Recurring diarrhea in puppies is a very common problem. The most common “fix” is repeated courses of antibiotics along with a “sensitive stomach” food. This works because antibiotics will take care of any excess bacteria in the digestive tract and the specialty foods have a lot of fiber. However, these same foods rarely contain much by way of nutrition and repeated courses of antibiotics can wipe out the “good” bacteria in a puppy’s gut.
Many people think that a “sensitive stomach” puppy needs to be on a “sensitive stomach” diet for life. What they don’t realize is that most cases of loose stools in puppies can be easily fixed and shouldn’t become chronic.
There are many causes of diarrhea and loose stools in puppies, some recurring and others not. Most are harmless to the puppy. However, any loose stool in a puppy can be a major inconvenience to a family. Loose stools sabotage house-training efforts at best. At worst, they can be a symptom of a life-threatening illness such as Parvo or Distemper.
For serious cases of diarrhea, you need to consult a vet. If your puppy is vomiting or acting lethargic or sick, you need to get him to a vet. Likewise, if your puppy has a fever (over 102.5 is a fever in dogs), has blood in his stool, or has other abnormal symptoms, see your vet. Puppies can dehydrate fairly quickly with severe cases of diarrhea. Make sure your puppy stays hydrated. Serious cases of diarrhea can be dangerous and are beyond the scope of this article.
However, if your puppy is acting normally other than having loose stools or diarrhea, then this article might be a help.
Common Causes Easily Treated With Medicine
Giardia, coccidia, and worms are fairly common causes of diarrhea that are easily treated with medicine. Many young puppies raised in kennel settings struggle with these problems. All breeders (even those raising very few puppies in a home setting) will occasionally experience one of these conditions.
Puppies can also contract these conditions after getting into new homes. Your veterinarian can test for these problems with a simple fecal exam. Take the prescribed meds and your puppy’s diarrhea problems should be easily taken care of.
Reoccurring Puppy Diarrhea
However, the main subject of this page are those cases that could become chronic or reoccurring bouts of puppy diarrhea requiring long term treatment. There are good solutions without sacrificing good nutrition for most of these problems. If treated correctly to begin with, these problems should not become chronic.
There are three major causes of diarrhea that we will be discussing. Over-feeding, a lack of adequate fiber in the diet, and overgrowths of bacteria in the digestive tract can all cause recurring puppy diarrhea if not handled correctly. All of them can be “fixed” by a change in diet, by probiotics, and/or by antibiotics. However, we argue that there does not need to be such an extreme change of diet as some vets recommend. Further, if handled correctly long courses of strong antibiotics shouldn’t be necessary.
Most dogs and especially puppies will get loose stools when they are over-fed. Usually, stools caused by overeating look like cow patties.
When we have a female nursing a large litter of puppies, we intentionally feed them far more than they are accustomed to in order to keep weight on them. All of them will have cow patty type poop while we are heavily feeding them. Their poop returns to normal when the feeding returns to normal. Even adults struggle to maintain normal poop when they are overfed.
Overfeeding puppies will have an even stronger impact. We have had families with our puppies call us reporting that their puppy has begun having chronically loose poop. The first questions we ask are about what the poop looks like and the weight of the puppy. If the puppy is over the weight ranges in our growth chart, the puppy is having loose cow patty looking poop, and the puppy is acting normally in other ways, the culprit is almost certainly too much food. Families will often say that the puppy doesn’t look fat and that the vet says that he is at a healthy weight but decreasing the food still can help.
Find Someone Who Knows Your Breed
However, few (if any) veterinarians know normal growth patterns of all dog breeds. There are too many breeds to keep up with normal weights for all breeds at all ages. Check with a reputable breeder who knows your breed to determine normal growth rates. Also, consider that various lines within breeds can grow at different rates. Another very important fact to keep in mind is that unlike people, dogs will grow too fast before they will grow fat. Dogs (especially puppies) do not always look fat when they are being overfed. In fact, unless they are grossly overfed, they usually appear normal to the untrained eye until they are an adult.
Often, the vet will prescribe a “sensitive stomach” food when all that is necessary is a reduction of the amount of a nutritious food. Sensitive stomach foods ARE easier on the digestive tract, but this is a case where these foods are not necessary.
See Our Page on How Much to Feed
Once a family with a puppy who is growing too fast cuts back on the food, the poop will return to normal. If you have a Golden Retriever and aren’t sure if you are feeding the correct amount, see our growth chart on our page entitled How Much to Feed Your Golden Retriever. Also see our page on and How Much to Feed your Golden Retriever Puppy for more information on how puppies should be growing.
It is often difficult to ascertain if a puppy is growing too fast without having good breed information. Always consider the possibility of over-feeding if your puppy begins to consistently put out poop that looks like cow patties.
Overfeeding could be a possibility even if you’ve not increased the food. Growth spurts or a slow down in growth cause a puppy’s feeding needs to change. Sometime close to a year of age most Golden Retrievers have a significant decrease in caloric needs as growth slows down. For some dogs, this slow down comes earlier. If you don’t decrease food amounts as caloric needs lessen, loose poop can result.
Not Enough Fiber
A second very common cause of frequent loose poop and diarrhea is an inadequate amount of fiber in the dog food. Many puppies cannot tolerate rich foods (especially grain-free foods) until they are older and have more mature digestive systems. Many puppies (and dogs) need SOME grain in their food in order to maintain firm poop for life. However, few dogs need the large amounts of grain that is in a “sensitive stomach” formula.
Puppies and 5 Star High Protein Dog Foods
In our early years of breeding, we were committed to feeding the very best puppy foods to our puppies. We still have the same commitment. However, we have learned quite a bit about which foods actually are the very best.
Anyway, for several years, we started our puppies on several of the most expensive foods on the market. We started with Orijen, tried Wellness Core, and then Blue Buffalo Wilderness. Then, we used Acana before they changed their formula and moved their facility out of Canada. We didn’t feed anything that wasn’t a high protein 5 Star food in keeping with our desire to feed the very best possible food.
With almost every litter, there was at least one puppy that struggled with loose stools. To combat the stools, we added fiber (either rice or pumpkin) and the problem resolved. We decided to try a food with a little grain. We were pleasantly surprised that our puppies did much better on foods with some grain.
We’ve tried several different foods in order to find the “sweet spot” for healthy poop without sacrificing nutrition. Higher levels of meat protein are healthy for dogs. Dogs were created to eat meat. However, dogs in the wild don’t have humans dealing with the loose poop that an all meat diet will often produce in puppies.
Puppies Do Best on a Food that Has SOME Fiber and about 26-28% Protein
What we found is that almost all Golden Retriever puppies can handle a diet up to about 28% protein. When you start feeding foods with close to 30% or more protein, you’ll start seeing puppies with problems with loose poop. The higher the protein, the more loose poop you will see. However, higher amounts of meat protein also make a food more nutritious. You must feed the right balance of protein and fiber.
When we started feeding TLC to our puppies, we had virtually no loose stools except for the very occasional bacterial overgrowth that is discussed in the next section. See our page on How to Choose a Dog Food for information on how to choose a food that has adequate fiber without sacrificing on good nutrition. If you’d like to try TLC, click on the link below to get $5.00 off and to go to their website for more information.
A very important consideration when changing dog foods to a food with more fiber is to find your own dog’s “sweet spot”. Having firm poop is important. However, it is even more important that you not sacrifice on good nutrition.
Veterinary Prescribed Sensitive Stomach Foods
According to Dogs Naturally Magazine, veterinarians reportedly put 35-45% of their dogs on prescription diets. We at Summer Brook receive numerous questionnaires from families with other dogs that are on a vet prescribed “sensitive stomach” dog food. These foods fix the loose poop because they are low in protein and high in fiber. These veterinary diets are fortified with the necessary vitamins because most of the primary ingredients have little intrinsic nutritional value of their own. Sensitive stomach foods can be a good temporary fix, but there is no reason to leave most puppies or dogs on such a food for life. Look for a food with SOME grain for the long term. However, it is highly unlikely that it is necessary to keep your dog on an extremely high fiber, low protein specialty diet for life.
Change Foods SLOWLY
Another consideration if you change foods is that food change needs to be done slowly over the course of several days. Dogs that are fed the same food on a daily basis will probably not have the correct kind of good bacteria in their gut to properly digest a brand new food. They need to be acclimated to the new food gradually over a few days instead of having an abrupt change.
On the first day of the food change, give 1/4 of the meal with the new food and 3/4 with the old food. Then on day two of the food change, give 1/2 of the meal as new food and 1/2 as the old food. On the third day, give 3/4 new food and 1/4 old food. On the fourth day, it is time to feed 100% new food.
Adding probiotics will also make the food change go smoother (and quicker if need be). However, if you change your dog’s food too quickly, you could get loose stools because of the lack of adequate good bacteria to digest the new food. Take it slow.
A third common cause of puppy diarrhea is bacterial overgrowth. All puppies and dogs have bacteria in their digestive track to some degree. A good immune system will keep these bacteria under control. However, bacteria will tend to overgrow in puppies (and even in dogs) in at least three different common conditions: when a dog is under stress, when he is habitually eating junk, or when he has a poor or immature immune system.
A very common cause of bacterial overgrowth is stress. Some of our dogs have had this type diarrhea occasionally when they first start going to dog shows. The travel and the loud stimulating sounds in show environments are causes of stress in many dogs who’ve never experienced the dog show world. However, once we return home, the diarrhea goes away on its own and the more shows dogs go to the less likely they are to experience the accompanying diarrhea.
It is also common for some puppies to experience diarrhea when first changing homes. Our socialization program at Summer Brook is so intensive that we have very few that experience diarrhea shortly after leaving us. However, if you have a puppy who started having diarrhea right after getting in your home, it very well could be that stress is causing an overgrowth of bacteria.
Weakened or Immature Immune System
The second cause of bacterial overgrowth is a weakened or immature immune system. Dogs who have been over-vaccinated or neutered early or fed a poor diet will be more likely to have weak immune systems. In addition, it takes time for young puppies to develop strong immune systems. However, with good care from a human family, immune systems will gradually get stronger. See our pages on Puppy Care for more information on how to build a strong immune system.
The lack of strength in the young puppy’s immune system is a major reason that young puppies struggle with diarrhea more than adult dogs.
Puppy’s Eating Bacteria Laden Junk
Unlike most adult dogs, puppies’ immature digestive systems cannot handle the bacteria found in all the many things that they sometimes ingest. To make matters worse, puppies tend to consume what appears at times to be EVERYTHING. I’ve had families describe their puppies as vacuum cleaners. Along with all the junk that puppies sometimes eat, there is going to be bacteria. As puppies get older, their immune system will take care of it and the gut bacteria will stay in check. BUT, what do you do until your puppy outgrows this “eat everything I see” stage?
How to Fix it
In the meantime, you might need to feed a little more fiber, keep your puppy from eating too much junk (as best as you can), and build your puppy’s confidence so that he easily copes with stress.
You might also need to occasionally give your puppy a MILD antibiotic. We don’t jump to the use of antibiotics at the first sign of loose stools but prefer to give a puppy’s own immune system a chance to take care of the problem on its own first. However, we do not let diarrhea go on for more than a couple of days.
If after two days, diarrhea is continuing, we like to use Tylan for bacterial overgrowth in puppies. If given early before diarrhea gets out of control, Tylan will get the bacteria back under control after the first dose. There is no need to continue giving the Tylan after the problem is resolved (unlike with other antibiotics for other problems). The goal is not to wipe out all the bacteria in the dog’s gut. You need to merely give your puppy a little help in controlling the bacteria.
Give 1/4 tsp. of Tylan powder to a 60-pound dog. Adjust according to your dog’s weight. For instance, give a 30-pound dog 1/8 tsp of Tylan. You can give it twice a day if necessary. If your problem isn’t fixed in two days or if your dog is not eating, lethargic, or exhibiting other concerning symptoms, then you should consult your vet.
Most veterinarians recommend Metronidazole (Metro for short) for these types of issues. However, we think that Metro is an overkill and is stronger than necessary. Tylan is a very mild antibiotic and I’ve never had a digestive problem in a dog that wasn’t quickly solved by it.
Tylan used to be sold over the counter until around 2017 or 2018. It is a very safe antibiotics that is even prescribed for long periods of time for chronic problems. (We are definitely not advocating long-term use of Tylan, but are merely pointing out its safety.) Tylan has also been used to stop tear staining in small breeds with white coats. If it can safely be used over long periods of time without side effects for many dogs, I feel much more comfortable using it for occasional loose stools than I do in using Metro. Metro works, but so does Tylan.
Whenever giving antibiotics to dogs (or to people for that matter), give a probiotic along with the antibiotic. Otherwise, the antibiotic might wipe out the good bacteria in the dog’s digestive tract causing loose stools or diarrhea for a different reason. The good bacteria in a healthy digestive tract is necessary for the proper digestion of the food. It is actually best to give the probiotic a few hours after giving the antibiotic. However, giving them together is better than not at all. We use and recommend Natures Farmacy Digestive Enhancer.
I am not a veterinarian, so please consult your own vet. However, I’ve been working with puppies for years. I’ve also talked to many other breeders who’ve been working with puppies for long periods of time. Tylan works. Adequate amounts of fiber works. Permanent use of high fiber, low protein diets is seldom necessary. If treated before problems get bad, strong antibiotics will rarely be needed either.
We, at Summer Brook, have NEVER had an adult dog with more than a very occasional (less than once a year) case of loose poop. We’ve never had a case of loose poop that wasn’t totally taken care of by either cutting back on food or giving a single dose of Tylan as long as we’ve been feeding TLC dog food. More importantly, we feel good knowing that in treating occasional diarrhea, we’ve not sacrificed good nutrition.