Chronic Digestive Problems in Dogs

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Many dogs suffer from chronic digestive problems and the incidence is only going up. Veterinarians are often at a loss to say what the problem is and end up treating the animal asymptotically – treating the symptoms versus the cause.

Why is it so hard to diagnose chronic digestive problems in dogs? Many reasons, almost all revolving around the fact dogs cannot speak for themselves so the vet is dependent on the owner’s rendition of the problem. As the concerned owner, it is easy to help your veterinarian diagnose the problem with a few simple rules:

Correcting Chronic Digestive Problems

The most common treatment in chronic digestive disorders in dogs is to switch their diet, to either a food that is easy to digest or a diet that does not contain certain reactive foods. The owners embrace the new regime taking home a bag of kibble and some cans of wet food. Once home, they donate the old kibble to the local shelter and start the new diet immediately.

There are two problems here with this system. The first being the sudden change in diet causes diarrhea and the second being that they did not bother to discard the old treats, chews and biscuits. They also did not buy any new treats that are allowed but that does not actually cause any other symptoms besides an upset dog!

A dog’s diet should always be switched gradually so as not to cause further digestive upset. Usually this is done over four days: day one is three parts old food, one part new food, the next being fifty-fifty, the third day one part old food and three parts new food and by the last day, they should be fully switched over. Sometimes a vet will recommend a more gradual switch but it depends on how quickly they want the symptoms to clear up or how sensitive they feel the dog’s digestive system is to change. Whenever you are introducing a new food to your dog, whether they have chronic digestive problems or not, the change should be done gradually.

Treats, chews and biscuits can all be deadly to an upset stomach. Many contain wheat, sugar, corn and preservatives that can make a reactive gut all the more upset. There are many treats available free of these ingredients and will not exacerbate an already upset stomach. Read the ingredients! If you cannot pronounce it or if the ingredients include anything your vet says could be the cause of the problem, do not give it to your dog.

My dog never eats anything I don’t know about!

Kids, husbands, wives, friends and visitors all sneak food to the dog - it is a fact of life! Moreover, there is doggy self-serve – grass, bugs, crumbs, food snuck under the table that your kids don’t want, dead things, socks and who knows what else.

Most shocking part of all is that your vet knows this so when an owner emphatically states their dog never eats anything they shouldn’t, it is always taken with a grain of salt. When they suggest that they test for Giardia, listen to them.  It could be based on the fact they have seen a few cases come through the hospital in the last while and maybe they know that your dog was drinking out of a puddle when out for a walk and you do not remember. Stranger things have happened!

Was it yesterday or the day before that my dog vomited…?!?

With chronic digestive problems, keeping a daily journal of what your dog eats, how much they drink, their activity level and their elimination will help your vet make a diagnosis. Note anything odd such as mucous in their stool, vomiting, grass eating or drinking excess amounts of water. Your vet will forever be in your debt!

A little Pepto won’t hurt him!

Human drugs are often part of the treatment plan for chronic digestive problems as dogs and humans have similar systems. However, dosing is species and weight specific and some medications that are beneficial to humans are lethal to animals. Avoid your own medicine cabinet unless your vet has given you specific instructions for the chronic condition.

Let’s wait until the morning to take him to the vet…

There is no doubt that emergency vet fees are high - if you were regularly woken up in the middle of the night to go to work, you would expect some compensation as well. In many situations however, waiting until morning not only costs more money, it puts your dog through unnecessary suffering. The most common digestive problems are vomiting and diarrhea, which quickly leads to dehydration. If a visit to the vet in the middle of the night can stop the vomiting and diarrhea, thus maintaining hydration, the dog may not need to be hospitalized, saving him from unnecessary trauma and money for you.

Chronic digestive problems are very common in dogs and can take a few bouts for an accurate diagnosis. For the owner, once the diagnosis is made there is also a steep learning curve in controlling the condition and how to recognize flare-ups before they become an emergency. Work with your vet, ask him questions read up on the condition and learn to recognize early warning symptoms in your dog – it is manageable. Good luck!

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