It is common for people first moving to Colorado with their pets, to soon find themselves enjoying the scenery, the hiking, and the sunshine, only to be disturbed by the need to find a new vet right away. Because their poor, beloved dog picked up giardia while drinking from that mountain stream, and now has a wicked case of the runs. Of course dogs and cats can get diarrhea for lots of other reasons too, like a new food, medications, allergies, bowel conditions, and of course the eating of questionable food items (ie garbage gut!). Either way here are some easy tips of what to do first, and to know when to call the vet.
If your pet is acting sick, slow to get up, refuses to eat, is also vomiting, or you see any blood in the runny stool, contact a veterinarian right away, this could be a serious emergency.
If, however, your pet seems pretty much alright, like their pretty normal happy self, but they have diarrhea, try this first. For dogs, an 8-12 hour fast is a good place to start. That means no food or treats for a few hours or overnight. If you are not comfortable withholding water too, then at least make sure the animal does not drink too much at once and just has a few sips periodically. A short break from food allows the cells lining the inside of the intestines to focus their energy on healing, instead of digesting. For cats, I do not recommend fasting.
Then, as long as THERE HAS BEEN NO VOMITING, THE DIARRHEA SEEMS LESS, AND THE ANIMAL STILL SEEMS HAPPY AND ACTIVE:
Begin to offer a bland diet in small, frequent feedings, of food and water. This means about 1/4 of their regular meal in white rice (not brown) mixed with canned or pureed pumpkin or sweet potato. Only add a little vegetable broth and/or bland protein (fat free, no oil, non-GMO tofu is a good choice) with it if they won’t eat the rice mix plain. The key is SMALL, FREQUENT feedings. That means starting with 1 tablespoon of rice mix, wait 30 minutes, 2 TB of rice mix, wait 30 minutes, then if the animal 1) still has an appetite 2) still has no vomiting 3) seems to still be feeling good and the diarrhea has slowed down or stopped, then you can feel comfortable going ahead and feeding 1/2 cup every hour or 2, and gradually increasing the amount and decreasing the frequency of meals over the next 24-30 hours. As long as things are still going well, then at this point you can begin to mix in half of the regular diet with the rice mixture, and over the next 48 hours gradually reintroduce the regular diet, at normal feeding times and amounts. If at any point in the process the runny stools get worse, have blood, the pet vomits, or the animal refuses to eat, see a vet right away.
Now, what about animals who seem to have sensitive systems or chronic digestion issues? I once had a great dane who was 130# of chronic diarrhea. Not fun, for him or me. Some of our animals just seem to be extra sensitive, and have bowel issues frequently, which can be caused by allergies or bowel conditions. The first step is to have a thorough evaluation by your veterinarian, including stool samples, blood work, a good physical exam, a good detailed history of foods and habits, and even possibly x-rays, ultrasound, allergy testing, and/or sampling of the bowel tissues for further tests. Once it has been determined that there is no easily identifiable medical cause, and this is a chronic condition, then that is the time when eastern medicine and natural therapies play their biggest role.
Changing the diet is of course a common course of action. This was the only thing that worked for my great dane. Often irritable bowels do better with a more bland diet, easy to digest, not too high in protein, and low in fat. You can try a prescription diet through your vet, or cook at home. Find a diet that works, and stick to it. See my previous blog post about home cooking for your fur babies. A vegetarian diet is often a good choice for ease of digestion.
The supplements added to the diet are just as important. Probably one of the best known one is to add probiotics to the diet. Probiotics is just a big word for the “good” bacteria that we ingest that helps rebuild the stores of these good guys we have living in our intestines. Yes we all have bacteria living inside of us, and many of them our beneficial to us, and aid in the digestion of our food. Did you know, in fact, that nearly 80% of your immune system is actually lining the insides of your intestines? That’s right! So a healthy intestinal lining means a healthier you, and your pet. Probiotics can be purchased at any pharmacy or grocery store with a health food section. Pick one that promises live (viable) microorganisms. You do not have to worry about a product specifically made for pets, although some of them might come packaged in a way easier for your animal to want to eat. Give a #50 dog 1/4 of the human dose, follow the package, or consult with your vet. It’s hard to overdo it, they might just get gassy. There are no known side effects.
Another good supplement is glutamine. Glutamine is a naturally occurring amino acid, with no known side effects, that has a nourishing effect on the walls of the intestinal lining and have helped many patients. For a #50 dog give 1/4 the human dose once daily. Extrapolate the dose for cats and smaller dogs.
The herb Slippery Elm is safe for dogs and cats at the right dose. Give by mouth, mix about 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of Slippery Elm bark powder with food for every 10 pounds of body weight, twice daily. Alternatively, use 1/2 of a 400 mg capsule (per 10 pounds), opened and the contents mixed with food or water. It has a slightly sweet taste and is usually well-tolerated by cats and dogs. NOTE: Slippery Elm may interfere with absorption of medications; and long-term use may have some effect on nutrient absorption, including iron and zinc. Please discuss the use of all supplements and herbs with your veterinarian.
Alternatively, you can prepare a week or so supply all at once. Into a small saucepan place 1/2 cup (2 cups for larger animals) cold water and 1 (6 teaspoons for larger animals) powdered slippery elm bark. Sift herbs into the (preferably distilled) water, to simmer over low flame, stirring constantly. Simmer 20 minutes or less, until slightly thickened, add 1/2 oz molasses or a touch of honey. Cool and refrigerate. Keeps 7 or 8 days. Give a teaspoon of syrup (5 cc) for every 10 pounds of body weight 5 minutes before a meal to minimize diarrhea.
For herbal tinctures of Slippery Elm that recommend a dosage of 5-40 drops for the average person, give animals for each #10 of body weight, 1-3 drops two or three times a day. From experience, the taste and smell can be hard for some animals to overcome. The best neutralizer is to warm a small amount of water on the stove, add the dose of tincture to the hot water, then give the animal the water with the dose in it, after it has cooled. The hot water burns off the alcohol and removes much of the “bite” out of the dose, without minimizing the herbs ability to work well.
Acupuncture, as well as massage, and laser therapy, performed by a certified veterinarian can be very helpful to treat any number of chronic conditions such as those involving the bowel. Do not underestimate the power of acupuncture. It always works to some degree, however, when it works well, it can seem like a miracle!
There are many other supplements, herbals, homeopathics, clays, and tinctures that have variable effects. With the guidance of your veterinarian, try one at a time, write the results on a calendar, and figure out which ones, if any, seem to really impact your animals chronic diarrhea. With a careful attention to detail, and a little planning, hopefully you will soon find yourself sleeping easier because your beloved animal is not in constant discomfort.
And on that note, I am DrQ, here to help you! Don’t hesitate to drop me a line with questions, or comments. Best wishes!