Looking too closely at your dog’s stool might be yucky, but noting any changes and reporting them to your veterinarian is an important part of keeping tabs on his overall well-being.

Cleaning up after our dogs is a daily task for most of us, although we tend to not look too closely at what we’re scooping up. Examining your dog’s poop is probably the last thing you want to do, but be aware that the appearance of his feces can tell you some important things about his health. Changes in your dog’s stool can signal the beginnings of a health problem, and informing your veterinarian can give him or her some inside information about what is going on in your furry friend’s body. Let’s look at some common problems that can show up in your dog’s excrement.

Diarrhea

Soft stool or diarrhea is often your first obvious indication that something is amiss with your dog. It doesn’t tell you specifically what is wrong, just that something’s going on. The mildest indication is a stool that looks normal but is a little softer than usual when you pick it up. The other extreme is watery diarrhea, often with a lot of gas. If you can’t clean up after your dog except with paper towels, something is really irritating his intestinal tract.

Depending on how sensitive your dog is, a bout of diarrhea might just mean he got into the garbage. If he is otherwise perfectly happy, give him a little white rice mixed with cottage cheese for a day or two to see if he improves. If he doesn’t, he needs to get checked out at the vet’s office. Similarly, if watery stool is accompanied by a fever (temperature over 102.5°F) or lethargy, your dog needs to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Constipation

In most cases, constipation arises from a lack of moisture and/or fiber in the diet. Avoid commercial dry pet foods, and make sure your dog is eating a high quality diet made from fresh whole food ingredients, including some vegetables and fruit. Also ensure he has 24/7 access to fresh pure water.

Feces that are white or chalky can mean the dog is being given too much calcium.

More serious causes of constipation include the ingestion of a foreign object, a growth in the digestive tract, an injury in the pelvic area, or a reaction to medications. If constipation does not clear up in a few days, even with the addition of moisture or fiber, take your dog to the vet.

Blood and/or mucus

Blood in your dog’s stool is not something to take lightly. It indicates there is a lot of inflammation in the intestines. If the inflammation is at the end of the digestive tract, the blood will be bright red. If it’s higher up, it will look more like black tar. The whole stool may even look black and tarry.

If you have been giving your dog baby aspirin or a prescription painkiller, know that it can cause intestinal bleeding or even ulcers. If you have just started one of these medications and your dog loses his appetite within a week or so, it may also be a sign of a developing ulcer. Stop the medication immediately, especially if there is blood in the stool, and contact your vet. If you don’t, the ulcer may penetrate the intestine, causing a hole that leads straight to the abdominal cavity, and necessitating emergency surgery.

A greasy-looking stool can signal excess fat in the diet, and can lead to pancreatitis.

Other causes of blood in the stool can include colitis, IBD, certain parasites (see below) and other serious conditions. Again, it’s important to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible if you see blood in his feces.

Mucus also indicates inflammation or irritation, but isn’t as critical as blood as long as it is clear. Bloody mucus should be treated the same way as pure blood – with a trip to the vet.

Some dogs often have mucus surrounding their stools, although the stool itself looks healthy. There is still something going on, however, and the problem will often go away if you add a prebiotic and a probiotic to his diet.

Odor

An excessively foul odor from the stool may indicate that your dog’s system does not respond well to fiber. You can try switching from soluble fiber foods (e.g. oats, apples, blueberries) to insoluble fiber (e.g. whole grains, brown rice), and add a digestive enzyme. Plant-based enzymes work well for this. Be sure cellulase is one of them.

Parasite problems

Most parasites stay in the body and just shed eggs into the feces. This means your veterinarian can determine more than you’ll be able to about any parasites lurking in your dog. However, some parasites manifest in the stool. Any sign of the following warrants a trip to the vet. The younger the dog, the more likely they are to have worms.

  • The most common worm you’ll see in the stool itself is actually just part of a worm – the tapeworm segment. When fresh it is flat and white, with a blunt front end that will crawl around a little. After it has been exposed to the air for a while, it will dry up and look a little bit like brown rice. Do not expect tapeworms to look like those ugly pictures you might have seen online. That part is what’s still inside your dog; it’s not the part that is shed in the stool.
  • Puppies also commonly have roundworms, which look sort of like white spaghetti noodles, and are often seen in the stool. If there is severe inflammation, bloody fluid will accompany them.
  • In the case of hookworms or whipworms, you won’t see the worms in the stool. Whipworms will often cause intermittent diarrhea, however. Your dog might have diarrhea for a day, go back to normal for weeks, have another day of diarrhea, then go back to normal again, etc. If this keeps happening, and there is no other obvious reason for it, take a sample of the diarrhea to the vet.
  • Coccidia and giardia can cause enough irritation to lead to soft stool or diarrhea, often accompanied by some clear mucus and sometimes a little blood. Take the poop to the vet to find out specifically which parasite is causing the problem.
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