15.Apr 2022

Animal nutrition: Feeding dogs and cats with diarrhea

Considerations when feeding animals with diarrhea

One of the most commonly seen ailments in dogs and cats brought in for veterinary treatment is (acute) diarrhea.
Its causes are notoriously manifold. Cases of acute diarrhea are frequently associated with infection or dietary issues. In cases of chronic or recurring diarrhea, an intensive diagnostic workup may be required to determine the cause – in such cases it is important that extraintestinal causes also be considered as differential diagnoses for diarrhea (Öffnet externen Link in neuem FensterAddison's disease, for example).

What dietary measures should be considered?

Small intestinal diarrhea: The focus lies in optimising the intake of nutrients

Symptoms: Quantity of faeces normal to increased, frequency normal to slightly increased, no tenesmus, sometimes melena, rarely haematochezia

Intestinal diarrhea is accompanied by a reduced resorption capacity of the damaged intestinal epithelium. The aim is then to give the patient highly digestible feed that can be easily absorbed by the small intestine.

Other characteristics of a gastrointestinal diet are:

  • Reduced-fat (not fat-free) – supply fats that contain a high percentage of essential fatty acids (fish oil, linseed oil, hemp oil, etc.) 0.5–1 g oil/kg BW
  • Low in crude fibre, because more crude fibre content means less digestibility
  • Processed starches (Cook gentle foods such as rice very well)
  • High-quality protein sources (with little connective tissue)
  • For long-term self-prepared rations, add vitaminised mineral feed (18-20% Ca and 2% P)!

This will counteract severe energy and nutrient deficits, especially in the case of chronic small intestinal diarrhea (Caution: nutrient requirements are higher than normal in theses cases, as not all of the available nutrients are absorbed).

Large intestinal diarrhea - the focus lies to influence on the intestinal microbiome and the regeneration of the intestinal epithelium

→ Achieved by increasing the amount of crude fibre. Optimally a combination of soluble and non-soluble fibres.

Symptoms: Frequent mucilaginous content, haematochezia, often reduced faecal quantity but with increased frequency and accompanied by tenesmus, also possible flatulence from dysbiosis

Soluble fibre: E.g. psyllium, pectin (e.g. in carrots, apple fibre), inulin (e.g. in chicory leaf) = prebiotics

Fermented by the flora in the large intestine into short chain fatty acids (e.g. butyrate) and used as energy source – proportion of beneficial gut bacteria increases, pathogens are kept more in check – dysbiosis is counteracted. Short chain fatty acids also deliver energy to the intestinal epithelium thus promoting its regeneration. At the same time, they lower the pH level in the intestine, preventing the colonisation of pathogens.

Insoluble fibre: E.g. wheat bran 1–2 g/kg BW/day or (feed) cellulose – up to 1 g/kg BW/day
Only a small amount is fermented, but with a high water-binding capacity, thus improving faecal consistency.

Also avoid an exceedingly large protein content in the feed as this can encourage a dysbiosis of the large intestine (e.g. proliferation of proteolytic C. perfringens).

In many cases, the administration of a course of suitable probiotics is recommended: Enterococcus faecium, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bacillus subtilis (dogs) – support the restoration or maintenance of beneficial intestinal flora.

The simultaneous administration of pre-and probiotics (synbiotics) leads to the best effect of positively influencing the intestinal flora.


Bibliography: Upon request

Author of the article:

Veterinarian med. vet. Julia Brüner