- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Judging how unhealthy your dog poop looks is often based on four C’s: color, consistency, contents, and coating. A change in poop color and consistency can often be traced back to a change in diet, environment, or overall health. For example, you may notice runny poop or dog diarrhea after an abrupt diet change, however if diarrhea persists, you probably want to scoop a sample and take it to the vet ASAP to get the stool checked for parasites or bacteria.
And while dealing with poop may not be your favorite part of your day, think of it like reading the daily scoop on your dog’s overall health and wellbeing. Different poop colors and consistencies can indicate the ups and downs of your dog’s internal system—and deviations from your dog’s normal poop may or may not always be a cause for concern. So how can you tell if your dog’s poop means it’s time to run to the vet?
First off, an abnormal poop does not always indicate a need to see the vet. Depending on the circumstances, a single “off” poop is normal from time to time. If your dog is otherwise exhibiting normal energy and behavior, then closely monitoring them from home will likely suffice. But if your dog exhibits abnormal signs, such as lethargy or change in behavior, then it may be time to call in the vet. Another indication is how long your dog’s unhealthy poop has be recurring. Make an appointment if your dog’s diarrhea or constipation lasts 48 hours or more.
Want to learn more about dog poop? We consulted Dr. Rebecca Greenstein, Veterinary Medical Advisor for Rover and Chief Veterinarian at Kleinburg Veterinary Hospital to get ahead of the bowel curve.
What Does Healthy Dog Poop Look Like?
The best dog poop is dog poop you don’t have to worry about. A dog in good health will pass normal stools that are:
- formed and segmented
- brown in color, from light to dark shades
- firm consistency
- leaves little to no evidence behind when picked up
“The size [of your dog’s poop] should be roughly proportionate to how much the dog eats,” says Dr. Greenstein.
What Does Unhealthy Dog Poop Look Like?
So your dog’s poop isn’t picture perfect, and you have some questions. The way to analyze and check your dog’s poop is to consider the stool’s:
Dog Poop Color Meanings
Before you panic about the sudden change of color in your dog’s poop, think about what they may have eaten recently. Some foods, like pumpkin, can easily change the color of your dog’s poop. Your vet will also likely ask if your dog has gotten into any foods, just to make sure those potential causes are checked off.
- Brown. Poop that falls in the range of brown shades is acceptable and normal.
- Purple. Certain richly colored vegetables can alter the color of your dog’s poop, like beets for example. “But typically speaking, unless your dog is eating something that could predictably dye the poop, it could be concerning,” says Dr. Greenstein. If your dog’s food isn’t the culprit, then it’s time to make a vet appointment.
- Green. Green may also be the result of food or could contain grass. If your dog continues to eat grass, you’ll want to consult a vet as they may be having stress or tummy troubles. But if you’ve ruled out these two possibilities, you’ll want to get to a vet as soon as you can as green poop can be an indication of certain intestinal infections or parasites and, in rare cases, it can be associated with gallbladder disease.
- Yellow-orange. A slightly yellowish brown is likely normal, but yellowish-orange could indicate a liver issue or deeper indigestion. “Sometimes when patients livers aren’t functioning, and they have too much of a product called bilirubin, it can stain their pee and their poop a yellowish color,” says Dr. Greenstein. If your dog is acting abnormal, it’s time to schedule a vet visit.
- Black. “Black is worrisome for digested blood or bleeding from the stomach. Typically, dogs who poop black are sick in other ways as well,” says Dr. Greenstein. In other words, get to a vet ASAP. The only time black poop is normal is if it’s left outside overtime as brown poop turns black when it oxidizes. Poop should not be coming out of the body black.
- Red. Red in your dog’s poop, if not food related, indicates blood and is serious. “Fresh red blood can signal infection, bleeding polyps, trauma to the rectum, and numerous intestinal concerns,” says Dr. Greenstein. “And if you even think that you see blood in your dog’s poop, it’s time to talk to your vet.”
- White. White poop often indicates constipation and too much calcium. This color is more common in dogs who are fed a raw diet with bones.
Dog Poop Consistency
As Dr. Greenstein says, firm and tubular are poop goals! Veterinarians often look at a scale for dog poop that scores dog poop on a scale of one to seven. If your dog’s poop looks like the poop described above, then it is the ideal dog poop and ranks a two on the fecal scoring chart. The other normal dog poop score is a three, which is dog poop that is slightly less formed (like logs) and leaves residue behind when picked up. Dog poop that does not fit either criteria should be monitored as it could indicate an underlying issue.
Here’s what to know if your doggy’s poops fall outside these normal numbers:
- Hard. There are a few reasons for hard poop and you’ll want to start by looking at your dog’s diet and making sure they’re getting enough fiber. “It could also mean that they’re dehydrated,” says Dr. Greenstein, “or that there could be an underlying condition like kidney disease or digestive disease.” Overly hard poop that is also white could also indicate increased calcium in your dog’s diet.
- Runny. Runny or watery poop indicates diarrhea, which could have many causes from eating something out of the garbage, to parasites, viruses, and cancer. “If it becomes urgent, if it becomes compulsive, if there’s a lot of blood, if it continues for multiple episodes, and most importantly, if it’s accompanied by signs of malaise or illness or other symptoms,” that’s when, Dr. Greenstein says, it’s important to involve your vet. One episode in an otherwise healthy dog though can likely be managed from home with a vet-approved probiotic. A gastro diet might also be necessary or feeding your pup small amounts of unseasoned skinless, boneless chicken and white rice until it passes.
Contents: What to Look for In Your Dog’s Stool
Some content, like a little undigested food or a bit of hair, shouldn’t be cause for concern, but others are. Here’s what to look for:
- Worms. There are different kinds of worms and they need different treatments. Common in young dogs and puppies especially, it’s important to collect a stool sample (more on that below), as worms are contagious, and get it to your vet so the type can be identified and treated with the correct dewormer.
- Hair. A little bit of hair can be normal, particularly if you have a very furry dog. But a lot of hair may indicate your dog is over-grooming or losing too much hair, which you’ll need to talk to your vet about. In rare cases, these issues can lead to trichobezoar, a rare condition where your dog experiences an internal blockage due to a buildup of hair.
- Undigested food. Little bits of food may occasionally pass undigested, but if you’re noticing this consistently it may indicate a digestive issue, such as your dog’s intestinal transit time is too fast. It could also possibly indicate a digestive abnormality in the GI tract. “If you’re seeing that on a consistent basis, in addition to other signs like weight loss, or vomiting, then it’s time to investigate for an underlying digestive tract disease or infection,” says Dr. Greenstein.
- Foreign bodies. If you find something in your dog’s poop that isn’t supposed to be there, the first question to ask yourself is: is that all of it? Is there more in the digestive tract? Dr. Greenstein says it’s important to always check your dog’s poop for foreign material in case your dog ate something you’re unaware of. “Not only can a foreign body cause impaction or injury to the rectum when they try to poop them out,” she says, “but far upstream, higher up in the digestive tract, they can also cause serious blockages, some of which require surgery and can be fatal if left untreated.”
Coating: Why Is My Dog’s Poop Slimy?
Coating that looks like a slime, mucus or jelly on the outside of the poop is a possible sign of irritation of the large bowel, says Dr. Greenstein. It can be a sign of colitis, an irritation of the large intestine, especially if accompanied by blood. You’ll also want to look out for weight loss and vomiting. Colitis can be caused by a number of things, such as infections or inflammatory conditions. So, you’ll want to consult with a vet and get a workup done to investigate the underlying cause.
How Strong Does Your Dog’s Poop Smell?
We all know that poop doesn’t smell…lovely! But if the stink factor is unusually high, there may be a problem. “We do find that the more digestible a diet is, the less stinky a poop will be,” says Dr. Greenstein. Look for a diet with 90% digestibility or higher, meaning your dog is using more of the nutrients with less of it going to waste. “Sometimes an unusually stinky poop, or being very gassy, can be a sign of impending diarrhea from a number of causes, including parasites or infections.”
How to Collect a Stool Sample
If your dog is experiencing poop problems, your vet will ask you to bring in a stool sample to be tested. Collecting a stool sample is easy as picking up your dog’s poop however timing and containment matters if you’re not able to drop off the poop right away. Here’s what to consider when you are asked to provide a fecal sample:
- Get the freshest sample possible. Don’t collect a poop from days before, sitting in the yard, to bring in.
- Bag and seal the poop in an airtight container, or place in a container that your vet provides.
- Can’t pick it up because it’s too watery? Take photos to bring to the vet.
- Can’t get to the vet ASAP? You can fridge the sample if you can stand it, but ask your vet first to make sure that’s in accordance with what they’re testing for.
If your veterinarian clinic is expecting a stool sample, they will likely accept a stool sample at the front desk. No appointment necessary. In this case, you may want to walk your dog for a walk around the clinic when it’s time for a walk so you can drop off the freshest poop possible.
Remember that a dog’s poop says a lot about their overall health. It may not be pleasant, but it’s important!
In a perfect poop world, your doggy should be poppin’ out brown, well-formed, tubular, proportionate poops which are easy to pick up. But, the world’s not perfect and sometimes, as they say, s%&t happens! Unusual colors and contents, or a coating on your dog’s poop should prompt a call to the vet. And while a one-off bout of diarrhea or constipation can be managed at home, if it lasts 48 hours or more it’s time to consult your vet, same goes for unusual poops that are accompanied by other signs of sickness such as blood, vomiting, weight loss, loss of energy, or behavioral changes.
In order to keep your dog’s poop health in tip top shape, Dr. Greenstein advises submitting an annual stool sample to your vet, which can help treat dogs who are asymptomatic when it comes to certain issues or help identify things you may not be aware of. And, of course, diet is key. “Make sure that the diet that you have them on is appropriate for his or her life stage, body condition, and medical health needs,” says Dr. Greenstein.
Be sure to check out all things dog diet and dog food related on the Rover blog.