What Do the Different Poop Colors and Shapes Mean?

Although you may not pay much attention to your stools, inspecting them regularly will give you a sense of which colors, shapes, and textures are typical for you. That way, you will know when something is off and when you should contact your doctor.

This article discusses the meaning of different types of poop—from stool that is yellow, green, pale, dark, or red, to stool that is pebble-shaped or that contains mucus. Keep in mind that you should always talk to your doctor about any new or concerning symptoms.

Healthy and Unhealthy Stools
 Verywell / Gary Ferster

Yellow Stool or Diarrhea

Having yellow poop may simply mean that you’ve been eating yellow food items, like sweet potatoes, carrots, turmeric, or yellow food coloring. In addition, people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and those taking medication for GERD sometimes have yellow poop.

Stool that has suddenly become yellow can also be a sign of an intestinal infection, particularly if you also have diarrhea, fever, flu-like symptoms, or stomach cramps. Giardiasis, a small intestine infection caused by the parasite Giardia lamblia, can also lead to yellow stool or diarrhea.

In some cases, yellow poop can mean there is excess fat in the stool—a condition known as steatorrhea. This can be caused by anything that disrupts the intestinal lining, such as celiac disease or disorders that affect the pancreas, liver, or gallbladder.

Steatorrhea usually looks greasy and may be foul-smelling, frothy, or float in the toilet bowl. It often sticks to the side of the bowl and is difficult to flush away.

Green Stool

There are some common reasons for green stool. Eating lots of leafy vegetables like kale or spinach can give stool a greenish color. But this is normal, and it shouldn't stop you from getting your fill of these antioxidant-rich foods. Iron supplements and food coloring, including green, purple, and blue dye, can also turn feces an emerald color.

Conditions that speed up intestinal activity, such as a bowel disorder or food poisoning, can also lead to green stool. In women, green stool may occur at certain times during pregnancy.

Stool That Sinks Quickly

Although normal stool shape and frequency varies from person to person, if your stool sinks quickly, you may not be getting enough fluids or fiber in your diet. This type of stool is often dark because it stays in the intestines longer.

The FDA recommends a fiber intake of 28 grams per day. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, beans, unsalted nuts and seeds are all great sources of fiber.

Floating Stool

If your stool floats every now and then, it's probably not something to worry about. Most likely, the stool just has an increased amount of gas in it. This can happen after consuming carbonated drinks, beans, and sugary foods. Some gastrointestinal disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can cause floating stool as well.

However, stool that consistently floats may be a sign that your body is not absorbing fat properly. When this happens, you may have steatorrhea.

Pebble Stool

Stool excreted in small pieces is sometimes called pebble or pellet stool.Fiber forms a gel in the intestines when it is fermented by bacteria in the colon and combined with water. If there is a lack of fiber holding stool together, it may be shaped like small pebbles.

Upping your fiber intake may help; to do this, slowly increase your intake to the recommended daily value of 28 grams. If you are finding it difficult to consume this amount with fiber-rich foods, consider adding a fiber supplement.

Loose Stool

Loose stool (diarrhea) lasting a couple of days or less is common and usually isn't serious. It can be triggered by a number of different foods, supplements, and medications. For example, consuming too much fructose—a sugar found in honey and many soft drinks and processed foods—can cause loose stool.

Another common cause of loose stool is a gastrointestinal infection—otherwise known as the stomach flu.

Infrequent Stool

If your bowel movements are dry, hard to pass, or infrequent (occurring less than three times a week), you may have constipation.

Certain medications and conditions can result in constipation. But, for many people, the cause is a lack of dietary fiber. Legumes and raspberries are just some of the foods that can help constipation. In some cases, natural remedies may also help.

Mucus in Stool

Mucus is a thick, jellylike substance that lubricates your intestines, protecting them from stomach acid, bacteria, viruses, or fungi. It also makes bowel movements slippery and easy to pass.Although mucus is commonly found in stool, you normally don't notice it because it tends to be clear.

If you start seeing mucus in your stool or notice that the mucus is white or yellow, mention it to your healthcare provider at your next visit. In some cases, it could be a sign of inflammation or irritation in the intestinal wall due to an underlying health issue.

Pencil-Thin Stool

Excessive straining when you are on the toilet can result in a stool that is long and thin. Bearing down causes the anal muscle to contract and narrows the opening of the anus. Stool that is squeezed through the narrowed opening is thin.  

Consistently thin stools, however, could signal a medical problem.Any condition that obstructs the bowels, such as benign rectal polyps, hemorrhoids, prostate enlargement, or cancer of the colon, rectum, or prostate could cause pencil-thin stool.

Pale Stool

Bile salts in the intestines give stool its usual brown color. Stool that is light-colored (either pale, white, grey, or clay-colored) could indicate a lack of bile in the stool. A blockage of the bile ducts from gallstones, or a condition affecting your gallbladder, liver, or pancreas, can cause decreased bile output.

If you notice that your stools are white, clay-colored, or chalky grey, you should see your doctor, especially if the color continues beyond a few days.When there is steatorrhea, pale or light-colored stool may also be shiny or greasy, floating, and foul-smelling.

Additionally, stool may become temporarily pale after a barium enema test.​

Anytime you have changes in your bowel habits that are accompanied by symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or pain in your abdomen, you should see your doctor right away. Sometimes, stool changes that do not resolve within a few days can be a sign of a serious underlying condition.

Undigested Food in Stool

Seeing undigested food in your stool on occasion typically isn't anything to worry about. Certain plant foods, such as corn and grape skins, are often recognizable in stool. That's because the human body lacks the enzymes needed to digest certain parts of plant cell walls.

Eating more slowly and chewing each bite thoroughly can help. If you see undigested food in your stool regularly and you also have other changes in your bowel habits, like diarrhea or stomach cramps, it's a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider.

Bright Red Stool

Bright red stool can be caused by beets, cranberries, tomato juice or soup, or products containing red food coloring, like Kool-Aid or red licorice. Red medicines, such as amoxicillin, may also turn stool red.

If there is blood in your stool, the color depends on where the bleeding takes place in the digestive tract. Blood from the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract, such as the stomach or esophagus, will look dark by the time it exits the body as a bowel movement.

Blood that is bright red is more likely to come from the lower gastrointestinal tract, such as the large intestine or rectum. This may be caused by hemorrhoids, anal fissures, ulcerative colitis, diverticulosis, or colon cancer, among other conditions.

Blood in the stool doesn't always appear bright red. Blood may be also present in stool but not visible—this is known as "occult" blood. The fecal occult blood test is a common test used to detect hidden blood in the stool.

Black or Dark Stool

Certain foods, supplements, and medications can temporarily turn stool black, such as:

  • Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate)
  • Iron supplements
  • Activated charcoal supplements
  • Dark foods, such as black licorice, blueberries, Oreo cookies, blackberries, grape juice, or blueberries

Stool can also appear darker with constipation. Dark green stool from bile that hasn't had time to break down may look black in certain lighting.

Stool that is almost black, dark, or tar-like with a thick consistency may mean there is bleeding in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract. Medical conditions that can cause dark, tar-like stool include duodenal or gastric ulcers, esophageal varices, a Mallory-Weiss tear, and gastritis.

If you experience black stool and it is not from food or supplements, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.

When to See Your Doctor

While it's normal for bowel movements to vary from day to day depending on what you eat and drink, stool should generally be some shade of brown. Stools should leave the body with little straining or discomfort, have a toothpaste-like consistency, and look more like a banana than a pencil. You shouldn't see mucus or blood.

Be sure to see your doctor right away if your stool is bright red, black, or pale, or if you have additional symptoms like abdominal pain. You should also see your doctor if it is consistently thin or pencil-like, loose or watery, or accompanied by mucus or pus.

Summary

Most day-to-day variations in the appearance of your stool have to do with what you eat or drink. While the biggest concerns are unusual poop colors or shapes that persist, consult your doctor if you're concerned about your stool, or if you notice any changes in your bowel habits or additional symptoms.

A Word From Verywell

A number of factors could be causing a change in your stool's color, shape, or consistency. Some factors are less concerning than others. For example, if you are constipated, if your stool is pebble-shaped, or if it sinks quickly, you may simply need to add more fiber to your diet.

However, keep in mind that seemingly harmless changes, like stool that is pencil-thin, can actually be a sign of a life-threatening condition. Since pencil-thin stool is also a sign of colon cancer, being able to recognize the change in shape may, in turn, help your doctor make an early diagnosis.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Ip S, Sokoro AA, Buchel A, et al. Use of fecal occult blood test in hospitalized patients: survey of physicians practicing in a large central Canadian health region and Canadian gastroenterologists. Can J Gastroenterol. 2013 Dec;27(12):711-6.