The SURPRISING link between diarrhea, back injuries and too much exercise

by Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM
What you may not know about Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Diet Allergy

Some time ago, I wrote that one of the clearest expressions of love is to clean up diarrhea after your poor dog explodes in the middle of the night and still be okay with it. The love for your dog simply makes you put on the gloves, take the bucket and do what is needed. However, who would not want these incidents to be as infrequent as possible?

When Skai was a puppy, he had a few month long episodes of recurrent diarrhea. He taught me why this problem troubles so many dogs and that the solution is often where we least expect it. 

The origin of the word diarrhea comes from the Greek word diarrho~ which means ‘to flow through.’

The conventional view of diarrhea is that such process has to be stopped at any cost because it is not good.

From the holistic point of view, a brief episode of infrequent diarrhea is usually the body’s protective and cleansing reaction,  especially if your dog ate something “funky.” Diarrhea is the body’s way of getting rid of something that is potentially harmful, toxic, or foreign.

A good example was a puppy that I saw prancing at the beach the other day with a long and lanky “toy” in his mouth. It only took a few seconds for me to realize that the “toy” was a dead sea snake that I saw on the beach a few days before. Hmm,  I thought, the dead snake could be still better than a toxic dog toy made in China, however it definitely had the “mid night on the carpet explosion” potential.

When to consider diarrhea a problem

Unless your dogs diarrhea episode lasts for more than one to two days and your dog is unhappy or restless, it can be compared to you taking the garbage bin out when it is full and just not a big deal.  Using anti-diarrheal drugs can be compared to packing your garbage bin even more instead of taking it out. The drugs are simply contraindicated against what nature is trying to do.

Using anti-diarrheal drugs can be compared to packing your garbage bin even more instead of taking it out.

There have been many articles written on dogs and diarrhea and I do not want to discount the fact that in some cases, diarrhea can be very serious. However, one needs to be reminded that dogs are not humans nor horses and that they have evolved to be impressive scavengers that are mostly un-phased by eating everything from A to S. My original intention to write a brief blog made me realize that I was foolish and that if I am to describe all the causes and different types of ‘fast flow throughs’, I may be unintentionally throwing myself into writing weeks of long ‘Diarrhea Diaries.’

Cause of diarrhea that is not commonly known

Millennia of their evolution allowed dogs to become masters in cleansing and most dogs ready to have fun and play the next morning, un-phased by what happened.  Most veterinarians and dog lovers see diarrhea in a very physical sense. They usually try to determine localized causes such as bacteria or parasites or look for pancreatic inflammation, allergies, intolerance, enzyme deficiencies or hormonal problems.  However, Skai taught me something that I was not aware of before he had his episode. As a new dog parent I quickly realized that being a vet may be a bonus in the case of raising a puppy but there was still much to learn.  

I believed that if I am to be a good parent I had to buy a Chuck It ball thrower and exercise my dog.  Border collies are infamous for their ball obsession and I soon learned that Skai did not know when to stop. In a week or two, he started having diarrhea. I tried all the tricks up my sleeve and the diarrhea seemed to come and go on for months. All tests were inconclusive and the treatments I chose worked only temporarily and I started to worry because Skai was losing weight. At one point, it got so severe that I even had to put him on IV fluids to prevent further dehydration. This is when I really started to worry, in fact, I felt a sense of panic because I didn’t know what to do.

Unexpected cause, a simple solution

From the conventional point of view, Skai’s diagnosis would be IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) or possibly diet intolerance or allergies but my gut was telling me that this was not it.  I went back in time to see what changes I had made and found a strange coincidence. The diarrhea started around the time Skai started to retrieve a ball! Could that be it? Strange I thought. I carefully examined his body and discovered that his lumbar muscles were tight and sensitive to touch suggesting an injury. Then I  recalled him slipping and sliding several times when trying to catch the ball. Could the ball retrieving be at the root of my dogs diarrhea?

I did more research and  confirmed that indeed the lumbar spine supplies the energy flow to the intestines which made me believe that tightness of lumbar muscles may result in intestinal problems. I imagined that the body is like a garden and the organs are the garden patches. The spine is the “watering system” that supplies energy to the different organs and when a certain segment gets injured and becomes tight, the underlying organ doesn’t get proper energy flow and becomes dysfunctional.

The spine is the “watering system” that supplies energy to the different organs and when a certain segment gets injured and becomes tight, the underlying organ doesn’t get proper energy flow and becomes dysfunctional. “It doesn’t get watered.”

So, I decided to stop all the ball retrieving and asked an animal physiotherapist chiropractor for help. I also started Skai on probiotics to calm his intestines down. The results were amazing,  Skai’s diarrhea was gone, his body weight was back to normal and that was it.

My dog is my best teacher

This happened to me years ago and thanks to Skai, I have now been able to solve the problem of diarrhea in many dogs. It almost seems too simple but my estimate is that more than 70 percent of dogs suffering from diarrhea have a lumbar injury. Ball retrieving, leaping in the water while at a beach, jumping up to play frisbee or an accidental slip or slide are some of the most common reasons of recurrent diarrhea. I have confirmed this by seeing how reliable the treatment is.

This is not to discount the importance of species appropriate natural and raw diet or the right natural supplements. There are also other causes such as bacteria, parasites, vaccine  side effects, hormonal issues and allergies that sometimes play a role. However, I find diarrhea being one of the most commonly misdiagnosed problems in veterinary medicine. The paradox is that the answer is sometimes very simple but not where one expects it to be and it can also be shockingly simple.  As Galileo once said: "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered, the point is to discover them.”

More than 70 percent dogs suffering from diarrhea have a lumbar injury.

Holistic approach to addressing diarrhea

I gather that now you would like to know what to do about your dog’s diarrhea.  As I said, there are many reasons for diarrhea and this blog is not to discuss them all in one session.  However, if you strongly suspect that your dog is having digestive problems for the reasons above, here are my suggestions for you to try:

  1. Limit or ideally stop any injurious exercise such as ball retrieving, jumping up or over, sprinting, leaping in the water from the shore and excessive swimming.

  2. See a Chiropractor, Physiotherapist or Osteopath to examine your dog’s back.

  3. Add essential supplements to your dog’s food.

  4. Stop feeding kibble if you do and feed a premium raw or cooked diet.

  5. Remember that bones must not be cooked, they must be fed raw.

  6. Variety of food is important.

  7. Limit beef, buffalo or bison meat to once to twice a week maximum or eliminate it completely if your dog appears to be sensitive.

  8. When diarrhea happens, fast for 24 hours, give two meals of pumpkin and chicken broth and go back to regular food after.

If there is no improvement, there may be other factors playing a role which you may need to explore. You may need to book a consultation or see your veterinarian for assistance, perhaps you even want to share this blog with him.

 © Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM


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Dr. Dobias is a licensed doctor of veterinary medicine and lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. He has more than 20 years of practical experience in conventional and holistic veterinary medicine and his big passions are natural healing, dogs and living a healthy lifestyle...

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