This may end up being a multiple-part blog...I have a lot to say! (Shocking, right?)
I'm going to start with an example - you can let me know if this sounds familiar.
1. Your dog gets sudden onset diarrhea (and isn't "prone" to it normally). You pack Fido up and head off to the vet. Below is a description of what happens more often than not... The vet will check hydration and temperature, ask about energy and appetite. Then they will prescribe a broad spectrum antibiotic (often Metronidazole) and suggest that you feed their canned Gastro food or cook beef/chicken and rice for a few days. What SHOULD happen - in my opinion - is a bit different. Dogs get upset stomachs sometimes and need to "purge" - it isn't necessarily a bad thing. If the diarrhea goes on for more than a day or so, and certainly if your pet is dehydrated, lethargic, straining or if there is blood involved then it is definitely time to seek help. Fasting a dog that has diarrhea is always a good idea in my experience - their GI tract needs to rest and feeding a dog that is pooping liquid will not provide that rest. If you think of it this way it may help. Diarrhea is the SYMPTOM of inflammation. The GI tract gets irritated and inflamed, the waste NEEDS to get through and the body knows it. In order to facilitate the waste removal, the body liquifies the waste so that it can get through the area of inflammation without getting "stuck". Pretty smart body, right?? So this demonstrates that diarrhea is the SYMPTOM of the root cause which is inflammation. Now, why is there inflammation?? If you know that your pet ate something funky, then you have determined ROOT CAUSE and can simply look to control symptoms. Does eating a dead fish at the beach or maybe stealing the cat's food require antibiotics? Likely not. If you don't know the cause, there are things you can do to get to the bottom (pun intended) of it and help you to address it. You can hand over a stool sample to rule out parasites and nasties like Giardia. If anything shows up, you can then treat it with appropriate medications or seek information on alternative tools that don't involve drugs - that is YOUR choice, knowledge is power. You could choose to request an xray if your pet is the type that is skilled at eating indigestible objects - an old sock or Barbie's head would definitely cause inflammation and are dangerous, so definitely worth investigating!
A blood panel to check for pancreatic inflammation (which can present as diarrhea) is another diagnostic tool to keep in mind.
Other questions to ask yourself (even before you get to the vet so that you can give them the "big picture") include: Did you recently make a food change? Did you vaccinate within the last few weeks? Is there emotional stress going on in the household? (yes, mental state can absolutely contribute to physical symptoms like GI upset!) Has your pet been to the dog park or kennel, around other dogs that could possible have been infectious?
Sometimes, rest and a bland diet (after a fasting period) of boiled chicken and canned pumpkin are enough to reduce inflammation and everything can go back to normal. Other times, you find an underlying issue that requires treatment - but at least you are treating something specific and not just slapping a band-aid on the problem! After the crisis has been dealt with, DON'T STOP THERE! Ask yourself, what can you do to help your pet avoid this issue in the first place or perhaps to recover faster if they do have it happen again. It is so important to realize that Immunity starts in the gut. If you have given the antibiotics, you NEED to re-establish good gut microbiome. Feed a high quality probiotic to put things back on track now. Waiting and not putting those good bugs back leads to a problem called Dysbiosis and can create much deeper disease down the line. Perhaps now is the time to take a deeper look at your pet's diet - is it balanced and ideal? Or could it be causing chronic simmering inflammation that makes it easier for flare-ups to happen. If you are a fan of alternative modalities, now could also be the time to add more "tools" to your toolkit. There are many fantastic herbs that can help with the symptom of diarrhea (slippery elm, goldenseal, etc) - take it to the next step and follow herbalists like Greg Tilford and Rita Hogan, some pretty awesome information to be had there!
If you know anything of homeopathy, there are fantastic remedies that are invaluable in times of crisis like Arsenicum, Phosphorus, China.... why not consider learning about this safe, highly effective option and add even more to the options you can have on hand to empower yourself and save your pet the discomfort that comes with NOT having supportive therapies on hand.
Look for future blog post about "Building your Holistic Toolbox" :)