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The Scoop on Poop
Abnormalities in stool color and consistency may indicate an underlying problem.


I’ll be the first to admit that I stand outside watching each and every performance of my dogs’ “poop show.” This isn’t just a weird sort of voyeurism—rather, it’s a good way to know what’s going on with a dog’s health. If you, too, like to see what’s coming off the production line, keep in mind that the number-one rule of thumb when considering canine elimination is reproducibility. Stools should generally have the same color, size and consistency each and every time.

Many things can cause variations in a dog’s stool. Some of the more common are dietary indiscretions (“garbage gut”) or a change in diet, stress (known as stress colitis), infectious disease, inflammatory conditions, or obstructive processes. Or it may be idiopathic (meaning, we just don’t know what causes it).

A couple of episodes of diarrhea generally don’t constitute an emergency. However, there are situations that do warrant an urgent evaluation. When your dog refuses food or water, vomits, or acts ill or “off,” a trip to the vet is indicated.

Your vet 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 this quickly, get a morning sample, double (or triple!) bag it and keep it refrigerated until your dog’s appointment.

Testing usually starts with a screen for giardia and “O & P,” specifically looking for giardia protozoa as well as ova (eggs) and parasites. During this evaluation, the laboratory technician will also check for overgrowth of normal gastrointestinal (GI) bacteria, which we refer to as clostridial overgrowth. If your dog is acting ill, in addition to having diarrhea, other diagnostics such as blood work and radiographs may be indicated.

While normal stools can be many shades of brown, some abnormalities in color and consistency may indicate an underlying problem.

1. Streaks of bright red blood and/or mucus on the surface of a mostly normal, formed stool. This is generally caused by inflammation in the large intestine, where mucus is secreted to help protect the intestinal lining. While this does not necessarily indicate an emergency, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye out for further changes in your dog’s behavior and stool.

2. Soft-formed to liquid brown diarrhea, with or without streaks of blood. “Cow patty” and “soft-serve ice cream” are two frequent descriptors. As with the previous type, it is generally not life-threatening as long as there are no other signs of concern and it begins to improve within 24 to 48 hours. If your dog is acting normally otherwise— eating well, not vomiting, good attitude —a wait-and-see home approach may be tried (more on this to follow). Here again, red blood indicates inflammation and bleeding in the colon but does not necessarily mean that your pet is bleeding internally, as is often thought. This is a step up in concern from the previous condition, in the sense that the stool is now softer.

3. A large volume of bloody, watery, diarrhea. This one does require immediate evaluation by your veterinarian, especially with smaller dogs, as it can be an indicator of a common condition called hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, or HGE. (Read more about it here: thebark.com/hge) Tissue sloughing from the intestines gives it a distinctive appearance, and it’s often described as “raspberry jam” diarrhea.

4. Black, tarry stools. This generally indicates bleeding somewhere higher up in the GI tract, such as the stomach or small intestine, and also requires an urgent trip to the vet. A bleeding ulcer (oftentimes caused by steroid or NSAID use) or more generalized bleeding, such as from rat poison, heat stroke or an immune-mediated disease, can display as black, tarry stools. The appearance of the stool is 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 too-rapid transit through the small intestine to the colon. A more thorough examination, including diagnostic tests, is in order.



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Submitted by Andreea T | March 11 2014 |

My sweet 9-month old baby girl died last Tuesday most likely due to intestinal blockage. She was fully vaccinated and dewormed. I rescued her from the street when she was abandoned at 1-month old. I live in the countryside in Romania and there are no vet offices here, only in the cities.

On Saturday afternoon she was fine, playful and she ate all her regular dry dog food. Then 1-2 hours later I saw her standing on her blanket and she kept swallowing for 10-20 minutes as if there was something stuck in her throat that wouln t go down. I opened her mouth but I couldn t see anything. After a couple of minutes, she regurgitated ( or vomited) by herself all the food she had eaten, but there was no foreign body ( like buttons or pieces of her blanket - nothing I could see). She made no attempt to eat it back ( she had regurgitated 3 months ago and she had eaten it afterwards). I guess there was no food left in her stomach at that point. 2 hours later she refused her favorite - chicken broth and rice. She also did not drink any water. She hadn t vomited since then and she had no stool. She started to shiver ( her back legs mostly).

On Sunday, she was still apathic, not herself, but soon after I had given her 2 tablets of activated charcoal to relieve abdominal discomfort, she ate half of boiled chicken thigh ( without the bone) - she refused to eat more. Again, all day she did not drink any water, she had no stool ( not even diarrhea) and she did not vomit at all ( she only vomited once, when she started feeling sick). Later that Sunday she refused again bread and mash potatoes ( I read it helps in cases of intestinal obstruction) but she ate a high-fiber biscuit ( cookie).

On Monday morning she was very lethargic, no barking at all, no appetite whatsoever. No vomit, no stool ( she did not even strained to defecate)and again refused to drink water, but she did pee ( her urine was very dark, almost brown). At this point I used a syringe to give her water in the corner of her mouth, chamomile tea, vitamins B complex and C and also olive oil as lubricant( I gave her about 50 ml of pure olive oil per total on Monday). I also gave her 1 tablet of a veterinary formula for gastroenteritis ( which I gave her before and it was effective when she was 2 months old and had mild diarrhea). The tablet contained 30 mg Oxytetracycline, 10 mg Bismuth and 50 mg Metronidazol ( she was small-sized and weighed around 14 lb). On Monday I also noticed many small petechiae on her ears and tummy and her eyes were bloodshot. Her gums were however pink.

On Tuesday morning there was still no stool, no appetite, no drinking water. She could barely stand on her feet and could not sit for too long in one spot ( she climbed on the couch, then a few minutes later she would sit in her doggybed, then on the floor). At 3 p.m. she defecated for the first time since Saturday a large pool of almost black, tarry blood ( I guess melena, it looked like coagulated blood). At this point, I could barely put in her mouth 2 tablets of charcoal to soothe her stomach( she would not open her mouth) and 2 hours later with the syringe I gave her an oral dose of a powerful antibiotic ( cephadroxil) because I thought she might have an intestinal infection and also oral vitamin C. I also administered 2 mg of vitamin K ( subcutaneously) and 0.5 ml of an injectable antihemorrhagic ( etamsilat). This is what a vet from the city told me over the phone I should do.

Tuesday evening she pooped for the second time since Saturday bloody diarrhea ( again black, tarry stools) and her gums began to turn lighter. She tried to walk, but she kept falling down on the floor. She started to cry and her abdomen became distended ( it was not distended before) and very painful when I touched her. As she sat and crawled on her tummy , she pooped for the third time black, tarry stool. She seemed to breathe normally though. Her gums were almost white and she refused to swallow the water in the syringe. Then I called again the vet who told me that she is in shock and to administer subcutaneously 0.5 ml of dexamethasone. She died at 12 a.m. later that day.

I am so devastated, I considered her my baby ( she was just a baby)and nothing helped - I just watched her die. I know that a trip to the vet could have helped her, but I live alone and I have no car to take her to the closest city ( I bought the vaccines in the city and I vaccinated her myself) to be placed on IV fluids.

I have no rat poison in the house, nor in the backyard and I have no neighbors. She was an indoor dog and had no access to drugs or other hazardous substances. Please, I would truly appreciate your honest specialist opinion - she seemed to be better on Sunday evening and then died on Tuesday. Could a potential foreign body cause hemorrhagic gastroenteritis and should I have given her more vitamin K to stop the intestinal bleeding? And do you think she might have developed Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation ( because I know that olive oil is a blood-thinning agent)?

Thank you so much in advance. Warm regards.

Submitted by Marti Tidwell | March 21 2014 |

I don't usually do this, but I just read an excellent article you wrote in 2012 on canine vestibular disorder, and wanted to ask you...very quickly, i promise...about my dog Reagan. Rea is a 13 year old shepherd mix. I got him as a rescue at 6 weeks old. Rea began having mild seizures at a year old, and had them like clockwork...1 or 2, every 3-4 months. My vet recommended holding off meds until we saw if they got any worse. They never did, and thus became a part of our life. And we had a great life! 6 months ago, I got married. Rea has always been such an easy-going dog that I didn't consider how hard it may be for him as an old man. I was gone from him 2 weeks, never been gone that long before, and then we moved into a new house and a new way of life. He has not done well. A week after we returned form the honeymoon, he had his first vestibular episode. He was put on steroids, and recovered 90%. Still a bit clumsy but good. From that point, we began having anxiety issues, peeing on the floor when we left and he spends his days in our bathtub. And he will not let me out of his sight. Crazy. So, the vet put him on amitryptaline. Two weeks ago, the vestibular thing happened again. Not as bad, another round of steroids. He has nearly fully recovered physically. He is still on the amitriptyline...it has maybe helped just a smidge after a month on it. Now, I am seeing confusion and nighttime restlessness. And often he just stands and stares...and still very anxious about where I am and wants to have his eyes on me at all times. My husband won't do. AND...absolutely not one seizure since we got married and the CVS started. Not one. Twelve solid years of seizures and now nothing. It has to be related, right?! He anxious, unhappy most of the time...I feel like I broke my dog when I got married. I'm sick about it. Do you have any thoughts at all? I'll take anything...

Submitted by 3SibesMom | May 13 2014 |

Thank-you for this very informative article. One of my dogs (who passed away last year) had an episode of HGE. I had never heard of it before and learned that dogs can die very quickly because of the rapid dehydration it can cause. She started out with one watery "raspberry jam" stool(which is a very accurate description by the way), and later that night began having explosive, bloody diarrhea. Raced to the Animal ER then, as I knew the latter was definitely a problem. Her blood count was already at a critical level when we got there. I wish I had known before we got to that point about HGE. As it was, she was at the vet on IV's for a couple days until she was recovered enough to go home. Coincidentally, my vet was treating a couple of small dogs that had presented with the same symptoms the same week. (1 of them died) Theirs was caused by eating some toxic mushrooms that had sprung up in their backyard. Never figured out the origin of ours. (By the way, this is not what Margot passed away from) Right now I have a dog who is a chronic paper-eater--after a binge--my yard is littered with what resemble "owl pellets". :P

Submitted by Jawad Ahmad | September 9 2014 |

The stool consistency and color is really helping in diagnosing different diseases in dogs. Diarrhoea and mucin in faeces is indication of "Giardia in Dogs".

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