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What is Your Dog’s Poo Telling You?

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Whether we think about it or not, pet parents have an intimate relationship with their dogs’ poop. We pick it up in our backyards and on walks, often with only a thin layer of plastic separating it from our skin. Perhaps it is not the best part about having a dog, but it is a task most people are willing to put up with. Picking it up can prevent the spread of disease and monitoring your dog’s stool can be a crucial window into his or her overall health—making it one of the most important jobs you can do for them.

Dogs have some odd bathroom habits that we humans do not fully understand. For example, a study in 2013 found that dogs of various breeds tend to align themselves with Earth’s magnetic field, generally in a North-South fashion1 when they are relieving themselves. And they have a tendency to eat poop2, but no one really knows why.

Dog poop habits are shrouded in mystery.

What we do understand, though, is that your dog’s poop can indicate whether he needs a trip to the vet. There are four main characteristics to consider when evaluating dog poop, called the Four C’s: color, consistency, contents, and coating3,4. These four things together can let you know if your dog has gastrointestinal bleeding, parasites, or other diseases. A simple measure to know whether the problem is worth a vet’s attention is to monitor at least two stool deposits or more over the course of a day (unless your dog may have swallowed something poisonous). If it persists, call your veterinarian.

Color

Normal stools are usually a light brown, almost like chocolate5. Of course, this can vary depending on the ingredients or colorants in specific brands or types of food you are feeding your dog. However, drastic changes in color can indicate digestive or intestinal problems. Some well-known examples are3,5:

Consistency

Veterinarians often use a numerical scoring system to rank stool consistency ranging from 1 to 74. The more solid a stool is, the lower the number. A score of 1 is given to hard pellets, while a shapeless pool represents a 7. For pets, the ideal score is a 2, meaning that it is firm but is malleable to the touch. Hard pellets (1) are a sign of dehydration or highly digestible, low fiber diet, while a puddle (7) can indicate that not enough water is being absorbed. Watery stools can also be a sign of infection and need immediate checking if other symptoms present alongside, but it often clears up on its own.

Long-term diarrhea is also associated with inflammatory bowel disease--a condition linked to an imbalanced gut microbiome. Scientists are working to understand this relationship with the goal of developing ways to manipulate intestinal bacteria, perhaps with dog probiotics.  

Contents

This may not be the most attractive part of owning a pet, but it can be worthwhile to find out if your dog is getting into something he should not be. Dog stool might contain grass, rocks, or other random bits from outside3,4. If your dog loves to dig through the trash, you might even find fragments of plastic. The contents of feces can also help identify parasitic infections. For instance, if your dog’s stool has a normal brown color, but it is flecked with white, it might mean that your dog has tapeworms.

Coating

Part of the digestive process in dogs involves mucus3,4. The lower intestinal tract produces a thin layer of lubricant to help stool pass more easily, which occasionally coats dog poop. However, inflammation caused by food intolerance or chronic gastrointestinal issues of the lower colon can increase the production of mucus, resulting in frequent slime-covered stools. If you are constantly picking up slippery stools around your backyard, check in with your vet to see if you need to change your dog’s diet or get them treatment.

If your dog has some abnormal poops that resolve quickly, especially if he is acting normally, then it should be okay to leave him to his own devices. However, if the problem persists for more than 24 hours and is associated with a change in behavior, it is definitely time to call the vet for diagnosis and treatment options. It is best for your dog to be happy and healthy, but it also prevents the spread of contagious diseases.


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References

1. Hart, V. et al. Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth’s magnetic field. Front. Zool. 10, 80 (2013).
2. Hart, B. L., Hart, L. A., Thigpen, A. P., Tran, A. & Bain, M. J. The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy. Vet Med Sci 4, 106–114 (2018).
3. Donovan, L. What Your Dog’s Poop Says About His Health. American Kennel Club (2015). Available at: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/dogs-poop-says-health/. (Accessed: 5th December 2018)
4. What Should My Dog’s Poop Look Like? | petMD. Available at: https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/how-should-my-dogs-poop-look. (Accessed: 5th December 2018)
5. Naviglia, N. What Does Dog Poop Color Mean? | CanineJournal.com. CanineJournal.com (2015). Available at: https://www.caninejournal.com/dog-poop-color/. (Accessed: 5th December 2018)