Conventional wisdom says you can tell the quality of a diamond by its color, cut, clarity and carat weight. Well, your dog doesn't poop diamonds, however his stool's characteristics can provide you a wealth of information about his health if you take the time to look. In the case of your pup's poop, color, shape, consistency, size and content are indicators of what's going on inside.
Generally, a dog's stool is a chocolate-brown color, however it may vary a bit depending on his diet. If the color of his poop is a bit different than normal, it could be from a variety of causes. A change in diet can cause a change in color, especially if he ate something with artificial dyes in the food. Health conditions also will prompt a change in stool color. Yellowish-orange or tan poop can indicate liver problems; greasy, gray color hints of inadequate digestion; black, tarry poop is often associated with intestinal bleeding higher in the gastrointestinal tract.
Ideally, your dog's poop should be shaped like a log. If he's passing small balls or pebble-shaped stool, it's an indication he's not properly hydrated. It may be a simple matter of your dog not drinking enough water one particular day, or it may be a sign of kidney disease -- he can't drink enough to hydrate himself. If his poop has no form, but is instead a liquid, he has diarrhea.
When you pick up after your pup, you'll get a chance to learn about his poop's consistency. Ideally, it should be dough-like, holding its shape when you put it in it's poop bag. It should leave behind no trace on the grass. If it's very firm -- difficult to squish -- it may indicate constipation. If there's no picking up that poop, but instead you're scraping it off the ground because it's like soft-serve ice cream, he likely has some gastrointestinal upset. Tummy trouble can be from something as simple as eating something he shouldn't have or he may have an infection, parasites or food intolerance.
Size is Relative
If your dog's a big guy, he'll be leaving big calling cards. If he's a petite pup, his poop will be too. Sometimes the volume may change, and your dog may poop more than normal, which may indicate he's not digesting his food as well as he should. On the other side of the coin, a small amount of stool indicates he may not be eating as much as he should, is constipated or may have a partial obstruction. If he's not pooping at all, he may be constipated or obstructed.
Your dog's poop shouldn't be like a box of Cracker Jacks -- you don't want any surprises inside. If it has streaks of bright red blood or mucus on it, he may have some inflammation in his colon. Pasta-like noodles indicate roundworms and bits of food -- such as rice or carrots -- signal he's not digesting his food well. Grass hints he grazed a bit to ease an upset stomach.
To the Vet With a Sample
Just because something's afoul with your dog's stool doesn't mean he's sick. Generally, a change from his normal healthy deposit doesn't mean much. However, if it lasts for more than a couple of episodes, he should see his vet. A word of caution: An immediate trip to the vet is in order if your dog passes green stool, which may indicate an encounter with rat poison, or a large amount of bloody, watery diarrhea, which can indicate hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. Otherwise, pay attention to your dog's behavior to see how he's feeling. If his appetite is healthy and he's in good spirits, a strange poop here and there is OK if it's not a regular happening. If your vet includes a stool sample as part of your dog's routine vet checks, it will help keep on top of parasites.