I was recently asked to respond to the following question:
My dog often has loose stools. What can I use to fix this problem? I prefer natural solutions.
Here is my response:
Loose stool in dogs is a super common problem. There is a short answer and a very, very long answer. The short answer is to try a bit of canned pumpkin in the food when you are noticing the problem. Use one tablespoon full in a small dog and two in a large dog in each meal. That is probably the best, most reliable remedy that is natural. Sometimes just feeding cottage cheese and rice or chicken and rice for a day or two will do the trick too. If those things do not help and the soft stool is continuing, it is probably best to seek the care of a vet. We have a lot of options on very safe medications to use to resolve diarrhea from multiple causes.
Here is the longer answer:
Soft stool is diarrhea. Most people don’t call it diarrhea unless it is straight water, but mild diarrhea is what most people call soft stool. Sometimes you may see blood or mucous if it is coming from the colon. Your dog should not have diarrhea more than once or twice per year. If it is happening monthly, there is probably something serious going on even though they may act normally in every other way.
Common causes here in South Orange County are parasites and the wrong diet. We are diagnosing more and more giardia all of the time. Giardia is a common flagellated protozoal organism that affects many species of wildlife and is potentially contagious to people. There is now a great test for it that is very reliable. If it is diagnosed via microscope, the diagnosis is very likely incorrect. Roundworms, hookworms and whipworms are also common parasites in this area that can cause diarrhea in all ages of dogs. These parasites that are all common in this area are the main reason why I recommend Heartgard plus for every dog, especially since most of them are contagious to people. If the parasites are diagnosed by fecal exam, there are specific medications to treat and eradicate the infection.
Diet is probably, in some way or another, the other main cause for diarrhea/soft stool in dogs. Here is the reason: Dogs are carnivores. It is best to think of dogs as little wolves, coyotes or dingos. They are biologically the same. Because of this fact, our dogs should eat like carnivores are built to eat. That means that their diet should consist of mostly animal with small amounts of fruits and vegetables, but most importantly, no grain. There is not a single dog in the wild that would ever eat wheat, rice, corn, barley or millet. Think about this fact and go check your bag of food. Yep, its right there as the second or third ingredient. And if you are feeding the most popular food in the US, Beneful, you should be shaking your head. Grains make up the first 4 ingredients in that food!
About 99% of all pet food in the US has grain in it. This is due to the origin of the pet food industry 60 years ago and a reluctance on the part of the industry to change things. Back then, people were feeding their dogs scraps and were really not spending much on that, so the industry needed to offer a cheap and profitable product for people to buy. Every ounce of grain in food adds more profit to the food. That formula has really never changed until just recently. Not only are grains not needed in food (people call them fillers), but they are also very bad for dogs to eat. The dog intestine is not designed to digest the complex grain proteins, so it mounts an inflammatory response to it, which causes intestinal inflammation and elevates the baseline on allergies. It also is the wrong way to provide nutrition; like feeding a cow a chicken burger. The intestinal inflammation is what sets dogs up for intermittent soft stool so often.
Do you ever wonder why your carnivore that is at home can’t even eat a small piece of steak without getting soft stool? Does that make sense at all? It should not. What is happening to most dogs is a double whammy. First, they are eating a grain-based food which is constantly making the intestine mad, so it is easy to push it over the edge and cause diarrhea. Second, because they are eating a diet that only has about 30% animal or less, the pancreas and the intestine are not producing the normal amount of digestive enzymes to properly digest food. This is the same reason why you need to transition to a new, grain free food slowly, so that you can give the system time to adjust by ramping up the digestive enzymes over a period of 2-4 weeks. Switch too fast and guess what happens? Diarrhea.
Some of you reading this may be thinking that you are feeding a great food because it is “organic”, “holistic”, “healthy” or “natural” but if it has grain in it, that is like putting a really high tech filter on a cigarette. There are no such things as “wholesome grains” for dogs.
The most appropriate foods are those that do not contain grains and have more animal than vegetables. Great examples are Orijen (www.championpetfoods.com), Ziwi Peak (www.ziwipeak.com), or Taste Of The Wild (www.tasteofthewildpetfood.com). Alicia Pet Care Center (www.mypetsdr.com) carries this food and you can also find it at local pet stores like Pet Country (www.petcountryweb.com). Raw food is another option that I support but it deserves its own write up.
If your dog is having intermittent diarrhea in spite of a diet change to a better and more biologically appropriate food, you should seek care from a veterinarian. They should test and treat for the simple and common things first, and if that does not resolve things, a deeper search is warranted. I have a dog at home that we had to take to surgery for intestinal biopsies that showed that he had moderate inflammatory bowel disease. This is the same as Crone’s disease in people and is a very bad problem in dogs. After reading this article, I’m sure you could guess what caused that: years of feeding grain-based food. He is now off of all medication for IBD and having normal stool on Orijen.