Dog Digestive Issues
A Guide to Digestive Conditions & Treatment for Dogs
What causes dog diarrhea, vomiting, and other signs of dog stomach issues?
Dog digestive issues aren’t uncommon in dogs. Switching your dog’s diet, stress, and food sensitivities are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to possible causes of your dog’s upset stomach. To best help your pet, it’s important to know the common causes, signs, and how to treat their symptoms at home.
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What Causes Dog Stomach Upset?
Your dog’s digestive system is a complex collection of anatomy that stretches from the mouth to the anus. While dog digestive issues are most commonly connected to tummy pain and bowel movements, issues can start much earlier in the digestive tract.
Common causes of esophageal digestive issues in dogs can include:
- Substances like food, water, or grass creating an obstruction in the esophagus
- Diets high in fat that can cause acid reflux (when acids from the stomach reenter the esophagus)
- Vomiting or an urge to vomit. Why is my dog vomiting? It could be caused by a dietary indiscretion–when your dog chooses to eat something it shouldn’t like rotten food, fecal matter, insects, or toxic substances
- Repeated damage to the lining of the esophagus, causing chronic inflammation
Common causes of dog digestive issues related to the stomach can include:
- Consumption of overly acidic, spicy, or fatty foods
- Chronic stress or anxiety, which can lead to ulcers and damage to the stomach lining
- Eating substances not meant to be ingested–such as raw meat, spoiled food, or trash–leading to stomach inflammation
- Eating substances contaminated by parasites, bacteria, or viruses
Common dog digestive issues in the intestines are gas and bloating, which can lead to irregular or especially foul-smelling flatulence. Colitis (inflammation of the intestines) can also occur, as can bowel obstructions, diarrhea, constipation, or digestive disorders.
Common causes of dog digestive issues related to the intestines can include:
- Exposure to allergens, parasites, bacteria, or viruses
- Food intolerances or sensitivities
- Poorly digested food, or contaminated food
- Foreign objects (non-food substances) becoming stuck within the small or large intestine
- Polyps or tumors that obstruct the movement of stool through the intestines
- Dog diarrhea causes such as illness, food intolerance, and parasites
- Constipation due to a lack of fiber, swollen anal glands, or bowel obstructions
Which Dog Breeds Are Most At Risk for Digestive Issues?
Golden Retriever Stomach Issues
Boxer Stomach Issues
German Shepherd Stomach Issues
Great Dane Stomach Issues
Irish Setter Stomach Issues
Miniature Schnauzer Stomach Issues
Signs & Symptoms of Digestion Issues in Dogs
It can be hard to see your furry friend struggling with symptoms of digestive upset. Keeping a record of symptoms and their frequency can help you and your vet form a better treatment plan for your pet.
These are the symptoms most commonly associated with dog digestive issues:
Loss of Appetite
One of the first signs of digestive upset could be your dog’s lack of appetite. They may refuse to eat foods they would normally devour, or eat significantly less than usual.
When your dog is nauseous, their salivary glands go into overdrive to help lubricate and protect the esophagus from rising stomach acid. The result is excessive drooling or slobbering.
Dogs who regurgitate their food may cough, hack, and wheeze until they spit up the substance that’s causing them discomfort. Constant regurgitation can also be linked to acid reflux and vomiting. If something they ate doesn’t get properly digested in the esophagus or stomach, it could very well make its way back up again.
Diarrhea is a messy and unfortunate symptom of dog stomach upset, and it can happen to any pet. Liquid or watery stools mean your dog’s food was digested faster than normal, and that their body has not absorbed any water or nutrients during digestion. For this reason, dehydration can be a serious and life-threatening side effect of diarrhea.
Many pet parents wonder, ‘Why is my dog constipated?’ Constipation can be caused by a number of factors, including lack of fiber, exercise, or hydration. Illness and medications may also cause constipation, which is defined as stool moving slower than usual through the digestive tract. Straining, hemorrhoids, and bloody stool can all be side effects of dog constipation.
Stool colors other than the standard chocolate brown can help reveal what’s ailing your dog’s digestion. Green stool could mean your dog ate too much grass, or that the gallbladder is in distress. Yellow-orange stool could mean biliary (gallbladder) or liver issues. White, rice-shaped flecks in the stool can mean parasites are present. Gray stools also denote a biliary issue or issues related to the pancreas, while black or red-streaked stools are a sign of blood in the digestive tract.
Bloody stools are scary to see, but the color is important to note. Black, tarry stool is a sign of bleeding in the upper GI tract, while streaks or bright red blood in the stool can be caused by tears or hemorrhoids in the anorectal area.
Abdominal Pain and Bloating
When digestive issues cause gas to build up or stool to move too quickly (or too slowly) through the gut, your dog may suffer from abdominal pain. While some abdominal pain can pass quickly or coincide only with other symptoms, bloating can signal a serious, life-threatening condition.
Dog Upset Stomach Complications and Diagnoses
Nobody knows your dog better than you–that’s why when it comes to protecting their gut, you should trust yours! Some signs shouldn’t be ignored, and require immediate medical attention.
If your dog won’t eat or your dog can’t keep water down, it might be time to contact your veterinarian. Vomiting makes it difficult for them to keep anything down and means your dog could become severely dehydrated or malnourished. How much is too much vomiting? Twice in a 24-hour period, or if they vomit two or more days in a row.
Conditions such as diarrhea, vomiting, heatstroke, fever, and other illnesses can cause your dog to become dehydrated. Dehydration is dangerous for any dog, but puppies and small breeds may be more prone to dehydration-related fatalities.
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV)
Another serious digestive condition in dogs is gastric dilatation and volvulus, or GDV. Also referred to as ‘bloat,’ this condition shouldn’t be treated as a passing side effect of tummy troubles. GDV occurs when a dog’s stomach twists or flips, becoming stretched and rotated out of alignment within the digestive tract. Common causes include a combination of deep-chested anatomy, excessive gas from eating too quickly, exercise after eating or drinking, and stress. GDV is always an emergency and requires immediate medical attention.
Septic shock happens when both sepsis and severe sepsis have gone untreated and is almost always fatal for dogs–even with treatment. Sepsis is an infection that causes aggressive inflammation in the body, with organ failure as a result of severe sepsis. Digestive-related causes of sepsis can include ruptured intestines or a ruptured stomach from GDV.
Stomach and intestinal cancer are rare causes of dog digestion issues, but should still be on any pet parent’s radar. Dogs experiencing dramatic and unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, severe cases of vomiting and diarrhea, and blood in the vomit should be evaluated by a veterinary professional as soon as possible.
If your dog experiences vomiting, skin rash, or a sudden change in bowel habits, a food allergy could be to blame. Be sure to keep a record of any new foods or supplements your pet tries, as well as a timeline of when symptoms started to occur.
Common Stomach Upset Treatments & Relief
While severe dog stomach issues aren’t common, it’s still good to treat any symptoms that arise–especially as a way to improve your dog’s comfort! You can help your dog deal with uncomfortable digestive issues at home with a few simple treatments:
Dog Diarrhea Treatments
The first strategy for diarrhea in dogs is usually a fast. Fasts can last anywhere from 12-24 hours to allow the gut to reset, but you’ll also want to make sure your dog gets plenty of water during that time. For dogs that can’t go without nutrients for that long–like puppies and senior dogs–discuss this option with your vet before proceeding.
Break your dog’s fast with both bland and probiotic-rich foods. Need help deciding what to feed a dog with diarrhea? Pumpkin, rice water, boiled rice, and cottage cheese are just a few options that fit the bill.
"Profivex aids in a healthy gut and may also help in reducing the clinical signs and severity of skin disease in atopic dogs. I use it as an additional anti-inflammatory supplement in refractory cases and in patients suffering from diarrhea caused by medication effects."
Joya Griffin DVM, DACVD, Animal Dermatology Clinic
Dog Vomiting Treatments
If your dog is vomiting, switch them to a bland diet and smaller meals until they improve. Wondering what to feed a vomiting dog? Foods like boiled chicken, rice, and sweet potato are all suitable for dog upset stomach treatment at home.
Dog Dehydration Treatments
If your dog is mildly dehydrated, have them drink small amounts of water every few minutes. You can also have them lick ice cubes to restore hydration. If your dog is showing signs of heatstroke, shock, or severe dehydration, take them to an emergency veterinary hospital immediately for intravenous rehydration.
Dog Constipation Treatments
The best treatments for a dog with constipation are adjustments to your dog’s diet and activity. Increasing fiber in tandem with hydration can help improve gut motility, as can daily exercise.
Dog Parasite Treatments
If your dog’s digestive system is disrupted due to the ingestion of a parasite, you’ll need to get a prescription treatment from your vet. An oral or injectable dewormer will help kill most parasites but may cause mild diarrhea in some dogs as a side effect.
At-Home Tips for Preventing Dog Stomach Upset
When it comes to keeping your dog’s digestion healthy, you’ll want to consider the recurring symptoms. Does your dog deal with frequent vomiting? They could be ingesting toxic substances from their environment. Is diarrhea a common issue? A food allergy or parasites could be to blame. Keeping a close eye on what they eat–and reducing their chance for dietary indiscretions–can help you identify what’s making your dog sick.
Another helpful tool for improving gut health is probiotics. Dog probiotics exist in many forms, and can be given to your dog for a few weeks or every day for regular maintenance. Probiotic powders can be mixed into your dog’s food, while tasty probiotic chews can be gobbled up between meals. Probiotics are especially helpful after a bout of diarrhea when the gut microbiome has been weakened or disrupted.
Your dog’s age may also play a role in how well they handle stomach issues. Puppies and senior pets can be especially susceptible to malnutrition after diarrhea or vomiting, since they rely on regular intake of nutrients to stay healthy. Adding probiotic foods–like plain cottage cheese or yogurt–or supplements to their diet will be especially beneficial for dogs in these age groups!
Contacting Your Vet If Digestive Problems Persist
Wondering when to call the vet for dog vomiting? If your dog can’t keep food or water down, that’s a sign that your pet is struggling with potentially serious gut issues. It could also be a sign that a harmful parasite or pathogen is present in your dog’s digestive system.
What about calling a vet for your dog’s diarrhea? Diarrhea becomes dangerous when you see rectal bleeding or notice your dog showing signs of dehydration. More than a few days of loose stools can also put your dog at risk for anal gland issues, which can become troublesome if they aren’t regularly expressed.
Constipation is another symptom to watch since it can cause serious complications. It can be difficult for some pet parents to keep an eye on their pet’s poops–especially if their dogs relieve themselves without supervision. As a rule, constipation lasting between 48-72 hours should be considered a health risk to your pet, and warrants a call to your vet. Bowel obstructions can cause or be caused by constipation, and, in severe cases, can lead to intestinal ruptures and sepsis.
It’s not always an easy–or glamorous–job to monitor your dog’s digestive activity. However, the rewards of understanding their bowel habits will benefit both them and you, meaning you can live a longer, healthier life together!
Pet Health Tips
James Bascharon, DVM
17 Aug 2020 • 4 min read
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