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Digestive Problems in Dogs

16 Types of Dog Digestive Issues

Digestive issues in dogs are an umbrella term that includes conditions affecting the dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Dogs with sensitive stomachs and a tendency to eat inedible items are predisposed to digestive problems. 

Common digestive issues include constipation, bloat, diarrhea, colitis, vomiting, allergies, flatulence, appetite loss, parvo, mucus, foreign objects, gastrointestinal disease, parasitism, hookworms, dehydration, and gastroenteritis. 

Vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain are telltale signs of upset stomach in dogs

The treatment varies based on the underlying cause. Mild cases of dog indigestion are managed at home, while severe cases require veterinary attention. 

Antibiotics, antiparasitics, antiemetics, and antacids are some medications used to treat digestive issues. Gastrointestinal foreign bodies require surgeries, and allergies are controlled through food elimination trials. 

1. Constipation

Constipation in dogs is infrequent or troubled defecation. Dogs normally defecate one to three times per day with ease. The hard passage of stool is painful. 

Dogs get constipation due to lack of exercise, extremely high or low-fiber diets, anal sac issues, dehydration, excessive self-grooming, enlarged prostate, and gastrointestinal obstructions. 

Straining during defecation is the most common sign of constipation. The dog squats and attempts to produce feces without success. 

Constipation is diagnosed based on clinical signs. Finding the underlying cause requires blood tests, urinalysis, X-rays, and advanced imaging techniques, like CT scans and MRIs. 

The treatment depends on the underlying cause and includes hydration, dietary supplements, laxative foods, and medications. 

Feeding the dog a healthy diet, ensuring proper hydration, and promoting daily physical activity helps prevent constipation. 

2. Bloating

Bloating in dogs, or gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), is a condition in which gas and liquid accumulate and stretch the stomach until it twists on its axis. GDV is painful and life-threatening. 

The cause of bloating is unknown, but the problem is prevalent in large, deep-chested breeds. Exercising immediately after eating and overdrinking are known risk factors. 

Standard signs of GDV in dogs include retching, enlarged abdomen, pacing, panting, drooling, rapid heart rate, pale gums, and maintaining a downward-faced position. 

Bloat is diagnosed based on clinical signs and abdominal X-ray images on which the stomach resembles the number eight. 

GDV is an emergency requiring stabilization (including stomach decompression) and surgical intervention (for stomach repositioning). The vet then sutures the stomach to the abdominal wall (gastropexy) to prevent future episodes.

Ensure a time frame between meals and exercises to prevent bloat in dogs, especially high-risk breeds. 

3. Diarrhea

Diarrhea is frequent defecation or passing large amounts of liquid stool. Diarrhea is debilitating and puts the dog at risk of dehydration. 

Dogs get diarrhea from sudden food changes, dietary indiscretions, toxin ingestion, parasites, foreign bodies, stress, allergies, gastrointestinal infections, and medication side effects. 

Vomiting is accompanied by other clinical signs such as diarrhea or constipation, appetite loss, and abdominal pain. 

The underlying cause of vomiting is diagnosed through physical examination, blood test results, urinalysis, fecal analysis, biopsies, imaging techniques, and food elimination trials.  

The treatment varies based on the trigger and includes withholding food, intravenous fluids, antibiotics, antiparasitics, and diet modifications. 

Keep the dog updated on regular vaccines and practice gradual food formula switches to reduce the risk of diarrhea.  

4. Colitis

Colitis in dogs is inflammation of the large intestine or colon. The colon absorbs water, and its inflammation affects dogs by causing diarrhea. 

Dogs get colitis due to stress, sudden dietary changes, dietary indiscretions, foreign bodies in the gastrointestinal tract, infectious agents, parasites, food hypersensitivity, leaky gut, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease. 

Soft or liquid stool, frequent defecation, inability to withhold poop, and the presence of mucus or blood in the feces are common signs of colitis in dogs. 

Blood and fecal analysis, abdominal X-rays and ultrasound, colonoscopy, and diet trials are standard diagnostic procedures for colitis. 

Treatment includes a plain diet, antibiotics with anti-inflammatory properties (metronidazole, tylosin, and sulfasalazine), prescription diets, and supplements, such as pro and prebiotics. 

Minimize stress, update the dog’s vaccine status regularly, avoid sudden food changes, and practice frequent vet checkups to prevent colitis. 

5. Vomiting

Vomiting in dogs, known as emesis, is the active expulsion of stomach content. A dog that vomits is in distress and at risk of becoming dehydrated. 

Sudden food switches, dietary indiscretions, allergies, gastrointestinal infections, toxin ingestion, foreign bodies, parasites, and pancreatitis are common causes of vomiting. 

Clinical signs indicating dog vomiting include retching, drooling, lip-licking, abdominal contractions, and a hunched body posture. 

The cause of vomiting is diagnosed with blood, urine, fecal analysis, abdominal ultrasounds, X-rays, or elimination diet trials. 

The treatment depends on the underlying trigger and includes diet changes, prescription diets, antibiotics, and anti-emetics (drugs that stop vomiting). 

Keep the dog up-to-date on vaccines and deworming treatments and practice gradual formula changes to minimize the risk of vomiting. 

6. Allergies

Food allergies in dogs are immune system overreactions to specific ingredients in the food. Allergies harm the dog’s quality of life. 

The cause of food allergies is unknown. Allergies occur when the immune system misidentifies certain proteins in the dog’s food as a threat, triggering an attack. Chicken, beef, dairy, eggs, and gluten are common food allergens. 

Common signs of food allergies are diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, itchy skin, feet chewing or licking, hives, and chronic or recurrent ear infections. 

Food allergies are diagnosed based on diet elimination trials, in which the dog receives a novel or hydrolyzed protein diet before specific foods are re-introduced. 

The treatment is eliminating the offending food from the diet. Avoiding the food allergen is the basis for preventing dog allergic reactions

7. Flatulence

Flatulence in dogs is excessive gas production. The issue is harmless if temporary but warrants veterinary attention only if accompanied by other clinical signs and symptoms. 

Flatulence is caused by swallowing air when eating too fast, dietary indiscretions, and digestive conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

Farting is the standard sign of flatulence. Worrisome signs and symptoms include appetite loss, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, abdominal pain, weight loss, and lethargy. 

Blood tests, fecal analysis, and abdominal ultrasound or X-ray imaging are recommended for diagnosing dogs with flatulence. 

Activated charcoal, bismuth subsalicylate, simethicone, and probiotics treat excess gas production. Dogs with IBD must have the condition managed to treat flatulence. 

Encourage an active lifestyle and feed the dog smaller but frequent meals to minimize the risk of flatulence. 

8. Loss of appetite

Loss of appetite in dogs is the reluctance to eat and a telltale sign of an underlying digestive issue. Prolonged appetite loss or anorexia causes weight loss and harms the dog’s immune system. 

Causes of appetite loss include infectious illnesses, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, ulcers, gastrointestinal obstruction, bloating, stress, dental problems, pancreatitis, and toxin ingestion. 

Anorexia manifests with reduced appetite, refusing treats, weight loss, and lethargy. Vomiting and diarrhea or constipation often co-exist with appetite loss. 

The veterinarian examines the dog and orders blood tests, fecal and urine analysis, abdominal ultrasounds and X-rays, biopsies, and gastro or colonoscopy to diagnose the cause of appetite loss.  

The treatment varies from simple diet changes and probiotics to long-term antibiotic therapy and surgery, based on the cause. 

Keep the dog’s health in check and reduce the risk of appetite loss by practicing vet checkups, giving quality food, and ensuring regular vaccine and deworming updates. 

9. Parvovirus

Canine parvovirus (CPV) is a highly infectious viral disease that attacks dogs' gastrointestinal tract, bone marrow, and heart muscle. CPV is debilitating and potentially fatal. 

Dogs get parvovirus from infected dogs and contaminated environments. The virus is resistant and stays in the environment for long periods. 

Bloody and pungent-smelling diarrhea is a telltale sign of parvo. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, and lethargy. 

Parvo is diagnosed with Fecal SNAP ELISA tests. The test is performed on a fecal swab and provides fast results in around ten minutes. 

Dogs with parvo are treated with intravenous fluids, antiemetics (to stop vomiting), and symptomatic care. A canine parvo monoclonal antibody is available, but its effectiveness is contested. 

CPV is preventable via regular vaccination. Do not allow puppies that are not fully vaccinated to get in contact with other dogs with unknown vaccination status.

10. Mucus

Mucus is a slippery secretion. The mucus in the dog’s feces indicates parasites, specifically Giardia. Giardia is a protozoal parasite that causes an intestinal infection called giardiasis. 

Dogs get the parasite when they ingest its larvae from contaminated grounds, water, or the hind end of an infected dog.

Clinical symptoms of giardiasis are diarrhea, lethargy, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, and weight loss. The diarrhea is foul-smelling, green-tinged, and rich in mucus. 

Giardiasis in dogs is diagnosed based on stool samples. The veterinarian orders blood analysis and exams of the dog to evaluate its overall status. 

Intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and antiparasitics are the cornerstone for treating giardiasis. The dog must be bathed because parasitic cysts shed and remain attached to the coat. 

Ensure the dog is protected from parasites year-round and given the Giardia vaccine to prevent giardiasis. 

11. Foreign objects

Gastrointestinal foreign objects are swollen items that cause problems in the dog’s stomach or intestines. Foreign objects cause obstructions or perforations and are life-threatening.

Dogs are naturally curious and love chewing, predisposing them to foreign bodies. Frequent culprits include bones, pieces of broken toys, corks, corn cobs, bottle caps, large fruit pits, and stones. 

Persistent vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea followed by constipation, abdominal pain, weight loss, dehydration, and weakness are clinical manifestations of foreign bodies. 

Certain foreign objects are visible on X-ray images of the abdomen. Ultrasounds and contrast radiography identify foreign bodies not visible on regular X-rays.

Small foreign bodies pass independently, while larger objects require surgical removal. Discard broken toys and avoid feeding the dog bones to reduce the likelihood of gastrointestinal foreign objects. 

12. Gastro-Intestinal Disease

Gastrointestinal disease is an umbrella term encompassing different conditions of the dog’s digestive tract. Diseases of the stomach and intestines are painful and weaken the dog. 

Dogs contract gastrointestinal diseases from food, the environment, or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. 

Common symptoms in dogs with gastrointestinal problems are vomiting, diarrhea, appetite loss, constipation, abdominal pain, lethargy, and fever. 

The diagnosis involves clinical exams, blood work, urinalysis, fecal tests, abdominal ultrasounds, X-ray imaging, endoscopy, and biopsy. 

Gastrointestinal disease in dogs is treated medically or surgically, depending on the problem. Prevent stomach and intestinal conditions by giving quality food, keeping the dog current on vaccines and dewormers, and practicing routine vet exams. 

13. Parasitism

Parasitism in dogs is infection with intestinal worms, like roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and whipworms. Intestinal worms have a debilitating effect on dogs and are deadly in severe cases, especially in young puppies. 

Dogs get worms through contact with infected animals, fleas, contaminated soil, and environmental objects, such as toys, bedding, and food bowls. Puppies get worms from their mothers via the placenta or milk. 

Signs of parasitism in dogs are diarrhea, vomiting, enlarged abdomen, dull coat, weight loss, and poor growth. Dogs with heavy loads of certain worms become anemic. 

Worms in dogs diagnosed with fecal tests. The vet collects feces, prepares a sample through flotation, and searches for worm eggs under a microscope. 

Antiparasitics are the treatment of choice for intestinal worms. The antiparasitics are combined with symptomatic therapy when necessary. 

Gastrointestinal parasites are easy to prevent with regular deworming, the frequency of which depends on the dog’s age and lifestyle. 

14. Hookworms

Hookworms are parasites that live in the dog’s intestines. The top three hookworms in dogs are Ancylostoma caninum, Ancylostoma brasiliense, and Unicinaria stenocephala. Hookworms attach to the intestines through their hook-like mouthparts. 

Dogs get hookworms when they swallow hookworm larvae while grooming their feet or sniffing feces and soil contaminated by infected dogs. 

Clinical signs of hookworms in dogs include black or tarry stool, vomiting, decreased appetite, and weight loss. Anemia is possible in dogs with heavy hookworm infections. 

Hookworms are diagnosed through a type of fecal examination known as flotation. The process entails analyzing a prepared fecal sample under a microscope. 

The standard hookworm treatment is deworming medications like fenbendazole, pyrantel, moxidectin, or milbemycin. Intravenous fluids, iron supplements, or blood transfusions are used for anemic dogs.

Deworm the dog regularly to prevent hookworm infections. Ask the vet to create a deworming schedule based on individual factors (age and lifestyle). 

15. Dehydration

Dehydration is when water loss from the body exceeds water intake. Extreme fluid loss is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying problem. 

Dogs get dehydrated through prolonged and intense vomiting and diarrhea. Exposure to high temperatures and inadequate water intake cause dehydration, too. 

Common signs of a dehydrated dog include reduced skin elasticity, tacky and dull gums, sticky and stringy saliva, sunken eyes, and a dry nose. 

Diagnosing the underlying cause of dehydration requires a physical examination followed by specific tests, like blood count, biochemistry panels, urinalysis, and diagnostic imaging. 

Intravenous fluids are the first aid for dehydrated dogs. The rest of the treatment depends on the underlying trigger. 

Prevent dehydration by ensuring the dog has access to fresh drinking water and seeking prompt veterinary care in cases of diarrhea and vomiting. 

16. Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the dog’s stomach and intestines. Gastroenteritis is a common cause of stomach upset. 

Dogs get gastroenteritis from food switches, dietary indiscretions, gastric ulcers, worms, bacteria (Salmonella, E. coli), viruses (parvo, corona), toxins, food allergies, and cancer. 

Gastroenteritis clinically manifests with vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, abdominal pain, lethargy, fever, dehydration, and weight loss. 

Diagnosing the underlying cause required blood work, fecal analysis, and abdominal ultrasound or X-ray imaging. 

The treatment for gastroenteritis depends on the trigger. Antibiotics are given to dogs with bacterial infections, antiparasitics to dogs with worms, and antacids to dogs with stomach ulcers. 

Give a high-quality diet, do not make sudden formula changes, stay up-to-date on vaccines and dewormers, and visit the vet for routine exams to reduce the risk of gastroenteritis in dogs

Why do Dogs Have Digestive Problems?

Dogs have digestive problems because they have sensitive stomachs and are prone to chewing, so pathogens constantly attack their gastrointestinal tracts. 

The dog’s stomach is sensitive, contrary to popular belief. Minor diet changes and ingredients in the food cause digestive upsets. 

Chewing predisposes dogs to toxin ingestion and accidental swallowing of foreign bodies, which are emergency digestive conditions. The dog’s digestive tract is a target for bacteria, viruses, and parasites. 

An upset stomach in dogs is one of the most common reasons pet owners seek veterinary help. 

What Does a Dog Digestive Problem Indicate?

A dog's digestive problem indicates the food is unsuitable. One of the most common reasons for digestive issues is intolerance or allergy to certain food ingredients. 

Digestive problems, in other cases, indicate more severe conditions. Examples are infectious diseases, intestinal worms, tumors, and obstructions. 

Seek immediate vet care if a dog is displaying continuous digestive problems. Certain issues of the gastrointestinal tract are potentially life-threatening. 

How to Treat Dog Stomach Issues?

The instructions on how to treat dog stomach issues are listed below. 

  1. Withhold Food and Water. Withhold food for 24 hours and water for 12 hours to give the dog’s stomach time to calm down and heal from potential irritation. Food and water withholding is not a treatment on its own, but it helps settle upsets. 
  2. Provide a Bland Diet. Give the dog a bland diet after the food and water withdrawal period. A bland diet comprises deboned, boiled white chicken meat and white boiled rice. The diet is easy on the stomach while providing essential nutrients. 
  3. Seek Veterinary Help. Contact a vet and schedule an appointment if the dog’s situation does not improve quickly or if showing additional worrisome signs, like fever, lethargy, and disinterest in daily activities. 
  4. Give the Meds as Instructed. Adhere to the veterinarian’s instructions and administer the medications as instructed. Do not self-medicate dogs, as many human meds are dangerous for pets. 
  5. Use Dietary Supplements. Talk to the vet regarding the use of supplements supporting digestion. Commonly used products include probiotics, prebiotics, and enzymes. 
  6. Get a Prescription Formula. Try a prescription food formula designed specifically for dogs with sensitive stomachs. Prescription diets are more expensive than regular dog foods but worth the cost. 

What are the Symptoms of Dog Digestive Issues?

The symptoms of dog digestive issues are listed below. 

  • Vomiting: Vomiting is the active expulsion of stomach content and a sign of digestive problems. Dogs have sensitive stomachs and are prone to vomiting. 
  • Diarrhea: Dogs with digestive issues have loose stools or defecate frequently. Prolonged diarrhea episodes lead to dehydration. 
  • Constipation: Digestion problems in some dogs cause constipation, infrequent defecation, or difficulty passing stool. Constipation is painful. 
  • Loss of Appetite: The combined effects of vomiting and diarrhea or constipation reduce the dog’s appetite. Loss of appetite is medically called anorexia. 
  • Abdominal Pain: Increased stomach tenderness and abdominal pain are common for dogs suffering from digestive conditions. 

What Particular Breeds Are Susceptible to Digestive Problems?

The particular breeds that are susceptible to digestive problems are listed below. 

  • German Shepherds: Breed members are predisposed to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gastric dilatation, and volvulus (GDV). 
  • Great Danes: Great Danes are an example of a large and deep-chested breed, putting them at a high risk of developing gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV) or bloating. 
  • Yorkshire Terriers: Yorkies have delicate stomachs and are susceptible to acute gastroenteritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).  
  • Labrador and Golden Retrievers: Gastrointestinal obstructions due to foreign objects are prevalent in Labrador and Golden Retrievers. 
  • English Springer Spaniels: English Springer Spaniels are at a higher-than-average risk of contracting canine parvovirus (CPV). 
  • Irish Setters: A specific gene mutation makes Irish Setters predisposed to intolerance to gluten and other cereal-related peptides. 

How to Prevent Digestive Problems in Your Dogs?

Prevent digestive problems in your dogs by providing quality food, avoiding sudden switches, staying up-to-date on vaccines and dewormers, and practicing regular veterinary checkups. 

Give the dog balanced and nutritious food suitable for its age and lifestyle. Make gradual diet changes if switching from one food form to another. 

Vaccine and deworm the dog regularly as instructed by the veterinarian. The vaccination and deworming protocol depends on the dog’s lifestyle and exposure risk. 

Visit the vet frequently for routine checkups. The veterinary exam is the perfect time to catch digestive problems before progressing into severe conditions. 

How can CBD Oil Prevent Dogs from Digestive Problems?

CBD oil can prevent dogs from digestive problems by reducing inflammation, modulating the immune system, alleviating stress, supporting appetite, and relieving nausea. 

Cannabidiol (CBD) prevents and reduces inflammation, a key component of digestive issues in dogs. Modulating the immune system helps with allergies while alleviating dog anxiety and avoiding stress-related diarrhea. 

CBD has a positive impact on appetite and stimulates a healthy food intake. Regular CBD use minimizes nausea, which is helpful for dogs prone to vomiting. 

Cannabidiol for canines works naturally through the dog’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). CBD is safe to use simultaneously with mainstream treatments for digestive problems. 

Can Age Contribute to Digestive Problems in Dogs?

Yes, age can contribute to digestion problems in dogs. Gastrointestinal tract conditions affect all dogs, but certain issues are more common in seniors. 

For example, diverticulosis of the large intestine is prevalent in older dogs. Seniors are prone to constipation as a side effect of medications used to treat chronic age-related diseases. 

Pet owners of senior dogs must monitor their dogs' digestive health and seek prompt vet care in cases of problematic symptoms.