Resource Center Menu

What Is Your Dog's Poop Telling You?

By Katie Sabella, DVM

As a pet parent you may or may not be intimately in tune with your furry friend’s eliminations, but whether you like it or not, you should take what happens during potty time seriously. 

Your dog’s poop can tell you a lot about their diet, digestive health and overall well-being. Even though it may be a hush-hush topic or one that seems a little gross, poop is super important, because, well, as that children’s book taught us, everybody poops!

The three Cs—consistency, color and content—are all significant when evaluating your dog’s eliminations. It’s why every puppy should have a fecal test at their first checkup and why your veterinarian recommends an annual stool evaluation. 

Now that you know how important your dog’s bowel movements really are, let’s dive in and take a closer look at what your dog’s poop may be telling you.

What does “normal” dog poop look like?

Normal poop is somewhat subjective and can vary from dog to dog, but healthy fecal matter is usually a rich brown color and well formed. Depending on your dog’s weight and diet, the volume, size and frequency of poop will also vary. For example, an adult Chihuahua on a small breed diet will have smaller and less voluminous poop than an older Chow on a weight loss diet.

Most dogs should have at least one bowel movement a day, but many will have two to three. They may vary in consistency, color and content throughout the day depending on the level of hydration and what your pup is eating (kind of like us).

Events like anesthesia and illness, which may be accompanied by poor to absent appetite, hospitalization or slow GI motility, can affect the frequency and volume of bowel movements, too, decreasing them significantly. For post-op and sick patients, don’t be alarmed if they’re not producing droppings every day. It can take a little time for a compromised pup to become regular again.

Always consider the circumstances: have you changed your dog’s diet? Given different treats or table food? Has your dog been sick recently or had surgery?

Remember that variations are normal. So, don’t become alarmed if one poop is slightly softer than another, a mildly different color, or a tad smaller than usual. What’s not normal is an abrupt and persistent deviation from your dog’s regimen without obvious cause, and especially if they’re displaying concurrent signs of illness.

What does abnormal poop look like?

To look at what bad poop is, let’s revisit the three Cs:

Consistency

While some poop may be softer than others, chronic soft or liquid stool is a red flag. Drippy piles may indicate an infection, parasites, a dietary indiscretion (think: raiding the trash), a food sensitivity or a metabolic disease.

Dogs pick up viral and bacterial infections just like we do, causing stomach flu-like symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. And because dogs are dogs, they tend to put things in their mouths that they shouldn’t, like dead things, garbage and standing water. Then there are pet owners, who can unintentionally upset the proverbial gastrointestinal cart by feeding their dogs rich table scraps like bacon (a no-no!).

Our canine companions may also suffer from food allergies or hypersensitivities that send their guts into hyperdrive. Additionally, certain diseases affecting the pancreas, stomach, small intestines and colon can cause chronic runs.

All of these scenarios can result in loose poop or diarrhea and should not be overlooked, especially if symptoms last more than two days and are coupled with vomiting, lethargy,or poor appetite. Dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities can set in quickly, especially in young and/or small animals, resulting in serious illness.

On the flip side, very hard or dry poop can indicate dehydration or a lack of essential nutrients, like fiber. If you catch your dog straining and only producing small amounts of pebble-like stool, talk with your veterinarian about remedies and whether your dog needs to be evaluated.

Keep in mind that straining may not always be due to constipation. Dogs with diarrhea will often strain due to fecal urgency, or feeling like they have to go all the time. Keep a careful watch on what’s coming out so you can supply your veterinarian with the most accurate history possible, and when in doubt, always bring a stool sample to your appointment.

Color

As previously mentioned, canine bowel movements should be a warm brown color. Foodstuffs containing dyes may alter the shade, making poop uniformly orange-ish or even a little red, while consuming lots of leafy greens, like grass, may make poop look green-ish. Pumpkin and sweet potato can also result in a yellowish hue.

Concerning colors include black or tarry stool, bright red stool, and gray or pale stool.

Black or tarry stool frequently indicates bleeding in the stomach or small intestines and can be due to conditions like ulcers, growths or tumors, coagulation disorders or trauma. The poop appears tarry or black because the blood has been digested by your dog’s body.

Tarry-looking poop warrants an immediate trip to your veterinarian. However, don’t be fooled by over-baked poops: piles that have been sitting in the sun for a few hours will sometimes look darker or even black. Be sure to evaluate a fresh sample.

Red stool may indicate bleeding from the colon. This blood has not been digested and is usually bright red in color. Bright red blood in the stool may be due to severe colitis (inflammation of the colon), bacterial infections, parasites, growths or tumors, or trauma.

Large amounts of bright red or bloody poop can result in severe dehydration and anemia (low red blood cell count) in some cases. If your pooch is pooping blood, don’t wait—make a veterinary appointment right away.

Pale or grayish stool may be due to pancreatic insufficiency, vitamin and mineral deficiencies or any other of a number of gastrointestinal diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease. Persistently pale poop, especially when accompanied by weight loss and/or diarrhea, warrant a trip to, you guessed it, your veterinarian!

Content

What’s immediately visible in your dog’s bowel movements is significant, too.

Mucus or poop encased in a slimy sack may indicate a bacterial infection, a parasitic infestation, maldigestion or malabsorption.

Live or dead worms or particles that look like rice grains are not welcome visitors. They tend to be common in puppies and young dogs and dogs not on consistent heartworm and flea and tick preventives. Treatment usually requires several doses of a dewormer spaced two to three weeks apart. While some dewormers are available over the counter, not all dewormers treat all types of worms. Defer to your veterinarian and allow him or her to diagnose and treat the creepy-crawlies by running a fecal test.

Grass may also be seen in your dog’s poop. Ask yourself how often and how much grass is present at a given time. Dogs normally eat a small amount of grass for healthy digestion. A few blades popping up every so often is no biggie, but large volumes of grass in your dog’s poop on a daily basis usually indicate something is wrong, such as a nutritional deficiency or chronic nausea. Grass can easily accumulate and ball up in the stomach and small intestines, causing gastrointestinal obstructions, so try to stay vigilant about your dog’s yard grazing.

Socks, rocks, underwear, action figures and bones may occasionally appear in your dog’s poop. This is a sign that you must be more vigilant in your home and outside as a GI obstruction can lead to hospitalization and/or surgery and can even kill your dog. Secure the laundry, lock up the trash, make the kids pick up their toys and watch what your dog is putting in their mouth.  

As unpleasant as it is to analyze your dog’s fecal matter, keeping tabs on your dog’s poop is a proactive way of staying on top of your pet’s health. Remember: anything abnormal lasting more than two days and/or accompanied with other signs of illness should be evaluated by your veterinarian.