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Large Bowel Versus Small Bowel Diarrhea in Dogs

Thorneywood Terror. Source:  "Sporting Dogs. Their Points And Management In Health, And Disease", by Frank Townend Barton.

Large bowel versus small bowel diarrhea in dogs is not a glamorous topic to talk about. It is not even fun. In fact, it is stinky and more often than not, it can be gross. However, if you are a responsible dog parent, chances are you will have to deal with many stinky situations on a daily basis. Jokes aside, a dog’s poop can give us a tremendous number of clues and tell us a lot about the dog’s digestive health. Additionally, dog poop is an amazing indicator for the dog’s overall health.

Petra's CT scan

Anatomy of a Dog's Intestines 

The intestines make up the lower portion of the dog's digestive tract. They comprise the small intestines and the large intestines.

In the small intestines, the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates in food are broken down into their smallest components, assisted by enzymes secreted by the pancreas and liver. The nutrients are absorbed through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream. Undigested material passes into the large intestine, where more water is removed. Finally, the residue is passed via the rectum and anus as feces.

The intestines are, technically, in direct contact with the environment outside the body and so are exposed to an enormous variety of challenges, such as germs, parasites, poisons, indigestible foreign matter and other insults. These challenges can cause diarrhea – the most common medical problem affecting the intestines.

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Keeping an eye on the appearance of the dog poop can be quite helpful. That does not mean that you need to go on ‘’poop patrol’’ and run around poking in your dog’s poop every time it does it business. However, make sure you visually inspect your dog’s poop at least once a day or once in two days.

Diarrhea in Dogs 

What causes blood in a dog's stool?

Diarrhea is not a medical condition in itself, but rather your dog’s way of getting rid of an irritant. Diarrhea may also result from physical damage to the digestive system.

Diarrhea, as a condition, can be defined as change in the consistency, volume or frequency of bowel movements. It may be acute, beginning and ending suddenly, or may become chronic, continuing for more than three weeks.

Consistency. In order to be objective and make more accurate classification, veterinarians use a numerical system to score a dog's poop consistency. That scoring system is called Bristol stool chart. The Bristol stool chart was designed as a diagnostic aid tool in human medicine. Then it was borrowed and adapted for veterinary use. According to the chart, each type of poop is assigned a value from 1 to 7, where 1 represents hard and sturdy pellets and 7 represents a poop puddle.

Volume. It is important to know your dog’s average poop volume. Keep in mind that the poop volume depends on the diet. If the dog eats food with high percentage of fillers, its poop will be bulkier because most of the nutrients are not absorbable. On the other hand, if it eats high-quality food, without fillers, its poop will be substantially smaller.

Another factor that determines the volume of the poop is the size of the dog itself. It is more than obvious that a teacup Chihuahua and a great dane cannot produce the same amount of poop.

Frequency. Most dogs normally poop once or twice a day depending on their feeding regimen. If all of a sudden your dog starts eliminating more often, it is a sign of diarrhea.

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Large Bowel Versus Small Bowel Diarrhea 

We promised this topic will not be glamorous and fun and this is exactly where things become stinky and gross. As a dog parent, you should be able to differentiate between diarrhea originating from the large and diarrhea originating from the small intestines.

This is important because large and small bowel diarrhea have different causes and consequently require different diagnostic tests and treatment strategies.

If the problem is located in the small intestines, the affected dog will pass large amounts of poop with a mild increase of frequency – around 3 to 5 bowel movements per day. The stool passing is without strains and difficulties. Excess gas production is commonly observed.

Dogs with small bowel diarrhea may also vomit and tend to lose weight. Their appetites are decreased and they generally feel lethargic. There is no presence of mucus in the poop, and if blood is present, it is digested and therefore black in color.

If the problem is located in the large intestines, the affected dog will pass small amounts of stool but very frequently – usually more than 5 times per day. The stool passing is painful and accompanied with straining. The stool is quite slimy and covered with mucus. If blood is present it is undigested and fresh and therefore red in color.

Dogs with large bowel diarrhea rarely vomit and do not tend to lose weight. Their appetites and overall conditions are generally unaltered.

dog drinking

Treating Dogs With Diarrhea 

Acute diarrhea is treated symptomatically. A dog with diarrhea should be allowed to drink, but it is advisable to withhold food for several hours. Rehydration with fluid therapy is essential.

The use of protectants and adsorbents such as activated charcoal is controversial – while some specialists say that they are of no value, many vets feel that they are a useful treatment.

There is similar lack of agreement on diet. Some experts recommend feeding the dog’s regular diet, in order to provide familiar food for the good bacteria in the intestines. On the flip side, others recommend that an easy-to-digest meal, such as boiled chicken and rice, is more beneficial. Antibiotics are seldom used unless the diarrhea has become chronic and secondary bacterial infections are suspected.

All in all, your dog’s poop can tell you a lot about its digestive system and overall health. It is a popular misconception that stool problems are always related with upset stomachs. Stool problems can indicate a plethora of more serious and even life-threatening conditions.

Therefore, it is important to observe your dog’s stool and take appropriate measures if something wrong happens. Keep in mind that, when evaluating poop, you always needs to take in context other health-related factors such as coat quality, healthy diet, energy and emotional stability. If you are in doubt or cannot decide whether your dog’s poop is normal or not, do not hesitate to consult with a professional.

About the Author 

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

ivana crnec

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