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Ulcers in Dogs

Dog Ulcer: Definition, Signs, Types, Treatments

A dog ulcer is a crater-like sore that develops inside or outside the body. Ulcers form on skin and mucous membranes, frequently affecting the dog’s cornea, skin, mouth, stomach, or intestines. 

Certain dog breeds, like Collies, Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, Samoyeds, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Corgis, Maltese dogs, Cocker Spaniels, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are at a higher risk of developing ulcers. 

Ulcers are caused by injuries, infections, and diseases. Loss of function and pain are the two hallmarks of ulcers. 

The exact clinical manifestation of ulcers depends on their location. A dog ulcer on the cornea causes redness, itchy eyes, and increased tearing, while a dog stomach ulcer triggers vomiting, bloody stool, and appetite loss. 

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for a good ulcer prognosis. The dog ulcer treatment depends on the type and location and includes medications or surgery. 

What is a Dog ulcer?

A dog ulcer is a deep defect in the skin's surface or mucous membrane. 

An ulcer is a discontinuity or break in a bodily membrane that impedes normal function of the affected organ, explains an article titled “Ulcer” in Wikipedia in 2024. 

Ulcers are crater-like sores caused by injuries, infections, and diseases. The sore starts as a superficial defect medically known as erosion. An ulcer forms when the erosion defect reaches a certain depth. 

The dog ulcer is slow-healing and recurring. Ulcers appear inside and outside the dog’s body, from the eyes and skin to the stomach and intestines. 

Can Dogs Get Stomach Ulcers?

Yes, dogs can get stomach ulcers. Stomach ulcers develop when the stomach’s digestive juices start eating away the interior lining of the stomach wall. 

Digestive juice is acidic and helps break down food. The stomach is lined with a protective mucosal barrier in healthy dogs. 

Ulcers form when the mucosal barrier is faulty, leaving the inside of the stomach wall exposed to acidic digestive juices.  

Are there Other Types of Ulcers in Dogs?

Yes, there are other types of ulcers in dogs. Common types are gastrointestinal, skin, corneal, sluggish, and mouth ulcers. 

Mouth ulcers are the least dangerous type and often resolve on their own. Skin ulcers are visually unappealing but treatable. 

Eye and gastrointestinal dog ulcer symptoms are more challenging and require early diagnosis and treatment. Eye ulcers cause vision deficits or blindness if left unmanaged, while ulcers in the digestive tract are potentially fatal.  

What are Different Types of Ulcers in Dogs?

The different types of ulcers in dogs are listed below. 

  • Stomach Ulcer: A stomach ulcer is a defect in the inner lining of the stomach wall that causes abdominal pain and bloody stool. 
  • Gastrointestinal Ulcer: Gastrointestinal ulcers form in dogs' stomachs or intestines and are associated with irresponsible NSAID use. 
  • Skin Ulcer: A skin ulcer is a self-inflicted lesion that occurs independently or is a sign of a skin condition or syndrome, such as allergies or lupus. 
  • Corneal Ulcer: Corneal ulcer is a crater-like defect in the cornea prevalent in flat-faced or brachycephalic breeds like Boxers, Pugs, and Bulldogs. 
  • Indolent Ulcer: An indolent ulcer is a specific type of chronic and non-infected corneal ulcer known as spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defects or SCCEDs. 
  • Mouth Ulcer: A mouth ulcer is a deep, open sore in the dog’s mouth and a telltale sign of canine chronic ulcerative stomatitis (CCUS). 

  • 1. Stomach Ulcer

    Stomach ulcers are defects in the inner lining of the stomach wall. Stomach ulcers in dogs are painful and potentially life-threatening. 

    Common stomach ulcer symptoms include melena (dark and tarry stool with blood), vomiting, reduced appetite, dehydration, weight loss, lethargy, and weakness. 

    “Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are the greatest risk factor for peptic ulcers in dogs, while adenocarcinoma is the greatest risk factor for neoplastic gastric ulcers,” states a study on “Risk Factors of Gastric Ulcers in Dogs” published in the Pakistan Veterinary Journal in 2015. 

    Stomach ulcers are prevalent in athletes and working breeds. A link between exercise-induced hyperthermia and impaired stomach mucosal barrier is noted in a study, “Gastritis and Gastric Ulcers in Working Dogs,” published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science in 2016. 

    Antibiotics, pain medications, and intravenous fluid are used for initial stabilization. Dog stomach ulcers are treated with GI protectants and antacids. 

    Sucralfate coats the ulcer and promotes healing, while H2 receptors (famotidine) and proton pump inhibitors (omeprazole) reduce gastric secretion. A bleeding stomach ulcer in dogs requires surgical correction. 

    Diet modifications to reduce stomach inflammation in predisposed breeds reduce the risk of ulcers and ulcer-causing digestive problems in dogs

    2. Gastrointestinal Ulcer

    Gastrointestinal ulcers are crater-like defects in dogs' stomachs or intestines. The ulcers are progressive and perforate in severe cases. Perforation refers to the ulcer creating a hole in the gastrointestinal wall that is often fatal.

    Gastrointestinal ulcers clinically manifest with bloody diarrhea, melena (dark stool similar to coffee grounds), vomiting, appetite loss, dehydration, weight loss, malnutrition, and lethargy. 

    Typical causes of gastrointestinal ulcers in dogs include medication side effects, infectious conditions, digestive issues, metabolic diseases, GI tract cancers, and heavy metal poisoning. 

    Chronic anxiety in dogs increases the secretion of digestive juices, hence acting as a risk factor for gastrointestinal ulcers, reports a study, “Effect of Chronic Fear on the Gastric Secretion of HCl in Dogs,” published in  Psychosomatic Medicine in 1949. 

    The treatment of gastrointestinal ulcers in dogs is medical or surgical. Antibiotics, pain meds, and IV fluids support initial treatment, while long-term treatment entails medications or surgery. 

    Protectants and antacids commonly used include sucralfate, H2 receptor antagonists, proton pump inhibitors, and prostaglandin E analogs. Surgery is recommended for dogs with bleeding or perforated ulcers and when cancer causes the ulcer. 

    3. Skin Ulcer

    A skin ulcer is a deep, open sore in a dog’s skin. Skin ulcers are painful, itchy, and prone to infections, complicating clinical manifestation and treatment. 

    Symptoms of skin ulcers in dogs include red and oozing sores, inflammation, redness, odor, hair loss, and secondary skin lesions like crusts, pustules, or erosions. 

    Hereditary conditions, skin infections, trauma, immune-mediated conditions, external parasites, and skin cancer are among dogs' most common causes of skin ulcers. 

    Skin ulcers resolve once the underlying condition is under control. Topical treatment is used in some cases. Wound care creams support healing, while topical antibiotics are prescribed when treating a skin infection in dogs

    Some causes of dog skin ulcers are more preventable than others. For example, keeping the dog up-to-date on flea and tick preventatives eliminates the risk of parasitic infestation, but immune-mediated causes of ulcers are not preventable.  

    4. Corneal Ulcer

    Corneal ulcers are deep erosions affecting multiple layers of the cornea. Ulcers of the cornea are painful and culminate in blindness if left untreated in severe cases. 

    Telltale symptoms of corneal ulcers are eye redness, cloudiness, excessive tearing, discharge, pawing at the eyes, and photophobia.  

    Trauma is the most common cause of corneal ulcers. Additional causes include epithelial dystrophy, dry eye (keratoconjunctivitis sicca), and endocrine conditions like diabetes mellitus. 

    Brachycephalic breeds with large and bulging eyes are at a high risk of corneal ulcers. Pugs have over 19 times the risk of corneal ulceration compared with crossbred dogs, reports a study on “Corneal Ulcerative Disease in Dogs Under Primary Veterinary Care in England: Epidemiology and Clinical Management” published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology in 2017. 

    Corneal ulcers are treated with antibiotic drops or ointments. Severe forms require surgery in the form of grid keratectomy or corneal grafts. 

    Maintaining sound eye hygiene, especially in brachycephalic breeds, and regular vet checkups help prevent a corneal ulcer or similar eye problem in dogs

    “Artificial selection for extreme facial characteristics in dogs increases the risk of corneal ulcers, and should be discouraged to improve canine welfare,” according to a study “Impact of Facial Conformation on Canine Health: Corneal Ulceration” published in PLoS ONE in 2015. 

    5. Indolent Ulcer

    An indolent ulcer is a type of chronic and non-infected corneal ulcer. The medical term for indolent ulcers is spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defects of SCCEDS. 

    Indolent ulcers fail to heal within one week and are uncomfortable for the dog, although they rarely cause severe eye damage or blindness. 

    Symptoms of indolent ulcers in dogs include redness, swelling, watery eyes (epiphora), blinking or squinting (blepharospasm), and photophobia. 

    Trauma is inferred to be a leading cause of indolent ulcers, but the exact origin is unknown. Indolent ulcers are prevalent in middle-aged and older Boxer dog breed members. 

    SCEEDs are treated with CTA debridement or removal of damaged tissue with a diamond burr. Broad-spectrum eye drops are used after the surgery, and the dog wears an Elizabethan collar to prevent eye scratching. 

    Indolent ulcers or spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defects in dogs are not preventable. 

    6. Mouth Ulcer

    A mouth ulcer is an open sore in the dog’s oral cavity. Mouth sores are painful, making the dog uncomfortable when they flare up during mealtimes. 

    Mouth ulcer symptoms include skin lesions, pain, reluctance to eat, drooling, excessive pawing at the mouth, and bad breath (halitosis). 

    Common causes of mouth ulcers in dogs are trauma, inflammation, infection, immune-mediated conditions (pemphigus vulgaris), and metabolic disease (for example, advanced kidney failure). 

    Ulcers are the hallmark of canine chronic ulcerative stomatitis (CCUP), prevalent in Greyhounds, Maltese dogs, and Spaniels. 

    The treatment is focused on the underlying cause. The vet prescribes chlorhexidine solution or antibacterial gel to support ulcer healing. Stabilized chlorine dioxide helps manage bad breath in dogs

    Daily teeth brushing, oral hygiene support, and regular dental checkups help prevent certain mouth ulcers in dogs. 

    What are Common Dog Ulcer Symptoms?

    Common dog ulcer symptoms are pain and reduced function. Pain accompanies various types of ulcers. Dog ulcers are defined as profound defects, and the presence of the defects causes diminished function. 

    The exact symptoms of dog ulcers depend on the defect’s location. Each type of ulcer exhibits different signs, typical for the affected tissue or organ. 

    For example, gastrointestinal ulcers manifest with black, tarry stool, vomiting, and appetite loss, while eye ulcers have redness, discharge, corneal cloudiness, and photophobia. Skin ulcers with redness, inflammation, odor, and itchiness. 

    How to Treat Dog Ulcers?

    The instructions on how to treat dog ulcers are listed below. 

    • Underlying Cause Control: The first step in treating dog ulcers is controlling the underlying cause. Treating the ulcer without the cause is symptom management, and the ulcer fails to heal and reappears. The exact treatment depends on the underlying culprit. 
    • Topical Therapy: Topical therapy includes medicated eye drops for dogs with corneal ulcers, antibacterial gels or antiseptic oral washes for mouth ulcers, and wound care creams or topical antibiotics for skin ulcers. 
    • Systemic Medications: Systemic medications, such as antacids and gastric protectants, treat stomach ulcers and other ulcers in the dog’s digestive tract. 
    • Surgery: Surgery is the treatment of choice for dogs with non-healing indolent ulcers and bleeding and perforated ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract. Surgery is performed to treat the underlying cause of ulcers in some cases, 
    • Dietary Support: Dietary changes are important in ulcer treatment, particularly stomach and gastrointestinal types. 

    What Dog Breeds Are Typically Prone to Ulcer?

    The breeds that are typically prone to ulcers are listed below. 

    • Pugs, Boxers, and Bulldogs: Brachycephalic breeds, like Pugs, Boxers, and Bulldogs, are prone to corneal ulcers due to their large and bulging eyes.  
    • Boxers and Corgis: Indolent ulcers, known as spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defects (SCCEDs), are widespread in Boxers. 
    • Corgis, Collies, and Samoyeds: Spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defects or SCCEDs are common in Corgis, Collies, and Samoyeds. 
    • Spaniel Dog Breeds: Mouth ulcers are prevalent in Spaniels, including Cocker Spaniels and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  
    • Maltese and Greyhounds: Maltese and Greyhounds have a higher-than-average risk of mouth ulcers due to canine chronic ulcerative stomatitis (CCUS). 
    • Huskies and Malamutes: Sled dogs like Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes are prone to gastric and skin ulcers as part of zinc-responsive dermatosis
    • Collie Dog Breeds: Collies are susceptible to skin ulcers caused by cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE) and familial dermatomyositis. 

    Does Genetics Contribute to Dog Ulcers?

    Yes, genetics can contribute to dog ulcers. Certain types of dog ulcers have a proven genetic component. 

    For example, skin ulcers are a clinical manifestation of familial dermatomyositis. The condition is inherited and typical of Collie and Shetland Sheepdog breeds. 

    Indolent ulcers or spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defects (SCCEDs) are widespread in Boxers. “The predilection of certain breeds suggests that SCCEDs is inherited,” says a report on “Identification of the Genetic Cause of Corneal Ulcers” by the AKC Canine Health Foundation in 2015. 

    What are the Risks of  Untreated Dog Ulcers?

    The risks of untreated dog ulcers are listed below. 

    • Pain: The most common risk of untreated dog ulcers is pain. Mouth ulcers, skin ulcers, and corneal ulcers are excruciating. Gastrointestinal ulcer pain differs based on the individual case.
    • Deep Infections: Skin ulcers are at a high risk of getting infected when left untreated. The infection spreads from the skin to other tissues, eventually affecting the dog’s blood, joints, or bones. 
    • Blindness: Untreated corneal and indolent ulcers progress, causing permanent damage to the deeper eye structures. Blindness is a plausible scenario in severe cases. Eye removal is recommended in cases where the eye tissue is beyond repair. 
    • Septic Peritonitis: Septic peritonitis is a life-threatening inflammation of the peritoneum. The infection occurs when untreated gastrointestinal ulcers perforate the stomach or intestine walls, leaking bacteria into the abdomen. 
    • Blood Loss: Stomach ulcers are prone to bleeding. Bleeding ulcers in dogs cause significant blood loss if left untreated. Prolonged and severe blood loss causes anemia and is life-threatening.  
    • Death: Profound infections spread to deep tissues and organs are often fatal. Septic peritonitis and blood loss are associated with high fatality rates.  

    Can Dogs Die from Ulcers?

    Yes, dogs can die from ulcers. The life-threatening type is gastrointestinal ulcers. Ulcers of the stomach and intestines perforate the wall of the stomach or intestines, respectively, resulting in abdominal inflammation and excessive blood loss. 

    Fatal outcomes are expected when the underlying cause of gastrointestinal ulcers is untreatable or the ulceration is severe. Delayed diagnosis and treatment increase the fatality risk, too. 

    Can Dogs with Typical Food Allergies Lead to Ulcers?

    Yes, dogs with typical food allergies can lead to ulcers. Ulcers are a possible complication in dogs with gastrointestinal and skin allergy symptoms. 

    Gastrointestinal allergies in dogs cause irritation and inflammation of the digestive tract, triggering deep sores or ulcers if advanced. 

    Itchy dog food allergies sometimes affect the skin, resulting in various lesions, including hot spots and ulcers. 

    Chicken, beef, dairy, eggs, soy, and wheat gluten are common causes of food allergies in dogs. Allergies are challenging to manage and reduce the dog’s quality of life.