10 Common Digestive Issues in Dogs

10 Common Digestive Issues in Dogs

Dog digestive issues are among the most prevalent illnesses that pet owners will have to deal with, just like they are with humans. Anything that affects a dog’s stomach and intestines is referred to as a “digestive condition” or disease. Although they are generally not serious, certain digestive issues in dogs can be fatal.

Thankfully, most intestinal issues can be avoided. Usually, if you know what to look for and what to do, the majority of them are also pretty simple to treat at home. So let’s look at ways to prevent these digestive issues in dogs.

How to Prevent Dog Digestive Problems?

Dogs need a balanced diet, enough water, and regular exercise to keep their digestive systems healthy. There are a few other things you can do to reduce the likelihood that your dog will experience digestive issues in addition to being a caring, attentive, and educated pet owner who is familiar with a dog’s digestive system, including:

  • Vaccinating your dog from common ailments like Parvo
  • Taking preventative measures against parasites
  • Maintaining a clean living environment
  • Don’t allow garbage eating
  • No drinking out of muddy puddles
  • Transition your dog’s diet slowly when changing
  • Sufficient exercise
  • Minimize stress
  • Avoid obesity

10 Most Common Dog Digestive Problems

Most of the time, these simple, self-explanatory steps will be enough to keep dogs from getting stomach problems. Accidents can happen, though, so here’s a quick rundown of the ten most common digestive problems in dogs and what you should do if they happen to you.

Diarrhea in Dogs

Diarrhea is generally a clinical sign of an underlying medical issue, but it can also come on its own. Most cases are due to foreign objects, dirty water, or rancid foods, but even a small change in diet can irritate sensitive stomachs. 

Stress or medication can also result in diarrhea. 

Managing Diarrhea in Dogs

Diarrhea can be resolved through fasting and a bland diet. Chicken and rice is a common choice, but your dog won’t get enough nutrition from it. Instead, opt for bone broth that’s either homemade or dog-specific. Bone broth made for humans could have some spices that could further irritate your dog’s GI tract.

Hydration is also extremely important. Dogs can quickly become dehydrated, so after a short fasting period, make sure your dog drinks plenty of water. If you need to, you can add organic chicken broth to encourage your dog to drink. 

If diarrhea lasts longer than 48 hours, there could be a serious underlying issue. Take your dog to the veterinarian to get checked out. 

Constipation

Constipation is when a dog has fewer than three bowel movements per week. It can also be defined as having hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass.

Canine constipation is a common problem in dogs of all ages and breeds. It can be caused by dietary indiscretion or an underlying medical condition. There are many factors that can cause constipation in dogs, including:

  • Dietary indiscretion – Eating too much or too little protein or fiber can cause a dog’s stool to become hard and compacted. A lack of water in their diet can also contribute to constipation
  • Excessive exercise – Excessive exercise after eating can lead to constipation because it stimulates GI motility (the movement of food through the digestive system) so much that it causes the colon to empty prematurely. 
  • Inadequate water intake – Dogs that don’t drink enough water can become dehydrated, which increases the risk for constipation because dehydration decreases bowel motility (movement). 
  • Obesity – The more fat tissue a dog has, the less able he’ll be able to pass feces easily. 
  • Anal sac impaction – Anal sacs sometimes become impacted with hair or foreign material that makes it difficult

Managing Constipation in Dogs

Laxatives and stool softeners sold over the counter are short-term remedies. To help the dog’s large intestine contract, you may need to give the dog certain medicines, but only under the supervision of your vet. In some cases, an enema may also be advised.

If your dog has a problem with constipation, the best and most effective long-term solutions are to give them more fiber in their diet by giving them high-fiber foods and more exercise.

Vomiting

Vomiting is another common digestive problem that could be caused by overeating or the consumption of something inappropriate. Sudden diet changes could also cause vomiting, in addition to reactions to medications. 

If vomiting lasts more than two days or is accompanied by another health issue, make a trip to the vet.

Managing Vomiting in Dogs

Vomiting is a very common symptom in dogs. The most common causes of vomiting are gastrointestinal disease, gastritis, and pancreatitis. Other causes include toxicosis, foreign body ingestion, and liver disease.

The most important aspect of managing vomiting is to try to find out the underlying cause of the vomiting and treat that cause appropriately. 

If your dog vomits once or twice but otherwise seems fine, you probably don’t need to take them to the vet. However, if they have been vomiting for more than 24 hours and/or are lethargic, have diarrhea, are coughing, or have blood in their vomit, then it is best to get them checked out by your vet immediately.

If your dog has been vomiting for more than 24 hours and/or is lethargic, has diarrhea, and/or has blood in their vomit, then it is best to get them checked out by your vet immediately.

Infections

Viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections can all lead to different dog digestive problems. Some of the most common are E. coli and Helicobacter. These infections are usually caused by contaminated feces, water, dairy, or meat. Dogs with weakened immune systems, like senior dogs and puppies, or those with a progressive condition like cancer, are more likely to get a bacterial infection and have more serious, complicated symptoms.

Parasitic Infections – Intestinal parasites like tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms, and Giardia often cause problems in a dog’s GI tract. They are found in stagnant water sources, feces, and contaminated food sources.

Symptoms of these and other infections can vary depending on the specific cause, but they often include diarrhea, vomiting, mucus in their stool, weight loss, or even a combination of all of these.

Managing Infections in Dogs:

The treatment will depend on what caused the infection, which is something only your vet can tell you. For example, some viral infections, like canine parvovirus, can be so dangerous that they need to be treated in a clinic. Anti-nausea drugs and IV fluids are part of the therapy. Antibiotics are also given to prevent secondary infections.

In the same way, antibiotics and other medicines are used to treat parasitic infections, depending on the type of parasite. Antibiotics and changes to the diet are also used to treat bacterial infections. When any of these infections happen, you should know that you need to go to the vet to get the right treatment for the type of bacteria. Don’t try to figure out what’s wrong and treat it at home.

Colitis

Colitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the colon or large intestine. This inflammation can lead to diarrhea, but it is not always present. If a dog has colitis, he may have blood in his stool or lose weight despite eating normally. 

There are many possible causes of colitis, including infection with bacteria or parasites, allergies, immune system problems, and even certain medications. The treatment depends on the cause of the problem and your dog’s response to treatment.

Colitis in Dogs

Managing Colitis in Dogs

The best way to manage colitis is often to deal with the cause. For example, bacteria-caused colitis is treated with antibiotics and a diet that is easy to digest, but only after talking to a vet.

If you don’t know what’s wrong, your vet may tell you to fast for a few days, then give your pet a low-residue diet and more fiber. Gluten sensitivity is rare in dogs, but colitis could be caused by gluten or another food item or ingredient. If this is the case, your vet may recommend you put your dog on an elimination diet after treatment.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of conditions that cause chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. Inflammation can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus. It may be associated with other diseases, such as food allergies or parasites.

IBD is most commonly seen in dogs and cats, but it can also occur in humans and other animals, including rabbits, ferrets, and pigs. The two main types of IBD are ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD). UC affects only one part of the digestive tract, while CD can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus.

IBD’s cause is unknown, but it could be a combination of factors such as genetics and environment.

Managing IBD in Dogs

IBD cannot be cured in your pet’s body, but you can help your dog manage this condition with medications and dietary changes after consulting with your vet and developing a treatment plan. Dogs with IBD are known to live happy, healthy, and long lives with minor life changes.

Gastrointestinal Ulcers

A sore spot on the lining of the stomach or small intestine is a sign that a dog has a gastrointestinal ulcer. These sores are caused by irritation, infection, and/or stress.

The most common cause of gastrointestinal ulcers in dogs is stress. Stress can include anything from anxiety to physical illness. Other causes include:

  • Viruses such as parvovirus
  • Bacteria like Clostridium perfringens and Salmonella
  • Toxins like lead or mercury poisoning
  • Infections like distemper, parvovirus or coccidiosis (coccidia)
  • Lack of digestive enzymes
  • Exposure to poisons such as antifreeze, rat poison, insecticide or household cleaners
  • Side effects from some medications such as aspirin or corticosteroids

Managing Ulcers in Dogs

The severity of the GI ulcers affects the recommended therapy. Ulcers that perforate a dog’s stomach wall will have to be treated with surgery. If the dog is dehydrated from diarrhea or vomiting, they may need fluids through an IV.

In mild cases, changing your diet to include bland foods or foods made for GI issues may be enough. Some situations may need to be treated with certain antacids. According to anecdotal evidence, natural home remedies like licorice root, aloe vera, and alfalfa can also help.

Malabsorption

Malabsorption is a digestive disorder in dogs that makes it hard for them to break down and absorb nutrients from their food.

This condition can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including chronic diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss.

Malabsorption is often caused by inflammatory bowel disease or an infection with parasites or bacteria. In some cases, this condition may be caused by a defect in the pancreas or small intestine.

Dogs with malabsorption often have signs of being malnourished, like losing weight and having their muscles waste away. They may also experience diarrhea and vomiting. Some dogs will show no symptoms at all until they become very ill with severe weight loss. This is especially true of older dogs who have had the condition for years but were never tested for it because they did not have any noticeable symptoms.

How to Manage Malabsorption in Dogs

If malabsorption is a problem for your dog, your veterinarian will likely recommend changes in their diet, including enzyme supplements to help your dog digest their food

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is defined as inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Dogs can develop this disease due to dietary indiscretion or ingestion of toxins or foreign bodies. Gastroenteritis is common in puppies and young dogs and can be fatal if not treated in a timely manner.

The most common symptom of gastroenteritis is vomiting, but diarrhea may also occur. Other symptoms include listlessness, depression, fever, and dehydration.

The most common cause of gastroenteritis in dogs is eating something that does not agree with them. Common culprits are chocolate, onions, garlic, and grapes. Other causes include viruses like parvovirus and distemper virus, bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli, parasites like roundworm, toxic substances like antifreeze, plant poisoning from plants like lily, azalea, and oleander, and bones or toys that get stuck in the digestive tract.

Managing Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Rehydration and restoring electrolytes are the main goals of your veterinarian when managing gastroenteritis. This is often done with IV treatment or oral fluid replacement, but the suggestion depends on severity.

Some dogs may also need antibiotics, anti-diarrheal, and anti-vomiting medications. Your vet may also recommend protectants to prevent stomach ulcers from developing.

Canine Bloat

Canine bloat, or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), is a life-threatening condition that can affect dogs of any age, breed, or size. It is one of the most common causes of death in large and giant-breed dogs.

When a dog’s stomach gets full of air and then expands, twisting the stomach, this is called bloat. This blocks the exit for food and gas, so they cannot pass through the digestive system. Food and gas build up in the stomach until they cause severe pain and rupture blood vessels and internal organs. If not treated promptly, the condition can quickly become fatal.

The most important thing you can do to protect your pet from bloat is to offer the best diet for their age and activity level. Talk with your veterinarian about what type of diet is best for your dog, or bring them in for an appointment to determine what you can do to reduce the risk of bloating.

How to Manage Bloat in Dogs:

This condition cannot be treated at home. If you notice any of the symptoms, get your dog to the vet immediately. Bloat can be fatal in a matter of hours if left untreated.

Treatment of bloat in dogs involves releasing as from the stomach and offering IV fluids. Surgery is generally then performed once the dog is stable to stabilize the stomach. 

CBD for Improved Digestion

CBD is a powerful food supplement that can help improve digestion. It does this by reducing inflammation and increasing the production of serotonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate mood and appetite.

CBD is also known to be an anti-inflammatory, which makes it a great option for dogs suffering from digestive issues.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is the network of receptors in our bodies that respond to cannabinoids. The ECS helps regulate homeostasis (the body’s balance) and helps our dogs feel good when they’re sick or having trouble digesting their food.

The ECS plays a role in regulating many important functions, including: sleep, immune response, pain sensation, inflammation, and more.

Visit the Vet When in Doubt

Digestive problems are common in dogs and, fortunately, they’re generally easy to manage. Most dog lovers will have to deal with some or all of these problems in their dog’s lifetime. When in doubt, make a trip to the vet. It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Read more:

How To Stop Dog Diarrhea Fast

Vomiting in Dogs | VCA Animal Hospital

Parasites in Dogs That You Should Know

Nutrition and Dogs With Colitis | VCA Animal Hospital

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs and Cats

Intestinal Malabsorption in Dogs – Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

Role of Cannabinoids in Gastrointestinal Mucosal Defense and Inflammation – PMC

Published by AmberLDrake

Dr. Drake is an award-winning author and well-known cancer specialist in her field. She is best known for her extensive research on canine cancer prevention and nutrition, her dedication to help dogs live a long, happy life, and for teaching veterinary medicine. As the CEO of Canine Companions Co., the Founder of Drake Dog Cancer Foundation and Academy, and the Co-Founder of Preferable Pups, in addition to being a respected figure in the dog world, she has earned the respect of thousands of dog lovers worldwide.

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