Is Your Dog's Poop Normal?
From bloody poop to diarrhea, all your dog's poop problems explained.
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I’ll be the first to admit that I stand outside watching each and every performance of my dogs’ “poop show.” Watching your dog poop isn’t just a weird sort of voyeurism — it’s actually a good way to know what’s going on with their health.
If you, too, like to see what’s coming off the production line, keep in mind that consistency is the number one thing you should see. Stools should generally have the same color, size, and texture every time.
That said, many things can cause variations in your dog’s stool. Some of the more common are a poor diet, general dietary changes, stress (known as stress colitis), infectious disease, inflammatory conditions, or obstructive issues. There are even times when we vets don’t know what causes a significant poop change. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to your dog’s number twos. Keep reading to learn what to lookout for, plus how to treat common poop problems.
How to Decode Your Dog’s Poop
While normal stools can be many shades of brown, some abnormalities in color and consistency may indicate an underlying problem. Here are some signs and changes to take note of:
1. Streaks of bright red blood and/or mucus.
When this discoloration appears on the surface of a mostly normal, formed dog stool, it’s generally caused by inflammation in the large intestine where mucus on the dog poop is secreted to help protect the intestinal lining. While blood in dog stool does not necessarily indicate an emergency, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye out for further changes in their behavior and stool.
2. Soft-formed to liquid brown diarrhea.
This type may or may not feature streaks of blood, and is often referred to as a “cow patty” or “soft-serve ice cream.” As with the previous type, red blood indicates inflammation and bleeding in the colon, but does not necessarily mean your pet is bleeding internally. This type of poop is slightly more concerning than the last because the stool is softer, however, it’s generally not life-threatening as long as improvement happens within 24 to 48 hours and there are no other causes for concern. If your dog is acting normally otherwise — eating well, not vomiting, good attitude — you can take a wait-and-see approach.
3. A large volume of bloody, watery diarrhea.
This one does require immediate veterinary attention, especially in smaller dogs, as it can be an indicator of a common condition called hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, or HGE. In this disease, the bloody poop is characterized by red tissue-like chunks often described as “raspberry jam.”
4. Black, tarry stools.
Black dog poop generally indicates bleeding somewhere higher up in the GI tract such as the stomach or small intestine, which requires an urgent trip to the vet. More specifically, it can signal a bleeding ulcer (often caused by steroid or NSAID use) or more generalized bleeding (from rat poison, heat stroke, or an immune-mediated disease). The stool is black due to the presence of digested blood, and can indicate that a large amount of blood is being lost. In these cases, I usually recommend blood work and an ultrasound to better assess the lining of the intestinal tract.
5. Yellow-orange or pasty, light stools.
This may indicate the development of liver or biliary disease, or a stool’s too-rapid transit through the small intestine. A more thorough examination and diagnostic tests are in order.
6. Grey, greasy stools.
A possible indicator of inadequate digestion and malabsorption of nutrients from the small intestine, this type of stool is typical of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) also called maldigestion, a disease in which the pancreas no longer functions as it should. The pancreas is responsible for producing digestive enzymes and without them, nutrients cannot be properly absorbed. Both German Shepherds and Rough-Coated Collies are commonly afflicted with EPI.
7. Green stools.
In the ER, I’ve seen dogs with green stool, and upon examination of the fecal contents, have discovered the cause to be undigested rat bait mixed in with normal stool. This condition also calls for emergency care. Although relatively uncommon, rat poison can also cause bright bloody and dark, tarry stool, so whether or not you think your dog accessed it, please let your veterinarian know of any possible rodenticide exposure.
Most of the time, you will not actually see worms in dog stool. We typically diagnose worms by looking for their eggs under the microscope — we can tell what type of parasite is present by the shape of the eggs. Occasionally, however, you may see white spaghetti-like shapes in the stool — particularly with puppies — which are typically roundworms. You may also see small flat worms on the outside of a dog’s stool or rectum, or “dried rice” in their sleeping areas. This typically indicates tapeworms, which take over when fleas flourish. Although seeing worms in the stool is not an emergency, an appointment with your vet is in order so you can get the appropriate medication.
An important note: After a bout of diarrhea, a dog may not have a bowel movement for 24 to 48 hours. As long as the dog is doing well otherwise, this can be considered normal.
Home Remedies for Dog Poop Problems
Most cases of dog diarrhea are generally self-limiting and resolve without elaborate treatment. My own dog suffers from low-grade inflammatory bowel disease and we use a combination of a bland diet, probiotics, and slippery elm for his flare-ups. We also occasionally implement an antibiotic — generally metronidazole (Flagyl) — if the diarrhea contains a lot of blood or doesn’t improve within a couple of days. Here are some ways you can help your dog properly digest at home:
Implement a bland diet.
Many people think that when a dog’s suffering from diarrhea, food should be withheld for 24 hours. That’s not really the case. Food actually helps the gut heal by stimulating cells in the intestinal tract lining. Simply introduce small and frequent feedings of a bland diet (lean protein such as boiled chicken or ground meat mixed with boiled pasta, cooked rice, and low-fat cottage cheese or scrambled eggs) over the course of two or three days, and then slowly reintroduce your dog’s regular diet in small amounts.
Many probiotics are available, and your veterinarian is best suited to give you a recommendation. In our home we use Purina FortiFlora, which comes in packets of palatable powder that can be sprinkled over a meal once daily. A dollop or two of yogurt can also be given with each meal to help restore normal GI flora.
Consider slippery elm.
An easy-to-find Western herb, slippery elm is one of my favorite natural remedies. It contains mucilage, a substance that becomes a slick gel when mixed with water, and works by coating the stomach and intestines. It also has antioxidants that help relieve inflammation. Provided as a loose powder or in capsule form, the usual dose is 400 milligrams per 20 to 30 pounds of body weight every eight to 12 hours. It should be given with water, after your dog takes a drink.
Please note that because slippery elm coats the digestive tract, it will slow down the absorption of other drugs, therefore it must be given two hours before or after other medications.
Avoid anti-diarrheal meds.
I do not believe in using Imodium or other anti-diarrheal medications in dogs. If you have ever resorted to these medications yourself, you know about the painful gas cramps that can accompany them. This happens because the drug essentially forces all that waste matter to stay inside when the body is working hard to eliminate it. There are physiological reasons for diarrhea, and it is best to allow the natural process to happen. Anti-diarrheal medications do not fix the underlying problem, and while your carpet may be cleaner, your pup won’t be happier.
What to Do if Poop Problems Worsen
If your pet suffers from chronic (long-term and/or frequent) diarrhea and you don’t see improvement in an episode after 24 to 48 hours, there may be a bigger issue at hand. Common causes of chronic diarrhea include inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies (which can develop later in life), tumors in the intestinal tract, or digestive disorders. That said, if your dog refuses food or water, vomits, or acts ill or “off” after an extended diarrhea experience, a trip to the vet is definitely necessary. As with most health issues, it’s far better to rule out problems than to ignore them.
Upon visiting your vet, they may ask you to bring in a stool sample for analysis. A tablespoon is generally plenty. Also, freshness counts — fecal samples less than an hour old give the best results. If you’re not able to collect one that quickly, get a morning sample, double (or triple!) bag it, and keep it refrigerated until your dog’s appointment.
Testing for gut abnormalities usually starts with a screen for giardia and “O & P,” specifically looking for giardia protozoa as well as eggs and parasites. During this evaluation, the laboratory technician will also check for overgrowth of normal gastrointestinal bacteria, which we refer to as clostridial overgrowth. Depending on what is found there, other diagnostics such as blood work and radiographs may be in order.
Veterinarian Dr. Shea Cox on how to take your dog’s temperature, find their pulse, and check their heart rate.
What to do when your pup can’t poop.
Dr. Shea Cox
Dr. Shea Cox is the founder of BluePearl Pet Hospice and is a global leader in animal hospice and palliative care. With a focus on technology, innovation and education, her efforts are changing the end-of-life landscape in veterinary medicine.