episodes while boarding.

In the above described situations, leaving the boarding facility does not end the problem in spite of the fact that the triggering factor is now eliminated. More often than not, veterinary medical attention is required to achieve fast and smooth recovery.

If you are aware that in the past your dog had inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis or some other underlying medical issue that can be once again triggered by stress, it is your obligation to inform the kennel. That way the staff will know what to expect, and if a problem occurs, they will be able to act promptly and properly.

About the Author

ivana crnec

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.

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