The Scoop on Dog Poop: Is Your Dog's Poop Normal?

Abnormalities in stool color and consistency may indicate an underlying problem.
By Shea Cox DVM, December 2013, Updated June 2020
dog poop black

Illustrations by Natalya Zahn

I’ll be the first to admit that I stand outside watching each and every performance of my dogs’ “poop show.” Watching a dog pooping isn’t just a weird sort of voyeurism—rather, dog poop is a good way to know what’s going on with a dog’s health. If you, too, like to see what’s coming off the production line, keep in mind that the number-one rule of thumb when considering canine elimination is reproducibility. Stools should generally have the same color, size and consistency each and every time.

Many things can cause variations in a dog’s stool. Some of the more common are dietary indiscretions (“garbage gut”) or a change in diet, stress (known as stress colitis), infectious disease, inflammatory conditions, or obstructive processes. Or it may be idiopathic (meaning, we just don’t know what causes it).

A couple of episodes of dog diarrhea generally don’t constitute an emergency. However, there are situations that do warrant an urgent evaluation. When your dog refuses food or water, vomits, or acts ill or “off,” a trip to the vet is indicated.

Your vet may ask you to bring in a stool sample for analysis. A tablespoon is generally plenty. Also, freshness counts; fecal samples less than an hour old give the best results. If you’re not able to collect one this quickly, get a morning sample, double (or triple!) bag it and keep it refrigerated until your dog’s appointment.

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Testing usually starts with a screen for giardia and “O & P,” specifically looking for giardia protozoa as well as ova (eggs) and parasites. During this evaluation, the laboratory technician will also check for overgrowth of normal gastrointestinal (GI) bacteria, which we refer to as clostridial overgrowth. If your dog is acting ill, in addition to having diarrhea, other diagnostics such as blood work and radiographs may be indicated.

FIELD GUIDE: DOG POOP COLOR CODE

Everything you want to know about dog pooping and dog stool color. While normal stools can be many shades of brown, some abnormalities in color and consistency may indicate an underlying problem.

dog poop color variations

1. Streaks of bright red blood and/or mucus on the surface of a mostly normal, formed dog stool. This is generally caused by inflammation in the large intestine, where mucus on the dog poop is secreted to help protect the intestinal lining. While blood in dog stool does not necessarily indicate an emergency, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye out for further changes in your dog’s behavior and stool.

2. Soft-formed to liquid brown diarrhea in dogs, with or without streaks of blood in the stool. “Cow patty” and “soft-serve ice cream” are two frequent descriptors. As with the previous type, it is generally not life-threatening as long as there are no other signs of concern and it begins to improve within 24 to 48 hours. If your dog is acting normally otherwise— eating well, not vomiting, good attitude —a wait-and-see home approach may be tried (more on this to follow). Here again, red blood in dog stool indicates inflammation and bleeding in the colon but does not necessarily mean that your pet is bleeding internally, as is often thought. This is a step up in concern from the previous condition, in the sense that the stool is now softer.

3. A large volume of bloody, watery, diarrhea type dog poop. This one does require immediate evaluation by your veterinarian, especially with smaller dogs, as it can be an indicator of a common condition called hemorrhagic gastroenteritis in dogs, or HGE. If your dog is pooping a large volume of blood, the tissue sloughing from the intestines gives it a distinctive appearance, and it’s often described as “raspberry jam” dog diarrhea or jelly like dog stool with blood.

4. Black, tarry stools. Black dog poop generally indicates bleeding somewhere higher up in the GI tract, such as the stomach or small intestine. and also requires an urgent trip to the vet. A bleeding ulcer (oftentimes caused by steroid or NSAID use) or more generalized bleeding, such as from rat poison, heat stroke or an immune-mediated disease, can display as black, tarry stools. The appearance of the dog poop is due to the presence of digested blood, and can indicate that a large amount of blood is being lost. In these cases, I usually recommend blood work and an ultrasound to better assess the lining of the intestinal tract.

dog poop color variations

5. Yellow-orange or pasty, light stools. This may indicate the development of liver or biliary disease, or a too-rapid transit through the small intestine to the colon. A more thorough examination, including diagnostic tests, is in order.

6. Grey, greasy stools. A possible indicator of inadequate digestion and malabsorption of nutrients from the small intestine, this type of stool is typical of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), also called maldigestion, a disease in which the pancreas no longer functions as it should. The pancreas is responsible for producing digestive enzymes, and without them, nutrients cannot be properly absorbed. Both German Shepherds dogs and Rough-Coated Collies are commonly afflicted with EPI.

7. Green stools. In the ER, I have seen dogs with green stool, and upon examination of the fecal contents, have discovered the cause to be undigested rat bait mixed in with normal stool. This condition also calls for an immediate trip to your veterinarian. Although relatively uncommon, rat poison can also cause both bright blood and dark, tarry stool, so—whether or not you think your dog could have had access to them—please let your veterinarian know if there is any possibility of exposure to rodenticides.

8. Worms. Most of the time, you will not actually see worms in the stool. We typically diagnose worms by looking for their eggs under the microscope; we can tell what type of parasite is present by the shape of the eggs. Occasionally, however, you may see white spaghetti-like shapes (typically, roundworms) in the stool, particularly with puppies. You may also see small flat worms on the outside of the stool or rectum, or “dried rice” in your dog’s sleeping areas. This typically indicates tapeworms, which can take over when fleas are allowed to flourish. Although seeing worms in the stool is not an emergency, an appointment with your vet is in order so you can get medication appropriate for the type of parasite present.

dog digestive system

HOME REMEDIES FOR DOG DIARRHEA

Most cases of diarrhea are generally self-limiting and resolve without elaborate treatment; a bland diet and “tincture of time” often work wonders. That being said, a few additional options can be tried at home to help speed recovery. My own “baby boy” suffers from low-grade inflammatory bowel disease, and we use a combination of bland diet, probiotics and slippery elm for his flare-ups. We occasionally start an antibiotic, generally metronidazole (Flagyl), if the diarrhea has a lot of blood in it or doesn’t improve within  a couple of days.

Many people think that when a dog’s suffering from diarrhea, food should be withheld for 24 hours.  Au contraire. Food actually helps the gut heal by stimulating cells in the  lining of the intestinal tract to keep working. It is, however, recommended that you give small and frequent feedings of a bland diet over the course  of two or three days, and then reintroduce your dog’s regular diet in small amounts over another couple of days.

A bland diet consists of a lean protein, such as boiled chicken or ground meat, in combination with foods such as boiled pasta, cooked rice (read our rice water recipe), low-fat cottage cheese or scrambled eggs. A dollop or two of yogurt can be given with each meal to help restore normal GI flora.

Many probiotics are also available, and your veterinarian is best suited to give you a recommendation. In our home, we use Purina FortiFlora, which comes in packets of palatable powder that can be sprinkled over a meal once daily; Iams Prostora is another option (both are available online). Prostora comes as flavored chew tabs, and my dogs seem to think they’re getting a treat instead of a treatment.

Slippery elm, an easy-to-find Western herb, is one of my favorite natural remedies. It contains mucilage, a substance that becomes a slick gel when mixed with water, and works by coating the stomach and intestines; it also has antioxidants that help relieve inflammation. Provided as a loose powder or in capsule form, the usual dose is 400 mg per 20 to 30 pounds of body weight every eight to 12 hours.  It should be given with water (give it after your dog takes a drink). Please note: Because it coats the digestive tract, it will slow down the absorption of other drugs, and so must be given two hours before or after other medications.

I do not believe in using Imodium or other anti-diarrheal medications.  If you have ever resorted to these medications yourself, you know about the painful gas cramps that can accom- pany them. This happens because the drug essentially forces all that waste matter to stay inside when the body is working hard to eliminate it. There are physiological reasons for diarrhea, and it is best to allow this natural process to happen. Anti-diarrheal medications do not fix the underlying problem, and while your carpet may be cleaner, your pup won’t be happier.

After a bout of diarrhea, a dog may not have a bowel movement for 24 to 48 hours. As long as the dog is doing well otherwise, however, this can be considered to be normal.

If your pet suffers from chronic (long-term and/or frequent) diarrhea, there may be a bigger underlying problem, and further evaluation is warranted. Common causes of chronic diarrhea include inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies (which can develop later in life), tumors in the intestinal tract or maldigestive disorders, to name a few.

A final note: If you do not begin to see an improvement in the character and consistency of your dog’s stools after 24 to 48 hours, have him/her evaluated by your veterinarian. As mentioned earlier, an evaluation is also called for if you notice signs of clinical decline, such as refusal of food or water, vomiting, lethargic behavior, a painful belly, or any other out-of-theordinary behavior or sign. As with most health issues, it’s far better to rule out problems than to ignore them.

Article first appeared in The Bark, Issue 76: Winter 2013

Illustration by Natalya Zahn

Shea Cox earned a veterinary medical degree from Michigan State University in 2001 and has been practicing emergency and critical care medicine since. In 2006, she joined PETS Referral Center. In her spare time, she loves to paint, wield her green thumb and cook up a storm. She shares her days with the three loves of her life: her husband Scott and their two Doberman.