Got a Dog With Diarrhea? Or a Vomiting Cat? Here's How to Manage the Mess

Sick cat on couch
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In general, if a pet has vomited or had bad diarrhea, withdraw food for 12 to 24 hours to give his digestive tract a rest.

For a pet owner, there’s not much worse than having to care for an animal who’s vomiting or has diarrhea. It’s even worse when it occurs in the middle of the night, and you’re awakened by the hacking that precedes vomiting or the stench that accompanies diarrhea.

Vomiting and diarrhea can have a number of causes: getting into the garbage or toxic substances, eating too much, an abrupt change in diet, certain diseases, internal parasites — and even stress.

It’s never smart to assume that a dog's or cat’s stomach upset is simply the result of dietary indiscretion. It could be caused by a foreign body obstruction, ingestion of a rodenticide or bloat. If you wait an hour too long to take your pet to the vet, the result could be fatal — or, at the least, very expensive.

A phone call costs nothing. Give your veterinarian a quick call and describe what’s happening. The history of the problem may determine whether it’s urgent. If your vet decides that your pet simply has a case of what we like to call “garbage gut,” here’s how to handle the situation, from cleanup to recovery.

Cleanup Tips

When pets suffer digestive tract upset, the spew that can come out of either end is pretty disgusting, but diarrhea may have the edge when it comes to the gross-out factor. Loose, unformed, stinky stools are the hallmark of a case of the runs. Vomitus may contain the remains of partially digested food or yellow bile, which can stain carpets.

I'm guessing that the first thing you’ll want to do after checking on your pet’s well-being is to get the mess cleaned up. If you have carpet, this is best done as quickly as possible, using an enzymatic cleanser that will “eat” the bacteria that cause stinks and stains. Wearing disposable rubber gloves — the thicker the better, I think — get up as much of the goo as you can. Use a damp paper towel to remove as much of the remainder as you can, doing your best not to spread it further. Treat the area with the cleanser and let it sit for about an hour. Then blot the area with a paper towel or clean, dry towel to remove as much moisture as possible. Once the area is only slightly damp, sprinkle baking soda on it and let it sit for 24 hours. During that time, keep your pet from ingesting the baking soda by covering the area with a laundry basket or closing the door to the room. After that, just vacuum.

For hard surfaces, such as tile or wood, simply wipe up the mess and treat the floor with the cleanser to remove the odor.

Of course, you’ll want to clean up your pet as well. He may need a “butt bath,” especially if he has a furry rear end. Mix some pet shampoo with water and wipe him down as needed with a clean washcloth or sponge. Check his paws, too, in case he walked through the mess. Rinse thoroughly and blot him dry.

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