When it comes to your dog’s health, sometimes the proof is in the poop. Most dog owners are familiar with a sudden change in consistency (like a bout of diarrhea), but what happens when poop suddenly takes on an unusual color or changes size or shape?
first, it helps to have an idea of what “normal” is. As a general rule, if your dog’s stools are firm, log-shaped, easy to pick up, and chocolate brown in color, these are all good signs and point to a healthy digestive tract. however, “normal” can vary a bit from dog to dog, which is why veterinarians often recommend that dog owners pay attention to their puppies’ typical potty habits and outings so they can identify more easily when something might be wrong.
It may not be the most pleasant subject, but your dog’s poop is a window into his gastrointestinal system and can give you and your vet a pretty clear picture of what’s going on with his health, says Brian J. bourquin, dvm and owner of the boston veterinary clinic. “That’s why vets spend so much time talking about dog feces.”
Here are some guidelines for determining what is normal and what is not, and the basics of “reading” your dog’s poop.
volume and frequency (all about high quality poop)
The size of a dog’s stool will vary greatly depending on the individual’s fiber intake and the quality of the food offered. dogs fed a fresh food diet, for example, will likely produce smaller (and less odorous) stools because the food is more effectively absorbed into the body (this is what we call high-quality stool). !). research actually shows that fresh food and high-quality stool are related. A study from the University of Illinois showed that diets made with human-grade ingredients are palatable and extremely digestible. compared the feces of dogs consuming kibble diets and those consuming fresh human-grade diets and found that dogs fed the kibble diet had to eat more to maintain their body weight and produced 1.5 to 2 .9 times more poop than dogs eating human-quality fresh food. that means the dog absorbs more nutrients and the human picks up less poop.
When it comes to frequency, this is where it helps to know what’s normal for your pet: Some dogs have to go to the bathroom several times a day, while others may only poop once a day. As long as the color and consistency of your poop appear healthy, everything is considered completely normal. However, if your once-a-day canine friend suddenly begs to be let out several times a day, something may be wrong, as any sudden increase or decrease in frequency could be a reflection of a digestive issue .
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consistency and form
For the most part, your pup’s poop should be well-formed and log-shaped. A temporary change in consistency may not necessarily be a cause for concern (for example, if you’re switching foods or your dog eats too many dog treats), but continued loose stools may reflect intestinal discomfort.
A normal stool for a dog should be medium to dark brown in color. according to alba m. Spangler, DVM, assistant professor of shelter medicine at Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine in Tennessee, “Stool color should be fairly uniform from day to day, as long as the dog eats a regular diet.”
Hints of other colors aren’t always a cause for concern, especially if they reflect something your dog may have eaten. If your dog snatched some carrots from his bowl, you shouldn’t be alarmed if he sees a little orange in his stool the next day. but pay attention if you see unusual colors that you can’t explain or that last more than one poop.
black poop Although it’s a relatively rare occurrence, when your pet’s poop suddenly takes on a black, tarry appearance, it can indicate a number of digestive conditions. Black, tarry stools are often caused by something serious: bleeding in the stomach or small intestine. “The stool turns black because the blood has been digested, causing it to change color,” says dr. spangler says. Known as melena, black stools can be the result of a variety of things, from exposure to toxins or a foreign body in the gastrointestinal system to pancreatitis and kidney failure. Some of the most common causes of black dog poop are cancer, foreign bodies, parasites, and viral or bacterial pathogens, Dr. spangler adds. as such, black dog poop warrants a call to your vet.
red, yellow and green poop red stools can also be a symptom of exertion, gastroenteritis, colitis or anal fissure, and will require veterinary intervention. If you see a small amount of bright red blood, but everything else looks normal, you may not need to worry. if there is a larger amount, or appears more than once, consult your veterinarian as it may indicate infection, gastroenteritis or other conditions. other colors, such as green, orange, and yellow, should also be checked as they may be indicative of something minor, like a recent change in a dog’s diet, or more serious issues, like irritable bowel syndrome or parasites . green poop may indicate that your dog has eaten too much grass, or it may indicate a gallbladder problem. orange or yellow dog poop can be a sign of a bile or liver problem.
gray and white poop other colors you don’t want to see in your dog’s poop include gray/light brown or white flecks. gray or light tan stools can be an indicator of liver or pancreatic problems. the appearance of white spots in a dog’s stool can be a symptom of worms, which are contagious and require immediate veterinary attention (note that ingested grains of rice can also be mistaken for worms). what if it’s their own white (or other colored) fur that you find in their poop? If your dog licks his fur frequently (and then swallows it), furry stools could be a symptom of allergies or another skin condition.
foreign objects most dogs find it hard to resist a trash can, or their canine instincts to devour any stuffed toy they put their paws on. But if your dog steals a leftover chicken bone or plays too hard with his squeaky toys, he may see those items in his poop later. Unfortunately, if all the pieces of the foreign object do not pass successfully through your digestive system, there is a risk of intestinal obstruction, a painful and life-threatening blockage of the gastrointestinal tract that prevents the flow of food to the intestines. vomiting is the first clue, but if your dog doesn’t poop at all, that may also indicate a blockage.
Dog Diarrhea Details Many pet owners aren’t sure when their dog’s loose, watery stool is something to worry about and when it’s a passing anomaly. First, you can begin to determine the possible causes of diarrhea: did they sneak any “unapproved” foods earlier in the day, or did their diet change recently?
If it’s a single episode of loose or watery stools, it’s probably nothing to worry about. If your dog has sudden diarrhea or other gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, it may be the result of acute causes, such as stress-related colitis or “junk gut,” a sign your dog has gotten into the garbage.
However, if it is a more chronic case, your veterinarian may want to perform a fecal exam to identify possible intestinal parasites, or abdominal x-rays and ultrasound to examine and visualize the GI tract.
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Pet owners should pay attention to anything else that might be out of the ordinary between rounds of poop, as it’s often the other symptoms that accompany diarrhea that can signal trouble. according to dr. Spangler, a trip to the vet is warranted if your dog refuses to eat or drink water for more than 24 hours, appears lethargic, or experiences other symptoms such as persistent vomiting or ongoing diarrhea. “They can get dehydrated quickly, so it’s best to see a vet as soon as possible to get them the care and treatment they need,” he concludes.The dog’s
mucus and blood stool often contains some mucus and is usually nothing to worry about. It is a slime-like substance produced by the intestines to keep the lining of the colon lubricated and moist. in fact, small amounts are often dead cells that act as a natural lubricant in the intestine, helping to prevent constipation. but excessive amounts of mucus in the stool can indicate a medical condition such as colitis. Other causes of excess mucus in the stool include intestinal infections or parasites, dietary indiscretion, too rapid changes in diet, adverse food reactions, or inflammatory disorders. The appearance of excess blood is also not usually normal, as it can be an indication of a systemic or gastrointestinal disease.
Also, round, pellet-like, or abnormally hard stools can be a telltale sign that your dog is dehydrated. If your dog’s stools also seem too large in relation to the amount of food he’s been consuming, this could also be a sign that his meals aren’t being absorbed properly (a hallmark of dry and processed foods) or a higher fiber intake.
defecate during the feeding transition
When you change your dog’s diet, even if you switch to healthy, whole foods, it’s common to see the effects in his poop. While many people don’t see any negative effects on digestion while transitioning their dog’s food, you may see changes in the consistency of your dog’s poop during this phase. this usually means looser stools or diarrhea. this should take a few days, depending on your dog and how quickly you transition. As long as your dog appears fine, this “transitional poop” shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
This article was reviewed by veterinarians. Reviewed By: Alex Schechter, DVM, and Founding Veterinarian at Burrwood Veterinary. He was previously a founding veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care; Melanie Shapiro, DVM; danielle woolf, dvm.
photo of jason leung on unsplash.