What Your Dog’s Poop Is Telling You
We scoop it, we bag it, we toss it. Picking up after our dog is just part of the job. And while your dog’s poop may feel like nothing to write home about, their business can actually tell you a lot about their health and habits.
Here’s exactly what to look for before you bend down to clean up after your pet, so you can help your furry best friend live their healthiest and happiest life.
What does normal dog poop look like?
It’s important to establish what’s “normal” for your dog before you start picking apart their stool, as every dog’s gut is different. Changes from your dog’s healthy standard are what you’re looking for.
Everytime you scoop your dog’s poop, you should do a quick visual assessment of their excrement. (Sounds gross, we know. But we promise it gets easier.)
Check out the color, content, consistency, size, shape, and even smell (just a whiff!). And try and keep a record of just how often your dog is relieving themselves. If anything seems immediately concerning to you or you notice any other signs your dog may not be feeling well, call your vet.
Change creates change
Keep in mind that a little variation never hurts — in fact sometimes, it helps. But new medications, a new diet, changes in water consumption, age, anxiety and even differences in day-to-day activity levels can all result in some normal and expected fluctuations in your dog’s poop.
Nevertheless, science has led us to a pretty good idea of what’s typical of a dog’s stool and what isn’t, so here’s what to keep in mind when you put the magnifying glass up to their discharge.
Dog poop colors
Any color outside of your pet’s norm deserves some extra attention, however, color alone can’t tell us everything.
There are multiple potential causes behind a less-than-typical color, on top of the natural variation among dogs. Sometimes a color change is a flag that something's off, and sometimes it’s just the result of your dog’s gut going through an adjustment period.
Let’s examine the spectrum of dog poop colors and what they could represent.
It’s the color that springs to mind when you see the word “poop”, and there’s a reason for that — healthy poop is usually a rich dark brown. While a new hue isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, it’s typically good to see your dog’s stool fall within the brown color palette.
When your dog’s poop is black, this can indicate partially digested blood, meaning that the bleeding is occurring somewhere in the upper GI tract. However, this color can sometimes also indicate an intestinal infection or parasite, inflammation, ulcer or tumor development. Consumption of dirt can also at times give stool a black appearance, but all in all, black is one of the colors we don’t want to see.
Streaks of red across your dog’s poop indicate fresh blood in the lower GI tract (colon and rectum) — check for any visible cuts, trauma or inflammation. Then pay close attention to see if the bleeding stops. Fresh blood looks alarming, but unless the volume is severe, it’s generally not enough to cause immediate panic. Dogs with colitis frequently get some fresh blood showing up in their stool, and colitis (or large intestinal diarrhea) often gets better on its own.
A rare but serious condition, acute hemorrhagic diarrhea syndrome (AHDS), can cause very bloody bright red or purple diarrhea. In this instance your dog should be taken to the vet immediately. This usually is associated with lots of blood. Trust your instinct if it looks like an overwhelming amount.
Yellow or orange
As further proof to our point that color isn’t always a perfect indicator of what’s going on inside your dog, there are several reasons why their stool could show up yellow or orange.
Orange-to-yellow tints are commonly seen with diet changes as your dog’s gut adjusts to new ingredients, so in these instances these strange colors are perfectly normal to see and no reason for alarm.
Orange poop can also result from certain foods: Carrots are a great source of β-carotene, a carotenoid that dogs can convert to vitamin A that is also responsible for the bright orange color of carrots… and — you guessed it — your dog’s poo.
Some viral infections however, can also produce stool that’s more yellow-orange in color, but in these instances we’d also expect to see diarrhea and other indications of illness.
When your dog's ability to properly digest and absorb their meals is impacted, as with pancreatic insufficiency, high amounts of fat are found in the feces, giving your dog’s stool a pale yellow or gray hue and an oily or greasy appearance often with an exceptionally offensive aroma.
Pale or clay-colored
Light-colored pale stool can also be a sign of a lack of bile and bilirubin in the poop, usually from a liver, gallbladder or bile duct issue. Because bile and bilirubin are responsible for the normal brown color of poop, their absence results in a light, pasty stool.
Poop this color generally indicates rapid intestinal transit, as with diarrhea or a food sensitivity. Bilirubin, a yellow compound in bile, is normally metabolized during digestion to brown, giving poop its flagship color. When the process happens too quickly, the stool can appear yellowish green in color because there wasn’t enough time to turn the bilirubin brown. And some dogs can speed up their GI tract with heavy exercise, excitement or other external factors.
Intestinal infections, like Giardia, may be the cause of your dog’s diarrhea. When infection is behind this off-color you’ll likely notice mucus, fat or blood in their stool often accompanied by a foul smell.
Poop may also be green from your dog eating a lot of grass or plants. Chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants, can tint their stool. If you notice this color, look a little closer to see if you can find some undigested plant material. If eating grass isn’t a normal behavior for your dog, you may want to give your vet a call to make sure there’s nothing more serious behind this new habit.
Strangely colored stools can also result from consumption of non-food items, which may be potentially dangerous or toxic. Blue colored poop has been reported to occur from the consumption of certain pesticides, so call your vet immediately if you notice this color and look for further signs of potential illness.
A more white-colored stool could be the result of high calcium intake, which could be seen with a raw diet that includes the consumption of ground bones. However, if you’re seeing white spots in your dog’s stool, it’s most likely from parasitic worms.
Dog poop consistency
Consistency is a very important consideration when evaluating the health of your dog’s poop. We all know diarrhea when we see it, and similarly we can tell when things aren’t flowing like they used to for your dog.
That said there’s plenty of in-betweens, and your job is to keep track of your dog’s stool consistencies — this means when you're grabbing your dog’s business with the plastic bag, take note of how it feels. (Again, sounds gross, but it’s important to monitor and we promise it gets easier.)
Fluctuations in consistency are particularly common to see with any change to your dog’s day-to-day, however, if either end of the spectrum persists for several days or they show other signs of upset, it’s time to see the vet.
Stool Consistency Chart
Several fecal scoring systems for the formal evaluation of stool consistency by veterinary professionals and researchers exist. Here at Nom Nom, we use the Bristol Stool chart in our health assessments and research — this scale has been validated in humans and adopted widely among veterinary science. It is very similar to other common scales used in veterinary medicine like the Nestle-Purina fecal scoring system.
The ideal stool consistency
According to the Bristol Stool chart, the ideal consistency is type 3 or 4. However, given that it’s normal to see some variation, shifts between type 2 to 5 are considered regular.
A perfectly formed poo is compact, but not too hard, with some moisture making it relatively smooth on the surface. You should be able to easily pick it up, and it should almost feel like dough or clay.
Take a look at the shape too. The model stool should look like a sausage or snake. Whichever you find less gross.
When things get too hard, you’ll start to notice the shape looks more like nuggets or droppings. The stool becomes firm, dry and cracked. This often results in straining and sometimes even failure to defecate, which may cause streaks of blood on your dog’s poop.
Constipation may indicate dehydration, so be sure to give your dog extra water when you spot straining. Occasional constipation can also result from an imbalance of fiber in the diet, medication side effect or lack of movement and exercise.
Sometimes however, constipation may be a flag of disease, foreign object or blockage, so if you notice some particularly hard stools for your pup that don’t seem to resolve, it’s worth a check-up.
When things get too soft, the stool becomes mushy and liquidy, and your dog’s business will start to lose its form, resembling anything from a pile of mashed potatoes (sorry) to a pile of melted soft serve (REALLY sorry).
A few words of advice on diarrhea: If your dog is prone to serious bouts, our R&D team has found that our Full Spectrum probiotics can reduce the risk of future diarrhea in dogs. Probiotics are also worth considering if your dog frequently takes antibiotics to help treat their upsets — antibiotics can help your dog find some relief, but can also wreak havoc on your dog’s gut, leaving them vulnerable to additional GI stress. Research indicates that probiotics support a healthy gut microbiome and overall wellness, which may help prevent or counteract the negative impact of antibiotics on the gut.
It’s also been found that in many cases of chronic diarrhea, dogs respond well to dietary therapies such as feeding a highly digestible diet, adding a novel protein source or supplementing their diet with fiber. We’ve found that Nom Nom is more digestible than a traditional kibble diet, on top of having clear-cut ingredients with no artificial fillers, which makes fresh diets a smart choice to try for dogs with sensitive stomachs or known food sensitivities.
Dog poop content
It’s also important to look at the content of your dog’s poop when you're scooping it up. We’re not demanding you dig through it, but be on the lookout for anything that runs awry. From time to time, you may spot something in their business, and it’s important to know what’s normal to see and when it’s time to visit the vet.
Healthy feces should not be coated with mucus. While dogs naturally produce a small amount of mucus to help things move along smoothly, excessive mucus can be a sign of intestinal inflammation, usually as a result of a digestive disease, large bowel disorder or infection. In other words, spotting thick mucus in the feces is a good indicator that something is off.
A stool coated in mucus will generally have an oily or jelly-like appearance, with the slimy outer layer making it harder to scoop up. Often paired with off-colored feces, fresh blood, or diarrhea. (Hey, you asked.)
Similar to finding mucus in your dog’s poop, undigested fat gives stool a greasy and shiny appearance. Fatty stool is usually a clear sign of a maldigestion or small bowel disorder, indicating that nutrients are not being properly absorbed. Another clear sign this is what’s going on is a particularly pungent odor.
No dog’s poop is going to smell good, but as poorly absorbed nutrients make their way through your dog’s digestive tract, they get fermented by bacteria in the gut creating large amounts of gas and putrid smelling feces that’s typically grayish in color.
Fresh blood is often easy to spot, as it leaves red streaks across your dog’s poop. Blood that’s been digested (known as melena) gives the stool a black and sticky appearance.
Blood in the stool is something you can’t ignore. If the consistency of the stool looks normal, check for any visible cuts and monitor if the bleeding continues. With constipation, it’s also common to see blood streaks as a result of straining.
You may also notice bloody diarrhea which is generally indicative of a large bowel upset or adverse food reaction, but could also be the result of an infection. If the diarrhea is very bloody, it’s time to see a vet.
You may occasionally notice some hair or fur in your dog’s poop. This can also sometimes lead to constipation or harder stools as well.
Excessive amounts of hair in your dog’s stool is usually a sign of overgrooming. This could be from skin allergies or disorders, fleas or parasites, stress and anxiety or just a plain old bad habit. If you’re noticing hair in your dog’s business, you may want to examine them for any bumps, bites, scratches, redness or bald spots — and be sure to look for any signs of inflammation or infection.
Sometimes you may see worms or white spots in your dog’s poop, and this is definitely worth a call to the vet. Tapeworms have a rice-like speckled appearance, while adult roundworms almost look like pieces of spaghetti.
It is perfectly normal to see some undigested food in your dog’s stool, especially when your dog is eating a fresh diet with whole ingredients. Fruits and vegetables provide a variety of benefits to dogs, however, they’re also rich in dietary fibers which dogs and mammals alike cannot digest.
While too much fiber in the diet can negatively impact nutrient digestion, a healthy balance of fiber-rich foods can offer a breadth of health benefits. Fibers can help promote healthy gut bacteria populations, support your dog’s immune system and overall health, aid in digestive health and promote a healthy weight. So just because you see some undigested food pieces in your dog’s poop doesn’t mean they didn’t harness a variety of benefits from those ingredients.
Sometimes, an increase in physical activity level can get things moving a little faster for your dog, and result in an increase in the amount of undigested food in their feces. If your dog truly isn’t properly digesting their meals, their fecal outputs are going to have several flags something’s not working right.
Similar to seeing undigested food, plants and grass contain fibers that dog’s do not have the enzymes to truly break down. If you notice your dog has a habit of chewing on plants or grass, be sure to avoid toxic plants like pennyroyal or tomato leaves on your walks or in your garden.
Some dogs have the compulsion to consume non-food items like rocks, fabrics and plastics. And since what goes in must come out, you may occasionally spot things in your dog’s stool that clearly don’t belong.
The biggest concerns with eating non-food items are intestinal blockages, internal damage and toxins. So if you notice your dog ate something they shouldn’t, it might be worth a call to your vet — depending on what they ate, they may even suggest you induce vomiting.
One non-food item that your dog might like to eat that you won’t see in their poop is their own poop. (Still gross, we know.) There’s a few identified theories behind why dog’s may do this, but regardless of what non-food item your dog likes to snack on, it’s worth investigating the potential causes with your vet to help curb any habitually damaging behavior.
Dog poop frequency & size
Everybody poops, every dog poops, but how often should they be pooping?
A healthy dog, should be going #2 on average once a day. But every dog is different: Some dogs regularly move their bowels two or even three times a day. And It’s worth noting that many dogs fed fresh diets have less frequent bowel movements owing to the higher digestibility.
The canine IBD activity index (CIBDAI), a clinically validated and published scale defines stool frequency as:
- Normal = Once a day
- Slightly increased = 2 - 3 times a day
- Moderately increased = 4 - 5 times a day
- Severely increased = More than 5 times a day
An increase in frequency isn’t always a sign that something is wrong, it could also result from overeating — so you may want to make sure their food is appropriately portioned or they’re not getting food from elsewhere (like table scraps or another pet’s bowl).
But how often your dog poops isn’t the full story, we also care about how much. The volume of your dog’s business is going to naturally depend on several factors like dog size and food size.
You can probably figure this one out for yourself, but bigger dogs have bigger poops, and the more you eat, the more you poop. However a change in stool amount, both frequency and size, can be representative of both good and bad changes in the gut, so it’s important to pay attention to the combination.
- A reduction in volume coupled with an increase in frequency could be a sign of an issue in the large intestine. Many dogs also strain when passing small stools (another sign things are awry in the colon).
- Regular or slightly increased frequency paired with an increase in poop size could indicate a small intestine disease like intestinal malabsorption. This is often described as cow pie-like diarrhea, or stool with the consistency of soft serve ice cream (appetizing, isn’t it?).
- A reduction in frequency and reduction in volume could be indicative of a more digestible diet. In other words, your dog is harnessing more of the available nutrition from their food, so less is coming out the backend. On the flipside, switching to a less digestible diet may increase the amount your dog poops.
Our R&D team has found that compared to kibble, our food is more digestible. Nom Nom produces less poop according to a recent study, and in dogs that switched to Nom Nom, 58% reported less frequent bowel movements. But it’s not just us seeing this, studies on other human-grade fresh food diets have found similar fecal findings. A win for fresh food, and all those brave humans assigned to cleanup duty.
When to see a vet
Regular visits to the vet involving fecal samples should be part of your routine.
It’s your job to keep an eye on your dog’s hind quarters and inform your vet of what’s regular for your pup. It’s their job to analyze the stool on a microscopic level, where they test for blood, parasites, composition and even imbalances in the gut microbiome. They may even use DNA tests to look for pathogens. These fecal tests are critical for finding abnormalities that can’t be seen with the eye, so they're a great way to monitor the health of your furry friend.
It’s best to provide your vet with the freshest stool sample possible. If your best option is still several hours from your appointment, place the specimen in an airtight container or bag and put it in the fridge until it’s time to go.
When you see something concerning.
Our rule of thumb? If you're worried, then call your vet. It’s definitely time for a visit if:
- You see multiple alarming irregularities
- Diarrhea/constipation persists for more than 2 days
- Excessive amounts of blood, mucus, or fat appear in stool
- Intestinal blockage occurs
- You’re worried your dog consumed something dangerous
- You witness any additional sign your dog is feeling unwell
Don’t forget, some things cause change — your dog’s poop will change with diet. A new diet changes the nutrient content, like fat and fiber, as well as the digestibility which all play a role in your dog’s bowel movements. So it’s normal to see changes in color, consistency, content and frequency as your pet’s gut works to establish a new normal.
The Final Scoop
Remember, when assessing your dog’s poop, one thing alone usually can’t reveal an underlying issue: it’s the combination of fecal characteristics that really tell the story. So as easy as letting your dog out the backdoor to do their business on their own is, it’s important you keep a (metaphorical) hand in their business as well.
Consider your pup’s bathroom breaks a little extra one-on-one time, where they provide you with a little snapshot of what’s going on with their gut.
And for those looking to learn even more about their dog’s health though their stool, consider one of our microbiome kits. Let the microbes in your dog’s gut tell you even more about your dog’s health while contributing to the research our R&D team is doing to understand the relationship between the microbiome, nutrition and pet health.
The Nom Nom R&D team is on the lookout for dogs that experience regular diarrhea to participate in their new GI microbiome study. Sound like someone in your house? See if your dog qualifies for this paid research study here.