Gastroenteritis in Dogs: What You Need to Know

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If your dog has been suffering from vomiting, diarrhoea, or a combination of both, your poor furry friend just might have a case of gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is a relatively common condition in dogs where there is inflammation of the stomach and intestines that results in vomiting, diarrhoea or both. Though common, gastroenteritis can be frustrating, scary and — depending on its cause and its effects on the individual dog — challenging to manage.

Types of Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Gastroenteritis is further separated into two types — acute and chronic. Acute gastroenteritis comes on suddenly. Chronic gastroenteritis occurs over the course of weeks, months or even years. Acute gastroenteritis usually goes away by itself; in other cases, it will progressively worsen until veterinary treatment is provided.

Staffordshire terrier wrapped up in a blanket.

Causes of Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Gastroenteritis in dogs can have many potential causes. Here's a list of possible causes:

  • Ingestion of spoiled or raw foods, or of non-food items
  • Viruses (parvovirus, distemper, etc.)
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Changes in intestinal flora/microbiome
  • A food allergy or sensitivity
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) ulcers
  • GI cancers
  • Foreign bodies
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Genetic disease or predisposition

Unfortunately, it's usually difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the condition. However, this doesn't mean that your dog can't be cured. In fact, most veterinary treatment is successful.

Signs of Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Gastroenteritis in dogs typically starts with soft stool that becomes progressively wetter. Later on, you may notice mucus in the stool, your dog straining to produce a bowel movement and/or defecation in the house. You can also see diarrhoea with vomiting. Less often, it can manifest as vomiting alone, though if the condition is confined to the stomach itself, veterinarians may refer to it as gastritis.

Here are other common signs:

  • Explosive and/or frequent bowel movements
  • Tarry faeces
  • Large volumes of watery stool
  • Blood in faeces
  • Lethargy
  • Restlessness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea (drooling, swallowing frequently)
  • Vomiting

When to Take Your Dog to the Vet

White and black dog lays on rug wrapped in green sweater.
Many dogs with gastroenteritis will appear surprisingly normal. They may show no signs other than a change in the quality, quantity, frequency or location of their stool.

If you think your dog has gastroenteritis, Blue Cross recommends taking them to the vet as soon as possible. Since it's difficult to know whether a dog's condition will progress dangerously, it’s important to get professional advice, especially for puppies, geriatric dogs or small breed dogs at higher risk of dehydration. Veterinary care is absolutely necessary if your dog shows signs of vomiting, nausea, blood, pain or lethargy.

How Gastroenteritis is Managed in Dogs

Calling your vet should always be the first step if you suspect an issue with your dog's digestive health. They can let you know the best recommendations for your dog and tell you if your pet needs to be examined straight away. Your veterinarian may need to run tests such as a faecal examination and bloodwork or take x-rays to determine the cause of your dog’s signs. In addition to medications or treatments for gastroenteritis, your vet may recommend supportive care measures such as:

  • Feeding a dietetic food that is highly digestible and easy on the GI tract
  • Adding an electrolyte supplement to their drinking water for enhanced hydration
  • Taking it easy on exercise for a few days

The Role of Nutrition in Gastroenteritis

The role nutrition plays in gastroenteritis can't be overstated, especially given that inappropriate dietary choices are at the heart of many cases. You should feed your dog regular meals consisting of food known not to upset their stomach. Try not to change their food too quickly or add new ingredients suddenly or in large quantities.

Vets will typically recommend food low in fat with prebiotic fibre to treat (and prevent) most cases of gastroenteritis. If your dog has a food sensitivity or allergy, their vet may prescribe a hydrolyzed protein or novel protein diet.

Gastroenteritis is a pain for everyone — not least your pup. Thankfully, veterinary care can be successful in treating the condition.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Patty Khuly

Dr. Patty Khuly is an honours graduate of both Wellesley College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She received her MBA at The Wharton School of Business as part of the prestigious VMD/MBA dual-degree program. She's now the proud owner of Sunset Animal Clinic in Miami, Florida. But that's not all. Dr. K is a nerdy reader, avid knitter, hot yoga fanatic, music geek, struggling runner, and indefatigable foodie. She lives in South Miami with three dogs, countless cats, two rescued goats and a hilarious flock of hens.

You can follow her writing at DrPattyKhuly.com and at SunsetVets.com.

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