GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING: This piece contains some icky but important photos of mucus in dog’s poop
Brace yourself, I have good news.
What causes mucus in dog stool?
You’re used to hearing that mucus in dog’s poop is a sign of everything from inflammatory bowel disease to parasites, with the possibility of parvovirus thrown in. As if you weren’t worried enough, right?
The internet is littered with articles repeating the same list of possible causes, each of which come with the inevitable prospect of more or less scary veterinary intervention.
I know, I trawled the same sites looking for answers when it happened to my dog.
What you don’t often hear is that mucus in dog poop can also be a sign of … wait for it… healing.
How do I know this?
I had to learn this through direct experience — and through the handing down of knowledge from other owners who’d trod this path before me.
Expelling mucus is one of the observable processes a dog’s body goes through after a prolonged period on medication, especially when those medications have been given at high doses.
More on mucus as detox in a minute.
But first —
What is mucus in dog’s poop?
Mucus in dog’s poop is not for the faint hearted.
Here at Shiny Happy Doggy we’re not squeamish. Well, we might be. But for the love of our dogs, we will get over ourselves, right? So here we are talking about yellow mucus in dog poop (though it can also be white, greenish or clear).
A small amount of mucus, usually too little to be noticed, is normal. It’s produced by the body to lubricate the digestive tract.
But at certain times you may see an abnormally large amount of mucus. Some owners describe slime on dog poop or say the dog poop looks like jelly. For my pup it looked like what you blow out of your nose when you have a cold. I know, gross. I thought it could be dead white blood cells and at the time, before I knew better, I worried my dog might have a gut infection.
The poop test
We did a fecal float or “poop test” searching for parasites. There were no worms.
There were bacteria. But, as one vet remarked at the time: what does the presence of bacteria in dog poop really tell you? Dogs’ guts are brimming with bacteria. (So are their mouths, for that matter.) Pathogenic species of bacteria including E. coli, Clostridium perfringens and Salmonella are regularly found in the intestines of healthy dogs. The vet actually said testing for bacteria in dog poop is useless as a diagnostic too.
There’s another problem with testing for bacteria in dog poop: once you find something that is potentially problematic, the temptation is to “do something” about it. And no drug known to man is without side effects or unintended consequences. The moment you medicate with antibiotics in an effort to kill off one bacteria, you enter a world of pain.
For a start, you’ve disturbed the delicate balance of gut flora, the microbiome. Secondly, you’ve taken one step down the slippery path that leads to antibiotic resistance. This is a population-wide effect but also it happens within the one animal. So every unnecessary use of an antibiotic cuts down the chances that antibiotic will be effective on your dog if you need it in the future.
So let’s look a little deeper before a knee-jerk resort to antibiotics for mucus in dog poop.
Vets at a loss over mucus in dog’s poop
Why aren’t you hearing this from your vet?
Because, evidently, vets don’t know it.
Several different vets involved in the care of my pup in 2019 — one of them an experienced internal medicine specialist and another a veterinary nutritionist — had no idea what might be causing the mucus. The third, a home visit vet, prescribed metronidazole (flagyl) in case it was a dog stomach bacterial infection.
I filled the prescription but thankfully never gave the drug. That would have been not only 100% counterproductive, but downright dangerous for my dog.
Beware metronidazole for dogs (flagyl for dogs)
When vets encounter persistent dog diarrhea metronidazole is often what they reach for.
I assume that’s why our vet suggested it for mucousy stools. Sort of a Hail Mary pass. “I don’t know what’s going on so let’s try this.” Which might be worthwhile if the shot in the dark could do no harm.
Though commonly prescribed, metronidazole is no gentle drug.
Metronidazole side effects for dogs can be very severe, in some cases life threatening. Among other things, metronidazole can cause meningitis. To understand my horror at discovering this, you need to know that Steroid Responsive Meningitis Arteritis, or SRMA, was the potentially fatal condition we had just spent a year clawing our way back from — as the vet who prescribed it was well aware.
I mention this not to vet bash but to make an important point. Vets are fallible. They make mistakes. They don’t know everything. It’s up to you to investigate every last thing and double check what they recommend as it applies to your particular dog.
What I did for mucus in dog’s poop instead of giving drugs
I opted to monitor the situation rather than introduce yet another drug into my dog’s system.
What happened? The mucus-coated poops passed on their own within a few weeks.
In our case, detox as the mechanism behind the mucus made total sense.
Consider the context.
We were coming off 11 months of high-dose steroids (prednisolone) and multiple rounds of five different antibiotics. All these drugs are known to damage the body, not least the gut.
Trying to repair this damage is one of the reasons vets (and human doctors) recommend probiotics after antibiotics. Attempting to mitigate this damage in the first place is why vets often give a “gut protectant” like omeprazole alongside steroids. It doesn’t always work.
Why does detox produce mucousy dog poop?
In human medicine, natural health practitioners understand mucus in poop as the gut releasing a coating or plaque it had previously formed in an effort to protect itself from irritants.
Those irritants might be from drugs or other ingested chemicals. Withdraw the toxins and the barrier is no longer needed. So, in a sense, the mucus-wrapped poops should have been cause for celebration.
It was a sign my dog’s body was beginning to shed the armor it had donned in response to all those medications assaulting the stomach and intestines. So you can understand why giving a drug to “treat” mucus in the poop would have been entirely misguided.
When you might see mucus in dog poop
Anecdotally, other dog owners (in a range of dog groups I’m part of) have observed mucus in dog stool:
- after discontinuing a course of medication (as in my dog’s case)
- after a dog’s nutrition is improved, say from a highly processed kibble diet to raw, fresh food
- as a dog’s body recovers from exposure to toxins in chemical wormers/flea and tick treatments or vaccines
… or quite often some combination of all of the above.
So the first thing to ask if you notice unusually large amounts of mucus in your dog’s poop is: has your dog recently gone through any of these changes? If you think it’s detox, support your dog’s healing with proper feeding and minimize his exposure to drugs and environmental toxins.
The mucus will abate on its own.
Other signs of detox (healing)
Once I recognized the mucus as a detox event, I connected it with a bunch of other symptoms that had been occurring at roughly the same time.
- gunky/itchy ears
- paw cysts between the toes
- general itching
- itchy chin (so itchy he drew blood scratching it)
- eye discharge
- a slight bit of blood in the urine, briefly (While it presented similarly to a urinary tract infection, this was inflammation, not infection. The logic here is this: as toxins release and are expelled through the kidneys, they can cause irritation of the urinary tract. This happens in a similar fashion to how irritation of the bowel produces traces of blood in dog poop.)
- black heads (comedones) on the belly and elsewhere
- red spots of irritated skin (The skin is recognized as a common secondary avenue of elimination for toxins when the primary avenues like kidneys and gut are temporarily overburdened, as during detox.)
- shedding a heap of hair, to the point that my dog’s coat became noticeably threadbare in parts. (Shiva’s ears were moth-eaten like a kid’s teddybear. This, too, passed quickly and the hair grew back in.)
Is this scientific?
Modern, allopathic medicine regards ‘detoxification diets’ as bogus because of a lack of rigorous scientific studies.
What is allopathic medicine?
The system of medicine that aims to combat disease by using remedies (such as drugs or surgery) which produce effects that are different from or incompatible with those of the disease being treated.
Source: Merriam-Webster dictionary
But fad diets are not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about supporting the body’s own naturally-occurring processes of cellular repair, regeneration and healing.
These processes involve the expulsion of waste products through the body’s normal avenues of elimination. In dogs, as in humans, toxins are expelled via organs including the liver, bowels, kidney and skin.
It’s this same process of detox and renewal that constantly replaces cells. Take the gut epithelium in the human body, for instance. Under assault by digestive acid, this lining is renewed every few days.
To take another example, skin is sloughed off and renewed every 2-4 weeks.
This ongoing process of renewal is what makes healing possible — after you’ve removed the cause.
Symptom suppression is at odds with holistic approaches …which regard symptoms not only as clues to what’s going on with the system as a whole, but an integral part of the healing process.
Science catching up with nature
There is increasing recognition within the medical establishment that fasting promotes detox and healing. Check out this 2010 study that says:
“Food restriction is a simple, reliable, inexpensive and harmless alternative to drug ingestion and, therefore, we propose that short-term food restriction may represent an attractive alternative to the prophylaxis and treatment of diseases in which candidate drugs are currently being sought.”
… which is a jargon-y way of saying fasting makes a great alternative to drugs — both to prevent ill-health and to reverse disease.
Those who believe in fasting dogs as a way to prevent and heal disease say fasting accelerates detox, as does fruit.
Fruit is a secondary food source for dogs. Wolves in the wild are ‘facultative’ carnivores, which means they prefer meat but can maintain themselves on fruit when prey is scarce.
So, when I want to move through a detox symptom like mucousy dog’s poop faster, I incorporate some fast days or some fruit-only days in between his meat days.
Meat digestion involves emulsification of fats and the breakdown of protein, both energy-intensive processes. By fasting or feeding fruit, which is easy to digest, you free up energy.
The body can then direct this energy to healing and cellular repair, as happens every night during sleep.
On the other hand, if I want to slow detox to control symptoms that are too intense, feeding a higher meat rotation achieves that by diverting energy from healing back to digestive tasks.
My dog has mucousy diarrhea: What to do
A dog that has diarrhea might be experiencing something different to simple detox.
Diarrhea is generally accompanied by an urgent need to poop. What I’m talking about here are normal bowel habits, with relatively well-formed poops but ones that contain a lot of mucus.
The two things can overlap. That is, dog diarrhea with mucus can happen, but it’s important to keep in mind that the causes for dog diarrhea are many and varied and include a range of things much more worrying than detox.
If your dog is experiencing mucousy poops, don’t panic. Consider detox among the possible causes. Give it a little time to resolve on its own before jumping to administer drugs.
Please note: What’s described in this article is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. This is me documenting my own direct experience with my dog and my learnings along the way.