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What color is distemper poop?

Distemper is a highly contagious and often fatal viral disease that affects dogs. The distemper virus attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of dogs. One of the common symptoms of canine distemper is gastrointestinal issues, which can manifest as diarrhea and abnormal stool.

Typical colors of distemper poop

The typical colors of distemper poop include:

  • Yellow
  • Orange
  • Green
  • Reddish brown or rust colored
  • Pale or clay colored
  • Black and tarry

The specific color of the poop depends on factors like:

  • Phase and severity of the distemper infection
  • Presence of blood in the stool
  • Diet and food intake of the dog
  • Hydration status of the dog
  • Medications being given to manage symptoms

Here is more detail on the typical poop colors seen in distemper:


A yellow, mustard-like color is quite common in the initial phases of distemper infection. This indicates inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract leading to malabsorption of bile salts. As the condition progresses, the poop can become a brighter yellow.


An orange color also points to issues with bile salt absorption and stool moving too fast through the intestines. This tends to occur in the acute stages of infection.


Green poop is typically seen when the dog is fighting an active intestinal infection. The color comes from bilirubin in the bile combining with stool that is moving rapidly through the GI tract. Parasites, bacterial overgrowth, and other pathogens can cause green poop.

Reddish brown or rust colored

This color indicates that there is bleeding in the lower intestines, likely from inflammation, ulcerations, or hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. The blood in the stool oxidizes and turns it a brown or rust hue.

Pale or clay colored

Pale poop can point to a lack of bile output from the liver or a blockage in the bile ducts. This prevents bile from reaching the intestines and coloring the stool. It is seen in the later stages of distemper infection.

Black and tarry

Black, sticky poop indicates bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract like the stomach or small intestines. The blood is partially digested as it moves through the gut, turning the stool black and tarry with a foul odor.

What causes the color changes?

There are several mechanisms that can lead to poop color changes in canine distemper:

  • Malabsorption: Damage to the intestinal villi impairs absorption of nutrients like bile salts and bilirubin that normally color the stool.
  • GI bleeding: The distemper virus causes inflammation and ulcerations that damage the intestinal lining and make it bleed.
  • Bacterial overgrowth: Disruption of the intestinal environment allows harmful bacteria to multiply, causing infections that lead to colorful stool.
  • Liver dysfunction: Distemper can impair liver function and bile production/secretion needed for normal stool coloration.
  • Fast transit time: Diarrhea speeds up transit of stool through the intestines, preventing proper bilirubin metabolism and coloring.

How are the different colors diagnosed?

Veterinarians use the poop color as a clue towards diagnosing the underlying condition causing the gastrointestinal signs. Further tests usually include:

  • Fecal exams: Checking stool under a microscope for parasites, bacteria, viral particles, blood, or fat.
  • Fecal cultures: Growing bacteria from stool samples to identify infections.
  • Blood work: Evaluating complete blood count, biochemistry, and liver enzymes.
  • Urinalysis: Assessing urine for bilirubin levels, which reflect liver function.
  • Imaging: X-rays or ultrasound of the abdomen to visualize the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Endoscopy: Using a scope camera to directly examine the lining of the GI tract.

These tests along with a thorough clinical exam allow vets to determine the cause of the abnormal stool colors and guide appropriate treatment.

Typical treatments for the colored poop

Treatment is aimed at controlling the gastrointestinal signs and minimizing complications. This may involve:

  • Antibiotics: For bacterial infections causing diarrhea or colored stool.
  • Anti-parasitics: Deworming medications if parasites are found on fecal exam.
  • Probiotics: To replenish healthy gut bacteria and restore intestinal balance.
  • Anti-diarrheals: To slow down gut motility and normalize stool formation.
  • IV fluids: To manage dehydration from fluid losses due to diarrhea.
  • Vitamin supplements: To provide nutritional support and replenish deficiencies.
  • Immunosuppressants: In severe cases to calm the hyperactive immune response causing GI inflammation.

Treatment also focuses on managing the other effects of distemper infection like respiratory disease, neurological decline, and prevention of secondary infections.

How long colored poop lasts in distemper

The duration of diarrhea and abnormal colored stool varies based on factors like:

  • The age at which distemper infection occurs – younger puppies tend to be impacted longer
  • How early treatment is initiated
  • Whether complications like dehydration or secondary infections develop
  • The strain of the distemper virus involved
  • The strength of the dog’s immune defenses

In milder cases, the colored poop may last 1-2 weeks as the infection runs its course. In more severe scenarios or if treatment is delayed, it can persist 2-4 weeks. Dogs that recover from distemper may experience intermittent bouts of gastrointestinal signs over the following few months.

Can colored poop indicate recovery?

As a dog recovers from distemper infection, the poop color usually starts trending back to normal brown. Signs of recovery on poop color include:

  • Transition from bright yellow to pale yellow
  • Change from reddish brown to regular brown
  • Orange color becoming less vibrant
  • Green color improving to yellow then brown
  • Black tarry texture smoothing out

This indicates healing of the inflamed intestines and restoration of normal digestive function. However, dogs recovering from distemper need close monitoring even after diarrhea resolves. Recurrence of gastrointestinal signs or colored poop needs prompt veterinary attention.

Prevention of colored poop with distemper

Preventing canine distemper infection is the best way to avoid associated gastrointestinal problems and colored stool. Recommended prevention methods include:

  • Early puppy vaccination series against distemper
  • Timely adult distemper virus boosters
  • Avoiding contact with unknown or sick dogs
  • Keeping dogs current on deworming
  • Using veterinary approved disinfectants
  • Limiting visits to dog parks or daycares during outbreaks
  • Practicing good hygiene around dogs

Vaccination in particular is over 95% effective at protecting dogs against distemper infection. But puppies need a series of boosters to achieve sufficient immunity. Consult your veterinarian about the ideal distemper vaccination schedule for your dog.

When to seek emergency care

You should seek urgent veterinary care if your dog with distemper shows signs like:

  • Bloody diarrhea or black tarry stool
  • Inability to drink water or severe dehydration
  • Vomiting for more than 24 hours
  • High fever above 104°F (40°C)
  • Labored breathing or coughing
  • Seizures, tremors, or paralysis
  • Pale gums, weakness, or collapse
  • Abdominal pain or bloating

These require immediate veterinary assessment to stabilize the dog and prevent a life-threatening decline. Timely treatment can make the difference in recovery.

The takeaway on distemper poop color

Abnormal stool color like yellow, green, black or red provides important clues on the intestinal effects of canine distemper. Colored poop results from inflammation, infections, poor absorption, and bleeding in the GI tract. With supportive care and management of underlying causes, the poop color often returns to normal as the dog recovers. Distemper vaccination remains crucial for prevention. Being alert to the significance of poop color changes enables early intervention and improves outcomes in this serious viral disease.

In summary:

  • Typical distemper poop colors include yellow, orange, green, red, pale, and black.
  • Color changes result from malabsorption, infections, bleeding, poor bile secretion, and rapid intestinal transit.
  • Diagnostic tests identify the specific causes and guide appropriate treatment.
  • Antibiotics, probiotics, anti-diarrheals, fluids, vitamins, and immunosuppressants may be used for treatment.
  • Colored poop typically lasts 1-4 weeks but may recur later.
  • Return to normal brown signals recovery but needs continued monitoring.
  • Distemper vaccination is critical for prevention.
  • Prompt care is needed if bloody diarrhea, dehydration, vomiting, fever, breathing issues, neurological signs or bloating occur.

Being alert to distemper poop colors allows dog owners and vets to intervene early and give affected dogs the best chance possible of getting through this devastating viral infection. With proper care, many dogs can recover and go on to live a happy and healthy life after distemper.