An upset stomach: dealing with diarrhoea in pets

It’s quite common for dogs and cats to suffer from an upset stomach and diarrhoea. Even rabbits can get diarrhoea. It’s actually one of the top reasons owners and their pets go to see a vet.

It can be really upsetting when your pet feels a bit ‘off’ or under the weather. However, there are some simple things you can do to help them recover and get back to their normal selves.

These tips can help your pet recover from mild diarrhoea. We always recommend speaking to your vet if your pet is suffering from a more serious case of diarrhoea or if they don’t get better quickly.

For more information on diarrhoea in pets, visit our PetWise Pet Health Hub:

How can I help my dog or cat feel better if they've got an upset stomach?

Most pets will recover from mild diarrhoea in a couple of days. While they’re recovering, you can follow some simple steps to make them more comfortable and help them get over their sickness.

They’ll usually be quite tired after a stomach upset but this shouldn’t go on for more than a day or so. Until they feel better, it’s fine to take a break from usual activities like long walks or hard play while they’re recovering. Give them somewhere quiet and comfy to recover.

While they are recovering, your pet needs:

  • A bland diet
  • Smaller, more frequent meals
  • Access to water.

Read our full advice on home care for dogs with diarrhoea.

While your pet is having diarrhoea, they’ll probably need to go to the toilet more often. Keep this in mind: remember to let dogs out for the toilet more often and do an extra few checks of the cat or rabbit litter tray to clean up if needed. If you don’t, you might risk a mess on your floors!

Does my pet need to see a vet about diarrhoea?

A mild upset stomach isn't usually anything serious in dogs and cats, but if you're worried about your pet it's always best to speak to your vet to get to the... er... bottom of the problem.

There are some times when diarrhoea is a sign of something more serious and you should ring your vet for an appointment straight away.

Ring your vet if your cat or dog:

  • Is being sick as well as having diarrhoea
  • Has blood in their poo
  • Is off their food, seems unwell or is much less energetic than usual
  • Is young, elderly or is being treated for another problem with their health
  • Is on any medications
  • Doesn’t get better in a couple of days or keeps having bouts of diarrhoea for more than a few weeks.

Get in touch your vet if your rabbit has any diarrhoea at all, especially if they are off their food.

Will my vet need a stool sample?

For most cases of diarrhoea, your vet won’t need a stool sample to start treatment for your pet.

In a few cases, such as if diarrhoea has been going on for a long time or if a certain disease is suspected, they may want to take a poo sample from your pet. Depending on the test, they might need a ‘pooled’ sample, i.e. poo samples from several days in a row mixed together, to increase the chances of getting a positive result.

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Why has my pet got diarrhoea?

Mild diarrhoea is very common – most pets will get a bout of it in their lifetime but they usually recover by themselves. Lots of dogs scavenge while out and about or hoover up any scraps you might accidentally drop on the floor and this can easily upset their tummies. Their food is another common reason for all types of pet to get an upset tummy – either eating a food that doesn’t agree with them, or a sudden change in diet. You can read more about safely changing your dog’s diet and safely changing your cat’s diet.

Worms and other parasites also commonly cause diarrhoea, so it’s important to keep on top of your pet’s worming treatments.

Sometimes your pet’s diarrhoea might be due to a rarer cause or even a symptom of something more serious. You can read a full list of causes on the Pet Health Hub pages on diarrhoea in dogs and cats. Your vet will be able to give your pet treatment and narrow down the cause.

If you’re worried, always take your pet to the vet, especially if they have diarrhoea and seem tired or are off their food. Any diarrhoea in rabbits is urgent so you should take them to the vet straight away even if they’re not showing any other signs.

 

What is 'normal' poo for my pet?

What’s normal for your pet will depend on their species:

  • Dog poo should be firm (like play dough), chocolate brown and the shape of a little log. It shouldn’t have anything sticking out or any odd lumps in it.
  • Cat poo should be dark brown (not black!) and firm (but not hard). It’ll look like a small log.
  • Rabbit poo is usually small round pellets. They vary from light to darker browns. You may very occasionally see caecotrophs (softer poo) which is normally small, brown and can stick together to look like a tiny bunch of grapes.

If your pet’s poo is bright yellow, green or red this is definitely cause for concern and you should take them to the vet. Likewise if your pet’s poo looks black (rather than dark brown), or looks like it contains ‘coffee grounds’, there may be digested blood in it so it’s best to get them checked over by a vet.

Diarrhoea can range from poo that’s just a bit soft, to full on liquid, to even really watery.

 

My pet pooped in the house – how can I clean it

If your pet is poorly and has a bad stomach, they might have an accident in the house. Remember not to punish your pet for this as it can make them fearful and stressed (and potentially make the problem worse!). You can put some puppy pads down in case it happens again.

If your cat or dog has pooped on a hard surface, like tiles or lino, it’s a little easier to clean. We’d recommend wearing gloves (especially if your pet may have worms!) and try to get as much of it up as possible with paper towels first. Then, thoroughly spray the area with a disinfectant spray that’s safe to use on your floor and wash the area over with warm soapy water. Wash your hands well once you’re done.

If they’ve gone to the toilet in their bed or on a pet blanket or towel, try to clean up the worst of the mess with kitchen roll. Using laundry stain treatment can help avoid setting the stain. Then you can put the bedding in the wash - ideally a hot wash (60° or higher) with a gentle detergent. If your pet’s bed isn’t washable, follow the advice for carpet cleaning below.

If there’s poo on the carpet, this might be a little more difficult to clean up. It’s important to clean it as soon as possible after it happens, especially if it’s diarrhoea! Again, try to get as much of it up as possible with paper towels (and gloves on!). You might need to use a moist paper towel or baby wipe to get as much of it off the carpet as possible. Don’t rub it or blot it at this stage as that could push the stain further into the carpet.

Then you’ll need to clean the area. Some shops sell carpet stain remover that is pet safe and designed to clean up their accidents. It may be worth investing in one of these just in case! Follow the instructions on the bottle if you’re using this. Some regular carpet stain removers and cleaners may also work on pet poop stains. Again, follow the instructions and make sure the area is completely dry and chemical free before letting your pet near it.

If you don’t have any carpet cleaners to hand, you can sometimes make your own cleaning solution up. Don’t use anything with bleach in as this can change the colour of your carpet. One option is to mix a small amount of dish soap and white wine vinegar with cool water and blot the area with this. Rinse with clean water afterwards, blotting any excess water as you go with a clean cloth. Then, sprinkle some bicarb over the area to absorb any lingering smells and once it’s dry hoover it up.

Don’t forget to wash your hands after!

 

How do I know if my outdoor cat has diarrhoea?

It can be harder to know if your cat has diarrhoea if they usually go to the toilet outside. You might notice they have diarrhoea if you find it on your lawn or even in the bathtub or somewhere else indoors.

If you’re concerned, some cats have a favourite spot outdoors to go to the toilet. Have a quick glance where they normally go to see if you can see any runny poo. You should also look for signs that their bottom is dirty as this may be an indicator that they have a bad tummy.

Your cat should always have a litter tray available indoors, even if they don’t use it because they usually go outdoors. It’s good to give them lots of options. They may need to use it when they’re feeling unwell or if they need to be kept inside.

 

How do I know if my rabbits have diarrhoea?

Rabbits will naturally have both solid, drier poos and softer, sticky poos known as ‘caecotrophs’. These are normally made up of partly digested food, which the rabbit will then eat. Doesn’t sound very pleasant, but this actually helps with their digestion. Don’t worry – it’s completely natural! You won’t normally see caecotrophs because bunnies usually eat them right away, but sometimes you might spot the odd few, which can be normal.

What's the difference between soft poos and diarrhoea in rabbits?

Often owners can mistake caecotrophs for diarrhoea. The main difference is that your rabbit should eat the caecotrophs, so you shouldn’t see them that often. Diarrhoea in rabbits also tends to be runnier and smell strongly.

Remember, you should check your rabbits daily to make sure their bottoms aren’t dirty and twice daily in the summer to avoid flystrike.

If you’re noticing a lot of your rabbit’s softer poos or they’re getting stuck to their bottom, it’s best to take them to the vet. If what you are seeing is more caecotrophs than normal for your bunny, this can be a sign of a medical problem, for example obesity, dental disease or arthritis. If your rabbit has diarrhoea, this is usually an emergency and you should take them to the vet straight away. If you’re not sure, it’s always best to get them checked out by a vet.