Dog Poop: What It Should and Shouldn’t Look Like

Keeping your dog healthy and happy is the ultimate goal of any pet owner. Many factors play a part in ensuring your dog maintains good health. Choosing dog food that provides proper nutrition, including proper exercise in daily routines, and maintaining good grooming practices are important. While we take steps to prevent our pets from succumbing to illness, it can still happen from time to time. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a possible illness is the key to getting your dog the medical care they may need and getting them back on the road to health.

Since dogs can’t talk and tell us what’s wrong, it’s important to know what to look for to determine whether or not a trip to the vet is needed. Some illnesses will have specific symptoms. Allergies typically cause skin irritation, and ear infections typically cause ear pain and redness. It may be surprising but, dog poop can be one of the most telling signs of a gastrointestinal illness.

Knowing what dog poop should and shouldn’t look like is key in determining if your dog’s gut is healthy. Certain changes in dog poop may warrant a trip to the vet. Take note of these changes especially if their diet hasn’t been altered or you haven’t noticed them digging in the trash for a snack lately. We’ll go over dog poop basics, and everything you need to know regarding gut health and overall canine health. By the end of this article, you’ll feel confident in your ability to detect whether or not your pup is experiencing stomach issues and if medical attention is needed.

little white dog looking on as owner picks up dog poop off the ground

Why Keeping an Eye on Dog Stool Is Important

Many pet owners may not watch for changes in their dog’s stool. Obvious indicators of an upset stomach include diarrhea and vomiting; however, you may be missing other signs an illness is present. Knowing the difference in healthy and unhealthy dog poop is essential in catching an illness before it progresses. The sooner you notice something is off, the less time your dog will spend feeling ill.

Detecting an illness is the most common reason to pay attention to your dog’s poop, but you should also be mindful of a change due to dietary issues. Some dogs may have different reactions to treats, supplements, and even dog food. If your dog is having a hard time digesting new foods, changes in their poop can be a sign. If you want to ensure that your dog is as healthy and happy as possible, keeping an eye on their poop is one of the best ways to check.

Dog Poop Basics

Evaluating dog poop is relatively easy and can be done in a few basic steps. Knowing what to look for is key, which is why we recommend using the four C’s of dog stool: color, content, consistency, and coating. We’ll break down what these should and shouldn’t look like.

Color

Color is one of the most common indicators of healthy dog poop. Typically, dog poop should be a brown color that resembles milk chocolate. This brown color comes from bile released from the gallbladder during digestion. A pigment within bile, known as bilirubin, effects stool color. While most dog stool is brown, there may be minor variations in the shade of brown due to diet, hydration, and food dyes.

While dog stool color can vary, it should always be within the realm of a brown color. If it shifts too far into other colors, this may be a cause for concern. Some abnormal color patterns that can be a cause for concern can include black stool, which indicates bleeding high up in the digestive tract. This may result in a tar-colored dog stool. Red streaks in dog stool are also a cause for concern as they may indicate bleeding within the lower digestive tract. Grey or yellow stool can be a sign of issues within the pancreas, liver, or gallbladder.

Green poop is a color that can have various meanings. Some causes of green poop can be troubling, while others may be harmless. Some dietary agents, such as chlorophyll, can cause a green pigment to appear in dog poop. Unfortunately, some toxins can also cause green poop. If your dog hasn’t ingested a pigment that causes green poop, such as lettuce or grass, this may be a reason to visit your vet.

White poop, just like green poop, can also be harmless or a cause for concern depending on why it’s occurring. For dogs that have a diet rich in calcium, such as a raw food diet, this calcium is likely the cause of white poop. If your dog doesn’t consume an abundance of calcium, white poop may be a sign of parasites. If you’re concerned about the reason behind your dog’s white poop, contact your vet to further discuss possible causes.

If you notice any of these unusual dog poop colors, and they persist for more than one bowel movement, be sure to call your veterinarian. They may request you collect a stool sample for them to check in order to rule out any issues that may be causing changes in the stool.

Content

We all know the typical contents of pet stool: Food, treats, liquids, and anything else that has been ingested and digested. When dog poop consists of anything else, it may be a cause for concern.

Worms are one thing you never want to find in your dog’s poop. Worms found in dog poop can include long skinny roundworms or small tapeworm segments that resemble little pieces of rice. If the poop has been outside for a while, there’s a chance some bugs may make their way inside that weren’t previously there. But, if your dog’s poop is fresh and you notice worms, be sure to call your vet as soon as possible. They will be able to perform the necessary tests to determine which type of worm it is and the best way to treat it.

Foreign materials may also make their way into your dog’s stool and can be alarming. Dogs, especially puppies, get into everything and often eat non-food items. They may dig through the trash and find food wrappers, toilet paper rolls, and an assortment of other items to chew up and eat. If a piece of a plastic or cardboard shows up in their stool, it may stem from them eating out of the trashcan. If this becomes a common occurrence, check with your vet for advice and guidance with this issue.

Finally, fur is another thing to keep an eye out for when it comes to dog poop content. Fur in stool can be an indicator of overgrooming. Overgrooming can be due to stress, allergies, skin disease, or boredom, which commonly triggers stress and anxiety. If you notice fur in your dog’s stool, try to narrow down a possible cause and notify your vet. They will be able to assess the issue and provide a proper treatment plan. 

lab squatting on sidewalk

Consistency

You can tell a lot about your dog’s health from different aspects of their poop. When it comes to dog poop, the consistency of it can be an insight to your dog’s health status. New ingredients in your dog’s food, changes in their diet, and hydration can all impact the consistency of poop.

When it comes to evaluating poop consistency, many vets use a numerical system with ratings between one and seven. On this scale, a one is considered a puddle of loose stool, and a seven is considered very hard pellets. The ideal dog poop consistency is somewhere around a two or three on this scale. Poop shaped like a caterpillar and not difficult to pass is best. Loose, shapeless stool can indicate the large intestine isn’t absorbing water properly. A hard stool can be painful to pass and may be a sign of dehydration.

While a two or three is the ideal consistency, all dogs are bound to experience a soft or hard stool every now and then. Anal sacs are there to help ease hard stool passing, though you don’t want them to become too common. If loose or hard stool persists for more than one day, be sure to call your vet and let them know.

Coating

When it comes to dog poop, there should never be a coating or film over it. When you’re picking up your dog’s stool deposit off the grass, there should never be a trail left behind. If you see mucous on your dog’s stool, it’s often a symptom of large bowel inflammation. Large bowel inflammation and mucous often occur alongside dog diarrhea, which can be very painful and uncomfortable for any dog.

When your dog suffers from a bout of large bowel inflammation, you may see a few tell-tell signs. For instance, small streaks of bright red blood on stool and if your dog strains to pass a bowel movement are symptoms. A single red streak isn’t a reason to panic, but multiple, recurring streaks of blood is a signal a call to your vet.

pug lying on floor, looking upset or in trouble

Dog Diarrhea Concerns

Almost every dog owner knows that diarrhea means an upset within the GI tract. Diarrhea isn’t considered healthy poop, and if your dog has it, they’re likely experiencing an upset stomach and possibly stomach pain. So, when is dog diarrhea a concern, and when is it something that should simply be waited out?  Read on to find out.

When it comes to dealing with dog diarrhea, first take steps to narrow down potential causes. Did your dog get into some human food they weren’t supposed to eat? Did they recently undergo a dietary change, such as a new kibble?

If diarrhea is a new issue, but doesn’t happen often, it’s likely not a cause for concern. Sudden diarrhea or other stomach issues can be the result of an acute ailment. These can include stress-related colitis, also known as “garbage gut,” which is a sign that your dog got into the trash and is now dealing with the digestive consequences.

If your dog experiences chronic diarrhea, it can be a cause for concern. If your dog has recurring diarrhea, your vet may want to perform a fecal exam. Fecal exams can identify possible intestinal parasites. If a fecal exam doesn’t provide a firm answer, your dog may undergo abdominal X-rays and ultrasounds to screen the digestive tract for potential causes.

When your dog is experiencing diarrhea, it’s best to keep an eye out for accompanying symptoms. If your dog refuses to eat or drink, seems lethargic, or is vomiting, a trip to the vet is in order. The combination of these symptoms with diarrhea can lead to dehydration. It’s important to find the root cause of the digestive problem quickly and start proper treatment immediately.

Poop Size

Poop comes in many shapes and sizes and is dependent on a variety of factors. The size of your dog is the most common factor that contributes to poop size. A smaller dog breed, such as a Pomeranian or Chihuahua, will have much smaller poop than a large dog breed, such as a Cane Corso or Great Dane, for obvious reasons. Smaller dog breeds simply eat less and produce smaller poop than larger breeds.

In addition to dog size, fiber is another factor that can dictate how large your dog’s poop will be. On average, dogs who eat more fiber have larger poop than those who eat less fiber. Fiber can be found in many foods but is abundant in fruits and vegetables. Mangoes, bananas, and lettuce are all great sources of fiber. If your dog’s diet is high in fiber, you may notice an increase in the size of their stool.

bunch of bananas and some mangos on a white background

When To Call The Vet

Dog poop can be a bit tricky to decipher. Some changes in dog poop are harmless and easily explainable, while others can be a major cause for concern. In general, it’s best to call the vet when you notice changes in the stool. These can include changes in color, consistency, coating, or content. Some of these changes are short-lived and easily resolved, while others can be triggered by deeper health issues.

If your dog is experiencing other symptoms along with stool changes, it’s best to notify a medical professional. Vomiting, bloating, lethargy, and a decrease in appetite can all indicate a bigger health issue.

Puppies are highly susceptible to illnesses before their first shots, specifically canine parvovirus. Parvovirus is a viral disease that’s very contagious and can be deadly. Symptoms of parvovirus can include loose stool, diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and a loss of appetite. It’s time to contact the vet if you notice your puppy is displaying these symptoms.

Food changes are a common cause of an abnormal appearance in your dog’s stool; however, they usually resolve quickly. If you have changed your dog’s food and they are still having loose stool and other digestive issues after a few days, consider reaching out to your vet. These symptoms may be caused by an ingredient in their new food that they are allergic to or can’t easily process. Your vet will be able to do fecal examinations and find out exactly what new ingredient is causing these upsets. If allergy testing is necessary, your vet can let you know what ingredients in their new food are triggering a reaction and what to stay away from.

African American veterinarian talking to dog owner

Wrapping Up

Many dog owners may not realize that dog poop is a very common indicator of your dog’s health. Dog poop can be a sign of illnesses, allergies, digestive issues, food intolerances, and much more. To recognize possible health concerns, it’s important to know what dog poop should and shouldn’t look like.

Dog poop can be broken down into the four C’s: color, consistency, coating, and content. All these aspects contribute to the overall health of your dog’s poop, or lack thereof. Overall, dog poop should be close to a chocolate brown. Other colors may indicate possible health issues. Dog poop should be about a two on the consistency rating scale, meaning it’s soft with an identifiable form. Poop that’s too soft or too hard can also be a sign of digestive issues or dehydration. Dog poop should never have a mucous coating or foreign objects within the content of it. If it does, schedule an appointment with your vet for a proper examination.

Dog poop can vary in size. The size is dependent on the size of your dog and the amount of fiber they eat. Some causes of irregular dog poop can include a change in diet, getting into food that’s not meant for canine consumption, and eating new foods that don’t agree with them, like certain fruits and vegetables. If you notice irregular dog poop that is accompanied by other symptoms, such as vomiting or lethargy, be sure to reach out to your vet. Overall, keeping an eye on your dog’s poop will help give you peace of mind that your dog is healthy and ensure your dog gets the medical care they need if digestive issues do arise.

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