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My Dog's Poop Starts Solid Then Goes Soft

 
By Laura García Ortiz, Veterinarian specialized in feline medicine. Updated: October 18, 2023
My Dog's Poop Starts Solid Then Goes Soft

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If a dog's poop starts solid then turns runny, it indicates they are affected by small intestine diarrhea. This type of diarrhea in dogs can be caused by various pathologies or infections. Such diseases can seriously affect their nutritional status and health by interfering with the proper absorption of nutrients from their diet. If the underlying cause of small intestine diarrhea is not controlled, our dog will get progressively worse. The color, consistency and other properties of a dog's stool can tell us a lot about their state of health.

As a concerned dog owner, you'll want to address this issue promptly. If you see that my dog's poop starts solid then goes soft, it is important to find the correct cause so that it can be treated effectively AnimalWised explains these causes of small intestine diarrhea and what treatment might be available.

You may also be interested in: My Dog Has Yellow Dog Poop

Why dog stool goes hard then soft

As stated in the introduction, when a dog's poop starts solid and then turns soft, it is an indication of small intestine diarrhea. Having feces of two such contrasting consistencies can be confusing for guardians. Normal dog stool should be firm, but moist and with a slight odor. Dogs with a high-fiber diet should have more voluminous stools.

Changes in consistency of the dog's stool are usually down to the absorption of water in the intestine. Poor ability to absorb water is known as malabsorption. Certain pathologies can alter the osmolarity (concentration of solute) and reduce the capacity of water absorption resulting in diarrhea. This can be contrasted with pathologies causing high water absorption, in turn causing the stool to become dry and hard. This results in constipation as it is difficult for the feces to pass.

If the dog has diarrhea, it can explain why your dog defecates more than usual. The excess water leads to fluidity of the feces, making it easier for it to pass through the intestines. Volume and consistency of the stool can also be affected. In general, diarrhea in dogs can be classified as small intestine and large intestine diarrhea.

Small intestine diarrhea

Small bowel diarrhea is characterized by:

  • Tenesmus (urge to defecate despite empty bowels) is rare
  • Daily frequency of defecation 2-3 times higher than normal
  • Increased volume of stools
  • Usually no mucus
  • Usually no fresh blood, but can be digested blood (melena)
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

Large intestine diarrhea

In large intestine diarrhea appears:

  • Tenesmus
  • Daily frequency of defecation greater than 3 times normal rate
  • Urgency to defecate
  • Presence of mucus
  • Presence of fresh blood
  • Vomiting and weight loss are rare

Take a look at our article on the types of diarrhea in dogs to know more about less common forms of gastrointestinal disease.

Causes of solid poop which goes soft

When small intestine diarrhea in dogs causes a dog to have firm stool followed by loose stool, it is a symptom of disease. This disease is one which affects the gastrointestinal tract, but there are various causes which can lead this to happen:

  • Infectious enteritis (caused by various bacteria and intestinal parasites including Campylobacter, Giardia, Histoplasma and Phycomycosis)
  • Bacterial overgrowth
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's disease)
  • Food hypersensitivity
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Protein-losing enteropathy
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Intestinal intussusception
  • Foreign bodies in the intestine
  • Intestinal tumors (lymphosarcoma, adenocarcinoma, fibrosarcoma, leiomyoma)
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.
  • Lymphangiectasia
  • Rectal polyps
  • Change of diet

Large intestine diarrhea occurs when there is disturbance or diseases from the large intestine, such as:

  • Parasitic or bacterial infections
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Perineal disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Neoplasms (lymphosarcoma)
  • Colonic histoplasmosis
My Dog's Poop Starts Solid Then Goes Soft - Causes of solid poop which goes soft

Puppy's poop starts solid and then goes soft

Puppies have developing immune and digestive systems, making them more vulnerable to various health issues. When a young dog presents with small intestine diarrhea, there is a heightened concern for rapid dehydration and malnutrition due to their smaller size and higher metabolic rate. Puppies can deteriorate quickly if not properly managed.

Prompt veterinary attention is crucial to determine the underlying cause and initiate appropriate treatment, which may include dietary adjustments, hydration and medication. Additionally, since puppies tend to explore the world with their mouths, foreign body ingestion is a particular concern. Immediate intervention is necessary to prevent complications.

Some of the specific reasons why puppies can develop small intestine diarrhea include the following:

  • Infectious enteritis: puppies are more susceptible to bacterial and parasitic infections due to their developing immune systems. These infections can lead to small intestine diarrhea, causing a change in stool consistency.

  • Bacterial overgrowth: young dogs might have imbalances in their gut flora, which can lead to their poop starting solid and then going runny.

  • Kidney disease: although less common in puppies, renal failure in dogs can affect their ability to regulate fluids, potentially leading to diarrhea.

  • Liver disease: liver problems may disrupt digestion and nutrient absorption, resulting in changes in a puppy's stool.

  • Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's Disease): while rare, this condition can occur in young dogs, affecting their hormonal balance and potentially causing digestive issues.

  • Food hypersensitivity: puppies can develop sensitivities to certain foods, leading to digestive upsets.

  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency: this condition affects the pancreas's ability to produce digestive enzymes, leading to malabsorption and diarrhea.

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): puppies can develop chronic inflammation in the intestines, leading to diarrhea.

  • Protein-losing enteropathy: this condition can affect a puppy's ability to absorb proteins and other nutrients.

  • Intestinal obstruction: puppies are curious and may ingest objects that can obstruct their intestines, leading to diarrhea. Intestinal obstructions in adult dogs are very serious, but they are particularly so in puppies.

  • Intestinal intussusception: this condition involves one part of the intestine telescoping into another, which can cause severe digestive issues.

  • Foreign bodies in the intestine: young dogs are prone exploration and to eating non-food items, which can lead to digestive problems even if they do not cause a blockage.

  • Intestinal tumors: while rare in puppies, tumors can affect the digestive tract and stool consistency.

  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis: this condition can be more severe in young dogs and may lead to changes in stool.

  • Lymphangiectasia: a rare disorder that can affect puppies, leading to nutrient malabsorption and diarrhea.

  • Rectal polyps: though less common, rectal polyps can disrupt normal bowel movements.

  • Change of diet: abrupt changes in a puppy's diet can lead to digestive upset, including changes in stool consistency. This is one of the reasons why weaning a puppy needs to be a gradual process.

Symptoms of small intestine diarrhea in the dog

When diarrhea occurs in the small intestine, hard poop followed by runny stool us not the only clinical sign. Along with this major symptom, we may also see:

  • Lack of growth in puppies
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia
  • Gurgling noises from belly area
  • Flatulence
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Ascites
  • Edema
  • Melena (digested blood)
  • Dehydration
  • Malabsorption
  • Poor digestion
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Loss of coat shine and quality
  • Vomiting
  • Increased frequency of defecation
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

Generally, when a dog is affected by small intestine diarrhea, it is worse than when they have large intestine diarrhea. This is because the latter does not affect their appetite as much. Although they have a problem absorbing nutrients, they do not lose as much weight. Dogs can have diarrhea of both the small and large intestine, something which may be caused by parasites, IBD, lymphosarcoma or intestinal histoplasmosis.

The symptoms will also give us a clue as to what other problems may be present:

  • Weight loss: a lack of nutrients and weight loss indicates intestinal malabsorption due to the various pathologies named above. If the malabsorption continues over time it can lead to chronic diarrhea.

  • Vomiting and pain: vomiting and abdominal pain indicate intestinal inflammation or obstruction.

  • Blood in the stool: blood in the stool indicates inflammatory, erosive or ulcerative diseases of the intestine.

  • Infectious enteritis: when diarrhea is due to infectious enteritis, fresh blood and abdominal pain are usually seen in addition to vomiting and small bowel diarrhea.

  • Pica and coprophagia: in cases of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and chronic intestinal diseases, pica and coprophagia (i.e. eating inorganic material and feces, respectively) can be observed. Pica can be observed when the dog repetitively eats abnormal objects or even if they lick metal. Polyphagia (excessive appetite) is also common in exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

  • Anorexia and inappetence: anorexia and inappetence (loss of appetite) usually occur with tumors, inflammations or obstructive processes of the intestine.

  • Edema and ascites: edema and ascites are due to an enteropathy (loss of protein).
My Dog's Poop Starts Solid Then Goes Soft - Symptoms of small intestine diarrhea in the dog

Diagnosis of small intestine diarrhea in dogs

When you see the symptom of your dog's poop going runny after being solid, you should take them to a veterinarian for diagnosis. This process should include numerous tests to make a differential diagnosis. This is important due to the high number of potential diseases which cause a dog's poop to start solid and then go soft. A veterinarian will likely start with a hemogram and a blood chemistry to assess whether there is:

  • Anemia from blood loss
  • Low leukocytes which indicate an infection
  • Low lymphocytes which indicate lymphangiectasia
  • Azotemia (occurs with kidney disease)
  • Alteration in liver enzymes (in liver disease)
  • Eosinophilia (increased eosinophils) in parasitosis, hypoadrenocorticism or eosinophilic enteritis
  • TLI (Trypsin-Like Immunoreactivity) less than 2.5 µg/L indicates exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
  • If there is a deficiency of vitamin B12 (alteration in the jejunum) or folate (alteration in the ileum)

In addition, the following tests may be performed in cases of diarrhea:

  • Stool culture: if there is a suspicion of bacterial infection, a culture of the dog's stool should be taken and tested to see if it proliferates.

  • Parasitological tests: looking for parasites, parasitological tests are carried out, such as flotation of the feces, to search the parasite eggs under a microscope.

  • Abdominal ultrasound: if tumors, obstructions, foreign bodies or inflammatory bowel disease are suspected, an abdominal ultrasound should be performed to look for characteristic changes. These tests are particularly important if the dog's belly is hard.

  • Biopsy: if after performing the ultrasound both inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal tumor are suspected, a sample should be taken by biopsy and sent to the laboratory so that they can indicate what it is by histopathology.

  • Hypoallergenic diet: in cases indicative of an adverse reaction to food, a hypoallergenic or novel protein diet should be given and then return to the previous diet and see if the symptoms return. If this occurs, it confirms the diagnosis.

Treatment of small intestine diarrhea in dogs

Once the diagnosis of why the dog defecates hard and then soft stools has been established, symptomatic and specific therapy should be applied.

Symptomatic treatment

Symptomatic therapy is based on correcting nutritional and electrolyte imbalances with fluid therapy. Rectifying potassium levels is especially important.

Antidiarrheal drugs may be used to stop diarrhea, but they should not be used in case of infectious diarrhea. This is because these microorganisms need to be expelled. In these cases, the necessary antibiotics, antiparasitics or antifungals will be used, as appropriate.

Specific treatment

Depending on which disease causes this symptomatology in dogs, a different specific or medical treatment will be used:

  • Chemotherapy: in case of intestinal tumors, chemotherapy for dogs and/or surgical resection should be used.

  • Diet and medications: in inflammatory bowel disease, a combination of diet, metronidazole and immunosuppressants such as prednisone, azathioprine or cyclosporine should be used depending on the severity.

  • Vitamins: in the case of vitamin B12 or folate deficiencies, they should be supplemented.

  • Surgery: obstructions, intussusceptions or presence of foreign bodies may require surgical intervention.

  • Disease treatment: if there is kidney, liver or hypoadrenocorticism disease, specific treatment for the disease in question should be performed.

  • Enzymes: if exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is diagnosed, pancreatic enzymes and a digestible diet should be administered.
My Dog's Poop Starts Solid Then Goes Soft - Treatment of small intestine diarrhea in dogs
Image: Big Dog Pet Foods

What should normal dog poop look like?

Now we know the causes and treatment of when a dog's poop goes hard then soft, we should look at what healthy dog stool should look like. Unfortunately, dogs are often good at hiding health problems, especially when they are internal. Checking their stools regularly is a responsibility of dog guardians as it may be the only symptom which indicates a problem. The following is what normal dog poop should look like:

Normal dog stool

  • Normal dog stool is typically brown in color. The shade can vary, but it's generally a medium to dark brown.
  • It should be well-formed and moist, but not overly soft and easy to pick up.
  • The stool should hold its shape but be neither too hard nor too loose.
  • There should be minimal odor and it should not be excessively foul-smelling.
  • It should be passed without straining or difficulty.

Soft then hard poop is not the only type of dog feces which may indicate a health problem. The above dog poop chart shows what normal dog poop should look like. We also explain what the color and consistency of a dog's stool can say about their health.

Types of dog feces and what they might indicate

  • Hard and dry stool: this can suggest dehydration, insufficient fiber in the diet, or a gastrointestinal issue.

  • Soft and runny stool: it can indicate dietary indiscretion, food intolerance, parasitic infection, or gastrointestinal upset.

  • Mucus in stool: mucus can be a sign of inflammation in the intestines, potentially caused by infections, food allergies, or other health issues.

  • Black and tarry stool: this can be a sign of bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, which may be related to ulcers or other serious conditions.

  • Red or maroon stool: it may indicate lower intestinal bleeding, possibly from issues like colitis, polyps, or hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

  • Yellow or greasy stool: this can be a sign of malabsorption or issues with the pancreas, such as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

  • Bloody stool: blood in the stool can be a sign of various conditions, including infections, dietary issues, or more severe problems like parvovirus in dogs.

  • Foul-smelling stool: foul-smelling stool can be associated with dietary problems or malabsorption disorders.

  • White or gray stool: this may indicate a lack of bile in the stool, which can be linked to liver or gallbladder issues.

  • Straining to defecate: straining can suggest constipation or problems with the anal glands. Learn more with our article on what happens when a dog has an anal gland infection.

Occasional variations in stool may not be a cause for concern, but persistent or severe changes in stool consistency, color or odor should be evaluated by a veterinarian. They can be indicators of underlying health issues in dogs, some of which can be very serious.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog's Poop Starts Solid Then Goes Soft, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

Bibliography
  • Veterinary Portal. (2018). Chronic diarrhea. Available at: https://www.portalveterinaria.com/animales-de-compania/articulos/16845/diarrea-cronica.html

  • Hall, E. J., Simpson, J. W., & Williams, D. A. (2009). Manual of Gastroenterology in Small Animals, 2nd Edition. BSAVA, Ediciones S.

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