Gastroenteritis in a Tiny Dog
January 18, 2017 8:07 AM   Subscribe

My old chihuahua pal is barfing and doing runny poops. My vet is not helpful. I'm worried about dog-to-human transmission of something like norovirus. I would like some impartial advice, especially if you can (reasonably) tell me to calm down. I also welcome anecdotes about any similar experiences you've had. (Gross play-by-play details and analysis within)

It started 13 hours ago, last night around 10:15, with a "pop the cork" solid poop inside combined with some runny melted-chocolate-looking poo. I let him outside and shamed him (stood over him, pointed to the poo, and said UH-OH--our usual routine when he bathrooms inside the house, nothing truly scary). During this time, my partner found some vomit (solid, undigested kibble) in another room.

The dog came back in and I tested his appetite with a single piece of kibble, then a treat which he ate un-enthusiastically. He chased a ball for minute and then his butt started dripping again. On our way out the door, our other dog slipped and fell in the diarrhea on the floor. IT WAS A FUN NIGHT!

He had a few more episodes overnight, nothing really voluminous, but seemed to be equal parts runny poo (no mucus, no blood) and liquidy brown vomit. This morning when we went outside, he squatted to poop but seemed only to strain, and he dry-heaved (and may have vomited a bit); once we were inside, he vomited clear mucus. He sniffed his food dish but did not eat. I left him with a cozy blanket and a dish of water, no food.

I called our vet and described all of this, and they said to bring him in ASAP just to be safe. I said well, we're on a budget and today is busy with appointments and jury duty (most perfect timing!), and it doesn't seem serious yet--but should we be looking for anything that would indicate a more serious problem? Is it possible for dogs to get a 12- or 24-hour stomach bug and make a full recovery? She wasn't able to tell me. I am frustrated, and worried about my boy. And about our other dog. And about ourselves.

So I ask you, knowing you are not a vet:

1) Do dogs just get random illnesses like this and recover like humans do after similar bugs? Our dog will puke occasionally, but it usually follows some stressful event or something he ate, and it's usually an isolated incident. I've known this dog for 4 years and haven't seen him come down with both the D and the V at the same time. He doesn't go to a dog park and hasn't been to daycare in a while. Nobody in our household has been sick recently.

2) If it's viral, can we get it? Do we need to quarantine our other dog? Searching for "dog norovirus" yielded just enough information to make me nervous.

3) Google sez we should take him to the vet if he's lethargic and uninterested in food. But that seems like it's to be expected if he hasn't eaten in a long time and doesn't feel good--right? Are there other symptoms we should watch for as red flags? What's the timeline on this?
posted by witchen to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
My vet-in-training daughter says go the vet immediately; budget issues or not, because your dog could be dead within days if you don't get this looked at NOW.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:12 AM on January 18, 2017 [7 favorites]


It's not really fair to say your vet is being unhelpful when you told them you don't want to bring the dog in because you're on a budget. The vet can't really give you advice about this if you don't bring the dog in. Bring the dog in.
posted by cakelite at 8:12 AM on January 18, 2017 [21 favorites]


In my experience (admittedly with large dogs), a 24 hour fast and an irritated stomach that will resolve on its own will not cause a healthy dog to turn their nose up at food or to be lethargic.

As a dog owner, even if this is a virus that will clear on its own, my immediate worry would be dehydration. Dehydration in dogs can lead to diarrhea and vomiting, so it becomes an ever-worsening circle. The vet can administer fluids under the skin.
posted by muddgirl at 8:17 AM on January 18, 2017 [12 favorites]


I should clarify that he's more subdued than lethargic. When he was out in the yard this morning, I saw him climbing up on a lawn chair and doing his usual sniff-the things routine. He's just not really barky or frisky like he usually is after a BM (or three).

And I know that it would be best to take him to the vet. My question is whether this is urgent enough on balance with the significant financial and personal cost of doing it right now (my partner is downtown at jury duty; I have my own doctor's appointment this afternoon which would put me back on the waitlist if I rescheduled; I have very limited sick time from work).

And whether we should take precautions as if it were transmissible norovirus.
posted by witchen at 8:24 AM on January 18, 2017


Can you take him in after work? Like muddgirl said, the main issue might be that he's getting dehydrated, which can happen very quickly in tiny dogs. My tiny dog has gotten pukey and sharty before, and while it was important to get him to a vet for fluids and a checkup, it never occurred to me to worry that the dog was going to give me norovirus, this seems like not the thing you should be worrying about right now.
posted by cakelite at 8:30 AM on January 18, 2017 [6 favorites]


My tiny 5lb chihuahua/dachshund mix exhibited almost exactly the same symptoms before we took him in and discovered he had a stomach obstruction. We took him in when it got to the point where it sounds like you're at. Leading up to then, he had been taking longer to eat his food and had been throwing up more than usual (like yours, ours will vomit once every 2 or 3 months in a one-off way, but when we took him in he was heaving every couple hours). Eventually I think there was blood in his vomit, and he ended up having an obstruction (basically a giant hairball) about the size of a hamster that had started to enter his intestinal tract and had to be removed surgically. So, that's one anecdotal point to consider.
posted by LionIndex at 8:32 AM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


If he were my dog, I would look at whether he is drinking. If so, I'd give him a day fast (with drinking things like low salt chicken broth and water) to see if he feels better. It sounds like it's been more than 24 hours already, so I'd go to the vet very soon.

If he's not drinking, or if he's vomiting regularly, I'd take him to the vet right away. Even if the vet says nothing is seriously wrong, I'd insist on them giving fluids.

I've had dozens of foster dogs. The only things I've been warned about contracting from them are things like fungus and mites - not viruses.
posted by answergrape at 8:36 AM on January 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


My question is whether this is urgent enough on balance with the significant financial and personal cost of doing it right now

Maybe not RIGHT NOW but I would do it today, yes.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:38 AM on January 18, 2017 [9 favorites]


I should clarify that he's more subdued than lethargic.

Yeah, we used to have a pen for our guy that he stayed in when we left the house, and he didn't want to come out of there; he had a carrier box in there and even stayed in there for quite a bit. He'd come out and be social every once in a while, but would go back.

To clarify on the eating: he normally eats his full complement of food in one go, but takes a little while because he's small and has to crunch up the food and stuff (compared to our slightly larger 20lb mini schnauzer), so he'd take about 5-10 minutes. In the month or two leading up to when he really started vomiting, his pace had slowed down to where he'd pick at his food for a half hour or so. The day before we took him in, he'd almost completely lost interest.
posted by LionIndex at 8:44 AM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


I understand how expensive vets are around here. Try deworming before you go down more expensive roads. I spent 3k on a dog when it would have been 15$ to get rid of that avian worm in it's gut.

Dog been around any dead birds?

Also, keeping track of how much time passes between eating and the problems can be really helpful to a vet.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:53 AM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


You want to rule out an obstruction; that's why it's critical to go today.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:00 AM on January 18, 2017 [4 favorites]


I am not a vet, but I would recommend taking the pup in. Dehydration is an issue, as is bowel obstruction. And, I agree, it's not that your vet was unhelpful, it's that you weren't willing to follow his/her advice to bring the dog in. Like any medical professional, they are not going to do a diagnosis and treatment for a possibly serious illness based on descriptions over the phone from a non-professional.
posted by HuronBob at 9:21 AM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


He's a tiny dog. Tiny animals don't have a lot of saved strength/calories/water in them. He probably has a faster metabolism than, say, a German shepherd.

You could end up at an emergency vet tonight, as an alternative.

I'm not an expert.
posted by amtho at 9:29 AM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


Depending on your vet, you may want to ask about payment plans or other options they have for folks who don't have a lot of money to spare. Sometimes, they might be able to cut you a deal.

But, yeah, with diarrhea and vomiting that doesn't self-resolve quickly, there are a lot of possible causes that could turn out to be quite serious or even fatal if not addressed.

As for getting infected by what your dog has, if it is an infectious disease or parasite, that's a possibility. But it's easy enough to protect against, just make sure you clean up messes quickly (with a mild bleach solution, if the surface allows for it) and wash your hands.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:33 AM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


Get him to the vet ASAP. Look out for signs of blood in the poop or vomit you may only have a short time after that to get to the vets after that, my dog had HGE which started as vomiting & diaherria, the vet said if we'd waited 15 mintues more he'd have bleed out on the drive over. If it's a small dog dehydration will kill him faster than you realise. Do the pinch test.

In anything other than a very mild case your dog will not be able to re hydrate themselves without outside help. Specially if they are pooping & vomiting more than they are taking in.

If nothing else he most likely needs IV fluids if you don't have a lot of money they may be willing to give a big old shot of fluid under the skin he can slowly absorb so you can bring your dog home & not pay for the vet stay. You will need further tests to figure out what the problem is

Talk to your vet there are a lot of options & vets are very conscious of people not having unlimited money to throw at these situations don't be embarrassed to discuss that side of things with them.
posted by wwax at 9:47 AM on January 18, 2017 [5 favorites]


1) Do dogs just get random illnesses like this and recover like humans do after similar bugs? Our dog will puke occasionally, but it usually follows some stressful event or something he ate, and it's usually an isolated incident. I've known this dog for 4 years and haven't seen him come down with both the D and the V at the same time. He doesn't go to a dog park and hasn't been to daycare in a while. Nobody in our household has been sick recently.

Some dogs have sensitive tummies and get mild GI upset occasionally. Others (ugh like mine) are master garbage thieves and eat gross stuff on walks, causing occasional mild GI upset. It sounds like these symptoms are unusual for your dog, though, so you do need to have him seen to rule out obstruction.

2) If it's viral, can we get it? Do we need to quarantine our other dog? Searching for "dog norovirus" yielded just enough information to make me nervous.


I mean, some diseases are zoonotic between dogs and humans, but this isn't an exceptionally common occurrence. You don't need to quarantine your dog, but it would be good practice to avoid direct contact with other dogs until he's feeling better, and to be extra-vigilant about cleaning up his waste. As long as you practice good hygiene I would not worry much/at all about contracting whatever bug he might have.

3) Google sez we should take him to the vet if he's lethargic and uninterested in food. But that seems like it's to be expected if he hasn't eaten in a long time and doesn't feel good--right? Are there other symptoms we should watch for as red flags? What's the timeline on this?


Just because something is expected doesn't mean it's not vet-visit-worthy. Like, sure, a dog that isn't feeling well and isn't eating is expected to feel lethargic and disinterested in food. Those symptoms are still worth addressing with a vet. The other biggie is dehydration which I see has already been mentioned above.

I let him outside and shamed him (stood over him, pointed to the poo, and said UH-OH--our usual routine when he bathrooms inside the house, nothing truly scary)

This may not be "truly scary" but it is nonetheless inappropriate. Once a dog has eliminated inside, he/she will not be able to connect "Pooped inside" with "Humans are unhappy." They're brains aren't like ours. It's one thing to interrupt a dog mid-poop or mid-pee, but once they're done... so is your teachable moment.

Please don't treat your dog like this. :(

posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:49 AM on January 18, 2017 [14 favorites]


I'd take the dog in today, no question. (Not a vet but I'd be wondering, did puppy get into some chocolate?? A friend lost their pup that way, very sad :( and hard to deal with )

As for when exactly, taking your financial issues into consideration : compare the cost of an emergency appointment tonight, against wages lost of you had to take another afternoon off. (Although if it IS possible it's chocolate related would go sooner than later.)

If you decide to go now, call the receptionist at your doc's office ASAP, explain what's happened, 9/10 odds they'll be sympathetic and do you a solid.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:55 AM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


The cost of the emergency vet will make you wish you'd taken him in today.
posted by praemunire at 9:58 AM on January 18, 2017 [9 favorites]


I am not a vet, and I agree that your sweet little guy should go to the vet. I really feel uncomfortable making any judgment about the likelihood of a severe problem. My dogs definitely will once in a while have a day where their tummies are off, they're tail down for the day, don't have a huge interest in food, and then we get a bunch of tests and find nothing, and within a few days, things are back to normal. One of our dogs takes longer than the other to get back to normal, and we usually do end up switching her to a bland diet to get her back on track. However, if you've had this dog for a long time and never experienced this before, that's even more reason to get him checked out with the vet, sorry to say. If possible, bring in a recent sample of the poop when you go, to save some time/trips.

I wouldn't worry about norovirus, but possibly giardia, which is transmissible to humans from dogs. Our dog had it once, and none of us caught it, not even the toddler, who was, you know, crawling around on the floor too.
posted by freezer cake at 10:07 AM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


p.s. I hope he feels better. He is adorable and I want to give him hugs and a belly rub.
posted by freezer cake at 10:09 AM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


It is possible that this is no big deal, though vomiting and diarrhea at the same time is worrying (one or the other, less so and more or less normal) and I would take the dog to a vet today if at all possible. Don't necessarily insist on your usual vet; look around. Some vets have later hours than others, so you might be able to fit in a visit to a different vet more easily.

If you can't get him to a vet right away, then in the meanwhile, give him some canned plain pumpkin and some cooked white rice with a 50% serving of his usual food food and see if that helps any.
posted by kindall at 10:17 AM on January 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'd be way less concerned about dog-human transmission than your dog having something like an obstruction or hookworms. Random episode of vomit or diarrhea is a "wait and see" situation. Continuous vomiting and uncontrolled diarrhea combined with refusal of food is a "get to the vet and put it on a credit card" situation. Your dog is in a lot of pain and needs your help. He can't get to the doctor by himself!

I also want to underscore what schroedingersgirl's said about shaming the dog for going in the house. Unless you catch them in the act, the dog doesn't connect the inside elimination with your correction, and he literally has no idea why he's getting in trouble. And if he had liquid stool inside, it's basically equivalent to you shitting your pants because you couldn't get to the bathroom.
posted by radioamy at 10:21 AM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


Vet. It could be anything. And folks are right that the timing is key with a small dog. When my miniature schnauzer poodle had those symptoms, he needed immediate rehydration. Vet suspected pancreatitis, but said it could be any number of things: virus, poisoning, pancreatitis, diabetes.

Bring a poop sample in with you if you can. We didn't opt for all of the tests that were offered, because the vet's approach was going to be the same, whether or not it was pinned down to a specific diagnosis.

Antibiotics, a bolus (for hydration -- basically a sub-dermal saline sack that slowly released water into his system, instead of an iv), and directions to have him fast for 24 hrs (but give water), and then only slowly introduce small amounts of white rice and boiled chicken. It was very slow going. When the dog was ready for dog food again, it was extremely expensive, low fat, high carb prescription food. It took me almost a year (during which time he developed a miserable allergy condition -- which I blame on the high carbs in the extremely expensive food) to Get him moved to a low fat, moderate carb, higher protein food. Which instantly solved the skin allergies but did not bring back an attack of whatever was bothering him in the first place.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:49 AM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oof. Thanks for the advice, everyone. My partner went home for lunch and saw that the new diarrhea (which was previously only liquid normal poo) had some blood in it, and that he did drink the water in his dish but then vomited it back up. He's still responsive and alert, but not frisky like usual. And the "pinch test" showed his skin springing back quickly. So we conferred, he called the vet, and they booked us for an appointment tomorrow morning. They did not think it warranted an emergency visit based on what we described.

Thank you for the reassurances re: a virus transmissible to humans. I have some emetophobia, so this kind of thing spins me out in a big way. The vet seems to think it's something from the trash that he got into, or possibly an obstruction.

And (not to get defensive, but here I go): the UH-OH thing works when he goes to the bathroom inside somewhat on purpose, like when it's raining and he refuses to budge from the porch or go for a walk, and five minutes later he's gone on the rug where it's dry and warm. It's also not harsh at all--literally just saying "uh-oh" and pointing to poo on the floor. Before we found the vom, before the 2nd instance of diarrhea, I thought he had defecated inside because the yard was cold & wet. I didn't realize he was sick. I would never make him feel bad for being sick. I just mentioned it as a potential stressor.

Finally, the plan for now is to give him only small amounts of water, and on my way home I'll pick up some onion-free broth and pumpkin puree in case he seems up to it, and keep an eye on him through the night.

Thank you again. And do let me know if this seems wildly inappropriate or dangerous. I really do appreciate the input.
posted by witchen at 11:35 AM on January 18, 2017


If it were me, just because of what happened to my friend's dog, tonight, I'd go through the house & garbage (if it hasn't been thrown out yet) and just check to see if there are any suspicious looking chocolate wrappers, and watch for signs described here. I guess your vet knows best, but a chihuahua with bloody poo and puking with just water, after 13 hours, would worry me enough to make me go tonight. But that might just be me. Good luck and keep us updated on his health!
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:11 PM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


The chocolate thing...I had been wondering about that myself. As far as I know, he hasn't been in the presence of chocolate since Friday night (96 hours before he got sick), when the kids were doing a baking project. They're usually pretty conscientious about what they leave out. There was also the time, Sunday evening, when I brought him along to run an errand with me and he had a few minutes alone in my car. It's possible he would've gotten into something left under the seat, but I'm 100% certain I wouldn't have left more than a smidge of milk chocolate anywhere (because I tend to eat it right away), and I don't ever have dark chocolate. After the errands on Sunday night, though, we did go to Starbucks and he had most of a Puppuccino (a small cup of whipped cream). That was 48+ hours before he got sick. Something to consider. And thank you for that link and list of additional symptoms to watch for.

Also the possibility of a dead bird. Yuck! I hope we solve this tomorrow morning and that we never go through it again. I'll post an update. Thanks again.
posted by witchen at 12:34 PM on January 18, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've definitely noticed a delayed GI effect after my dog eats something gross. Once he ate an entire jar of Vaseline and didn't develop diarrhea until 2 days later.

(Guys, never let your dogs eat Vaseline... it's nontoxic but I will never forget the literal shitstorm that followed.)

My money's on the Puppuccino. Hope he feels better soon!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:39 PM on January 18, 2017


Oh, also, I have this dog chocolate toxicity meter bookmarked for situations like this: http://www.petmd.com/dog/chocolate-toxicity
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:53 PM on January 18, 2017 [3 favorites]


Ok, I just scanned the answers, so sorry for any repeats. I am a veterinarian, and there are many reasons why your vet said your pet needs to be seen.

I saw obstruction covered in the comments, definite possibility.

Pancreatitis: if he has this and you don't get him treatment, he may die. Fatty foods (like whipped cream) can cause pancreatitis.

He could have eaten something toxic.

There are a lot of possibilities. This is the way I try to have people look at it. If this were your child, would you just wait for it to clear up (especially with the bloody diarrhea)? I am going to guess 'no'. Your pet is just as dependent as a child is for you to get them appropriate healthcare. I have seen cases very similar to this where the owners wait to bring the dog/cat in...and the fact that they waited completely changed the outcome (the dog/cat dies).

Based on the signs you listed, I have my guess at the diagnosis in my head...and I would take my dog in ASAP.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:32 PM on January 18, 2017 [6 favorites]


PHEW. Good news from the vet. It's a bacterial infection.

Last night, I found him to be back to his old self--super frisky, interested in his toys and running around, etc. I fed him some low-sodium/onion-free/fat-free chicken broth in a medicine dripper and he tried to run away with the dripper. He wolfed down the little dish of broth and water that I set out, and stole some of the other dog's food when he thought I wasn't looking. It all came back out a few hours later, but I was so glad his appetite and energy were back.

Today at the vet, they did a pretty thorough exam and looked at his heart, took a stool sample, etc. There was a massive overgrowth of bacteria in his stool, probably kicked into high gear thanks to a large serving of sugar a few days ago (I shake my fist at Starbucks and that damn Puppuccino). He's home now with broth and antibiotics, and probiotics, and disinfected water and food bowls for both dogs. And probiotics for the other dog, as a precaution.

Thank you all for your advice and concern. Until the blood came along, I was thinking of this as a "what would I do if it were a human kid?" and the answer is generally wait it out, give fluids, etc. But I'm so glad we went to the vet and that he's properly on the mend now. Thank you again.
posted by witchen at 10:28 AM on January 19, 2017 [8 favorites]


Glad your pupper's all right!
posted by tobascodagama at 10:49 AM on January 19, 2017 [4 favorites]


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