Updated: Oct 26, 2022
When pet parents switch their dog or cat to a healthier lifestyle with raw food, they often expect only the most rose-tinted results: softer and glossier fur, better-smelling breath and pearly-white teeth, and improved energy and mobility, to name a few. But there’s one change your raw-fed companion might experience that we often talk about but always seems to catch pet parents off-guard:
Your pet’s poop is going to look different.
While non-pet owners might be a little grossed out by the topic, we pet parents are pretty well acquainted with our pets’ deposits. So whether you’re scooping your pet’s poop from the park or a litter box, be prepared for changes in colour, consistency, and smell—in a good way!
This week, let’s take a closer look at our pet’s poop and see what it can teach us about their health!
Why Is It Important?
If you’re not sure you want to inspect your pet’s poop closely, let us convince you. Your pet’s bowel movements are one of the easiest, most consistent, and most reliable measurements to check on your pet’s gut health at home.
If you’ve been following RDBK’s blogs for a while, then you know we think a healthy gut is the starting point for a healthy pet—after all, almost 80% of your pet’s immune system comes from their gut! Your pets’ stools will be your touchpoint (not literally) to determine their gut’s microbiome health and how you might be able to adjust their diet to be optimal for your individual pet.
If something is upsetting the balance between these factors, it’ll likely show up in their stool first. This is why you need to pay attention to what looks “normal” for your pet, so you’ll know as soon as something unusual starts cropping up and deal with it quickly without prolonging your pet’s discomfort or risking more health complications.
An important caveat here: we use “normal” in quotations because raw-fed poops can vary significantly compared to pets on a kibble diet! Because your dog or cat isn’t eating the same meals day in and day out, you can expect changes in their stool.
This article is intended to cover what is “normal” within those variations—not because you should expect your pet’s droppings to be the same every day.
What Does Your Pets Poop Colour Mean?
The first and most apparent aspect of your pet’s poop will be the colour. From dark to nearly white, raw-fed poops can come in a range of colours and vary throughout the week. These changes are primarily from the proteins you’re currently feeding your dog or cat.
Dark Colour Poops
Dark-coloured poops are usually the result of darker meats like beef, kangaroo, lamb, venison or buffalo, but they can also come from a recipe’s organ inclusion like liver or kidney, or even from those darkly pigmented veggies (like the beets in our Foundations Bison meals). If you’re feeding these proteins and seeing consistently dark poops, that’s completely normal!
Light Colour Poops
Light-coloured poops often come from lighter-coloured meats like poultry or rabbit. Depending on the bone content in your pet’s meals, you might even see pale, nearly-white poops! Again, this is fine and normal, but be on the lookout for behaviour associated with these droppings (like straining), or poops looking like crumbly sand, that might indicate too much bone in their diet.
Colours You Don't Want To See
Bright Red or Bloody Stools
This one needs little to no explanation. Your pet should never be pooping blood. If you see this in their stool, get to the vet as soon as possible, as it can indicate something seriously wrong.
Unrelated Dark or Tar-like Stools
Very dark stools that cannot be correlated with feeding dark meats, organs, or veggies. Again, consistently dark stools that don’t line up with their diet that week could indicate bleeding further up in the digestive tract. The digestive process turns blood black, so if you see this without cause, then it’s a sign your pet needs immediate veterinary attention.
What Does Your Pets Poop Consistency Mean?
Hard poops usually show up because of increased bone ingestion. You can use this to help determine how much bone you need to feed your pet.
If your pet starts straining to have hard, crumbly and dry poops, it could be a sign you’re feeding too much bone. Try decreasing the bone content in their diet to make their visits to the bathroom easier and prevent problems down the road.
When we’re talking about soft poos, we don’t mean diarrhea—more on that later. A softer poo is fine occasionally, but if it’s soft on a regular basis, you might not be feeding enough bone, or enough fibre. Try giving one more raw bone a week, or adding in some healthy whole-food fibre supplements to see if this corrects the issue—we’re willing to bet your pet won’t mind having another bone day in their meal plan!
If your pet can’t have raw bones, whether from medical or dental issues or perhaps they’re just too aggressive of a chewer or even—more commonly in cats—completely uninterested in chewing bones, then you may need to supplement their diet with more calcium and fibre. In this case, egg shells are an excellent DIY source of calcium for adult pets, and a scoop of pumpkin purée can make things “go” the right way!!
Consistencies You Don’t Want to See
Diarrhea is not the same as a soft stool!
Diarrhea is a watery stool that may come on urgently, explosively, often with GI discomfort and occasionally vomiting. Fixing this issue is more than just making sure you’re not waking up every morning to a poopy mess in your house—chronic and abnormal watery poops are a huge, waving red flag that your pet needs gut support, stat!
When we talk about gut support, remember that there’s a difference between gut support for diarrhea and antibiotic treatment for diarrhea. The latter can have serious side effects on the microbiome and should only be used when necessary and under vet supervision.
Check out this video from pet-expert Rodney Habib at Planet Paws on the side effects of a popular diarrhea antibiotic.
Constipation tends to show up in cats more often than dogs, but that’s not to say that dogs are in the free and clear! Constipation is more than just your pet straining to go to the bathroom—it’s also when they don’t poop adequate amounts for days.
As you can imagine, constipation causes more than just extreme discomfort for your pet; the longer it goes on, the more it becomes a veterinary emergency.
If your pet struggles with constipation, consider increasing the fibre in their diet while decreasing the amount of bone. These two factors need to be adjusted in relation to each other to find the best balance for your unique pet. If you’re trying to work out the best fibre-to-bone ratio in your pet’s diet, start slow and watch closely for results that tell you if you need to adjust more.
What Does the Size Mean?
After silky-soft fur, one of the most common praises from pet parents regarding their pet’s new raw diet is the change in size (and smell!) of their pet’s deposits. Raw poops are generally smaller and less offensively stinky than their non-raw counterparts.
The reasoning for this is quite simple: your pet is finally eating food designed for them, where nutrients are being digested and absorbed well and only the leftovers is being excreted. It’s one of the “small” joys of raw feeding—pun intended!
Chronic vs Acute Symptoms
Chronic issues are ones that seem like an ongoing battle, sometimes for months at a time. On the other hand, acute symptoms show up suddenly. In either case, don’t ignore them.
Whether symptoms seem mild or not, these are signs that something isn’t quite right and your pet needs help, whether through a dietary adjustment or more microbiome support or even medication. You may need to visit a vet or a nutritionist to get the issue under control, but the main point to stress here is not to wait.
If symptoms like constipation or diarrhea continue to be more than a one-off issue, then it’s time to get help from the professionals!
Switching to Raw: Expectations
At the beginning of this article, we talked about how some pet parents hear about the “rose-tinted” results that can come from switching their pets to a raw diet and can’t wait to get started—and that’s great!
Of course, we’re always excited to welcome pet parents into the raw-feeding community, but switching your pet to a raw diet doesn’t often happen overnight, and rushing the process can cause some gastrointestinal upsets.
If you’ve tried switching your pet to raw and had problems with vomiting and diarrhea, it could be because the switch happened too quickly—and every pet is different! Most pets on a kibble or otherwise monotonous diet their whole lives need to have their gut “prepped” for raw.
Prepping your pet for their raw transition involves boosting their microbiome with as much diversity as possible. The easiest way to do that is by adding good quality and multi-strain probiotics to their meals—fermented foods work great too!
By adding in probiotics to their diet for a few weeks before transitioning your pet to raw foods, you’re ensuring their gut has been exposed to enough new microflora that they can handle their new diet without any upsets.
The Final Drop
Long after you’ve gotten used to your pet’s shiny new coat, there’ll be one constant reminder that you’re doing the right thing for their health, and it’ll be in their poops!
Gone are the days of holding your breath when you clean the litter box or having to double-bag your dogs' behemoth droppings—you’ve entered the era in your pet’s life of healthy poops. It may not seem like much now, but every day you find another “perfect” poop, it’ll be a little sign that all is working well within your pet and they’re living their happiest, healthiest life.