Diarrhea in Puppies: An Emergency or Just a Fluke?

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9 min read
9 min read

Updated - Apr 17th, 2023

As dog parents, we know that dealing with poop is part of the gig – but when it comes to diarrhea in puppies, things can get messy.

Don’t fret, though – it’s a common problem that is sometimes just a fluke. Other times, diarrhea can be caused by something serious. Although you can handle mild cases at home, you need to act fast if it’s severe.

Here’s what you need to know about puppy diarrhea and how to best care for your pup.

Why diarrhea is more serious for puppies

Although dog diarrhea is a common affliction, a puppy faces additional risks since they don’t have strong immune systems compared to adult dogs. In fact, it can take up to five months for their immune systems to mature, leaving them vulnerable to various health issues.

Beyond this, some puppies with a higher health risk due to diarrhea may include:

  • Puppies under five months old
  • Toy breeds 
  • Unvaccinated puppies
  • Puppy mill puppies
  • Shelter puppies
  • Puppies who socialize with unvaccinated dogs
  • Puppies who frequent dog parks and trails

6 common causes of diarrhea in puppies

Diarrhea in puppies can be overwhelming for pet parents as it could indicate anything from a serious virus to a minor digestive issue.

While loose stools can be a symptom of a number of conditions, there are usually six primary reasons why diarrhea occurs in puppies:


Being a puppy can be overwhelming! Vet visits, meeting new people, and a big move can all cause stress that takes a toll on your puppy’s digestive system, resulting in diarrhea.

The good news is that this type of diarrhea typically resolves within a day or two. Just remember to give your little buddy extra love and give them some downtime to de-stress. This is also a good time to get your puppy used to going into a crate for some quiet time.

Dietary Changes

When you bring home a new puppy, you might be anxious about choosing the healthiest dog food for them. Remember, puppies have delicate digestive systems that get upset by sudden diet changes, resulting in side effects like diarrhea.

If you want to change your puppy’s food, wait at least a week, then transition them over slowly.  Typical transition times are 7 to 14 days, with careful supervision for vomiting or diarrhea. To do this, add your pup’s new dog food to their bowl in small increments, replacing their old food gradually. 

Watch out for symptoms like loss of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea anytime you add a new food to your puppy’s diet. And yes, that includes treats!

Ingesting foreign objects

Puppies explore the world with their mouths, which is why they’re famous for dietary indiscretions. That tennis ball is a fun toy, but your pooch may find it tasty, too. And that sock your toddler dropped? Your pup may gobble it up causing a tummy ache or an intestinal blockage. In fact, foreign body ingestion is one of the most common puppy accidents.

You should always supervise your puppy to prevent the ingestion of toxins and rogue objects. If you can’t be present, it’s best to crate-train your puppy until you can be.

Call the ASPCA Poison Control line or the Pet Poison Helpline if you suspect your puppy ingested a toxic substance or plant. Although it might cost you, it’s worth figuring out if your puppy ate a foreign body or if you should notify the vet.

Intestinal parasites

Intestinal parasites are very common in puppies. The most common parasites are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, giardia, and coccidia. 

The signs of worms are:

  • Distended belly
  • Slow growth
  • Poor-quality coat
  • Thin appearance
  • Bloody poop
  • Lethargy
  • Visible worms in the poop. Your puppy may even vomit worms.

If your puppy has diarrhea, don’t hesitate to take them to the vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Be sure to bring a stool sample if you can!

Viral Infections

Parvovirus” or more commonly “parvo” is a word every puppy parent dreads. It’s a contagious viral infection that quickly depletes the immune system and body. Parvo is very serious and requires immediate veterinary intervention.

Symptoms of parvo are:

  • Severe or bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever 

Other viral infections may include distemper, canine coronavirus (NOT Covid-19), and canine adenovirus. These are all preventable if you plan your puppy’s vaccinations well; one missed vaccination can leave your puppy vulnerable.

For this reason, make sure your puppy only interacts with vaccinated dogs until they receive their full series of 3 to 4 boosters.

Bacterial infections

Unfortunately, dogs can get diarrhea by consuming food or water that’s been contaminated by bacteria like Salmonella, listeria, clostridium, and E. coli. These symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Very foul-smelling, watery diarrhea that may be black or bloody
  • Severe dehydration
  • Pale gums
  • Abdominal pain

These bacterial infection symptoms in your puppy’s gastrointestinal tract is a deadly combination, even in adult dogs. If you see them, talk to your veterinarian immediately. Puppies don’t have enough reserves to fight these infections and their health can go downhill quickly.

How to tell if your puppy’s diarrhea is an emergency

Call your vet or an emergency clinic if your puppy shows any of the following danger signs:

  • Severe diarrhea
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Watery stool that lasts for more than 24 hours
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Pale gums, indicating anemia, dehydration, or shock

Treatments for puppy diarrhea

The good news is that, in most mild cases of puppy diarrhea, it will pass on its own. However, it’s important to seek advice from your veterinarian to confirm the underlying cause and rule out any serious health issues, especially if diarrhea persists for more than a day or two.

Veterinary treatments for dog diarrhea

First, your vet may run some tests to identify the cause of diarrhea. This could involve checking for pathogens like C. diff and parasites like Giardia. Your vet may also do an ELISA antigen test and white blood cell count to check for parvo.

If your vet suspects a bacterial infection, they might prescribe some antibiotics to knock it out. And if nothing comes up in the tests, your vet may suggest switching up your pup’s diet.

Home treatments for dog diarrhea

Good news! If your vet has ruled out any viral or bacterial infections, you can now concentrate on helping your little pup feel better at home. Remember, it can take up to a week for their gut lining to recover and their stool to become normal again. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to help them recover:

  • Give your puppy a bland diet that’s easy to digest and low in fat. For example, plain rice or chicken with no added ingredients.
  • Make sure your puppy has enough fresh water, sodium-free broth, and pediatric fluids to replace the lost fluids and electrolytes. A good rule of thumb is to offer 1.5 cups of water per 10 pounds of body weight per day.
  • Avoid fasting your puppy, as it can lead to health issues.
  • Adding fiber to your puppy’s food can help firm up their stool. You can mix unflavored psyllium powder with your pup’s food. However, start with ¼ tsp per meal and gradually increase to 1 tsp after some days.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about offering organic canned pumpkin, probiotics (which are always helpful for young puppies), or kaolin-pectin to your puppy. These can help solidify their poops.

If diarrhea continues, another chat with the veterinarian and some lab work may be necessary, but many bouts of puppy diarrhea resolve themselves with minimal veterinary care.

Ways to prevent dog diarrhea

Preventing puppy diarrhea is worth more than a pound of cure! Puppies can be prone to diarrhea because of their curious nature, but you can take steps to prevent it!

No table scraps

Complete, balanced puppy food is all your puppy needs – alongside a few treats! Table scraps can contain many ingredients, additives, and dangerous seasonings. So, avoid feeding them to your puppy – and teach your puppy that the table is for humans and not a puppy snack smorgasbord.

Deworm regularly

Parasites can slow your puppy’s growth and cause various health problems. A regular deworming schedule – along with picking up all poop from the yard – can help your puppy remain parasite-free. If you suspect worms, take a stool sample to your vet for analysis.

Get dog-friendly indoor and outdoor plants

Puppies love to taste everything, but some plants are toxic for dogs. If you have some poisonous plants in the house, fence them off or remove them entirely. That way, your curious pup won’t get sick from eating something they shouldn’t have.

Crate unsupervised puppies

When you can’t keep an eye on your fur baby, pop them into their crate for security. A puppy’s crate can become their cozy, calm abode. Also, they won’t have access to foreign objects or garbage that will upset their stomach!

Avoid dog parks until your pup is fully vaccinated

Paws off dog parks, trails, and mystery mutts until your puppy has had all their shots! This means avoiding unvaccinated dogs, adult dogs with unknown vaccine history, dog parks, and even the designated doggy-doo-doo spot in your apartment complex.

Gradual dietary changes

Dogs of all ages can suffer from gastrointestinal upset when transitioning to a new food. Puppies are no exception. In fact, they’re more sensitive to dietary changes.

Whenever you change your pet’s regular diet, transition gradually to avoid digestive issues. Your vet can help you create a transition schedule that meets your puppy’s health needs.

Keep up with regular vet visits

Regular checkups with the vet and timely puppy boosters can help reduce the likelihood of viral and bacterial diarrhea! Prevention is always the best medicine.

Puppy diarrhea FAQs

What are the common causes of diarrhea in dogs?

Dog diarrhea can be caused by various factors such as diet changes, food allergies, bacterial infections, parasites, and stress. As pet parents, it’s important to monitor your furry friends’ health and seek veterinary care if symptoms persist.

What can I do if my puppy has chronic diarrhea?

If your puppy has chronic diarrhea, it’s important to keep them hydrated and contact your veterinarian for guidance. They may recommend a bland diet or prescribe medication depending on the cause. Avoid feeding your pup table scraps or new foods, and ensure they have access to clean water at all times.

How long does puppy diarrhea last?

Puppy diarrhea can last for a few days up to a week, depending on the cause and severity of the condition. It’s important to keep your puppy hydrated and consult a veterinarian if diarrhea persists or worsens.

How can I tell if my puppy has diarrhea?

Some signs that your puppy may have diarrhea include loose or watery stools, frequent trips to the potty, straining to poop, and a change in the color or smell of their poop. If you notice any of these symptoms, consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Pumpkin Puppy Insurance plans can help pay up to 90% of eligible vet bills for conditions like diarrhea, so you can focus on cuddles, treats, and getting your pup back to their tail-wagging self.



*Pumpkin Pet Insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Waiting periods, annual deductible, co-insurance, benefit limits and exclusions may apply. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/insurancepolicy. Products, discounts, and rates may vary and are subject to change. Pumpkin Insurance Services Inc. (Pumpkin) (NPN#19084749) is a licensed insurance agency, not an insurer. Insurance is underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company (NAIC #21113. Morristown, NJ), a Crum & Forster Company and produced by Pumpkin. Pumpkin receives compensation based on the premiums for the insurance policies it sells. For more details visit pumpkin.care/underwriting-information and pumpkin.care/insurance-licenses.

Lynn Guthrie

Lynn Guthrie

Writer, Mom of a Fab Fur Fam of Five
Lynn is a writer and long-time Learning & Development Manager at a large PNW retailer. She's also mom to 3 dogs & 2 cats!
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