QUESTION: My male rescue dog, Shadow, has been suffering from recurrent diarrhea since I adopted him three months ago. Can you suggest any home remedies or holistic options that can help?
R.S., via email
ANSWER: Diarrhea—loose, watery stools—is a very common condition in both dogs and cats. Diarrhea that starts suddenly is known as acute diarrhea, while diarrhea that lasts for three weeks or longer, or seems to happen intermittently, is known as chronic diarrhea.
The intestines are responsible for secretion, motility and absorption, and an imbalance of any of these functions can result in diarrhea.
Acute diarrhea is most common in puppies and kittens because young animals tend to eat anything, whether food or foreign bodies, and are also more prone to worms and infectious diseases.
Diet is the most common cause of acute diarrhea. Eating too much food, spoiled food, garbage or even just something different to what your pet is used to can all bring on diarrhea. Food intolerances are another possible cause.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Apart from the obvious loose stools, diarrhea can cause dehydration and listlessness in your pet if it persists. Fever, low blood pressure, vomiting, abdominal pain and weakness can also go hand in hand with the problem.
If you haven't already, it's important to get Shadow checked out by your vet, who can conduct a complete physical exam, take a fecal sample and assess if your dog is dehydrated. If there is any suspicion of a foreign body or an obstruction, an X-ray or ultrasound may be needed.
In cases of chronic diarrhea, tests like an endoscopy—where the vet looks inside the body with a tiny camera—and biopsies are sometimes required.
Most dogs and cats with only mild diarrhea (without vomiting) need minimal treatment and can get better by fasting for 12-24 hours (stop all food but not water, which should be freely available at all times).
After this time, feed a bland diet like chicken and boiled rice, or a prescription diet for gastrointestinal health, two or three times a day for about three days or until stools are back to normal. Do not try fasting with diabetic pets, however.
If you notice bloody diarrhea, always take your pet to a vet right away, as it could be a sign of a potentially fatal condition.
Depending on the severity of the diarrhea and its cause,
vets may prescribe anti-diarrheal drugs, probiotics and intestinal protectants. If the pet is dehydrated and vomiting, the vet may recommend intravenous fluid therapy.
In cases of parvovirus, where there is bloody diarrhea, isolation and intensive care may be necessary. If the cause is worms, anthelminthics (antiparasitic drugs) or dewormers will be prescribed, while bacterial infections will need an appropriate antibiotic course.
If the problem turns out to be malabsorption (an inability to absorb nutrients within the digestive tract) or issues with the pancreas, a special diet will be needed, and if your pet has a eaten a foreign body or has any other sort of obstruction, then surgery will be required to remove it.
However, in many cases, changes at home can help resolve the symptoms.
There are a number of natural options when it comes to managing diarrhea in dogs. Here's what I recommend.
Diet. Pets fed cheap, processed pet food can develop a range of problems including diarrhea, so make sure you choose high-quality food for Shadow. As natural as possible is best, so consider a homemade diet low in fat and oils, consisting of meat like chicken or turkey and grains like brown rice or millet.
Alternatively, there are now lots of high-quality commercial diets made with natural ingredients available from brands such as Applaws, Castor & Pollux, Natural Planet, Darwin's Natural and Lily's Kitchen. Hypoallergenic and grain-free ranges are also available for dogs with food intolerances.
Also make sure your dog isn't eating too much, and monitor him carefully in case he is eating anything he shouldn't.
In simple cases of diarrhea, after a day of fasting, you can feed your dog bland snacks such as my charcoal D-Tox biscuits for dogs and cats, along with plain chicken and rice. When the diarrhea has stopped, try feeding your dog a simple chicken broth for nourishment (see box, opposite, for both recipes).
For prevention, you could try increasing the amount of fiber in Shadow's diet with canned pumpkin or flaxseed. Give small dogs (less than 15 lbs or 7 kg) half a teaspoon, medium dogs (less than 50 lbs or 23 kg) one teaspoon and larger dogs one tablespoon daily.
Probiotics. Natural organic, live-culture yogurt may help, as it contains gut-boosting beneficial bacteria. Try giving your dog 1-2 tablespoons, depending on size, two or three times each day.
Probiotic supplements may also be worth a try, and there are several probiotic-containing pastes available for dogs and cats, such as Pro-Kolin and Pro-Pectalin, which are often used to treat diarrhea.
Homeopathy. The homeopathic remedy Nux vomica is an excellent remedy for any digestive tract condition. Mix 20 drops of 6X potency in 1 oz of spring or distilled water and give your pet half a dropperful three times daily.
Essential oils. Abdominal spasms and cramps often accompany diarrhea. These can be effectively treated with basil or peppermint oil, both of which have antispasmodic properties. Dilute either with an equal quantity of vegetable oil and then gently rub a tiny amount onto the tips of your pet's ears.
Acupressure. This ancient Chinese technique can be useful for dogs with diarrhea, and it's something you can learn to do yourself. Gently massage the following acupoints for 30 seconds once daily:
• LI4: This point is located in the dip between the dewclaw and the first toe on the front feet
• LI11: Located on the outer aspect of the elbow crease on the front legs
• ST25: Found below the last rib in a tiny valley.
For detailed instructions on how to give acupressure to your pet, see my book, You Can Heal Your Pet.
The following recipes, from You Can Heal Your Pet, are suitable for both dogs and cats to help them recover from a bout of diarrhea.
Charcoal D-Tox biscuits
4 oz (115 g) self-rising flour
3 oz (85 g) activated charcoal*
2 free-range eggs
2 tablespoons unset (runny) honey
1) Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C. Grease an 8 × 11-inch (20 × 29-cm) baking tray.
2) Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl to form a soft dough. Spread mixture ½ in (1 cm) deep on the baking tray. Bake for 20 minutes until just firm. Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut into bite-sized squares.
3) Keep in an airtight, labeled container in the fridge for up to five days, or freeze for up to one month.
* In recent years, activated charcoal has been used to treat animals that have swallowed toxic substances, as it helps absorb poisons from the gastrointestinal tract. It is also useful in reducing the side-effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. This recipe is helpful with specific conditions—do not feed it as a regular treat.
Simple chicken broth
1) Place a cooked chicken carcass in a large covered saucepan and add 2½ cups of water.
2) Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and leave to cool, preferably overnight, with the lid on.
3) Remove the carcass and strain the liquid into a glass container with a lid. Keep refrigerated and use within three days.
Optional extras: Carrots, green beans, zucchini, potatoes, broccoli (florets and stalks)