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Treating Diarrhea in Newborn Puppies or Kittens

Diarrhea in newborn puppies or kittens is always a concern. Being 75 percent water, these babies are prone to dehydration. Assessing dehydration in newborns should be done by checking the gums for moisture and monitoring urine color. You can rub their urethral opening with a white cotton ball or white paper towel. If the puppy or kitten is well hydrated, the urine should be very pale yellow. Dark urine, tacky gums and failure to gain weight are all signals of dehydration. Checking the skin to see if it “tents” is not accurate in newborns as they have less body fat than adults, making this assessment inaccurate.

What To Do If Puppies Get Diarrhea

There are two different ages of concern. The first is less than two weeks and the other is over two weeks old.
Under Two Weeks Old First assess dehydration – use a cotton ball to stimulate urination. At this age, they have little kidney function and should have little or no color to urine. If they have any color at all, newborn is getting dehydrated and is in need of veterinary intervention.
Over Two Weeks Old The babies’ activity levels often tell us how dehydrated they are, but the cotton ball technique also works. Those aggressively seeking the nipple and nursing are OK with minimal treatment. If not, intervene.

Why Do Puppies Get Diarrhea

What causes puppies to get diarrhea can be sometimes tricky to determine. There are several puppy diarrhea causes including:

    • Bacterial infections such as Salmonella, Clostridium Campylobacter and E. Coli
    • Antibiotic misuse
    • SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
    • Diet changes
    • Water change
    • Inappropriate food intake
    • Puppy overfeeding diarrhea
    • Toxins
    • Cancer
    • Inflammatory bowl disease
    • Malabsorption
    • Metabolic disease
    • Liver disease
    • Pancreatic disease
    • And other causes

How to Treat Puppy Diarrhea

  • Electrolytes in water is often referred to as “Baby Gatorade”. Breeder’s Edge® Puppy and Kitten Lyte are chicken flavored and are received well, as is Rebound Recuperation Formula. These options all work well for both kittens and puppies diarrhea.
    • Warm in bottle and let babies nurse it down. By bottle feeding them for one feeding, the electrolytes will help to counter the dehydration.
    • Pedialyte can be used in an emergency but dilute 50/50 with water as it is too sweet for a puppy or kitten and they don’t nurse the Pedialyte as well.
  • Warm electrolytes can be given as an enema and is a good hydration technique. If using injectable type fluids, three to five cc/lb warmed is a good start. Hold tail down until relaxed so they don’t expel.
  • Injectable subcutaneous fluids can be used in addition to oral electrolytes. This is particularly helpful when there is vomiting as the newborn will dehydrate further if they cannot keep fluids down. These should be given under the skin, over the shoulders, warm, with a small gauge needle. The average dose is 10 cc per pound of body weight PLUS the amount you estimate needed to compensate for loss through vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Kaolin Pectin or Pet Pectillin are both good diarrhea options, and they do not have the bite that the human product Pepto-Bismol does. Dosing is one cc per pound, and it is best to divide it up and give it over a 30-minute time frame. Giving twice a day will coat the gut and help with cramping colic.
  • Give a probiotic such as Breeder’s Edge Nurture Flora to both orphan and nursing puppies and kittens. Newborns get normal gut bacterial flora from mom when she cleans them. For best results, use probiotics designed to bypass stomach acid and enzymes. Breeder’s Edge® Nurture Flora gel will bypass stomach immune response, plus this product has BG Mos®, which adheres to bad bacteria rendering them inactive. Nurture Flora is specifically formulated for newborn puppies and kittens from birth to three months of age.
  • An antibiotic is important if they are feverish.
    • Under two weeks: Usually not infectious in nature and antibiotic is rarely needed. Use Amoxicillin or Clavamox at 10 mg/lb (divided into three doses daily). You can put in milk replacer.
    • Over two weeks: Amoxicillin has worked well but Cephalexin 10 mg/lb (twice daily) is also relatively safe. With kidney and liver function minimal until six weeks, use caution going to sulfa until after weaning.
    • Nursing baby diarrhea from Coccidia is secondary and rarely considered a diarrhea cause here. Kittens nursing Coccidiosis is unusual. Treat all babies with Albon. We also use in moms pre-birth safely after day 50 of pregnancy.

Puppy Overeating Diarrhea

Puppy loose stool overfeeding is a common issue with C-Section moms. When the mom is late with her milk and then it does finally come in, puppies and kittens are hungry so they overeat and end up with diarrhea. For overeating diarrhea, we give electrolytes, such as Breeder’s Edge® Puppy or Kitten Lyte to fill their tummies so they feel full and back off nursing. That usually solves it. To prevent this from happening in her next litter, use Breeder’s Edge® Oxy Momma two to three days pre-whelping to make sure mom lactates from day one.

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Is It Normal for a Puppy to Have Diarrhea?

Puppies having diarrhea should not be something you just learn to live with. Reoccurring litters with diarrhea should not be tolerated. If you are fighting diarrhea more than occasional, call us for help. We like to rule out virus and manage to prevent mom from passing bad bacteria to babies when cleaning post-birth. Fenbendazole should be administered once daily from day 42 of pregnancy through day 14 of lactation. (Safeguard is labeled for pregnant and nursing.) this will prevent the migration of intentional parasites through the placenta and mammary glands and into the intestinal tract of newborn puppies. Parasites immunosuppression of mom cannot be tolerated because the babies will pay the price. Preventing parasites from invading the intestinal tracts of young puppies reduces the risk they will contract bacterial and viral diseases in their critical first few months of life.

Long-term control is achieved by putting moms on probiotic. It is important that you use a probiotic designed to pass the stomach acid or your results will be disappointing. Try Doc Roy’s® GI Synbiotics Gel and Granules if you want to put in food and Health-Gard liquid if you want to go in water. Use 30 days before birth and two weeks after birth. Both bypass the stomach and become active in the intestine where it is needed. The goal is to get mom’s gut normal so mom gives only good bacteria to her kittens or puppies. With time, we will get rid of the cause from our mom’s system. It has worked well on issues such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and E-Coli diarrhea.

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It is always helpful to get a diagnosis if diarrhea cannot be controlled. Fecal samples can be tested to assess for parasites but testing at under three weeks of age will not likely show parasites. Roundworms and hookworms must be at least three weeks old (as well as the puppies being three weeks old) to product eggs that can be seen on real analysis. Additional testing for coccidia and giardia (ELISA test) is also important to confirm a diagnosis and to establish an effective treatment plan. Until we find the answer, we do have techniques that help control the issue.

If you need more help with what to do if puppies get diarrhea, call us at 800.786.4751.

Article originally written by Donald Bramlage, DVM, Revival’s Former Director of Veterinary Services.

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.