GI Problems in Dogs

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Dogs suffer many of the same gastrointestinal problems as us – after all, we are all mammals even if we walk on two-legs and our faithful friends walk on four. Your dog can suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Colitis, Diverticulitis, Gastritis, Gastroenteritis, Pancreatitis, Ulcers, Mega Colon and every other form of gastrointestinal upset you can think of right down to plain old flatulence.

The only difference in our digestive tract and that of our fuzzy family members is that we have faster feedback on whether something we ate is agreeing with us or not. We know quite quickly when we have eaten too much or the wrong thing but often we do not know that Fido should not eat Food A until it is up-chucked all over our carpet. This means that by the time we are seeking medical care for Fido, his condition could already be quite advanced and treatment will be that much more difficult.

Gastrointestinal problems in dogs come in two flavors – acute and chronic. Acute usually revolves around something they ate within the last few hours and chronic is a persistent problem that requires monitoring for the dog’s entire life. Unfortunately, an acute attack of a gastrointestinal problem can become a chronic condition, leading into the same lifetime of vigilance.

How do you know if your dog is developing a GI problem? They are hard to read and often, by the time your carpet needs a good cleaning session, the pooch is already extremely ill. 

Early signs of an intestinal upset include:

  • Abdominal noises– rumblings, gurgling, popping, farting and burping indicate something may be going on in that tummy and unless these are common noises for your pooch, be prepared for some sort of outcome!
  • Grass eating– many dogs resort to bulimia when they feel a bit off and since they cannot put their paws down their throats, they eat grass to induce vomiting. If you see your dog eat grass, first off save the carpets by keeping him outdoors until he vomits twice and then monitor his condition. If he wants to eat right away, he was only suffering from a bit of acid stomach and now that the bile is gone, he feels fine. If the grass eating does not induce vomiting, he should be carefully monitored and if other symptoms develop, he should be taken to the vet. If, however, the grass eating is almost frantic, he is hyper-salivating and/or seems extremely agitated, get him to the vet. He has eaten something he should not have and his system is telling him to get it out – NOW! Grass eating may bring up the offending object (take it with you to the vet) but do not take a chance – your vet will induce vomiting and, depending on the situation, may continue treatment for toxin ingestion including using charcoal to absorb any remaining poisons in the system and hospitalization. 
  • Vomiting and diarrhea - a good sign something is wrong with your dog’s gastrointestinal tract! Depending on the severity of either condition, either monitor for further symptoms or take him to the vet as soon as possible.
  • Excessive drinking – dogs suffering from an upset stomach will often drink more water then normal. Much like the grass eating, if there is an increase in thirst but it is manageable, monitor for further symptoms but there is probably no need to rush to the emergency. However, if the water drinking is almost frantic and followed by vomiting it back up almost immediately, you need to put the pedal to the medal and get him to the hospital as soon as possible.
  • Appetite is off– for many dogs with a high food drive, if they are refusing to eat, something is very wrong. Watch for other symptoms and if the problem does not resolve itself within six to eight hours, take him to the vet for a work up.
  • Running a temperature or ‘hot’ to the touch – a sign of infection, dehydration or something is just generally wrong. Take him to the vet for a full work up, especially if accompanied by any other symptoms.
  • Bloating – dogs can develop a bloated look for several reasons – they ate too much, they drank too much, what they ate has a high fiber content or they are suffering from Gastric Dilation and Volvulus. This is not a gastrointestinal problem as such but it is a fatal condition where the stomach flips over, shutting off blood supply to the digestive tract and requires immediate surgery to correct. The bloated appearance is usually accompanied by ‘unproductive vomiting’ (the dog is going through the motions of vomiting but nothing is coming up), weakness or collapse, difficulty breathing and elevated heart rate and eventually death. At the first signs of this condition, take him to the emergency hospital.

Obviously, if he is unable to stand or is ‘flat out’ – take him to the vet immediately whether he exhibits any other symptoms or not.

Learning to accurately read your dog’s health is as important as reading his body language and moods. Remember, you are the best judge for when something is not right or ‘off’ with your dog and early detection of a gastrointestinal problem keep your dog, and your pocket book, happy!

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