Puppy Diarrhea: Causes and Prevention
Nothing ruins the excitement of having a puppy more than when they get sick and a common condition that puppies are prone to is diarrhea.
Chances are your new puppy will develop diarrhea at some point, particularly within the first six months of their life. But although we tend to treat it as if it were a medical condition, it’s actually a symptom of something else that’s going on.
There are actually six different categories for why a puppy will develop diarrhea. Some of these are minor while others can actually become life-threatening.
That’s why its crucial that you understand what is causing your puppy to be sick so you’re sure they’re getting the best treatment.
The Six Causes of Diarrhea in Puppies
1. Viral infection. The two main viral infections of puppies is parvovirus and distemper.
Parvovirus, commonly referred to as parvo, is a very serious and highly contagious condition. It attacks a puppy usually in one of two ways, either through their intestinal tract and bone marrow or through their heart muscles.
Both of these strains occur when a puppy’s nose or mouth comes into contact with virus particles either directly or indirectly. The high mortality rate from viral infections is attributed to the virus shutting down the dog’s immune system, one that is already at risk from not being fully developed.
Distemper is another highly-contagious virus that is acquired either from the air or from coming into contact with an infected animal. While there is a possibility that your puppy can recover from it there are no treatment options available so prevention is the key.
2. Bacterial infection. Because a puppy’s immune system isn’t as strong as that of an adult dog they are prone to many different bacterial infections, most commonly salmonella and E Coli. These infections are acquired through contaminated food, water and feces and can also be fatal.
3. Parasites. The parasite family includes heartworms and intestinal varieties such as roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, whipworms and less common types like coccidia and giardia.
Since there are so many different ways that a puppy can contract parasites and given their prevalence and the fact that they can be passed on to humans, it is important to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Here's our essential guide for deworming your puppy.
4. Environment. Given the curiosity of a puppy, it’s no surprise that they get into things that they aren’t supposed to. This can include a wide array of things from garbage to pesticides that we put on our lawns to eating plants and other toxic substances.
5. Diet. Anytime you change a puppy’s diet you run the risk of upsetting their delicate digestive system and causing them diarrhea, even if the switch is recommended by a veterinarian. If you'd like to ensure a lifelong journey of health and vitality for your pup, check out our ultimate guide to feeding your puppy.
6. Stress. Puppies, like humans, are physically affected by stress. Stress can be caused by a multitude of reasons. These include being taken from their mother and coming home for the first time, moving from an old residence into a new home, getting to know family members, a change in their routine, meeting new people, meeting new pets, loud noises, a change in diet and even experiencing stress in your own family.
Why Diarrhea in Puppies is Dangerous
A puppy’s body is so small and frail that it doesn’t have the ability to fight off anything too threatening. While some level of diarrhea is to be expected when they first come home or if they have a change in their diet, they are still worth monitoring to make sure they adapt to these changes within a reasonable amount of time.
If your puppy develops diarrhea, it’s little body is trying to tell you that it is under attack, either from nerves or from an outside source. It’s up to you to find out what that source is. If the cause seems obvious, you can simply closely monitor them and make sure that it doesn't progress or linger for an extended period of time.
What You Can Do to Prevent Diarrhea in Puppies
While preventing diarrhea in a puppy before it occurs is the logical choice it isn’t always realistic. Puppies get into things that they shouldn’t every chance they get so unless you have the ability to monitor them 24/7 you should expect that they will bring some of these risks on themselves.
The best way to prevent diarrhea in a puppy, first and foremost, is to make their life as simple and happy as possible.
The first area that requires your immediate attention is their environment. Puppies are sensitive and vulnerable so the less stressful you can make their living area, the better. When your puppy makes a mistake, and they will, be easy but firm in how you deal with them.
The second area of prevention is their diet. A puppy needs lots of clean, fresh water and good, wholesome food that is intended for puppies. Keep them out of the garbage and be very careful if you intend to feed them table food.
Also, if their diet has to be changed, do so gradually instead of an abrupt switch to give their body time to adjust.
To help make sure your pup's diet is nutritionally complete, keep an eye out for these signs that you may be giving your dog the wrong food.
The third area of prevention is their exposure. This includes not only keeping them away from other sick animals but also closely monitoring them when you let them outside or take them for a walk.
The fourth area of prevention is their immunizations. All dogs, especially puppies, always need to be up to date on their shots to prevent parasites and bacterial and viral infections.
When to Contact Your Vet
Quite often when a puppy develops diarrhea you can quickly exhaust what limited options you have and you are forced to turn to a veterinarian for help.
The main thing to remember is not to wait too long because diarrhea can dehydrate a puppy, causing them to become very ill, very quickly.
A veterinarian will either advise you to make some dietary changes and closely monitor their diet or they will prescribe antibiotics or IV fluids, depending on the nature of the diarrhea.
If you don’t feel comfortable taking the risk of nursing your puppy back to health then you should go ahead and contact your vet. Even though many cases of diarrhea aren’t considered to be serious, you don’t want to take any chances.
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