The gastrointestinal tract is a hollow tube running through the body from the mouth to the anus. Each section is responsible for a different part of the food digestion process. Gastroenteritis in dogs occurs when either the gastric (stomach) or enteric (intestinal) part of the tract are affected by inflammation.
Gastroenteritis is the name given to the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, which is part of the dog’s digestive system. It is a relatively common condition in dogs.
The gastrointestinal tract is made up of the stomach (gastro) and the intestines. Gastroenteritis is the name given to any illness characterised by the inflammation of the dog’s stomach or intestines. Specifically, it will be the stomach and small intestine, as inflammation of the large intestine is known as colitis.
A dog’s stomach and small intestine are very important in the digestive process and in their general health. The stomach is where food is temporarily stored and broken down by acid ready to be processed. Food is transferred into the body in the small intestine. The useful parts of food, like vitamins and carbs, are absorbed by the intestine wall and enter the bloodstream to be delivered elsewhere in the body. This means gastroenteritis will affect your dog’s ability to digest their food and receive the nourishment they need.
The inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract can have several causes. The reason for the inflammation will also indicate the kind of gastroenteritis that the dog is afflicted by.
There are two main types of gastroenteritis your dog might be affected by. The condition will either be acute, or chronic.
Acute gastroenteritis appears suddenly and randomly. The condition is one-off, occurring spontaneously and for a short period of time. It can even go away by itself too.
Chronic gastroenteritis is a longer-lasting condition. It can affect the dog for weeks, or even longer, and may reoccur over time. When symptoms persist or keep coming back, it usually means there is an underlying problem that is causing the inflammation.
Additionally, the severity of the condition can vary. Your dog may suffer from a mild case of gastroenteritis, or they may suffer severe illness.
There is also one specific and serious form of acute gastroenteritis to be aware of. This is called haemorrhagic gastroenteritis.
Also known as HGE, Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis in dogs is an acute and serious form of gastroenteritis. Although HGE can affect dogs of all ages and breeds, small and toy dogs are more often afflicted.
HGE in dogs is characterised by significant amounts of blood present in a dog’s vomit or diarrhoea. There may also be clotty substances with the blood. These clots are pieces of the dog’s gut lining, and alongside the blood, can make their diarrhoea look like jam. These symptoms are obviously alarming and indicate urgent veterinary care is needed.
HGE in dogs is a life-threatening condition. If appropriate veterinary treatment is not given to your dog, they could die. However, provided they see a vet promptly, your canine companion could recover within a few days.
Significant amounts of blood in the vomit
Significant amounts of blood in the diarrhoea
Fragments of the gut lining in the diarrhoea and vomit
Lack of appetite
Dogs with HGE will appear seriously unwell very suddenly, becoming dehydrated from the loss of fluids due to the persistent vomiting and diarrhoea. They will also seem very lethargic and depressed, with a very tender stomach.
Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis differs from gastroenteritis, as HGE is idiopathic in nature. This means that it has no known cause and that it occurs spontaneously in an otherwise healthy dog. However, it is believed that hemorrhagic gastroenteritis in dogs may be caused by the same factors that cause acute gastroenteritis.
There are a number of things that can cause gastroenteritis. These causes will also affect the condition and how it affects the dog.
Some common causes of gastroenteritis include:
Swallowing a foreign object
Eating something disagreeable
Bacterial or viral infections
Food allergies and intolerances
Underlying health problems
Injury or obstruction to the stomach or intestine
There are many causes of acute gastroenteritis in dogs. It is usually caused by short-term problems and illnesses or external factors. These include:
One of the main causes of acute gastroenteritis in dogs is dietary indiscretion. This is the proper way of saying that a dog has eaten something they shouldn’t have.
This could be swallowing a non-food object, like a rock or bit of lego, which then injures or obstructs the dog’s gut. Injury to the gut could also be caused by a pooch chewing on a stick or brittle bone. Although sticks and bones are frequently associated with dogs, they can be very dangerous. Fragments of wood and bone are not only a choking hazard, they can cut and damage the linings of a dogs throat, stomach, and intestines. This will then lead to irritation and inflammation, ie, gastroenteritis.
These cuts can also become infected, which will cause serious illness. A dog swallowing any foreign object should be taken very seriously, and you should contact your vet as soon as possible.
Gastroenteritis caused by dietary indiscretion could also mean your dog has eaten something that isn’t part of their regular diet. This could be scraps they scrounged from the bin or floor or table scraps given to them as treats.
Scrounged food can pose a problem as it may be contaminated with bacteria. Additionally, some human food can be disagreeable for dogs and cause tummy upset, like high-fat foods which can trigger pancreatitis. Therefore if you want to treat your pup to some human food, be sure to check it is safe for them to snack on.
Other causes of acute gastroenteritis can include stress, sudden dietary changes, ingesting toxins, parasitic infections, and bacterial or viral infections. Stress and hyperactivity are sometimes associated with bouts of acute illness, including gastroenteritis.
Additionally, Switching your pooch to new food too fast can cause problems. This is because the gastrointestinal tract may have a reaction to having to process very different food, with different ingredients. This is why it is always advised to slowly transition a dog to a new food.
There are a number of bacteria and viruses that can cause gastroenteritis in your furry friend. A dog might develop an infection from an internal injury, such as a cut in their intestinal lining.
Alternatively, your dog might come into contact with infectious contagions if they sniff or ingest another dog’s stool, or come into contact with any bodily fluids from an infected dog. The best way to protect your pup and prevent them from being affected by the worst viruses, like canine parvovirus, is to make sure they are up to date on their vaccinations.
Chronic gastroenteritis can be caused by the same things that cause acute gastroenteritis. However as the period of illness is beyond a few weeks, it can also be associated with an underlying condition. This could be a food allergy or intolerance. In which case, an allergen in your dog’s diet will be causing an unwanted response from their immune system. Meanwhile, a dietary intolerance means that your pooch is unable to digest a certain substance properly.
Chronic gastroenteritis may also be caused by persistent and underlying health problems. These could be conditions relating to the digestive system, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. On the other hand, it may be caused by an undiagnosed but serious illness such as stomach cancer.
As mentioned previously, it isn’t known what causes hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. It is thought that it can be caused by the same factors that cause acute gastroenteritis in dogs.
Gastroenteritis itself isn’t contagious, as it is the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. However, the cause of gastroenteritis can be contagious. Whether or not it is contagious, will depend on what it is.
If the illness was caused by a bacteria, virus, or parasite, it can be passed on to other dogs who come into contact with an infected dog’s stool or bodily fluids. This is why dog waste should always be bagged and disposed of responsibly, and you should prevent your dog from eating another dog’s stool.
Other causes of gastroenteritis such as allergies, injured or obstructed intestines, and dietary indiscretion are not contagious. Gastroenteritis caused by other illnesses, such as IBS, are also non-contagious.
Usually, gastroenteritis cannot be passed from your dog to you.
However, the most common cause of gastroenteritis in humans is a bacteria called Campylobacterosis. Dogs can carry this bacteria and it will infect other animals and people who come into contact with their stool.
This is why you should ensure proper hygiene if your dog is ever ill, bagging and disposing of their waste, and washing your hands thoroughly after clearing up your dog’s waste.
If your dog is only vomiting, the condition may be called gastritis, as only the stomach seems to be affected. Meanwhile, if your pooch only has diarrhoea you might be told they have enteritis, which is when only the small intestine is inflamed.
Common symptoms of gastroenteritis in dogs include:
As well as vomiting, you may find traces of yellow bile in the vomit. This may look slightly foamy. Just like humans, dogs will vomit bile when their stomach is empty.
There may also be traces of blood in the vomit or faeces. Small amounts are more common in gastroenteritis in dogs. Larger, alarming amounts of blood is more associated with haemorrhagic gastroenteritis. Dogs can then suffer dehydration as they will be losing a lot of fluids through vomiting and diarrhoea.
While your pooch feels ill, they will probably show little interest in their food. The feeling of nausea and reluctance to eat contributes towards their lethargy, and your dog will probably seem quite depressed and out of sorts.
Dogs suffering from gastroenteritis can have abdominal discomfort, so they will seem reluctant to have their abdomen or hindquarters handled. Another sign of abdominal pain is if your dog seems reluctant to put their belly and hindquarters on the ground, instead adopting a “prayer position”. This means they might try to lie down, with their front on the floor, but keeping their back legs standing. (It looks a little like a yoga puppy pose.)
Symptoms of acute gastroenteritis can seem more severe than signs of chronic gastroenteritis. If the problem is chronic, your dog might only have diarrhoea and appear fussy with their food.
The treatment given to your dog will depend on the cause of their gastroenteritis, the severity of their sickness, and whether the problem is acute or chronic.
In some cases, after examination by a vet, they might find that the illness is self-limiting. This means it will resolve on its own in a short period of time. In these cases, your dog won’t need specific treatment and will instead be given supportive and symptomatic care. This can include replacing lost fluids, a brief period of starvation to settle the digestive tract, and changing to a highly digestible food to prevent the digestive system from overworking. Sometimes, your dog might even be given probiotics to help balance their gut flora and settle their stomach.
Your vet may also prescribe medication for your pooch. This can include anti-sickness medicine to stop your dog from vomiting. If your dog’s gastroenteritis was caused by an infection, they may be prescribed with antibiotics to clear it. Meanwhile, if a parasite is found to be the cause, your vet will prescribe an appropriate antiparasitic treatment.
In the cases of chronic gastroenteritis, treatment will usually be the same as with acute illness in order to manage the symptoms. The cause of the illness will then need to be identified and treated in order to prevent future flare-ups of gastroenteritis. For example, a change of diet to avoid allergens may be required. If their illness was caused by a serious underlying issue, such as cancer, your vet will discuss the best course of treatment for the ailment.
More severe cases of gastroenteritis and hemorrhagic gastroenteritis will be treated similarly.
Your dog will be given an intravenous drip to help recover their lost fluids and electrolytes. They will also be given any necessary medication listed above in order to manage their symptoms.
You might find that your dog is also placed in isolation at the vets, just in case the cause of their illness is contagious.
Provided your pooch gets the treatment they need, they should recover from gastroenteritis within a few days. Sometimes, a mild case might even resolve itself in that time. However, you should always contact your vet no matter how mild your dog’s illness might appear.
Thankfully, there are many ways in which you can help to prevent your pup from developing gastroenteritis and protect them from future illness.
Ensuring your pooch has been fully vaccinated, and keeps up with their regular booster vaccines, will protect them from a number of diseases. Many illnesses can cause secondary problems and symptoms, such as gastroenteritis. And when contagious viruses such as canine parvovirus can be fatal, it’s always best to have your furry friend vaccinated and protected.
As well as making sure your furry friend is up to date on their vaccinations, you need to make sure you are giving them regular antiparasitic treatments. In other words, making sure they are taking regular worming treatment, and you’re treating them to prevent fleas and ticks.
Because dietary indiscretion is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis in dogs, it is important to prevent it. This means ensuring your dog can’t scavenge food from the bin or scrounge dropped scraps on the floor. If you want to treat your pup to some human food, ensure it is safe for them to eat and always feed in moderation.
Secondly, make sure small items that could be swallowed are out of reach. This includes ensuring any broken parts of your dog’s toys are removed and binned. Swallowing small objects can also be a choking hazard, so it is always important to ensure that there is nothing around that your dog might be tempted to swallow.
This is particularly important when out on walkies. This is because your dog might swallow plants, sticks, rocks, or even another dog’s waste. If your pooch seems too tempted to eat these things, it might be worth muzzle training them for their own safety. Wearing a muzzle won’t harm the dog, but will prevent them from being able to snack on anything outside.
What your dog eats plays an important role in their overall health, and in protecting them from certain conditions. This is particularly the case with an illness such as gastroenteritis, which affects the digestive system.
When your pooch has had a case of gastroenteritis, a vet will likely advise that they change to a highly digestible food while they recover. These foods offer higher levels of nutrition and leave less waste, so your dog’s digestive system doesn’t have to work so hard. But these don’t just benefit an unwell pooch. You can feed your pooch a highly-digestible diet at all times, providing short and long term benefits to their health and wellbeing.
If your dog’s illness was related to an allergy or intolerance, they will have to change their diet to avoid the offending allergen. This will help to prevent any future flare-ups of digestive illness like gastroenteritis or colitis.
Pure Pet Food offers a range of highly-digestible recipes that avoid common allergens and are personalised to your dog.
If you ever need to change your dog’s diet, be sure to introduce their new food gradually. Suddenly swapping them from one food to another can cause digestive distress, leading to problems like gastroenteritis or even fussy eating.
The best gastroenteric dog food will provide a healthy diet and make a happy gut. Because gastroenteritis is usually caused by some form of illness, be it an allergy, parasite, or infection, it is im-paw-tent to keep your dog’s digestive system and immune system healthy. 70% of your dog’s immune system is linked to their digestion, so keeping their gut in good shape is vital to protect their wellbeing.
The best dog food for gastroenteritis will also help to eliminate unnecessary strain on the digestive system to prevent irritation to their gut. Natural, highly digestible ingredients in meals like Pure are easier to digest, preventing their digestive tract from overworking, and allows their body to absorb more nutrients from their food. This makes it the perfect dog food for gastroenteritis, as it gives your dog’s stomach time to heal while still providing complete nutrition, unlike a bland diet.
A healthy, natural diet will also help to prevent other illnesses, including gastroenteritis, by strengthening your pooch’s immune system. Because your dog will be eating plenty of vitamins and minerals, they’ll have all the nutrients they need to maintain a healthy body so they can fight off future illness and infection more easily.
Raw food is great for providing higher-quality nutrition, however, there is the risk of harmful pathogens on the food that could upset your dog’s stomach. Pure Pet Food offers an alternative as it is gently air-dried to kill pathogens, but retaining all the natural goodness of the simple, fresh ingredients. Plus, our plans are personalised for your pooch so you’ll never have to worry about upsetting any allergies or aggravating existing conditions that could trigger a case of gastroenteritis.
A fresh, healthy diet like Pure is suitable for pups suffering from gastroenteritis as it’s packed with fibre to keep their gut healthy. There’s also protein and complex-carbohydrates which deliver stable energy throughout the day and do not cause spikes in blood sugar like kibble (dry dog food). Spikes in blood sugar, and resulting bursts of hyperactivity, are a known cause of gastroenteritis. So if your pup has tummy troubles or problems with hyperactivity, it could be time to take them off kibble and cut out the sugars and simple-carbs that could be causing the problem.
Written by: Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS
Andy graduated from Bristol University in 2010 and sees nutrition as a foundation for our pet's wellbeing and takes a common-sense approach. We are what we eat, and it shouldn't be any different for our pets.