When your Dog has the Runs—Should You Visit the Vet?

On Monday, I arrived home later than usual after work and found my husband scrubbing the carpet, a roll of paper towels lay on the floor and a scowl across his face. Buffy, my tan cocker spaniel had made a huge mess all over the living room rug. Diarrhea.

Buffy at the vet
Buffy sticking out her tongue at me at the vet’s office.

I had forgotten to give her a probiotic that morning after I noticed very loose bowel movements. Probiotics typically help after one or two capsules, so I usually give Chipper or Buffy one if their droppings become runny.

I fed Buffy a quick dinner (+ a probiotic), walked her and enclosed her in the kitchen while we left to go to our Argentine Tango lesson in Chicago, an hour drive away.

We came home three hours later—another mess, but easier to clean up on the tile. The next morning, the same thing.

The Home Remedy

Trying to avoid another $50 – $100+ vet bill, I dug through my dog file and found the care sheet from the last time Buffy got sick.

  • Feed a bland diet: circled items included sweet potato and ground turkey. Other options included boiled chicken, ground beef, white or brown rice.
    • The next morning I boiled a few chicken legs and microwaved a sweet potato, then dished it out to Buffy. An hour later she vomited.
  • Give a double dose of the (store bought) probiotics.
  • Give ½ pill twice daily for acid reduction (Famotidine).

Still diarrhea every few hours and vomiting her bland diet. Buffy kept down pieces of whole wheat bread, which I gave her when she asked for treats because Chipper was getting them.

Two days later, Buffy was still having diarrhea and vomiting.  That morning she had refused her food, although she still kept down the bits of bread. I had checked her several times (or so I thought) for dehydration, and her skin and gums had seemed fine to me.

Finally, late on Wednesday, I called the vet to have her squeeze me in late on Thursday afternoon.

The Vet Remedy

Vet tech examining Buffy
  • Buffy was dehydrated. The vet gave her an injection under the skin giving her a camel-back appearance for an hour while her body absorbed the fluid.
  • The vet also gave her an antibiotic. A slide of her diarrhea showed a ton of bacteria.
  • She prescribed more powerful probiotic.
  • The vet again recommended ground turkey instead of chicken, but to keep using sweet potatoes.

Within an hour of returning home, Buffy seemed perkier. The vet said rehydrating her would likely do the trick. I confined her to the kitchen at night and while we were at work, but no diarrhea at all after her vet visit. Our vet gave Buffy a miraculous speedy recovery.  Yes, it did cost me about a hundred dollars, but well worth it.

Other things I could have tried:

Withholding food and water for 12 hours – but I already do this with going to work or at night, well, maybe closer to 10 hours.

Giving her rice water – boiling rice in a lot of water, but removing the rice. This tends to calm a dog’s stomach.

Should I Have Gone to the Vet Sooner?

Buffy seemed to feel fine, willing to go for walks with Chipper and eat bread snacks. So she didn’t seem too sick to me, but was likely concealing her pain.

She only vomited her meals, and seemed to not like them. She kept her bread treats down.

Plus my work schedule is always a consideration since the vet is about a half hour from home plus I have to travel home to pick up my dog.

I had hoped the home remedy would work—most of the time it does, sometimes not.

When is Diarrhea Serious enough to go to the Vet?

  • Some websites recommend bringing your dog to the vet if he has diarrhea for more than a day.
    • This seems extreme to me, but certainly after two days, unless your dog has other symptoms.
    • Is your dog a young puppy, a senior or has another illness? Then you should bring him in sooner.
  • Is your dog vomiting frequently? Both diarrhea and vomiting will dehydrate your dog quickly.
  • Is he lethargic?
  • Is he refusing food?
  • Does he have abdominal pain?
  • If your dog has black tarry stools, this indicates internal bleeding.
  • Does he have a fever? Illnesses will give him a fever plus cause diarrhea. It’s a good idea to have a thermometer and take your dog’s temperature if he is ill for more than a day.
  • Does he have pale gums? This indicates dehydration.

How to Determine Dehydration

Lift the skin on the back of the dog’s neck. It should spring back in place within a second. I did this on Buffy’s face and it sprung back immediately. I also poked Buffy’s gums to see how long before the pink color returned. But if the dog is overweight, or is only slightly dehydrated, these exercises may not work.  I tested Buffy the evening before visiting the vet, so her dehydration may not have obvious.

Additional dehydration symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Sunken eyes
  • Refusal of food
  • Dry mouth
  • Depression
  • Reduced urination

Dehydration can occur from other factors than diarrhea. At this time of year especially, over exposure to heat and not enough intake of food or water may also cause dehydration.

When in doubt, call your vet.

Below are several articles to give additional information.


Check out the poop charts at the website below:




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38 thoughts on “When your Dog has the Runs—Should You Visit the Vet?

  1. I am so glad Buffy is feeling better! With Rooney, I typically see what happens within 24 hours and then call my vet if he still has symptoms or if his energy is not good.

  2. I think your advice is great – but I also have learned that each dog reacts differently. Harley prefers to miss a meal allowing his stomach time to rest. Jaxson on the other hand doesn’t like to miss a meal, so he will stay on the bland diet for a few days vs. miss a meal.
    I did find a probiotic from The Honest Kitchen that I make a paste with and add to the food. Whatever it takes to get our babies back on top!

  3. Ugh, I’ve been there! We are slowly getting rid of carpet because both of my pups have sensitive tummy issues and seem to struggle every so often. I’m very lucky they are die hard potty training and will come get me if they feel sick, BUT every so often if I’m not home someone makes a mess. Probiotic has seriously saved me pups, they always seem to feel terrible about the messes they make 😔

  4. Ugh. Been there. You have my sympathy.

    I had a dog with a nervous stomach. He would get diarrhea often. What worked for us: withhold one meal, next two were chicken and rice with watered-down broth. By the 4th meal he was ready for his regular meal. I kept cooked white rice and boiled chicken in the freezer just for him. I also bought Nature’s miracle by the gallon for clean up!

    I always watched to make sure he wasn’t dehydrated or lethargic, which could be a symptom bigger problems.

  5. Oh, I have been in this situations so many times, going through the exact thought process as you did. Not knowing whether you should wait it out or if it is more serious and needs urgent attention. I have used many of the diarrhea tricks you outlined. One other is pumpkin. A scoop or two when they have runny stools like that can really help. Great post! Glad Buffy is feeling better!

  6. So glad Buffy is doing fine! With having five Huskies (four now), some pup will get a bad case of D, plus one of my Huskies has had bouts with mild gastroenteritis. Great tips here! Many of these I do, plus pumpkin puree. Rice water – I’ll have to remember that. I always dump the water. Pinning this to share! Curious – why did the vet have you swap turkey for the chicken? Less fat?

  7. I know vets can be costly but that is the best thing, sometimes it just is a one off occurance though and a visit may not be necessary. Great tips.

  8. Like many things, diarrhea needs to be considered globally. In general, one day or diarrhea might resolve on its own. Unless there is also vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy or any other warning signs. A diarrhea that lasts longer than a day or two should be investigated.

  9. Thank you! I really love this. I usually wait a day maybe two when symptoms occur like this or a cold. Pets, like people, can get a minor issue but if they last more than a couple of days I spring into action.
    I always worry it could be something serious and I have some dire timeline in which the vet can help.
    I try not to over react but you just never know.
    At the same time, I can’t spend a fortune every time one of my pets has a SLIGHT issue.
    I think your advice is right on the mark.
    More than a couple days – talk to the vet!

  10. Thank you for sharing your story. Another tip to checking for dehydration is how fast the skin snaps back into place. If you tent the skin or pull some up between the shoulder blades and it snaps back into place like elastic, your pooch is hydrated. If the skin stands for a bit or sluggishly returns to it’s natural position, you’re going to the vet. Dehydration is one of the most serious concerns with diarrhea, it’s the bodies way of flushing what it sees as toxin, even if it’s just stress.

  11. Whenever my dog had diarrhea, I fed her rice cooked in chicken broth (which made it taste better than rice cooked in water). I did this for a day or two. This always seemed to work.

  12. I’m glad things appear to be going better.

    I tend to err on the side of caution with the girls now that I’m retired. It wasn’t always easy to get them to the vet as quickly as I’d like, but now, I rush them there if they don’t seem quite normal. Thankfully, I don’t need to do it too often,.

  13. Thanks for sharing the recipe and tips, Miss Sandy. The doggie in my household sometimes gets loose poo. It’s usually because the humans gave her bits of people food & it upset her tummy. I hope your doggie doesn’t have to go through the yuckies again. Purrs.

  14. The rice water is a remedy I’ve never heard of. I’ll try this with my dog, who sometimes gets an upset stomach from the anti-inflammatory medications he takes to help with his joint pain.

  15. Who knew ice will calm an upset stomach?? Wow learning something new everyday. I am familiar with the importance of hydration. Like you my cat (when she was alive) suffered severe hydration too and the doctor had to give her fluids behind her neck area as well. The site of injection had a large lump too until the fluids circulated/distributed throughout her body.

  16. I’m so sorry to hear she was ill. Was it a virus? Gonzo has a sensitive stomach and during change of seasons would periodically vomit and have diarrhea due to allergies. If it occurs for more than a 24-hour period despite putting him on a bland diet, I always bring him to the vet. I’m lucky that my vet is close by and a good friend of mine as well. But dehydration is serious and not something I want to mess with.

  17. Canned pumpkin (the raw stuff, not flavored or pie filling) is also great for diarrhea. I am maybe a bit overprotective, but day 2 if their stool is still really loose and they are losing their appetite for their normal food, off to the vet we go. My vet is also a half hour away, but I tend to err on the side of caution and they know me extremely well. Dehydration is scary, glad Buffy felt better after some fluids and meds.

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