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How to Recognize Gastrointestinal Distress in Dogs

If you own a retriever, you'll eventually deal with a messy situation at home or on the road.

How to Recognize Gastrointestinal Distress in Dogs

There are a lot of different ways for retrievers to get gastrointestinal distress and only a few ways to address it. (Photo By: Dhanoo Surasarang/Shutterstock.com)

Earlier this year my older Lab got sick. This was most evident to me when I returned home to a sheepish dog that didn’t greet me when I opened the door. Instead, she slipped past me, tucked her tail for a second, and then sprinted into the yard.

I knew without checking that I’d have a mess to clean up downstairs, which brought on a familiar feeling. It was the same dread I get when my wife comes home with paint samples or casually says something like, “I’ve been thinking about what we could do with the gutters.” I know there is no “we” in that scenario, besides management coming up with an idea and the worker bee giving up a day of hunting and fishing to see the project through.

It could have been many things that brought on Luna’s diarrhea. My turkey season travels, and the accompanying separation anxiety certainly didn’t help. She also had found a severely rotten deer carcass in one of the parks we train at.

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GI Distress Causes

Stress can be a big factor with dogs. More than a few hunters have figured this out after crating their duck dog for a long road trip to far-flung states in search of fresh birds. Diet, even something as simple as buying a different type of dog food, can cause it, too. Even a drink out of the wrong puddle, like an American drinking tap water in Cozumel, can cause it. Sickness, in a variety of forms, can be a major factor as well.

This is where it gets tricky, and you have to make the call on whether to seek veterinary help. A day of loose stool might not demand a trip to the vet clinic, but a few certainly could. Any blood mixed into the stool should prompt a visit to the emergency vet as well.




The thing is, gastrointestinal distress could be caused by ingesting toxic or poisonous substances, liver or kidney disease, a viral infection, ingestion of foreign objects, cancer, and a host of other issues that you’re going to want to catch as early as possible. Beyond that, age is a mitigating factor as well. Pups and old dogs with a bad case of the runs could get into trouble faster than a prime-aged dog in great condition.

There are a lot of individual variables that can come into play in this unfortunate situation. It’s best to be fully aware of them if (or when) your dog does come down with diarrhea, so you can make the right call on how to proceed.

black labrador retriever being held by woman veterinarian and women veterinary technician in veterinary clinic
Whenever in doubt, it’s always a better bet to consult with your veterinarian on any health issue your retriever is displaying. (Wildfowl photo)

Simple Fixes

If you’re confident your dog doesn’t need medical attention, there are a few home remedies that might be worth considering. When Luna left a long, stinky Rorschach pattern on my basement carpet, I started her on a probiotic designed to shore up her issues. She didn’t have much interest in her food (red flag), but was drinking a lot due to dehydration, so that’s where she got the probiotics.

At the urging of a veterinarian friend, I also boiled her a pound of hamburger and mixed it with rice. This bland, simple diet can do wonders for a dog with GI issues (you can also use chicken instead of ground beef). She would barely touch her kibble, but greedily wolfed down the rice and burger.

There are some over-the-counter people remedies that will work for your dog as well, but be careful with this route. Consult your veterinarian first, because some human medicines contain ingredients that are toxic to canines.  

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