Senior Dog Health Problems - Diarrhea

Dogs can get diarrhea at any age and for a wide variety of reasons. Diarrhea can be acute (occurs suddenly), chronic (keeps happening over a long period of time), or intermittent (goes away, then comes back again). are something to take seriously; because geriatric dogs aren't generally as robust as younger ones, getting them help sooner rather than later is important.

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Causes of Diarrhea

  • Illnesses like , , Addison's disease, or pancreatic disease;
  • Drugs and medications used to treat illnesses;
  • Digestive upset, from a change in diet, or eating spoiled food, or consuming something that's not food (i.e. toys, garden waste, toxins, etc);
  • Sensitive stomach;
  • Intestinal blockage;
  • Virus;
  • Bacteria;
  • Parasites;
  • Stress.

People often associate diarrhea with a complete loss of control. That isn't always the case, though; dogs with diarrhea might also strain when defecating. Dogs might also feel depressed or lethargic, have a sore tummy, or .

Why Is Diarrhea a Concern?

  • Chronic diarrhea can easily lead to dehydration, especially when vomiting is involved as well.

  • It could signify a life-threatening condition.

  • It's just plain uncomfortable (and possibly distressing) for your dog.

When to Call the Veterinarian

Sometimes diarrhea is mild and only lasts a short while. However, it can be more serious and require a consult with a vet. Call your vet if:

  • There is blood or mucous in the diarrhea;

  • Your dog is lethargic, depressed, or has a fever;

  • Your dog's gums are yellow, sticky or tacky (instead of the usual pink and slippery);

  • You suspect your dog ate something toxic or poisonous - this can include rotten food, a dead rodent (which could have been poisoned), etc;

  • Your dog is vomiting as well;

  • Your dog appears to be in pain;

  • The diarrhea lasts more than a couple of days.

Don't give your dog any human or pet medication unless the veterinarian says it's okay.

Treating Diarrhea

If it's just a simple upset stomach, a tablespoon or two of pure, canned pumpkin can work wonders (note: don't use pumpkin pie filling! Only 100% pureed pumpkin). Serve that up with each of your dog's meals and hopefully the diarrhea will be cleared up in a day or two. As a bonus, many dogs love the taste of pumpkin. If he enjoys it, it won't hurt to keep giving him a small 'topping' of pumpkin with his meals. It's a good idea to keep a can or two in your cupboard at all times.

Another thing to try is to remove food for a day (providing your dog is otherwise healthy and your veterinarian hasn't advised otherwise). This will give his stomach time to rest. Then, for the next day or two, feed bland food such as 'chicken in broth' pureed baby food, or boil up some lean ground chicken with rice (don't add any seasonings or other add-ins). A vet might also suggest a prescription diet.

More serious cases of diarrhea may need treatment from a veterinarian. If your dog has become dehydrated, he may need fluids and his electrolytes replenished. Medication or a dewormer might also be prescribed. If the dog is already taking drugs for a medication condition, and it's the drug itself that's causing the diarrhea, consult with the veterinarian to see if there's a different drug your dog can try that he may do better on.

Surgery may be required if the veterinarian suspects that something is blocking the dog's intestine.


It can be tough dealing with cleaning up after a dog with diarrhea, particularly if it's chronic or recurring. One thing that really helps is to use easily-washable bedding, rugs, etc - stuff that can be layered, whipped off, and thrown in the washer when need be.

Many older dogs don't have great traction on hard floors and so rugs are needed to help them walk. Get some cheap anti-slip rug strips, lay them down, and then put either cheap rugs or leftover carpet pieces down on top of them. I've found that all of this stuff can easily be put outside, hosed off with some good biodegradable soap or eco-friendly detergent. Shake out the excess water, and then let them dry in the sun.

Bedding: if it's within the budget, spring for a comfortable dog bed with waterproof cover so that it's easy to clean (a removable cover is even better). Otherwise, cover your dog's bed with washable underpads that will absorb moisture from accidents. If you still want to, you can then layer all the bedding on top to keep him as comfy as possible. If your dog has a messy accident in his bed, it is easy enough to pull off the soiled bedding and throw it in the washer. Scrape off as much poop as you can (yes, it's gross!) before putting the bedding in the washer so that nothing gets caught in the machine.

Always wash your hands, clothing, and anything else that has come into contact with the diarrhea thoroughly with soap and hot water.

Finally, a spot cleaner machine, like the BISSELL Spotbot Pet Handsfree Spot and Stain Cleaner, can make clean-up of accidents a lot easier. Steam cleaners work great too, but the spot cleaners are smaller and easier to use.

Diarrhea problems in senior dogs can run the gamut from a mild to serious . Keep a watchful eye on your old dog and be prepared to consult with a veterinarian. Our older friends sometimes need a little more help to keep them feeling well.