Common causes of diarrhoea in puppies Print E-mail
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Friday, 17 September 2021 07:31
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

Puppies generally get diarrhoea from intestinal parasites, diet changes, eating foreign material and viral infections. Intestinal parasites include worms and other microscopic parasites which cause diarrhoea.

These puppies will show stunted growth, a distended belly and may vomit and have diarrhoea with or without blood. Generally these puppies recover quite quickly if the parasites are killed with dewormer or other medications.

Sometimes supportive therapy is required. Puppies are infected from their mothers as the worms are excreted in the milk. It is essential that puppies are dewormed every two to three weeks regardless if worms are seen or not, and that the mother is dewormed just prior to birth.

Dietary causes of diarrhoea are frequent – these puppies are generally not that sick and there is no blood in the stool. Diet changes from breeder to new owner can cause this as well as changing the diet too frequently. Keep the food simple and bland. Don’t add tasty or fatty snacks until they are at least three to four months old. Feed regular smaller meals to reduce overeating.

Puppies are curious and may eat foreign objects in the garden. In these situations vomiting is often rapid onset and severe with little or no diarrhoea initially. Diarrhoea may develop 12 – 24 hours later, by which time the vomiting has subsided. Sometimes the intestinal bacteria are affected and this may cause more prolonged clinical signs and blood in the stool. 

Viral gastroenteritis is the most dangerous cause of puppy diarrhoea and has an unpredictable course. Tests can identify certain viruses. Canine parvovirus is the big baddie. Canine parvovirus particles enter the cells that line the intestine. There they use the cell’s organelles and resources to multiply, destroying the cell in the process.

This effectively “strips” the lining cells and causes poor digestion and uptake of nutrients, leaking of the body’s tissue fluids into the intestine, and infection in the intestine as well as the body because the “barrier” layer is gone.

Parvovirus also targets the bone marrow, damaging the white blood cell precursors and thus causing increased susceptibility to secondary infections. Because these puppies are generally young, they do not have reserves in their livers and muscles to support their systems while they fight infection.

They also become dehydrated and depleted of electrolytes and protein due to the constant vomiting, diarrhoea and anorexia. Eventual death is generally due to organ failure and septicaemia.

Treating these puppies is intensive and costly and we can offer no guarantees for recovery. Prevention is the best option and vaccination is essential. In general, resistance to disease is likely two weeks after the third vaccination at about 12 – 14 weeks.

The parvovirus is a highly resistant virus and is not easily inactivated in the environment by heat or cold. It is shed in massive numbers in the stool of affected animals. Puppies will start showing symptoms six to 10 days after being exposed, but by that time they have already been shedding virus in their stool for two to three days.

Symptoms include being off colour, and usually all “tucked” up around the belly with the head drooping, listlessness and drooling. Vomiting and diarrhoea follow with severe dehydration and abdominal pain. Diluted bleach (1:32 bleach/water mix) and quaternary ammonium disinfectants can be used to clean the environment. 

The best way to avoid infection is to keep young puppies away from places where other dogs congregate until their immunity is proper. The flip side of this coin is that socialisation is most effective before 16 weeks.

Screen the areas where you take your puppy. Do not mix with other young animals (eight months), ill animals, immuno-suppressed animals (chemo or cortisone treatment) or unvaccinated animals until you’ve had your puppy for two weeks and no diarrhoea has developed.

The black and tan breeds – daschund, Doberman and Rottweiler puppies – are more predisposed to infection, but all young puppies are at risk. Prevention is better than cure.

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