Gastrointestinal Diseases in Dogs

There are a number of reasons why a dog can present with such symptoms as vomiting, diarrhea and a decrease in appetite. Some gastrointestinal diseases are chronic and need to be monitored and managed for the life of the dog, while other gastrointestinal problems are temporary and can be cleared up with proper treatment.

gastrointestinal diseases in dogs

Common Causes of Acute Gastrointestinal Illnesses

Acute gastrointestinal illnesses are those that are sudden in onset. They are usually temporary in duration as long as veterinary care is sought. Some common causes of acute gastrointestinal illnesses include:

  • Dietary indiscretion, such as consuming fatty table scraps or grazing in garbage cans
  • Intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, coccidia and whipworms
  • Viral diseases, such as coronavirus and canine parvovirus
  • Bacteria, such as E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter and clostridia

Acute Gastrointestinal Diseases in Dogs

One of the common acute gastrointestinal diseases in dogs is pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. This illness occurs more frequently in dogs that are overweight, and it typically strikes middle aged and senior dogs. One of the most common causes of pancreatitis in dogs is dietary indiscretion in which the dog indulges in a meal that is high in fat. The symptoms of pancreatitis include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, decreased appetite and lethargy. Hospitalization is required for treating pancreatitis, and patients are at risk for developing subsequent diabetes.

Another acute gastrointestinal disease that afflicts dogs is hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. This condition is characterized by profuse vomiting and bloody diarrhea, and it can be fatal without hospitalization. Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is seen more commonly in small and toy breeds, such as toy poodles, Yorkshire terriers, miniature schnauzers and Shetland sheepdogs. In addition to bacteria, fungi, viruses and dietary indiscretion, other contributing factors may include anxiety, stress, exposure to toxins and food allergies. Dogs that are diagnosed with a case of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis are at an increased risk for recurrence of this gastrointestinal disease.

Chronic Gastrointestinal Diseases

Chronic gastrointestinal diseases include those that are diagnosed as long-term conditions. They may be controlled with therapeutic diets and medications, but the dog is always at risk for flare-ups of the symptoms.

Inflammatory bowel disease, a condition in which inflammatory cells infiltrate the intestinal walls, is the most common of the chronic gastrointestinal diseases in dogs. Inflammatory bowel disease is idiopathic, which means that the cause of the condition is unknown. The symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease are generalized and include vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss. There is no cure for inflammatory bowel disease. The condition must be managed with a hypoallergenic diet or a novel protein diet, and medications, including corticosteroids, may also be necessary to control the symptoms.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is a condition that is most commonly diagnosed in German shepherds, but it can affect other breeds as well. A normally functioning pancreas produces enzymes to aid in the digestion of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency means that the pancreas fails to produce adequate levels of these enzymes, and the result is that food is not digested efficiently. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency may be caused by a congenital defect, or it can result from pancreatic infections, injuries or repeated bouts of pancreatitis. Symptoms of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency include chronic diarrhea or soft, fatty stools, occasional vomiting and gradual weight loss despite having a voracious appetite. Lifelong treatment for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency includes a therapeutic diet and pancreatic enzyme replacement supplementation.

Other Gastrointestinal Conditions

Some other gastrointestinal conditions that affect dogs include:

  • Megaesophagus, a condition in which the esophagus lacks the ability to pass food through to the stomach
  • Intussusception, a condition in which one section of the gastrointestinal tract telescopes into another section until it forms an obstruction

Gastrointestinal Emergencies

Bloat, properly known as gastric dilatation-volvulus, is a condition in which the stomach fills with gas. As the stomach swells, it can be pushed to twist on its axis, cutting off its entrance and exit openings. Bloat commonly strikes in larger dogs, especially those that are described as deep-chested breeds, such as great Danes, Weimaraners and Doberman pinschers. Bloat is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate veterinary intervention. If your dogs exhibits abdominal swelling, excessive salivation, repeated and unproductive attempts to vomit, retching, restless behavior and rapid shallow respiration, do not delay in getting your dog to a veterinarian at once.

Foreign Body Obstruction

A foreign body obstruction is an obstruction that occurs anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract as a result of ingesting a foreign body. Common foreign bodies include balls, toys, socks, underwear and towels. The signs of a foreign body obstruction include vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, a decrease in appetite and a painful abdomen. Since a foreign body obstruction cuts off the blood supply to the affected gastrointestinal tissues, these tissues will begin to die off. Waiting to see if your dog passes the foreign body will place your dog’s life in jeopardy. Bring your dog to a veterinarian at once for treatment.

Being stricken with the signs and symptoms of gastrointestinal upset is unpleasant for anyone, including your dog. Pay attention to your dog’s symptoms, and pursue veterinary care so that your canine companion can resume a happy and comfortable life.

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