What’s My Dog’s Poop Telling Me?

It’s a downright cringeworthy experience. You’re on a walk with your doggie and they squat down to do some business. Your fingers are crossed but the poop they produce is foul and runny, a nightmare to try and pick up as it squishes through your fingers, thankfully on the other end of a thin layer of plastic. And god forbid you only have one bag remaining.

This is not what you want to see from your dog’s number twos and conversely, hard pebbles are equally unwelcome. 

Dr. Kate Shoveller, a companion animal nutrition professor in the University of Guelph’s Animal Biosciences department, spends a lot of time thinking about dog poop.

“Poop gives you a great idea of what’s happening on the inside,” says Dr. Shoveller. “It could suggest you have the wrong diet for your dog. 

“Both loose stools and ones that are too firm will benefit from an appropriate fibre blend.”

A diet tweak may be all that’s necessary in some cases. But owners should keep a close eye on their dog’s pooping habits as they can offer important insight into the animal’s health and well being. The range of poops fall on a Likert scale, which place a numerical value on each type. The scale is typically a 1-5 or 1-7, with a 1 representing the hard pebbles and a 5 or 7 designated for the runny diarrhea. 

The ideal is somewhere right in the middle.

“The dog can easily poop but you aren’t grimacing when you pick it up,” Dr. Shoveller says of the perfect poop scenario. “It’s a well-formed stool that you can pick up with a bag and not smear it everywhere.”

Dog owners should be aware of a commonly-used dog poop term: the four Cs. They stand for colour, consistency, contents, and coating. The scale addresses consistency. As for contents, you want to make sure the poop is free of any objects inside it. Coating refers to an ideal poop being clean to pick up without anything on the exterior. 

Colour is an important consideration. 

“Poop should be brown,” says Dr. Shoveller, suggesting there are some ranges of brown that indicate good health.

The real red flags for dog owners are colours like yellow, green, black, and yes, red. The latter could indicate internal bleeding, possibly in the lower digestive tract. Black stools are a sign of internal bleeding, as well, though higher up the digestive tract. Yellow stools might be the result of a problem with the liver or gallbladder.

So keep an eye on what your dog is doing when it’s time for a two. But note that some of these issues are cause for concern over prolonged periods of time. If it’s a one-off, there’s probably no need to worry.

“Both ends of the scale could signify a potential health or physiological problem,” Dr. Shoveller says. “If you have diarrhea that is liquid, and it’s chronic, that’s a problem. If you have pebbles and the dog is constipated, once is not an issue but again, if it’s chronic, that’s also a problem.

“If your dog takes advantage of you being gone and eats garbage one day and has a loose stool because of that, there’s no reason to take them to the vet.

“But when you have more symptoms like lethargy or an inability to tolerate exercise, it’s time to get veterinary help.”