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Dealing with diarrhea in dogs is no fun. Some dogs are more prone to getting diarrhea than others, as a sensitive stomach could be triggered by their regular diet or scraps of human food.

Diarrhea in dogs could also be a sign of an underlying condition, infection or in extreme cases, cancer. While diarrhea is most likely nothing to be too concerned about, it’s worth checking for a few accompanying side effects before writing off a trip to the veterinarian—especially since most pet insurance will likely cover a routine exam.

Is Your Dog Covered?

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What Is Diarrhea in Dogs?

Just like humans, dogs sometimes get diarrhea, too. Maybe it happened after you switched your dog’s food, or it stole some table scraps while you weren’t looking. The good news is, it’s a routine illness that can be easily remedied by your veterinarian.

Dr. Don LeHoullier, DVM and owner of Countryside Veterinary Clinic in Jefferson, Oregon, sheds light about what to know about diarrhea in dogs.

“Diarrhea is unformed, loose or watery stool that usually occurs more frequently and/or in larger amounts than normal,” LeHoullier says. “Monitoring the stool is the best way to determine if your dog has diarrhea.”

Many pet insurance policies will cover diarrhea and other illnesses in dogs, depending on the type of coverage you have.

What Is the Life Expectancy of Dogs With Diarrhea?

Doggy diarrhea isn’t necessarily a sign that your dog is at the end of its life.

“Most diarrhea in and of itself will not affect a dog’s life expectancy, though there are possible underlying conditions causing the diarrhea that can negatively impact life expectancy,” LeHoullier says.

Research shows that diarrhea is one of the most common reasons why pet owners seek veterinary care. Although acute diarrhea often goes away on its own, it could be a sign of infectious diseases, dietary indiscretion, endocrine diseases or stress.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) also warns that diarrhea could be a sign of eating garbage, too much dog food or ingesting spoiled food. Other possible causes include a sudden change in your dog’s diet, food intolerance or allergies, parasites, bacterial or viral infections, and illness like cancer.

Symptoms and Behaviors of Dogs With Diarrhea

Nobody wants to go through their dog’s poop, but if you are worried about its bowel movements, being informed of the state of its stool is necessary.

According to LeHoullier, common signs of diarrhea in dogs include:

  • Unformed, loose, and/or watery stool
  • Straining to defecate during or after defecation (which can sometimes be confused with constipation)
  • Voluminous stool
  • Stool containing fresh blood and/or mucus

Dogs may exhibit unusual behavior while they are experiencing diarrhea. Some common diarrhea in dogs behavior, according to the AKC, include:

  • Lethargy; fever; vomiting; dry, tacky or pale gums; weakness
  • Dehydration
  • Long duration of unformed, loose and/or watery stool

Depending on the cause of the diarrhea, you can further irritate it by not getting your dog the treatment it needs. For example, your dog may continue eating food that is causing the stomach upset. LeHoullier adds that stress can also cause diarrhea, which “will be exacerbated by continued exposure to stress, or not treating the underlying cause of the diarrhea may cause it to continue and possibly worsen.”

If your dog has diarrhea and has weakness in the back legs, it could be a sign of degenerative myelopathy. This causes the nerves in the lower spine to stop working, leading to weakness, back leg paralysis and bowel incontinence that gets worse over time. Unfortunately, this disease is incurable, progressive and fatal.

Is Diarrhea Covered by Pet Insurance?

“Diarrhea can be covered by pet insurance depending on the type of coverage,” LeHoullier says. “Consultation with your pet insurance provider would be necessary to determine coverage.”

For example, comprehensive coverage (or “nose-to-tail” policy) generally covers accidents and injuries, serious or chronic illness, hereditary conditions, diagnostic tests, surgeries, treatments and wellness, such as routine veterinary checkups and vaccinations.

What Are the Stages of Diarrhea in Dogs?

There are typically four stages of diarrhea in dogs:

  1. Most mild diarrhea in dogs resolves within 24 hours. Anything fewer than 14 days is considered acute diarrhea.
  2. Recovery typically looks like gradual improvement of the stool until it returns to normal.
  3. While many basic causes of diarrhea are mild, life-threatening cases can occur due to dehydration and complications.
  4. Chronic diarrhea lasts more than 14 days.

How to Test for Diarrhea In Dogs?

Your veterinarian may require you to bring in a stool sample when taking your dog in to be seen for its diarrhea. The cause of your dog’s diarrhea may be determined by examining its color, consistency, smell and frequency, according to VCA Animal Hospitals.

If your dog is experiencing mild diarrhea with no other signs, it will most likely be “self-limiting and resolve within 24 hours,” according to LeHoullier. In this case, you shouldn’t need to conduct any tests on it. But anything longer than that will be of concern.

“Diarrhea that lasts more than 24 hours and/or is accompanied by lethargy, inappetence, fever, weight loss or other abnormalities typically requires a visit to your veterinarian who will determine the appropriate diagnostics and therapy,” LeHoullier says.

This testing can range from fecal tests for parasites to blood work, radiographs, ultrasounds, endoscopy, endocrine testing, or other tests as determined by your veterinarian.

Treatment Costs for Dogs With Diarrhea

Most cases of doggy diarrhea are uncomplicated and won’t require a trip to the vet. But if you do need to visit a vet for your pooch’s diarrhea, there are some cost factors to consider:

  • Costs for an exam, diagnostics and treatment will vary depending on geographic location. A basic case may be as little as $100-$150, and a complicated case could reach several hundred to a thousand dollars or more, says LeHoullier.
  • Some dogs will require multiple rounds of diagnostics, referral to a specialist, and possibly long-term or life-long therapies depending on the diagnosis. The cost will vary depending on where you live, the specialist and if your pet insurance covers some or all of the cost.

Is Diarrhea Common in Senior Dogs?

“In my experience, diarrhea is no more common in senior dogs as it is in juvenile or adult dogs, though as dogs age, diseases that may lead to diarrhea become more common,” LeHoullier says.

For example, a dog’s senior years are when it’s most likely to develop cancer, the cause of death in almost half of dogs according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Persistent diarrhea is a main symptom of cancer in dogs. Older dogs could also have more sensitive stomachs, making diarrhea more common as well.

If you’re worried about your dog’s health, and expensive trips to the vet, be sure to take it regularly for checkups.

“This may sound counterintuitive, but more frequent appointments with your vet can actually help you save significantly on vet bills in the long term, so never skip a vet visit even if your pet seems healthy,” LeHoullier says.

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