Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
German Shepherds are well known for their stature, intelligence, and. . .sensitive stomachs. Unfortunately (for both the dogs and their owners), this can sometimes result in diarrhea. Diarrhea is a loose or soft stool, usually occurring more often than typical bowel movements.
Diarrhea is a common problem for all dogs, not just German Shepherds (also named Alsatian, abbreviated GSD), and in many cases is quite mild.
If your dog ate something it shouldn’t have, you may just need to wait for it to pass out of their system. However, sometimes diarrhea can accompany more serious health issues. It’s important to know what to look for so you know whether your dog needs to go to the vet.
Diarrhea in German Shepherd Puppies
Diarrhea issues can be more common in puppies. Their digestive systems are still developing, and playful puppies are more likely than adult dogs to get into things they shouldn’t.
If your puppy has occasional diarrhea, especially as they’re adapting to their new home, don’t worry. Follow the steps outlined below to settle your puppy’s stomach.
Don’t punish your puppy if they have a diarrhea accident inside the house; they might not have been able to control themselves. If the diarrhea is a recurring issue, you may need to try different food. If, however, your puppy has frequent diarrhea for more than 24 hours at a time, it could potentially be a sign of a more serious problem, and you should contact your vet.
Diarrhea in Adult Dogs
Sadly, the days of diarrhea may not be over when your German Shepherd grows up. As an adult, your dog may occasionally still get diarrhea. Especially when going through any changes, from moving to trying a new dog food, diarrhea may pop up.
Use the following information to evaluate the cause of your dog’s diarrhea and whether you need to go to the vet.
It can be difficult to figure out what caused your dog’s diarrhea. Acute diarrhea, or diarrhea that appears suddenly and lasts for less than a day, has a handful of common causes:
- Eating something they shouldn’t: Sometimes German Shepherds are just a little too clever, and they might search out a piece of garbage, forbidden food, or even roadkill. Or perhaps they coaxed a piece of human food out of your hands at dinner. Some of these forbidden foods may give them diarrhea, but they’ll be fine once their stomach settles. If their diarrhea continues, it could be a sign that they’ve eaten something toxic and need to go to the vet.
- Stress: Any change in your dog’s routine can cause stress, including moving to a new house, new pets, new people, and new work schedules. Your dog’s stomach should settle as they adapt. To help, make sure your dog has plenty of quiet time and can get enough sleep.
- Changes in diet: Whenever you make changes to your dog’s food, transition gradually by mixing a small amount of the new food in with the old and increasing the new food over time. If you changed brands suddenly, it may have upset your dog’s stomach.
If your dog has chronic diarrhea, it may be caused by a more serious underlying issue:
- Allergies: Your dog could have an allergic reaction to an ingredient in their food or medication, or even seasonal allergies. Particularly if you’ve introduced something new into their lives, consult with your vet about the possibility of allergies.
- Parasites: Parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and giardia are especially common for puppies. They can usually be diagnosed with a simple fecal sample test and treated orally.
- Viral infection: If your dog has an infection, they will probably exhibit other signs, including a fever, lack of appetite, low energy, vomiting, and mucus in their stool. If you notice any of these signs alongside diarrhea, call your vet. Some viral infections, such as Parvo and Distemper, can be fatal, so it’s important to take these signs seriously.
- IBD: Just like humans, dogs can get Irritable Bowel Syndrome. If your dog’s diarrhea keeps popping up, this could be the culprit.
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency: This is a chronic disorder in which the pancreas stops producing enough enzymes for production. It produces diarrhea with a yellowish color and a particularly bad smell.
Other Issues: Diarrhea can be an early symptom of other serious problems, such as thyroid disease or intestinal cancer. If your German Shepherd’s diarrhea is chronic without an explanation, consult with your veterinarian. These serious issues can be more common for older dogs.
Any dog suffering from diarrhea is also susceptible to dehydration. Make sure that your dog has constant access to freshwater. You’ll want to change out their water more often than usual, and encourage them to drink. If they’re reluctant to drink, PetMD recommends mixing a little chicken or beef broth into the water.
Stick to just water for 8-12 hours so your dog’s stomach has a chance to settle. Then, rather than their usual food, give them a special bland meal of boiled chicken with cooked white rice (rice and rice water is known to help with runny stool), pumpkin, or sweet potato. Keep the portion small. If your dog eats it and doesn’t experience any diarrhea or vomiting within a couple of hours, you can feed them another small meal.
Over the next couple of days, gradually mix some of their normal food into this bland meal until they’re back to eating normally. If your dog has a chronically sensitive stomach, your vet may recommend a special formula food for them.
If your German Shepherd has diarrhea for a week or more, it’s called chronic diarrhea. This can be caused by a serious underlying health issue and should always be treated by a veterinarian.
Over time, chronic diarrhea can lead to serious dehydration, weight loss, or more serious problems. Diarrhea can also be a sign of a bigger problem going on in your dog’s health, so make sure you make a vet appointment if your dog’s diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours.
When to Call a Vet When Your Dog Has Diarrhea
If you notice any of the following symptoms in addition to diarrhea, you should call your vet immediately:
- Signs of pain (whimpering, doesn’t want to be touched)
- If your dog is very young or old
- If your dog has another health condition – having diarrhea could exacerbate ongoing health issues
- Stool contains blood (a very small streak doesn't necessarily mean it is serious or a real problem, but to be safe, talk to a vet and/or have a health check-up.)
- The stool is dark and tarry
You know your dog best. If something just doesn’t seem right, take your dog to the vet. If you’re not sure whether you need an appointment, you can always call to ask for your veterinarian’s advice.
- D.G. O’Neill, N.R. Coulson, D.B. Church, Demography and disorders of German Shepherd Dogs under primary veterinary care in the UK, Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, 2017, 10.1186/s40575-017-0046-4.
- M. Bovsun, A Survival Guide for Dog Diarrhea, American Kennel Club, 2020.
- A. Burke, The Causes, Treatment, and Symptoms of Puppy Diarrhea, American Kennel Club, 2016.
- PetMD, How to Stop Diarrhea in Dogs, 2016. https://www.petmd.com/dog/emergency/common-emergencies/e_dg_diarrhea
- C. Fernandez, Why is my dog pooping blood? PetMD, 2020. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/digestive/c_dg_melena
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 Sam Shepards