Colitis in dogs

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

Colitis in dogs occurs when there is inflammation in the colon. Reducing the likelihood of colitis developing involves avoiding stress for your dog, ensuring any parasites or illnesses are promptly treated and feeding a good quality diet appropriate for your dog.

What is colitis in dogs?

Colitis is an inflammation of the colon, also called the large intestine. Many species can be afflicted with colitis, including humans and dogs.

If you think of the digestive tract and system in its simplest, it is a long tube running from the mouth to the anus. The large intestine, also called the colon, is the final section of this tube. Inside the colon, indigestible parts of the food are gathered, excess water is removed and returned into the body, and stools are formed to be excreted as solid waste.

When the colon is irritated, it becomes inflamed. This is what we refer to as Colitis.

Colitis is a relatively common condition in dogs, and there are a number of things that might have caused it. However, it can also be easy to avoid many of the common causes of the colitis through good regular care of your pet.

Are there different kinds of canine colitis?

Colitis in dogs comes in two types. It can either be “acute” or “chronic”.

Acute colitis occurs suddenly. It is a one-off condition that can last a few days and afterwards, your dog will return to normal health. It is caused by some kind of short-term external trigger such as an undiagnosed infection, parasites, or by your dog eating something they shouldn’t.

Discover delicious food your dog deserves

Learn more

Meanwhile, chronic colitis is when a dog repeatedly suffers from colitis. It is a more severe and ongoing condition, typically a symptom of an underlying problem. Dogs with chronic colitis will suffer from flare-ups on a fairly regular basis. And although the symptoms of the colitis may come and go over time, the underlying problem causing it will persist.

The type of canine colitis can be further identified based on the cause. For example, ulcerative colitis in dogs is a continuous inflammation of the large intestine. Meanwhile, granulomatous colitis in dogs is a rare condition that is known to affect two specific breeds. These are boxers and (even more uncommonly,) French Bulldogs.

Identifying the cause of the colitis will not only inform you of whether the problem is likely to persist but also means you can treat the condition appropriately.

What are the causes of colitis?

As colitis can either be acute or chronic, it can be caused by a sudden trigger or an existing long-term condition. Diagnosing colitis is best done by a trained veterinary professional.

Some of the common causes of colitis in dogs include:

  • Eating something disagreeable

  • Allergies

  • Swallowing a foreign object

  • Stress

  • An undiagnosed infection

  • Parasites

  • Injury to the colon

  • Pre-existing health conditions (e.g. Pancreatitis, IBS)

The causes of acute colitis in dogs

As mentioned previously, acute colitis can be caused by a sudden external trigger. For example, it could be caused by the dog eating something they shouldn’t. This could be some human food unsuitable for dogs, or they have swallowed a small object that they can’t digest. In both cases, this will cause gastrointestinal distress, resulting in the inflammation of the colon.

Other causes of acute colitis include stress, which can cause digestive upset. Alternatively, acute colitis may be caused by short-term illness. This may be a viral infection, a parasite, or a bacteria such as Campylobacter, Salmonella or E. Coli.

In the case of acute colitis, it can be easy to avoid many of the causes of colitis in order to try and reduce the likelihood of your dog developing the illness.

To try and prevent acute colitis, you can do the following:

  • Avoid stressful situations for your pet

  • Carry out regular worming treatments

  • Ensure any illnesses are treated quickly

  • Stop your dog from eating things they shouldn’t

  • Feed your dog a good quality diet

The causes of chronic colitis in dogs

Meanwhile, preventing chronic colitis will rely on identifying the underlying problem that is causing it and providing effective treatment of the condition.

For instance, chronic colitis might be caused by pre-existing immune conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Immune conditions cause the dog’s body to mistakenly trigger an immune response that attacks the cells of the colon. As they are lifelong conditions the dog will need to be treated to manage their immune condition, which in turn will help to manage the colitis and prevent future flare-ups.

Alternatively, your dog might have a food allergy or intolerance which causes upset to their digestive system. A dietary allergy also triggers an unwanted response from the immune system, which tries to rid the body of the cause of the reaction through vomiting or diarrhoea. Meanwhile, a dietary intolerance is when your dog is unable to digest a certain food properly.

Another cause of chronic colitis is trauma or injury to the colon. This could be caused by damage to the colon from a previous infection, which then interferes with the gut’s ability to properly digest food.

Is colitis in dogs contagious?

Colitis itself is not contagious. Your dog can’t “catch” colitis, as it is always caused by something else. Most of these causes are not contagious either, but not always.

Some of the causes of colitis in dogs, such as worms, can be passed on to other canines. In which case the parasite causing colitis is contagious.

And don’t worry, humans can’t catch colitis from a dog.

Signs & symptoms of colitis in dogs

Most of the colitis symptoms present themselves in the dog’s stool and toileting habits.

The most common symptom of colitis in dogs is some form of diarrhoea. The affected dog will produce semi-formed or liquid faeces. You might find some blood and mucus in your dog’s stool, sometimes one or the other. Your dog might also be passing wind more often than normal.

In terms of going to the toilet, a dog will be trying to defecate more often than normal or showing increased urgency to go. Your dog may only produce a little faeces each time they try to go to the toilet.

Another common sign of colitis is if your dog is visibly straining before or after going to the toilet, where you will see the dog arching their back and hunching over as they try to pass the stool. This is because, alongside diarrhoea, constipation is a common sign of colitis in dogs.

If colitis is an ongoing problem, the dog can have a dull coat from lack of nutrients, and loss of appetite. This can lead to weight loss and cause the dog to seem lethargic and depressed.

As soon as your dog shows signs of illness or is acting out of sorts, it is best to take them to a vet. Even if you suspect colitis, it is important that they are professionally diagnosed.

To recap, the common symptoms of colitis in dogs are:

  • Diarrhoea or softer stool

  • Small amounts of red blood in the faeces

  • Mucus in the faeces

  • An increased amount of toileting or increased urgency

  • Increased flatulence

  • Constipation & straining to defecate

  • Swollen or painful abdomen

  • Weight loss

  • Dull coat

How to treat colitis in dogs

Dog colitis treatment will depend on whether it is acute or chronic. The treatment will also vary depending on the underlying cause of the condition.

Treating acute colitis

Acute colitis frequently resolves within a few days with minimal treatment necessary.

Your vet may advise your dog to undergo a short period of starvation, followed by small, frequent meals made of easily digestible food. Easily digestible food means that there will be less strain on the dog’s digestive system and gives the colon time to heal.

In some cases, the vet might prescribe gut-friendly anti-inflammatories to reduce the inflammation of the colon and minimise the dog’s discomfort. They may also give the dog some probiotics, the good gut bacteria, which will help to re-balance your dog’s gut flora and settle their digestion.

Depending on the cause of the colitis, your vet may prescribe some treatments to tackle the underlying problem. This could be antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection, or antiparasitic treatments if your dog has parasites like worms.

In a few cases, your dog may be given anti-spasmodic drugs to help the gut walls to settle and stop overworking. This reduces the dog’s feeling of urgency to defecate and helps to return the dog to their normal toileting routine.

Quite often, acute colitis is simply caused by stress. In which case, your vet will advise you on medication that can help to settle your dog’s digestive system, and any dietary changes you should make to help your dog while they recover. Then it is a case of making sure your dog has plenty of rest, water, and time to recover from their illness.

Treating chronic colitis

Chronic colitis is an ongoing condition and will often show symptoms periodically throughout the dog’s lifetime. Because of this, treatment will usually be for life.

Initially, your dog may be given the same treatments as a dog with acute colitis to treat the active symptoms. Your vet might also prescribe medications to prevent the flare-ups from occurring regularly. However, treatment for chronic colitis will typically involve dietary changes.

If your dog’s colitis is caused by an immune condition, your pet may need medication to suppress the overreaction of the immune system. Whereas if the cause is due to allergies, then the dog will need to switch to an alternative diet that avoids the offending allergen.

What lifestyle changes can help treat colitis in dogs?

Many aspects of good pet care can help to prevent colitis in dogs. In terms of your individual pet, the lifestyle changes that will best help them will depend on the cause of their colitis.

For example, if it is caused by worms, making sure you are regularly worming your dog will help to prevent the problem.

Meanwhile, in many cases, feeding your dog a healthy, balanced diet of high-quality food will help to prevent digestive upset. This also means controlling the variety and amount of treats that they are eating, and ensuring that they are only eating things that they should be.

The best thing to do is to make sure you are giving your dog a healthy lifestyle. But if ever you are concerned about your pet, speak with your vet about what you can do.

Dietary choices to help treat colitis

For many concerned owners dealing with their pet’s colitis, they much prefer to prevent the illness and to seek natural treatments where possible.

Making sure your dog is eating a diet of high-quality and easily digestible food will not only help them to recover from a bout of colitis, but it should help prevent future flare-ups related to dietary upset.

For dogs suffering from chronic colitis, dietary changes are nearly inevitable. This is to avoid ingredients that they are allergic or intolerant towards and to make sure their digestive system is not overworking to process their food.

Changing to a more digestible diet will also help to alleviate the problems associated with some conditions which commonly cause colitis, such as IBS. This is because these conditions are also often aggravated by similar triggers, such as allergies, dietary intolerances, or lack of fibre.

Wha is the best dog food for colitis?

Avoiding food that contains common allergens is a good start. Common allergens in dogs include wheat and beef. Therefore, try to steer clear of these ingredients in their food if your dog has a known intolerance. However, if your dog doesn't have any allergies, brown rice, which is included in some of our Pure recipes, can be really great for the digestive system. It's full of fibre, aiding digestion and gut motility, helping out your dog's stomach upset.

For some dogs, changing to a diet low in crude fibre has also helped their digestive systems. Additionally, food with lower fat contents has been found to help, and dogs have displayed fewer symptoms associated with chronic colitis when switched onto a low-fat diet.

Lean meat, fish, and eggs are all easier for dogs to digest. These foods are also highly digestible, which means they leave less residue that must move through to the colon, and reduces the amount of waste that your dog produces.

Pure Pet Food has a range of low-fat food options for your dog to enjoy, with a range of easily-digestible protein sources including turkey, salmon, and chicken.

When a dog suffers from colitis, it’s usually recommended that their food contains fat content of between 8% and 15%.

We have had a number of customers come back and say that Pure Pet Food has really helped their dog with colitis, and has improved their health and quality of life.