When your puppy has diarrhoea . . . Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Tuesday, 16 November 2010 10:55
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In this column veterinarian Dr Liesel van der Merwe provides practical assistance for common problems in companion animals. She is a specialist physician at the Onderstepoort animal teaching hospital and a senior lecturer in the section of small animal medicine. Send your questions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

Diarrhoea in puppies is common and can be classified into simple and complex disease processes. Puppies are sensitive to their diet and do not tolerate rich fatty food or many dietary changes. The enzyme to digest milk is also lost as they mature and this undigested milk ferments and causes diarrhoea.

Ideally a young puppy should be fed an appropriate puppy diet and no other scraps. Pronutro is not a good diet for a puppy. Symptoms include a soft stool which often looks like porridge. Vomiting is uncommon and the puppy still eats well.

Worms and puppies go together like the proverbial horse and carriage. Both roundworm and hookworm larvae (immature stages) are transferred to the puppy through the mother’s milk. Infected mothers are not easily treated as the tissue larval stages present in their muscles are very resistant to deworming, unlike the mature stages present in the intestine.

Most dogs have these tissue stages in their systems but adult dogs don’t show any symptoms from these infections. These larvae become activated when the dog is in her last trimester of pregnancy. It can be assumed that all puppies will thus become infected. Worms passed to the puppies via the milk reach maturity within two weeks, whereas it takes three weeks with the normal oral route of infection.

The puppies are also a source of reinfection for the mother as she cleans them and looks after them in those first six weeks. Hookworms attach to the intestine lining and eat blood, whereas roundworms attach and take in nutrients from ingested food in the small intestine.

The effects on small puppies can be quite devastating with vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, abdominal swelling from fluid accumulation and severe anaemia occurring in severe infestations. It is thus vital that puppies are dewormed every two weeks from birth until about eight weeks old and at least monthly thereafter until they are six months old.

Parvo-virus diarrhoea occurs worldwide and causes a very severe small intestinal damage. The virus enters the lining cells of the small intestine and causes them to die off which causes the intestine to leak out essential salts, proteins and blood, resulting in a very foul smelling, bloody diarrhoea.

The damage the virus causes to the intestinal lining also allows other bacteria to translocate from the intestine into the bloodstream. Additionally parvo-virus also damages the bone marrow causing a decrease in the number of white cells which are responsible for fighting infection. Thus the puppy with parvo-virus infection is extremely vulnerable to septicaemia.

Management is targeted at managing the dehydration by giving intravenous fluids as well as supplementing certain salts and proteins which are lost from the body in the diarrhoea. Multiple antibiotics, anti-nausea and anti-acid medications are also required. Often feeding via a naso-oesophageal tube is necessary as early feeding is essential for recovery.

Puppies with parvovirus usually have severe diarrhoea and vomit frequently. They are hunched up and listless and disinterested in food. This disease can only be prevented by effective vaccination. The puppy is most vulnerable at about six to eight weeks as the maternal resistance has decreased and the protection offered by vaccination is still developing.

The protective antibodies are only truly set at the third vaccination, so it is important not to expose young puppies to a risky environment like a park. The virus is extremely resistant and can survive for months even in harsh weather conditions. Hypochlorite mixtures (Jik) can be used to disinfect courtyards.

The bottom line is that preventative care is the way to go and it is also much cheaper in the end as managing these cases at the veterinarian can be a costly exercise due to the intensive nature of the treatment. Also, don’t wait too long - these little puppies don’t have many reserves and deteriorate quickly.


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