Tracking Your Dog's Health Through Poop

Responsible dog owners know a lot about their pet's poop – how often the dog poops, where it prefers to do its business and how to scoop the poop quickly and effectively. But do you know how much your dog's poop can actually tell you, and how important it is to check that poop regularly for any signs of trouble?

Discovering Your Dog's Normal Poop

Every dog is different, and all dogs have regular variations of what constitutes "normal" for their stool. Paying strict attention to your dog's feces and learning its normal colors, consistencies, textures and frequencies will help you better recognize when something isn't normal. How a dog's poop changes can indicate many potential problems, from dietary deficiencies to ulcers, worms, parasites, cancer, stress and many other health conditions that could require treatment or even emergency care. To learn what is normal for your pet, check their feces thoroughly at a time when the animal is in good general health and eating a normal, stable diet. Keep an eye on their excrement for several days, noting any consistent differences for feces at different times of day or after different activities, such as after a frisky play session or after eating a certain type of food. As you get more familiar with your dog's normal poop, you will more easily see if anything changes.

Checking Your Dog's Poop for Problems

When your dog's poop doesn't look quite right, there are certain characteristics you should note to see if there are severe problems. Noting these traits can help you better describe the problem to your veterinarian, or see if there are any further changes or if you dog's poop returns to normal. When tracking your dog's health through poop, look for…

  • Color: A dog's feces should be a medium to dark chocolate brown shade and should be generally consistent in coloration. Strong color contrasts or other colors such as green, white, red or yellow can indicate different problems.

  • Texture: Feces texture will vary, but should generally be firm like cookie dough. Very stiff, firm stool or runny, watery feces are both problematic.

  • Odor: All dog poop will have a mild odor, but the scent should not be strong enough to cause immediate gagging or other violent reactions. Any distinct changes in odor should be noted.

  • Size: A dog's poop should be roughly proportional to the animal's size, but will vary based on the amount of fiber and carbohydrates in the dog's diet. A large dog that is passing only very small poops or a small dog passing very large feces could both be having difficulties.

  • Frequency: How often a dog poops can be an indication of health difficulties. Daily poops are to be expected, but a dog that is only pooping every few days or one that is always pooping many times a day should have their health evaluated.

  • Contents: Any undigested material in the feces should be examined to be sure the dog isn't eating items it shouldn't be, and excessive blood, mucus or grease in a dog's stool can also indicate problems that need investigation.

When to Call the Vet

Occasional poop changes are normal for any dog, but the feces should return to its normal condition within 24-48 hours. If a dog shows signs of poop problems, offer the animal only a bland diet and a bit more rest for a day or so to help it recover, but if the problems don't resolve themselves, it is time to contact your veterinarian. Very severe, dramatic changes that come on suddenly warrant an immediate call to the vet, especially if those poop changes are accompanied by other symptoms such as vomiting, fever, convulsions or behavioral changes. Dogs that are more vulnerable to health problems, such as puppies, senior dogs or any animal with health sensitivities, should also visit a vet more quickly if their poop indicates a problem.

Tracking your dog's health through poop may not be the most pleasant part of pet ownership, but understanding your dog's normal feces and noticing problems can be a good step toward helping keep your pet healthy. And that's the straight poop!