Old Dog Diarrhoea: Causes and Treatments for Diarrhoea in Senior Dogs

Diarrhoea in dogs is one of the most common problems that veterinarians have to deal with. Contrary to what some pet owners believe, diarrhoea is a symptom and not a disease in itself. It can be a one-time occurrence or it can be recurring or a chronic diarrhoea condition in dogs.

What dogs are vulnerable to diarrhoea?

Senior dogs are more likely to be quickly compromised by diarrhoea, especially when they are also struggling with an existing health problem. This is also true with very young or very small dogs, as well as those that are suffering from pre-existing medical problems and compromised immune system function.

When a dog has diarrhoea, it can affect the ability of his body to absorb nutrients, electrolytes, and water. Diarrhoea is usually characterised by watery, soft, or loose stool. The odour can be more pungent compared to normal stool. Blood and/or mucus may also be present. The stool may also have worms. Pet owners have to deal with potty accidents as their dogs with diarrhoea are unable to hold it in before they can reach the potty spot.

Causes of diarrhoea in senior dogs

Studies have revealed that about 90% of diarrhoea cases in dogs are caused by diet and gastrointestinal problems (especially inflammatory processes occurring in the stomach and small intestine). There are also instances when diarrhoea could be a red flag of a bigger problem.

The list of causes of diarrhoea in senior dogs is very long. But some of the top causes include the following:

  • Parasites-- A heavy load of intestinal parasites can cause all kinds of diarrhoea. The problem is more common in young puppies.
  • Infections -- Diarrhoea can be a symptom of bacterial, viral, or fungal infections.
  • Stress -- Gastrointestinal upset can be triggered when a dog is exposed to stressors or is anxious or excited.
  • Dietary indiscretion -- Dogs that raid the garbage bins or ate spoiled food can end up with diarrhoea.
  • Change in diet -- Sudden changes in the diet of dogs can cause digestive upsets. The body needs time to get used to the new type of food thus a transition period must be observed when switching your pet’s diet.
  • Metabolic disorders -- These include liver disease, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, thyroid gland dysfunction, or Addison’s disease among others. A metabolic disease can upset the environment or movement of the gastrointestinal tract which can lead to diarrhoea.
  • Primary inflammatory disorders -- Diarrhoea can occur as a result of inflammatory disorders in the gastrointestinal tract, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • Medications -- Diarrhoea can be a negative side effect of certain antibiotics that a dog is taking.
  • Toxins --Ingestion of certain types of toxic substances can possibly cause diarrhoea.
  • Some types of cancer
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Disease of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Food allergy

What To Do If Your Senior Dog Has Diarrhoea

If your senior dog has diarrhoea but acts fine and is not showing any other signs of illness, here are some things you can do to alleviate your pet’s discomfort:

  • Remember what your pet has eaten in the past 48 hours. This will come in handy when you have to consult with your veterinarian. -- Perhaps your pet has eaten something spoiled or rotten or drank from a dirty puddle during your last walk. Switching to a new type of pet food could possibly cause digestive upsets if it’s not done gradually.

  • Check your pet’s medications-- Some medications, such as worming drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, and heart medications may cause diarrhoea as a side effect. If your dog has been given a new medication, it could possibly be the reason for the diarrhoea. It is a good idea to speak with your veterinarian about it.

  • Recent changes in your pet’s lifestyle-- Dogs can be extra sensitive to certain happenings in their immediate environment. The passing away of a family member, a recent move, the arrival of a new baby, etc. can be taxing to dogs, and senior pets are particularly susceptible. Anxiety and stress can result in extra-sensitive pets diarrhoea.

Senior Dog Diarrhoea Home Remedy

While there are cases of diarrhoea in senior dogs that require specific therapy, some cases can be resolved by providing supportive care at home. Whatever may be the case, it is a good idea to seek professional help. Your veterinarian may suggest any of the following:

  • Continue feeding your dog

Your dog will need nutrients from food to help the intestines heal. Don’t withhold food EXCEPT if your veterinarian prescribes a fast.

  • Give smaller meals several times a day

Try dividing your pet’s meals into several smaller meals and give it at regular intervals throughout the day. Add more fiber and food that’s easily digestible-- low fat and more on carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes, and rice. Add a little bit of chicken, yoghurt, turkey, or some low-fat cottage cheese.

  • Don’t give any medications to your pet without any advice from your veterinarian. Don’t assume that human medications are safe for dogs. If medication is prescribed by your vet, do follow specific dosage instructions.

  • Ask your veterinarian about giving probiotics to your pet.

When is diarrhoea in senior dogs an emergency?

Some cases are more alarming than others and will require immediate medical intervention. Generally, a dog that has diarrhoea but it still active, playful, and eating normally is not really a cause for alarm. But the dog has to be monitored closely to see what will happen during the next bowel movement.

You should seek prompt veterinary assistance if your senior pet has diarrhoea that is accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor water intake
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Pain and/or discomfort
  • Reduced ability or failure to urinate
  • Blood in the stool (the colour will depend on what part of the gastrointestinal tract is affected; faeces may appear black or dark in colour or there may be fresh red blood)
  • Diarrhoea has been going on non-stop for more than 24 hours
  • Worms in the dog’s stool
  • If your dog has eaten something toxic or potentially poisonous, you should seek medical intervention ASAP.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Considering that the function and integrity of the immune system of senior pets are not as strong as when they were younger, diarrhoea cases should warrant a prompt veterinary consultation. Even if the cause of the diarrhoea is not really serious, the need for an early diagnosis is important so therapy can begin right away. Dog diarrhoea and vomiting could cause rapid dehydration. Quick medical intervention is necessary to cure dog diarrhoea fast and help resolve the issue or prevent it from becoming more serious and complicated.

After a complete physical examination and some tests, your veterinarian may find it necessary to start your senior dog on supplemental fluid and electrolytes and possibly anti-diarrhoeal drugs and other medications for symptomatic treatment. There is a need to establish the underlying cause so appropriate treatment can be given.

If your vet suspects parasites or bacteria, a stool examination may be conducted. Blood tests will also yield the complete blood count and help check organ functions. X-rays and ultrasound examination can help detect the presence of foreign bodies anywhere in the dog’s gastrointestinal tract, the growth of tumours, or inflammation in the intestines.

If worms are detected, your dog is given anti-worming medication with an anti-diarrhoeal treatment. Chemotherapy, surgery, and/or radiation may be required for cancer treatment. A round of antibiotics and/or anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed for infections and inflammatory conditions in the gastrointestinal tract. If the digestive upset is caused by a food allergy, your veterinarian may recommend an elimination diet to identify the allergen culprit so it can be eliminated from your pet’s diet.

Do consult with your veterinarian regarding treatment options that are available for your dog.