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What is your dog’s poop telling you?


Photo credit Jen Reeder.

There are so many awesome things about having a dog: the happy wags, the sweet snuggles, the exuberant greeting when we come home, the laughter and joy they bring to our lives. We love our dogs so much that we even pick up their poop since that’s part of the deal.

But did you know that before you bag your dog’s poop, you should take a good look at it? Our dogs can’t tell us when they’re under the weather, but their feces can let us know if they’re healthy or if they need to see their veterinarian.

“It’s important to know what your dog’s poop looks like normally because a change can indicate a health problem that needs to be addressed,” said Paige Lorimer Jacobi, DVM and owner of AAHA-accredited Pet Kare Clinic in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

She said normal stools should be chocolate brown and firm – easy to pick up – with uniform consistency. Color, shape, size, and content all matter too (see the accompanying infographic for guidelines). Dogs typically poop 2-3 times a day, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get a closer look.

Jacobi said the most important fecal clue that you should call the veterinarian is bloody diarrhea paired with severe lethargy, especially in a puppy. A timely visit to a veterinarian can easily take care of many medical issues – and they are easier to solve if treated early, Jacobi stressed. Other symptoms can be treated initially at home if a dog is acting normally (good appetite, regular energy level, and no vomiting), such as diarrhea.

“A bland diet of rice and boiled chicken can be tried. And it is always a good idea to add fiber like canned pumpkin,” she advised.

If your dog scoots on his butt frequently – not just after a bowel movement – he might have impacted anal glands.

“This is not a dog’s favorite topic,” Jacobi said. “Impacted anal glands need to be manually, digitally expressed to start with. If they are infected or the material is very thick, sedation may be required to flush the anal sacs and infuse antibiotic/anti-inflammatory ointment. Oral antibiotics may be needed for significant infections.”

Then there’s the issue of foreign objects such as large sticks or toys in the feces.

“This is an indication that your dog needs to be watched more closely and given safer chew toys,” Jacobi said. “If a dog is eating toys or big sticks, it is only a matter of time before one of those foreign objects gets stuck somewhere in the GI tract, often necessitating abdominal surgery to remove it.”

Dogs should be discouraged from eating poop (coprophagia) by training and rewarding your dog to not eat it, Jacobi said. But it can be a challenge – one more reason to do the right thing and after checking for health signs, scoop your dog’s poop.

“Responsible dog owners always pick up their dog’s poop. It’s courteous to other park and trail users and prevents the spread of viruses, bacteria, and parasites that can be transmitted in feces. Some of these pathogens, like Giardia, E. coli, Salmonella, roundworms and hookworms, can be transmitted to people with serious consequences. Some studies have shown that 20 to 30 percent of the bacteria in water samples from urban watersheds can be traced to dog waste,” Jacobi said. “In our community, we create awareness by sponsoring a yearly ‘April Stools Day’ where we pick up every trail and park in Steamboat. Somehow we get people to volunteer to help us with this every year and it really makes a difference.”

Freelance journalist Jen Reeder annoyed her hiking buddies by talking a lot about their dogs’ poop while researching this article. Her dog, Rio, didn’t seem to mind.

Infographic credit Purina - AAHA does not endorse any pet food brands.

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