What Your Dog's Poop Is Trying To Tell You

Feb 15, 2021


As a responsible dog parent who picks up after your pet, you have an…intimate relationship with poop. Doggie poop bags and your trusty dooloop make lugging canine by-products home or to the nearest waste receptacle almost no chore at all. Still, did you notice that pup poop doesn’t always look (or feel) the same? Why does your dog's poop look like that, and what’s your pup’s BM trying to tell you? 

Let’s geek out a bit about the need-to-know on dog poop!

What’s a “good poop?”

Let's get real here. A good poop is a firm, moist, log-shaped poop that doesn’t leave much residue behind. You should be able to make a clean get-away if your dog deposits a healthy poop in a public place. Safely secured with your dooloop, you don’t need to give that poop bag and its contents a second thought as you continue on your walk

But sometimes your pup walks away from an unusual poop that makes you pause. A little too loose, a little too hard...or maybe it’s just not the normal deep brown color. You find yourself unexpectedly thinking more seriously about...poop.

Your veterinarian will want to see any unusual poop in person. The fresher the sample, the better. Stool samples should be refrigerated if you can’t take it immediately to your vet, and it’s best if it’s less than 24 hours old. 

Here’s the quick-and-dirty on a too-loose or too-hard bowel movement

Some causes of diarrhea include:

  • A change in diet
  • Stress
  • Parasites
  • Viruses like parvovirus, which is especially dangerous to puppies, and canine distemper.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Life-threatening health conditions like organ failure and cancer

Some causes of constipation may include:

  • Diet
  • Dehydration
  • Ingestion of objects that cause an intestinal obstruction
  • Lack of exercise and obesity
  • Impacted anal glands
  • Matted hair blocking the anus
  • Certain medications
  • Back pain that makes it difficult for your dog to position himself to defecate

What resources can help you describe your dog’s unusual poop to your veterinarian?

Health professionals have helped us out on this – complete with charts for both humans and animals. These resources may seem funny, embarrassing or a bit gross (depending on your sense of humor or curiosity) but they do provide helpful comparisons.

  • The Bristol stool chart is a human reference that can help you describe your own poo issues to your medical doctor. The best first step in dog poo-dentification is thinking about personal past experiences with unusual bowel movements. You’ll be far more sympathetic to your dog’s own digestive distress if you remember your own!
  • Purina has an in-depth library of charts on the shapes and consistency of dog poo, from photographs to charts and even a color wheel. 
  • Dogtime.com also presents additional photographs, if you need additional real-life images of the perils of poop.

Why would my dog’s poop change color?

If your dog’s BM shows a drastic change in color, take a picture with your smartphone before you pick it up, save the stool sample, and contact your veterinarian. The Purina color wheel provides this guidance:

  • Yellow/orange could be caused by liver issues
  • Red streaks may be fresh blood
  • Black stools can indicate bleeding in the upper intestines
  • Gray, greasy stools may indicate issues with the pancreas or bile duct.
  • Green stools could be caused by grass-eating or gall bladder problems.
  • Dogtime.com suggests that white chalky stools can be caused by too much calcium, sometimes from a raw diet that includes bones.

How does my veterinarian get answers from my dog’s poop?

First your veterinarian will use visual examination.

The color of your dog’s stool may lead your veterinarian to suspect an underlying health issue like those noted above.

Tapeworms are sometimes clearly visible as small rice-like segments around your dog’s anus or on the surface of your dog’s stool.

Microscopic examination. Your veterinarian or a laboratory will use a microscope to identify parasites by the eggs, larvae, and cysts that are shed in feces. Common dog intestinal parasites that can be identified this way include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and coccidia (a protozoa). However, a parasite might be at a life stage that’s not producing eggs, so a negative test doesn’t necessarily indicate a dog isn’t infected. Your veterinarian might choose to treat your dog as a precaution.

Fecal antigen testing. Active infections of parasites like Cryptosporidium and Giardia are often identified by lab tests that detect their antigens. An antigen is a molecule that is present on the surface of the parasite

Fecal culture. If a bacterial infection is suspected, a laboratory can place a stool smear in a special dish to allow bacteria to grow. Culture can also be used to help identify the protozoan Tritrichomonas

Blood testing: Some intestinal parasites like Toxoplasma are best identified by a blood test run at a laboratory.

Fecal DNA testing is now also used to help identify viral, bacterial and parasite infections.  

Additional blood testing, radiographs, and other tests for non-parasite causes. If your veterinarian rules out a parasitic infection, she or he will test your dog more closely for underlying health issues like polyps, liver and gall bladder disease, and intestinal tumors, among others.

How does my dog get intestinal parasites? 

Not surprisingly, internal parasites usually infect a dog through oral ingestion.

  • Tapeworms infect dogs who eat contaminated fleas or host animals.
  • Roundworms can infect your dog if he or she ingests infected feces or small animals.
  • Hookworms can burrow into the skin or be ingested if your dog plays in an infected yard.
  • Whipworms can be ingested if your dog sniffs or eats infected dirt
  • Coccidia is a single-celled protozoan ingested through dirt or the feces of an infected animal
  • Your dog can get Giardia, another protozoan, by drinking water contaminated by infected animals or ingesting contaminated feces
  • Toxoplasmosis can be caused by eating undercooked contaminated meat or the feces of an infected cat.

Can humans get infected with parasites from dog poop?

Yes, there are some parasites that can use both dogs and humans as hosts, so it’s important to practice good hygiene, to protect your dog from infection, and to seek veterinary help if you suspect your dog isn’t feeling well.  Petsandparasites.org also offers additional good-sense suggestions like minimizing exposure to high-traffic pet areas, feeding pets cooked (not entirely raw) foods, cleaning up pet feces, keeping up with your dog’s annual veterinary visits and fecal checks, and asking your veterinarian about effective prevention and control measures.

Still curious about poop?

If you haven’t had your fill of facts about poop, these articles provide even more info:

What else can I learn about poop that’s not quite so icky?

More than you might ever expect! Commercial DNA fecal tests are being used to by some apartment complexes to identify dog parents who don’t pick up their dog’s business. In the future, you might be asked to swab your dog’s mouth to provide a DNA sample when you sign your lease, and any dog poop you leave unattended may come back to haunt you if your landlord gets a DNA match.

Poop may be your dog’s ID card of the future!

No worries for you, though. Since you are a stellar pet parent armed with your dooloop and poop-bags, you and your dog aren’t likely to be busted as poo-petrators. If you’re at all concerned about being caught unprepared, an extra roll of poop-bags and a backup dooloop are sensible items for your car’s emergency kit.

And that’s the poop!

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