Puppy Diarrhea – Common Causes

Most puppies do well in the nursing and weaning period if we get them eating, gaining weight and growing. Their resistance is given to them by mom with colostrum antibodies and that should protect them until weaning. But what if it doesn’t?

Puppy diarrhea has a cause, and we need to get to the issue. We also need to understand what testing says and what it does not say. We need to stop treating diarrhea as a casual visitor and start looking at it as a criminal who is costing you time and occasionally the lives of your puppies - we need to eliminate it!

Testing is important. When we lose puppies for no reason, we ice them down and if possible, take them to the state diagnostic lab. The investigating veterinarian will be able to give you more accurate results if he gets the body quickly, so don’t wait too long. The next best thing is to have your veterinarian take samples of the feces, intestines or anything else affected inside the puppy and send it overnight to the lab.

What if we are not losing babies but see diarrhea?
PCR testing on feces is fast and rules in or out the common elements of the diarrhea. The PCR testing is done at State labs or IDEXX Laboratories, and it picks up the genetic material of the organism and confirms its presence. You and your veterinarian have to sort out the relevance to your case. These tests look overwhelming so do not get excited until you interpret it with your veterinarian.

Here are some common organisms that we test for:

CRYPTOSPORIDIUM

This tiny parasite is often diagnosed with Giardia, especially in catteries. Cryptosporidium diarrhea is intermittent, and there is lots of it. Crypto is a common issue in livestock. This organism does not often cause issues in the kennel but does in the cattery. When present, Crypto always contributes to the diarrhea problem. In catteries and kennels with issues eliminating Crypto, giving Paromomycin orally, twice daily for 5 days will eliminate it. Paromomycin is not absorbed well and stays in the gut, so it is very safe at the labeled dose. Controlling Giardia and Sulfas have been successful in puppies but less so in kittens. (For more information, read Cryptosporidium in Dogs)

GIARDIA

This organism causes intermittent diarrhea, and people have fits while trying to eliminate it. You should always assume that Giardia is present, unless you take the proper steps to prevent it. If you don’t prevent Giardia, it will show up! The diarrhea is usually accompanied by bacterial overgrowth, which is one reason for why Metronidazole is used. We get cultures of the bacteria but control of Giardia usually controls the bacteria, as well. (Read Giardia in Cats and Dogs for treatment information).

CLOSTRIDIUM PERFRINGENS TOXIN

Clostridium toxin often kills babies and is known as overeating in livestock. Carbohydrates feed these bacteria, and when present, Clostridium can overgrow to huge numbers. When the puppy is put on antibiotics, the bacteria is killed, releasing large amounts of toxin and killing the puppy. This organism is often present when you support a baby with high glucose supplements for hypoglycemia. You must read a Clostridium positive as likely caused by a high calorie diet if used (Forti Cal/Nutri Cal/Dyne). Switch to high protein/fat supplements with long-term feeding (Royal Canine Recovery diet or all-meat baby food) to avoid Clostridium issues.

SALMONELLA SPECIES

Salmonella is bad news for nursing puppies, and it kills them quickly. When present, we always look for the contamination or the source. Salmonella diarrhea often has blood in it and is accompanied by quick weight loss. Puppies can start looking thin in 24 hours. Vomiting usually accompanies this disease, so it's often mistaken for Parvovirus. A source of infection often arises from feeding poultry products to the moms or the puppies. The cure is to not cook for your moms or puppies and never feed raw meat. A less common source is water contaminated by rodents.

PARVOVIRUS

Parvovirus frustrates breeders as most samples come back positive and most are not the cause of death. The positive sample can come from vaccinating with a modified live virus vaccine because the test picks it up. Be sure to inform the lab when the puppy being examined was vaccinated as the PCR test will pick up the genetic material from the vaccine. You will find Parvo. Your veterinarian can help you decide if it is a player. If you have not vaccinated the puppy and Parvo is diagnosed, Parvo is a player. (For more information, read Parvo in Dogs and Puppies)

DISTEMPER

Distemper positive can also be triggered by the vaccine as above. Distemper often has a respiratory component and can look like Kennel Cough with diarrhea. That helps sort out the significance of the test when vaccination was given. (For more information, read Distemper in Dogs)

CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus can look exactly like Parvo or be quite mild. The difference is Corona puppies drink and usually keep fluids down – Parvo puppies won’t drink. If Coronavirus is accompanied by any of these pathogens, this will increase the severity of the virus and kill the puppy. When present, it is significant. Vaccinate mom to take Corona out of the equation with colostrum antibodies, and treat the next issue present.

CAMPYLOBACTER JEJUNI/COLI

Campylobacter species have caused significant loss in kennels within the past few years. Carrier moms give this bug to puppies when she is stressed during birth and nursing. Although Campylobacter causes few issues in adults, it can be much more serious in puppies. Campylobacter diarrhea has typically been at weaning to 9 weeks but recently has affected end-of-nursing puppies. Everything seems to help kennels when treating Campy but nothing cures. Diarrhea is mild to severe in the same litter and carrier animals keep the issue in the kennel. When we diagnose it, we treat by directing the effort at eliminating puppy loss first. Then we work on getting it out of the breeding stock so carriers are eliminated. Choosing the correct antibiotic is critical here because most of them do not touch Campylobacter. (For more information, read Campylobacteriosis in Dogs)


If you need help, call us at 1-800-786-4751.

-Dr. B
Don Bramlage, DVM, Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health

The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of a qualified veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.

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