Health series – Gastrointestinal problems

Dogs can suffer from a range of gastrointestinal diseases.  These are diseases which affect the stomach and intestine of dogs and include conditions such as gastritis, gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhoea and constipation, among others.  Signs may range from mild to severe.

If your dog is experiencing any of symptoms, you should consult a medical professional for advice.

Gastritis or inflammation of the lining of the stomach is quite common in dogs and can occur suddenly, or as a longer, chronic disease.  It can be the result of your dog eating inappropriate food if they scavenge for food while out for a walk, or due to infection or foreign bodies.

Signs to look for in acute gastritis are vomiting and a decrease in appetite.  Your dog may also be lethargic and dehydrated and there might be blood in the vomit.  Severe gastritis may require hospital treatment.  Dogs with chronic disease will vomit intermittently over a longer period of time and may lose weight.

Dogs with acute gastritis may recover without any need for treatment, whereas other dogs with severe or chronic symptoms will need to be examined and treated by a vet.

Gastroenteritis is not uncommon in dogs and causes can be both from dietary indiscretion or viruses (for example parvovirus). Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhoea, a reduced appetite or they may refuse to eat.  Dogs with gastroenteritis may also become dehydrated.  Your dog may require veterinary treatment depending on the severity of the disease.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease is characterised by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.  Inflammatory cells infiltrate the wall of the stomach and intestines affecting the ability to absorb nutrients.  Causes of this condition can be a food intolerance, parasites or infections but in many cases the cause is unknown.  Some breeds are genetically prone to this condition.

Signs that your dog may be suffering from IBD include vomiting and diarrhoea, which can be chronic or intermittent, weight loss and a change in appetite.  Blood may also be found in the faeces.

Vets may require blood samples, radiographs and ultrasound scans to rule out other conditions and to diagnose IBD.  A biopsy of the gastrointestinal tract is also necessary.

Dogs with inflammatory bowel disease may respond well to a dietary trial with a hypoallergenic diet.   However, other dogs may need medication such as steroids, antibiotics and immune suppressants as well as a change of diet.

Constipated dogs have difficulty in passing motions.  They will strain to pass faeces and pass small hard faeces infrequently or may not be able to pass any at all. There are many reasons why your dog might be constipated and it can cause discomfort.  Diet, orthopaedic and arthritic conditions, medications, dehydration and neurological conditions are some of the causes.

Dogs may also be reluctant to pass motions if their anal glands are infected.  Some dogs may become constipated if they eat bones or other foreign objects.  Older dogs may be more prone to constipation as they are less active.

It is advisable to have your dog checked by a vet if they are constipated to diagnose the underlying cause and treat accordingly.

Diet is important in the management of this problem.  Many dogs will respond to a diet which is high in fibre. Naturediet’s ranges of wet, 100% natural foods are all highly digestible and contain an inclusion of dietary fibre to improve the environment for bowel bacteria, improving digestion and therefore faecal consistency.  Feel Good Senior Lite contains a good source of natural fibre however this recipe must not be given to puppies or adolescent dogs as it is lower in calories and will not meet their energy requirements.

Always ensure a bowl of water is always available and try to increase the exercise of your dog.

Diarrhoea is very common in dogs and can occur suddenly as in acute disease or may be longer in duration and intermittent as in chronic disease.  Dogs with diarrhoea pass loose or watery faeces more frequently than normal.  Signs can range from mild to severe.

Causes of diarrhoea in dogs include dietary indiscretions (such as scavenging something inappropriate), infections such as viruses and bacteria, parasites, food allergy or intolerance, a sudden change in diet, inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and secondary to other non-intestinal diseases such as kidney failure.

Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the diarrhoea.  Dogs with mild cases of diarrhoea may resolve without need for treatment whereas other dogs would require veterinary treatment.

It is very important that dogs with diarrhoea drink enough water so that they don’t become dehydrated.  Severe acute cases of diarrhoea, especially if accompanied by vomiting, will require veterinary treatment.

Oral rehydration treatments are aimed to replace the fluid and electrolytes that are lost during diarrhoea.  Prebiotics are a form of fibre which help to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria already residing in the gastrointestinal tract.  Probiotics are live microorganisms which confer a health benefit to the dog when given in sufficient quantity.  They can help to alter the microflora of the gastrointestinal tract as well as having other beneficial effects.  Veterinary specific probiotics are available.

Other forms of treatment for diarrhoea include adsorbents such as kaolin and pectin.  These are designed to bind toxins in the gastrointestinal system.

Diet can help in the management and treatment of dogs with diarrhoea.  Dogs with mild cases of diarrhoea may benefit from being fed a highly digestible diet which is low in fat.   Naturediet Feel Good Fish contains ocean white fish and is highly digestible and is naturally low in fat.

Dogs with diarrhoea which may be caused by a dietary intolerance may benefit from a change of diet to a diet with a protein source the dog hasn’t eaten previously.  Dogs with a dietary intolerance to meat based proteins such as beef or pork may be fed diets with fish as the protein source.

Feed several small meals to dogs recovering from a bout of diarrhoea or vomiting as large volumes of food may be more difficult to digest.

Introduce any new food to your dog over a period of 7 – 10 days so that your dog can become accustomed to the change of food.  Sudden changes in food can cause digestive upsets. Extra care should be taken when changing from a wet to a dry food or vice versa

It is advisable to consult your veterinary surgeon if your dog shows any of these signs for advice and treatment.