One of the major challenges we face in our work is to identify these type of situations with clients. The annual health check and vaccination or 6 monthly check for seniors is often a time when problems of this (sometimes delicate) nature get mentioned. The classic conversation goes a little like this: “So how are your dog’s motions?”. “Pretty normal, for him”. And that’s when the penny drops. For many dog owners, a sloppy poo is just part and parcel of the stuff of everyday living with their canine companions. But actually it isn’t normal. The rule of thumb we use to determine if things are right or not is: can you kick the poo, if you had to, into the long grass and not leave a mess on your shoe? If the answer is no, most of the time, then there’s something wrong. But lets put this into some context; most loose motions in dogs are self-limiting, they just get over it after a few days, sometimes on their own, occasionally with a slight modification in diet or with a small amount of intervention from us Vets. And then there are the others that just don’t get fully right.
Diarrhoea in Dogs
The problem with this last group of dogs is that they’re usually not actually poorly. Often the stools they produce first thing in the morning are perfectly ok but then it gets sloppier and sloppier throughout the day. Others dogs can produce a normal start to a motion that then just gets wet and sloppy before the end. All these (and many more variations on the theme) are the result of chronic changes progressing in the bowel. Many a time this is the result of a dog’s unfortunate habit of scavenging. It’s a testimony to how robust their bellies are that we don’t see many more cases, but eventually, there will be a ‘sampling error’ too far when the gut says enough is enough…and diarrhoea follows. A whole bunch of combinations then come in to play that will determine the outcome. Most often they’ll get over it, but if things aren’t back to normal after a couple of weeks then there’s a problem, which is where the label ‘chronic diarrhoea’ comes in. All it really means is about of sloppy poo that just won’t get better on its own.
The gut microbiome is the focus of attention when it comes to chronic diarrhoea in dogs, and it’s complicated. In the gut of a dog (and us for that matter), there are trillions of micro-organisms that help to digest food, support the immune system and prevent invasion by pathogenic microbes. Not surprising then, with the kind of insult that many dogs inflict on their gut during a daily scavenge, that this gut microbiome is put under severe strain from time to time. Again, amazingly, it often recovers to fight another day. But when it doesn’t then the slide can just get worse and worse without intervention.
So what can we do to help resolve this chronic diarrhoea?
The old adage is: don’t start from here. But that’s not very helpful. However, it does point up the need to seek help from your veterinary team, early. Any diarrhoea that is not fully resolving after a couple of weeks needs to be addressed. At the early stage, intervention is often successful with just the careful introduction of a prescription diet. The true test is no relapse with the support of such food after a few weeks. Any change of diet may provide a temporary relief from the signs of diarrhoea, but signs of loose stools will commonly return a few weeks after the new change of diet. That will inevitably lead to a merry-go-round of more and more dietary changes as owners seek that magic food that solves the problem once and for all. Such a food/diet can be hard to find by this stage.
Faecal samples are of some help, but only some, and here at Riverside Veterinary Centre we will advise you accordingly for your dog. The main area of problem with chronic diarrhoea occurs at the level of the gut lining (the glycocalyx). A faecal sample gives next to no information about what’s going on for this area of the gut. Also, many of the culture requirements for these organisms are unknown and a lot of the micro-organisms are inherently fragile, so not a good set of conditions to accurately identify the problem. Plus the gut microbiome is shifting, not a static, environment. So you see the problem – quick fixes are unlikely and uncovering the route of the problem takes time and patience. At Riverside Veterinary Centre we can have many a graphic conversation about the state of a dog’s motions for multiple weeks with clients if their dog has chronic diarrhoea….but we’re used to that, so don’t worry!
The range of veterinary medications for chronic conditions is as diverse as it is varied, but all need to brought in to play, carefully and in a staged manner, so as not to upset the delicate balance of the gut microbiome. One treatment that works for one individual may not work for another, and not even for the same individual at different times. Yes, it’s complicated, but it all starts with a conversation with the veterinary team and we’re listening. Call us on 01789 299455 should you have any concerns about your dog and diarrhoea.