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Gastroenteritis in dogs


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.

What is gastroenteritis in dogs?

Gastroenteritis is characterised by symptoms of vomiting and/or diarrhoea. If only vomiting is present, the condition may be called gastritis or enteritis if only diarrhoea is present. There may be blood visible in the vomit or faeces. Dehydration is a danger if the fluids being lost are not replaced. Gastroenteritis can be either acute which lasts a few days or chronic which is ongoing. A huge number of things can cause gastroenteritis. Some of the most common are eating something that disagrees with the dog, an infectious organism, parasites or a foreign body. Switching to a new diet too quickly can also cause a problem, which is why transitioning your dog to a new food over a few days is recommended. This also gives an opportunity to see if anything in the new food causes a problem as either an intolerance or allergic reaction.

Haemorrhagic gastroenteritis in dogs is a condition that usually occurs without warning and presents most obviously as large amounts of alarming bloody diarrhoea. Dogs with haemorrhagic gastroenteritis will often appear very ill, with fever, depression and lethargy, and can become dehydrated and very ill rapidly without appropriate treatment. If not given the necessary treatment promptly, haemorrhagic gastroenteritis can result in the death of the dog, so please go to your local vet as soon as you see these symptoms.

What causes gastroenteritis in dogs?

A vast number of reasons can cause a problem, ranging from mild to severe gastroenteritis in dogs, and from acute to chronic.

Because of the large number of potential triggers, the root cause may not be identified before beginning a treatment plan for acute gastroenteritis. Because of their scavenging nature, a common cause of acute gastroenteritis in dogs is eating something that upsets their stomach. This could be because they have managed to find some unsuitable high-fat food, eaten something contaminated, or swallowed something that has lodged in the digestive tract as a foreign body such as a toy. An example would be a splinter of cooked bone following raiding the kitchen bin. Foreign objects are a serious danger, particularly if they are sharp like bone splinters, as they can cause serious damage to the dog’s stomach and intestines, and this is an emergency, please go see the vet. As certain bacteria and viruses affect the gastrointestinal tract, infection can be a cause. This makes some causes of gastroenteritis contagious in dogs.

Immune status is a possible factor, as canine parvovirus, a viral infection routinely vaccinated for, can cause an acute enteritis. Other causes of acute gastroenteritis may include ingesting toxins, parasitic infections in the gastrointestinal tract and allergic reactions to something consumed. A major stressful event, such as a house move or the introduction of a new pet, can prompt a bout of gastroenteritis. Allergic reactions are a potential cause, with the substance triggering the reaction potentially being eaten, drunk or inhaled. Switching too fast to a new food with different ingredients can cause a problem as the gastrointestinal tract may have a reaction to having to process very different food, this is why it is always a good idea to slowly transition to new foods.

How long does gastroenteritis last in dogs? While acute cases will generally be resolved within a few days of treatment, chronic gastroenteritis is a long-lasting condition, with repeated bouts of symptoms. Immune conditions can cause the body to mistakenly identify normal body cells as dangerous and cause the immune system to attack the dog’s own body. Past damage from parasitic or bacterial infections can make the gastrointestinal tract vulnerable to inflammation as can any kind of gastrointestinal injury. Chronic stress can cause digestive upsets throughout the dog. After suffering from acute gastroenteritis, some dogs can develop food intolerances, which may lead to chronic gastroenteritis.

Signs and symptoms of gastroenteritis in dogs

The most typical symptoms of gastroenteritis in dogs are vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Problems in the stomach and small intestinal areas typically produce very soft or fluid faeces. The vomit may be yellow foamy bile as the stomach is emptied. Blood may be apparent in the vomit or faeces. Small amounts are more common than the large amounts seen in haemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

As the dog feels ill, they often show little interest in food and display a lack of appetite. The feeling of nausea and reluctance to eat contribute towards a lack of energy, lethargy, and the dog can display an air of sadness and depression. They are likely to have abdominal discomfort, and many show reluctance to have their abdominal area or hindquarters handled or touched. If the dog is not given appropriate supportive treatment, dehydration can occur quickly as fluid is lost from the body through the vomit or diarrhoea and not being replaced fast enough.

In chronic cases of gastroenteritis, the symptoms may appear milder than in acute cases, showing more as diarrhoea and the dog may appear to be fussy about their food and reluctant to eat much at a time.

How to treat gastroenteritis in dogs?

As a definitive cause is often hard to identify, when it comes to how to treat gastroenteritis in dogs, the treatment plan is often supportive and symptomatic care. Once the vet has calculated whether the gastroenteritis is self-limiting (so will resolve in a short period without needing specific treatment options) the dog is supported with fluid replacement to replace fluids lost via vomiting and diarrhoea.

Depending on how ill the dog is and whether they can keep fluids down, these may be by mouth and so able to treat at home, or they might need to be administered by intravenous drip. The vet may also choose to treat the symptoms to help the dog feel better such as giving them anti-sickness medicines to stop vomiting. Anti-parasitic or antibiotic medicines will be given if these are suspected to be the cause. A period of starvation followed by slow introduction of small meals of a highly digestible low residue food is generally recommended.

If food intolerances are suspected in chronic gastroenteritis, or an allergic reaction in acute gastroenteritis, finding a good quality food avoiding troublesome ingredients will help prevent the situation from happening again. Recipes by Pure Pet Food suitable for dogs with food sensitivities include the grain-free Chicken Dinner and Turkey Terrific, which also contains omega-3 fatty acids. This can help reduce inflammation. Probiotics or digestive enzymes may be a good idea to restore balance to the digestive system after a stomach upset.

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