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When Is Loose Stool Something More Dangerous?

June 22, 2020

By pawTree Home Office


There are many things that can cause your pet to have diarrhea. Learn about the most common causes, and what REALLY might be going on with your BFF. This is something every pet parent should know!

Click Here to Watch Pre-Recorded Live


Roger Morgan (00:01):

And we're live. Hello everybody, Instagram world. My name is Roger Morgan. I'm the founder and CEO of pawTree, and I am super excited to be with you today live. We've got a really great Lunch and Learn topic, and I think it's going to really be a great time today. So, we've been doing these for a few weeks, and it's been really [inaudible 00:00:29] impact that we're having to help educate pet parents and help empower pet parents to learn a little bit more about healthy pet ownership. And so, joining me today is Miss Brooke Sloate. Hello Brooke, how are you?

Brooke Sloate (00:45):

Hey Roger, I'm great. How are you?

Roger Morgan (00:47):

I'm doing great.

Brooke Sloate (00:48):


Roger Morgan (00:48):

Thanks for joining me. It's fun to be on Instagram today. We've got folks coming on, I can see. Welcome everybody, we're happy to have you, and Brooke and I are really excited today to talk about a topic that I know is near and dear to all of our hearts. I know we're calling this Lunch and Learn-

Brooke Sloate (01:05):

I'm sorry guys.

Roger Morgan (01:06):

... And lunch is not the best time to talk about poop, but we're going to do it. We're going to do it, aren't we Brooke? We're going to talk about loose stool, and when is loose stool something to that's more dangerous, and by default, when is it not? And so, we're going to cover that. And with no further introduction, Brooke, I'll turn it over to you. Let's get started. This is a topic that I know... All of us deal with dog poop every day, every single day of our lives. Dog and cat poop, right? This is part of being a pet parent, and sometimes there are things that that poop is telling us. And so just getting started here, as we think about pet parents that don't like dealing with diarrhea, I know I don't like dealing with diarrhea. It's certainly uncomfortable for our pets, and certainly uncomfortable for us to clean up after it. And you don't like to see your pets in distress. So, what would cause a pet to have diarrhea? Let's start there. What is the cause of this diarrhea that we sometimes experience in our pets?

Brooke Sloate (02:20):

So, it's a very good question and it's a very good place to start. And again, my apologies you guys. You'll hear me say this a lot, it's all about the waste. And if you can understand what you're looking for with your pet's waste, and if you observe your pets waste, you will learn an awful lot of information about their health. Okay. So, your question was, what could cause diarrhea? And there are many things that could cause a pet to get diarrhea. So, for instance, they could eat something in the yard, or while on a walk, or at the dog park, like leaves or mulch. Maybe they eat some people food that's rich and just doesn't agree with them, right? No people food, right? Also, when changing their diet, you always want to give a pet a proper transition period when you change to a new food, even amongst brands between varieties of food.

Brooke Sloate (03:18):

So usually introducing the new food over a five to seven-day period, mixing more and more of the new food in with the old food each day, or more and more of the new food with the old food, and so on the last day, they're on a 100% of the new food. The issue is that pets have a very sensitive digestive tract, and so you want to keep their base diet constant so as not to upset their stomachs. That's why we talk about [inaudible 00:03:48], because that's a great way to change up their food without changing their diet dramatically. But there is another reason we're hearing about more and more, and that's something called Giardia.

Roger Morgan (04:02):

Okay. I've heard of Giardia. I actually thought it was pronounced Giardia, but Giardia.

Brooke Sloate (04:07):


Roger Morgan (04:08):

Okay, Giardia. So, help us... That is something I have heard about. What is that?

Brooke Sloate (04:14):

Giardia is actually a parasite, and it can infect the gastrointestinal tract of many animals, including dogs and cats, and also including humans. And it will cause diarrhea, it could cause vomiting, weight loss. They could be lethargic, although many infected animals show no signs at all. So, they could have it and show no signs, or they could have it and you'll see massive diarrhea. So, there's different types of Giardia that infect different types of animals. It's rare for Giardia from a pet to transmit to a human. Also, dog and cat Giardia species are different and cannot cross from a dog to a cat or a cat to a dog.

Roger Morgan (04:55):


Brooke Sloate (04:56):

So... Stays within species. Giardia is common throughout the United States and can cause infections at almost any time of the year. Unlike other infectious organisms, Giardia stays longer in the environment when conditions are cool and moist. They like warm and moist, okay? Most dogs become infected by drinking contaminated water with feces. And I'm going to talk more about that in a moment, because you're going to say, "Well, my dog doesn't drink water with feces in it."

Roger Morgan (05:24):

Water with feces, that's right, yeah.

Brooke Sloate (05:28):

But I'm going to explain how that can happen. [crosstalk 00:05:27]. Yeah, exactly.

Roger Morgan (05:31):


Brooke Sloate (05:31):

Because I know you all give your pets fresh water. But then Giardia will then infect the small intestine, and infect the dogs' pass, or shed these microscopic cysts in their stool. And these cysts can infect another dog if ingested. The Giardia cysts are very resistant in the environment, can live for many months under the right conditions. Remember cool and moist. And Giardia is a very common cause of diarrhea in the United States. And we get more and more calls about pets having diarrhea, and this is actually what it ends up being.

Roger Morgan (06:08):

Interesting. So, I have a question for you. Can pets get Giardia from the food they eat?

Brooke Sloate (06:17):

No. Giardia is not caused by processed food. They cannot get it from food.

Roger Morgan (06:23):


Brooke Sloate (06:24):

So, if you've changed your food and they have Giardia, and I'm going to explain how you know that, that's just a coincidence. The timing is just incidental, okay? It's not caused by food. But they can get it several ways. So, I mentioned that most dogs become infected by drinking contaminated water with feces, okay? I'm going to explain that in a second habit happens, but they can also become infected from eating feces of another dog directly. So, if you have a stool eater-

Roger Morgan (06:57):

Yep, we've seen those.

Brooke Sloate (06:59):

Right. Because the Giardia is shed, those cysts are shed in their stool, okay?

Roger Morgan (07:04):


Brooke Sloate (07:05):

Okay. So, let's talk about the feces for a moment. A dog could go outside and step in some infected feces, and then lick it off their paws later, right? So that's a way they can get it. Another way is to ingest it from contaminated water outside that might contain the parasite. Again, it's shed in another pet species. Or they can step in that contaminated water and bring it inside where they lick the water off their paws. Or, they can give it to other pets inside the house by tracking in some contaminated feces or contaminated water that the other pets then ingest, because they've now brought the parasite inside. So, here's a simple example of how this can happen. Let's say you live at the bottom of a hill, or just at the bottom of an incline. And a dog is at that top of the hill or the top of that incline, and that dog has Giardia. And they go to the bathroom and they shed some infectious offspring known as the cysts in their feces, in their backyard.

Brooke Sloate (08:13):

Now the feces stays in their backyard and it starts to rain, and the rainwater carries that those infectious cysts should in dog A's feces at the top of the hill, or few houses up from you, down to your yard where your dog goes out to potty. Your dog steps in that contaminated water in your yard and goes inside and licks his paws. And now your dog may have Giardia as well as maybe other dogs in your home, because they brought it inside your home. It's that easy, okay?

Roger Morgan (08:47):

Yeah. It can happen without even knowing, even to the best of us. No matter how well we plan or how protective we are, it just can happen by life.

Brooke Sloate (08:57):

Yeah. It's in the environment, right?

Roger Morgan (09:00):


Brooke Sloate (09:00):

You can't protect your yard from rainwater and things like that, right?

Roger Morgan (09:04):

Yeah. Or you're taking your pet to the dog park or on a walk where there's plenty of other pets who have been there before, and you don't know what's going on with those animals. Okay.

Brooke Sloate (09:12):

And they will just have to go and sniff, and who knows what else? So, organisms, once they're ingested, they make their way to the intestines and often cause diarrhea. The most common cause of transmission is actually waterborne, as the cysts survive in water and soil, as long as it's relatively what I said, cool and moist. Cool and wet. And then this parasite... Because it prefers the cool and moist environment. An animal can actually swallow a cyst when drinking from a puddle. It's another thing, they could drink from a puddle outside.

Roger Morgan (09:44):

Oh yeah.

Brooke Sloate (09:44):


Roger Morgan (09:46):

I know when my dogs... I was just going to say on the puddle, I didn't understand why I wasn't supposed to let my dogs drink from the puddle, but I knew that that wasn't a good idea. And when we go on a walk, by the time we get to the end of the walk, Jo-Jo in particular, because she's so aggressive and wants to just run and walk and pull, she's very thirsty. So, if we find any little puddles, I know she likes to go find it and I try to keep her from going there. But I see what you mean. I can see how that could be a resting place for Giardia to be in that puddle.

Brooke Sloate (10:21):

Easily, right? So, drink from a puddle or a toilet, when looking their fur. And now that animal can shed cysts in their diarrhea or fresh stool. And after infection, it takes five to 12 days in dogs, or five to 16 days in cats, for Giardia` to be found in the animal's stool. So, they may have it, they may start having diarrhea, you might test them for it, which we're going to talk about in a moment, and they don't have it. But they really do, because it just hasn't shown up yet.

Roger Morgan (10:54):

Interesting. So, I have a question for you, because I know a lot of us... I've been a pet parent pretty much my whole life, and I don't know if my pets have ever had Giardia.

Brooke Sloate (11:05):

You would know.

Roger Morgan (11:05):

I've never really had this thorough of a conversation, as we're having right now. But my question is, how common is it? Because, I mean, obviously we've got a lot of pet people here on this Instagram Live, and we want to try to help people identify this and know what to do with it. How common is it out there in pet land?

Brooke Sloate (11:27):

It's actually really quite common, okay?

Roger Morgan (11:29):


Brooke Sloate (11:30):

It's estimated up to 50% of young puppies will develop this intestinal infection. Up to 100% percent of dogs housed in kennels will develop it. Because they found that infection is more common in a kennel situation where animals are housed in groups. And also, puppies are the same way, right? And it could happen... So, you could say, "Well, how did my puppy get it?" I mean, I had that happen myself with one of my puppies. Got her home, she had Giardia. And it's not that the puppy went outside, certainly not at my house and definitely not at the breeders. But the other dogs went outside and probably tracked some stuff in, and the puppies lick everything and there you have it.

Roger Morgan (12:11):

You can see why, in a kennel environment or in a place where there's a lot of critical mass in a small area, it's really very similar to what we're dealing with right now with COVID-19, right? And social distancing, and in some of the precautions to make sure we're not just transferring. And I'm sure in an environment like that, where you get a lot of puppies together or a kennel where there's a lot of dogs together, and you can imagine how things spread very quickly. Because I was a little bit shocked to hear you say up to 100% of pets in a kennel, but I can see now why, based on what you've explained.

Brooke (12:47):

Yeah. Yeah. No, definitely. So, let's talk about the symptoms now of Giardia.

Roger Morgan (12:54):


Brooke Sloate (12:54):

Okay. So first we said before, Giardia can happen to both dogs and cats. I know I've spent a lot of time on dogs with that, out in the dog park, et cetera. I'm just trying to get a visual in everybody's mind of what can happen. The same thing for a cat that goes outside, or dog... That a cat might go outside or go somewhere, or whatever.

Roger Morgan (13:13):


Brooke Sloate (13:14):

Okay. So different types of Giardia, in fact different types of animals, it's rare for the Giardia, as I mentioned before, from a pet to transmit to a human. And a dog and cat Giardia species, they're different. So, a dog can't get Giardia from a cat, a cat can't get Giardia or from a dog. Say that five times fast. Okay. And the symptoms are diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss, they're being lethargic. It seems to cause problems with normal intestinal absorption of vitamins and other nutrients.

Roger Morgan (13:52):

Okay. So how is Giardia diagnosed?

Brooke Sloate (13:58):

Okay. This is very, very important. In the past, diagnosis was difficult, okay? The stool sample being examined needed to be fresh, plus Giardia rarely showed up in the usual fecal testing method used to detect other parasites. And that's key, because I'll talk to people and I'll ask them, "Have you tested for Giardia?" And they're like, "Oh, well, yeah, they did a stool test." That's not enough, okay?

Roger Morgan (14:26):


Brooke Sloate (14:29):

So, this is really important to remember. You need to ask for a special fecal test, a special Giardia test, so your vet can diagnose Giardia in several different ways. They can view the sample under a microscope at the clinic. They can use the ELISA test kit, which is similar in format to a home pregnancy test, but it's not a home pregnancy test guys, it's a special Giardia test, and it's referred to as the SNAP Giardia test. And this method has dramatically improved the ability to detect Giardia infections, which is really, really important.

Brooke Sloate (15:03):

This test can be completed in just a few minutes while you wait at the clinic, and also your vet can send it out to an outside lab. So, both of those things could happen. Now, sometimes pets need to be retested in order to find an infection, because asymptomatic carrier animals are common as I have mentioned before. So just because they don't test that way or that time... You have to look at a lot of different things, right? If they're having diarrhea, is it the food? Is it something they picked up outside, et cetera, et cetera? But I'm telling you this Giardia stuff you will know, because it's just horrible diarrhea. It's constant. It's terrible, okay?

Roger Morgan (15:43):


Brooke Sloate (15:45):

But the key thing that you need to take away is that the regular fecal test will not detect Giardia. A special test is needed, and you just tell them, "I think my pet has Giardia. Could you please test for Giardia?" Okay?

Roger Morgan (15:59):

Okay. Now I've got just, I think, three kind of wrap up questions. But one is, how has it treated? So, once you know you have it, how does a pet parent treat for it?

Brooke Sloate (16:11):

Okay. So, there's several treatments. There's a broad-spectrum de-wormer, which is called fenbendazole. I'm not good at these big long words here, but that seems to be the most reliable treatment right now, at this time. Metronidazole, which is also known as Flagyl, which is fantastic. IF they take metronidazole in relatively high doses, that's been a classic treatment for Giardia and does seem to work. But studies show that it may only be effective, maybe 65 to 70% of the time. For more resistant cases, both medications are used concurrently, and bed febantel is also commonly used for Giardia, as it converts to the fenbendazole in the body. But there are several things that your vet can use, and they do work, and they will take care of it.

Brooke Sloate (17:13):

Now, because cysts can stick to the fur of the infected patient and be a source of reinfection, the positive animal should receive a bath at least once during the course of the treatment, but definitely the patient needs to have a bath at the end of the treatment course. We just want to get... You don't want this to happen again. Once you've had it, trust me, you do not want to have this again, okay?

Roger Morgan (17:35):

Right, right.

Brooke Sloate (17:35):

And this is another key, key, key thing. It is very important to get your pets retested after completing their meds to ensure that you already are gone, otherwise your pet will continue to have Giardia, continue to have the diarrhea and other symptoms, until the infection is cleared. And that's a problem that a lot of pet parents... That the diarrhea goes away, you take a big sigh of relief, "Thank goodness it's gone," but it really isn't gone. And then it comes back and you're like, "What do I do? That didn't work." It's just that you just need to retest to make sure it's gone.

Roger Morgan (18:08):

Okay. Now earlier you mentioned humans. Can humans get Giardia?

Brooke Sloate (18:14):

Short answer to that, Roger, is rarely. So, concern is really pretty low, in general.

Roger Morgan (18:20):


Brooke Sloate (18:21):

But to play it safe, wear gloves to dispose of pet waste, and always thoroughly wash hands before eating. If you're doing anything with waste, wash your hands.

Roger Morgan (18:30):

Okay. And I know you can't obviously go clean and disinfect the entire world, and everywhere you walk your pets or let your pets play. But is there anything that we can do to get Giardia out of my yard?

Brooke Sloate (18:47):

So, Giardia cysts are killed in environments by freezing temperatures and direct sunlight.

Roger Morgan (18:56):


Brooke Sloate (18:56):

So, if neither of these are available... When I say available, mother nature... To disinfect the area, a chemical disinfectant will be needed. The most effective disinfectant that's readily available is probably bleach diluted in water. And one study that I read indicates that it really requires less than a minute of contact to kill Giardia cysts with that.

Roger Morgan (19:22):

Oh wow.

Brooke Sloate (19:24):

Ammonia compounds can also be used to kill Giardia, however decontamination with a chemical disinfectant should not be used around lawns or plants, as the chemicals will kill them. So, it's best to allow those areas to dry out in direct sunlight. Hopefully mother nature is on your side and can help you here. And also, one last thing, animals should be... We talked about bathing. They should be thoroughly bathed before being reintroduced into the clean area, because otherwise they'll contaminate the clean area.

Roger Morgan (19:53):


Brooke Sloate (19:55):

And a properly chlorinated swimming pool, this has come up too. A lot of people want to know. They have pools. They should not be able to become contaminated, because they've been coordinated.

Roger Morgan (20:07):

Okay. Wow.

Brooke Sloate (20:08):

So, this is a big topic. This is more common than you would imagine. We get more questions about... Not questions about Giardia, but it ends up that the problem is Giardia. People are thinking it's the food or thinking something else, and nine times out of 10, when I ask them to please go and get a test at the vet, it's Giardia. So, it's more common than you would think. We hear about it all the time.

Roger Morgan (20:35):

It's great to be empowered. You know, when we know things like this, we can be observant. We can watch, we can be mindful, we know how to act and how to treat this quickly. Because it really is, it's uncomfortable. Obviously for the pets, they don't want to have excessive diarrhea, and certainly we don't either, especially in our homes. It's frustrating, and it's frustrating for everybody. And so being aware of this, I think awareness is a really big part of the answer, just to be aware that this is a common problem, and it's much more common. I appreciate your insights, because I'm leaving this Live, knowing that it's a much bigger, more common problem than I certainly understood before this.

Roger Morgan (21:18):

And so now I feel empowered that if I do see something, you know, excessive diarrhea, it's on my radar to say, "Hey, you know what? Let me get the proper test. Let me go to my vet and make sure I ask for that specifically." And then the vet... Even if I don't remember everything that you helped educate us with today, if I know that much and I can get that treated with my veterinarian, I'm sure my veterinarian can help me manage through the process and help my pet have more comfort, more relief, and me less frustration with cleaning up after accidents. So very helpful. Thank you, Brooke. A wonderful Lunch and Learn. We'll be back again next week.

Brooke Sloate (22:01):

Well, it was a wonderful learn. I don't know if many people lunched during this time.

Roger Morgan (22:03):

That's right. Maybe not this time, but... Well we'll be back. We've been doing these Lunch and Learns every Friday at 12:30 central time, and we're rotating back and forth between Facebook Live and Instagram Live. You guys have a great day. Brooke, thanks again for spending some of your time and imparting your wonderful wisdom to help us all be better pet parents. And I hope everybody-

Brooke (22:27):

My pleasure. Thank you.

Roger Morgan (22:29):

Wonderful. All right. Have a great weekend everybody.

Brooke Sloate (22:32):

Thank you. Take care. Bye-bye.

Roger Morgan (22:34):