All About Diarrhoea

Faeces, poo, droppings, whatever you want to name it, come in a number of consistencies : pellets; toothpaste-like; soft toothpaste; sloppy and liquid. Some joeys pass a few pellets at the start of a bowel action, then faeces of a pasty consistency, finishing with liquid faeces. This is not usually a serious sign. Sometimes it is the result of a stressful episode. Beware! What we may consider to be nothing, could well be a terrifying experience to a young joey, eg particularly noisy and/or disruptive people or animals coming into a quiet room. If outside, a sudden loud or piercing bird call.

Diarrhoea can be put into 2 categories, non-infective ie dietary; overfeeding; bad management; psychological and irritable bowel, and infective, ie bacterial; coccidial; candida or other parasites.

Some joeys will develop diarrhoea if the quantity of formula given is excessive. All joeys vary in the amount of fluids they can consume without causing problems but it has been my experience that more than 20% of bodyweight is ALWAYS too much. The average daily intake should be between 8-15% of bodyweight. If it is more than 15% of bodyweight, beware that diarrhoea may become a problem within 2 or 3 days. It has also been my experience that carers who call for advice rarely believe overfeeding is the cause of diarrhoea.

Bad management is often the reason for diarrhoea.

– Joeys MUST be fed the same quantity at regular intervals. The following are important.

  1. Pinks must be fed 6 times over 24hrs, all feeds equally spaced and all the same quantity. Once there is a covering of fur, the night feed can be eliminated. DO NOT BE IN A RUSH TO CUT OUT THE NIGHT FEED SERIOUS PROBLEMS MAY OCCUR. Make sure you have incorporated the quantity given in the night feed into the day feeds. Five feeds a day then until well grown.
  2. Always feed at the same time each day, consistency in care is critical.
  3. Keep the volume per feed consistent. Always measure the quantity accurately, even the smallest increase can cause diarrhoea in some joeys. To increase the total daily quantity, raise the amount of each feed by no more than about 5%; eg 10ml per feed increase to 10.5ml. Depending on the joey, I often do this to only 1 feed each day so it may take 5 days for the increased amount to be given at each feed, alternately I may increase each feed by 1 or 2 drops at a time. Raising the quantity suddenly will lead to diarrhoea in most joeys.
  4. The formula and formula strength must be kept constant. If you want to change the formula do it gradually. Don’t take risks, it isn’t worth any problems that may arise. Begin with quarter of new formula to three-quarters of the old for a day, next half and half for a day then three-quarters new to quarter of old, finally the new formula.
  5. Having the temperature too hot or too cold can cause problems. A temperature that feels tepid when checked is suitable. If a too hot formula is given, the joeys mouth may be burnt.

Immediately wash and dry joey when it becomes soiled by faeces; never allow a joey to stay in a soiled pouch; stimulate after every feed. Even very small joeys will groom themselves, if they and their pouches are not cleaned there is the risk of ingesting faecal bacteria or parasites.

When the joey loses its mother it becomes very stressed, everything familiar, ie smell, sound and touch of mother as well as the pouch all disappear. Pressing a newly orphaned joey to your chest so it can ‘feel/hear’ your heart can cause absolute terror to the joey, the ‘relaxing and cuddling into you ‘ that you think you are feeling is more likely to be the joeys instinct to play dead to fool you – the predator – better to place it in its nice new warm pouch and leave it alone as long as possible to give it time to adapt to the new environment.

We cannot avoid the stresses caused by the mothers death but we can avoid many other causes of stress.

  • Do not have a number of people handling the joey and NEVER hand the joey around as an object to be prodded, patted and poked.
  • The pouch must offer security and warmth. Arrange the inner pouch so that the joey is in the horseshoe position it would be if still in the mothers pouch. Don’t keep the joey in a large open pouch, it needs to feel secure, however, don’t wrap it like a parcel. With mother the joey starts looking out of the pouch after 80% of its pouch life has been completed. Joeys that are made to spend time outside the pouch when physically too young can become stressed, they can also suffer damage to their skeletal system.
  • Joeys should not be given to children [even older children] as pets, children and joeys do not make a good mix, stressed animals, and diarrhoea, are the usual result of this combination.

Once the cause or causes of the diarrhoea have been determined you have to ask yourself if it is a problem to the joey. If the joey does not have any infections and is happy and content and still drinking/eating normally then the diarrhoea may not be a problem Many carers become obsessed with the consistency of the faeces. To see a formed pellet is the most wonderful thing in their lives. Take care that you do not compromise the health of the joey simply to have a formed pellet, eg watering down the formula, this will only result in poor growth and a hungry, stressed joey.

DO NOT take the joey off his formula if diarrhoea is a problem, this only weakens the joey and you will often find that if you do manage to stop the diarrhoea, then it will recur once the formula is started. Keep up the regular feeds and give extra fluids between feeds [electrolyte replacer]. My preference is to give the extra fluids sub-cutaneously, this does not interfere with the gut. If the joey is badly dehydrated then give the extra fluids intravenously.


  1. I have never found it necessary to alter a diet when a joey with severe diarrhoea and badly dehydrated has come to my home, however, the formula must be a good one, universal formulas fed as per instructions on their labels do not raise strong healthy joeys.
  2. Between 8-15% of bodyweight is a rough guide to quantity, if dehydrated do not forget extra fluids [not formula] will need to be given, perhaps over a number of days. Consider night feeds for a time.
  3. A strict routine must be observed, choose your feeding times and stick to them.
  4. Keep everything sterile – use a sterilizing solution for bottles, rinse in boiling water before filling with formula. Wash teats thoroughly in hot soapy water, rinse well, store in fridge. Before using teats soak in boiling water for a minute or two. Regularly scour with salt to remove milk buildup.
  5. If joey dirties himself, thoroughly wash and dry. Even tiny joeys will at times lick themselves, any faeces left on the body may be ingested and cause problems.
  6. You must stimulate the joey either before of after each feed to make sure the bladder and bowels are emptied, this also lessens the chance of messed beds.
  7. Never allow a joey to stay in a bed that has been wet or dirtied.
  8. It is vitally important that the joey is not subjected to any physical or psychological stress. His well-being depends on a continuity of care and all-over good management. You can never compromise the care you give the joey. He is your first priority and must remain so.

Remember diarrhoea rarely stops as soon as you begin treatment. It is my experience that with good care it is usually controlled within 24hrs. Acute bacterial diarrhoea with no stress involved usually responds to treatment within 2 days. Long term diarrhoea – a month or longer – may take anything up to several weeks to control [I have found this to be the case when joeys kept illegally are brought to my shelter, most have been subjected to constant stress and a poor diet. The joey will often stop dirtying beds within a day or so but the consistency of the faeces can take a long time to change]. If the joey is well, growing nicely, but has chronic diarrhoea do not worry unduly. The more you mess around with diet and diarrhoea preparations the longer the problem is likely to persist. A happy animal, growing at a steady rate is your main aim, not formed faeces.

Skip had been kept for many weeks by an inexperienced person and had been suffering from severe diarrhoea. He was badly dehydrated and unable to suck. Apologies for the poor image


This last photo shows the dramatic improvement proper care gives after three months. Skip's diarrhoea took six weeks to control.

Shows improvement after 4 days

Note almost normal head growth but grossly undersized body. Had to be put on a drip and could not stand unaided for 4 days

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