Almost every pet and owner experienced occasional bouts of diarrhea. Diarrhea is always an unpleasant and alarming situation. It has many causes and forms and may be associated with serious diseases.
In most cases the diarrhea is self-limiting and will resolve with conservative management. Dietary changes, extreme temperatures, stress, spoiled food and non-edible objects or materials are common causes of diarrhea in our pets. Nature will take care of those mild cases, while others need the veterinarian help. In many cases, skipping a few meals (1-3), and consequent light diet for a few days, will allow the digestive system to eliminate all the irritants and recover completely without additional medications.
Diarrhea is very common in puppies and kittens. Newborns are sensitive to bacterial infections such as E. coli, Salmonella, Staph. and others. Newly acquired puppies and kittens often develop diarrhea related to the changes in the environment and the food. Parasites are a major cause of diarrhea in young animals. Virtually every puppy will have worms and may also have other intestinal parasites, such as Giardia and Coccidia. A good strategic worming and several fecal exams should be done by the veterinarian for every puppy or kitten. Puppies and kittens are also very sensitive to viruses, such as Distemper, Parvovirus and Hepatitis, which cause serious diseases accompanied by severe diarrhea. It is imperative to vaccinate the pets appropriately. Puppies and to a lesser extent kittens, are very prone to foreign material ingestion, such as garbage, bones, toys and household substances. Diarrhea is one of the possible consequences of such action.
Adult dogs and cats may also develop foreign material related diarrhea, although less commonly. Digestive system diseases such as gastroenteritis, liver or pancreas disease are important primary causes of diarrhea. Some pets may be allergic or intolerant to components in the food and have diarrhea for prolonged periods. Intestinal tumors and long-term inflammation are serious causes of chronic diarrhea and weight loss in dogs and cats. Gastrointestinal parasites affect adults as well and parasite control should be exercised on a continuous basis. Diarrhea can also be secondary to a systemic disease such as renal failure, adrenal gland disease, diabetes, cancer and others.
The veterinarian should be contacted any time a pet has diarrhea. Diarrhea associated with severe weakness, lethargy, vomiting or blood should be treated as a possible emergency without delay. Treatment should address the specific causes of the diarrhea, the clinical signs and the hydration status.
Diarrhea is also common in so called “exotic pets”, such as reptiles, birds and small mammals.
Birds may develop diarrhea associated with gastrointestinal infections or systemic diseases. Parasites cause diarrhea as well. Because birds eliminate urine and feces together in the form of droppings, excessive urination cause by liver diseases, kidney diseases or diabetes mellitus, might be mistaken for diarrhea. Water rich diet, such as fruits and vegetables may increase urine production and water content in the feces.
Diarrhea in reptiles is similar to what we see in birds. One should take in consideration the species and natural habitat variations. Green Iguanas, which are tropical herbivores, produce liquid rich droppings, very similar to those of birds, where desert reptiles normally produce very dry and concentrated droppings. In most cases, diarrhea in reptiles is stress induces. Poor husbandry and habitat errors induce stress and therefore compromise the immune system. Bacteriae and parasites that usually cohabitate the intestines, overcome the weakened body resistance and multiply in the digestive system, causing enteritis (Intestinal infection) and diarrhea.
Rabbits, guinea pigs and small rodents develop viral, bacterial and parasitic diarrhea. Prolonged use of oral antibiotics may alter the intestinal equilibrium and induce diarrhea, which can be fatal. “Wet tail” is a known serious bacterial diarrhea in young hamsters associated with high mortality. “Green feces disease” is a serious significant diarrhea in ferrets characterized by depression, vomiting and tarry, green feces diarrhea. It is caused by a bacterium called Campillobacter, which is responsible for gastrointestinal disease in other species, including man. Both are treated aggressively with antibiotics, fluids, supportive care and symptomatic medications.
Every exotic pet should have a periodic semi-annual physical examination and a fecal analysis in order to treat underlined causes of disease-induced diarrhea.
As you walk in your yard and care for the lawn, the trees
and the bushes, please pay attention not to damage the rabbit nests on the
ground and bird nests in trees and bushes. Spring will come and go and so will
this year's generation of our back yard wildlife.