What are the signs of digestive issues in dogs?

The most obvious signs of digestive issues in dogs are vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, and loss of appetite.

What are the causes of digestive issues in dogs?

Digestive issues in dogs may be caused by many things including foreign objects, food intolerance, inflammatory conditions, parasites and cancer.

How are digestive issues diagnosed in dogs?

To diagnose your dog's digestive issues, your vet will get a thorough history, perform a detailed examination, and order some laboratory, imaging, or exploratory tests.

What are the treatments for digestive issues in dogs?

Treatment for digestive issues in dogs targets the underlying issues in combination with supportive care.

Digestive issues are the most common reasons dogs end up at the vet's office. Digestive issues in dogs vary in severity, frequency, and cause. 

Your dog must have a healthy digestive system to use food nutrients to create new tissue, repair existing tissues, and produce energy. It's critical to detect the symptoms of GI issues and speak with your veterinarian because they can cause dehydration, acid-base and electrolyte imbalances, and malnutrition.

Signs of Digestive Issues in Dogs

Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders and diseases that affect a dog's stomach and intestines cause pain and other issues for your beloved pet. A digestive disorder is any condition that affects how food is absorbed, digested, or moves through the digestive tract. The most common signs of digestive issues in dogs are:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Gas and Bloating.
  • Loss of Appetite.
  • Weight Loss.
  • Dehydration.
  • Fever.
  • Distended Belly.
  • Distress.
  • Frequent gulping, gagging, or lip smacking.

Digestive issues can cause a lot of pain that your dog can't express. If your dog has a hard time getting comfortable, is sitting in a tensed or hunched posture, or bows frequently with paws and chest on the floor and hindquarters raised in the air, they may be experiencing digestive issues.

Take your dog to the vet if your dog's digestive issues last longer than 48-72 hours. Emergency vet care may be required if your pet's condition deteriorates rapidly as can happen with serious digestive illness. Blood in your dog's vomit or diarrhea, lethargy, fever, obvious signs of pain, and bloating or distention of your dog's belly are signs that indicate your dog needs urgent care.

Causes of Digestive Issues in Dogs

There are literally hundreds of potential causes for digestive issues in dogs. Digestive issues can present suddenly or develop gradually. Some of the most common causes of digestive issues in dogs include:

  • Foreign Objects. Dogs frequently eat things that are unfit for consumption and cause stomach upset.
  • Food Intolerance. Even healthy foods can cause stomach problems for your dog if they are allergic to certain ingredients.
  • Stress. Dogs frequently experience stress-related issues during boarding, travel, or other stressful events.
  • Infectious Diseases. Bacterial, fungal, or viral infections can cause severe digestive issues that can be fatal, like Parvovirus, and are especially dangerous to young puppies.
  • Inflammatory Conditions. Your dog's digestive tract may irritated by allergens, inflammatory bowel disease, or other inflammatory conditions.
  • Toxic Ingestions. Chocolate, household chemicals, poisons, and certain plants can cause digestive upset and other effects, some of which can be fatal.
  • Pancreatitis. Inflammation of the pancreas impacts the production of important digestive enzymes and can lead to diabetes and chronic digestive problems.
  • Intestinal blockages. Blockages of the intestine can be caused by foreign objects or anything else that obstructs the passage of food through the digestive system.
  • Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus. Known also as GDV, this condition causes your dog's intestines to rotate which traps gases inside, expands their stomach, and results in internal bleeding, rupture, shock, and death.
  • Cancer. Cancer may occur as a mass or inflammation of the digestive tract or may exist elsewhere in the body and still cause digestive problems.
  • Intestinal Parasites. Exposure to parasites from other dogs’ fecal matter at dog parks or even walking around the neighborhood can cause gastrointestinal issues.

Diagnosis of Digestive Issues in Dogs

Your veterinarian will thoroughly investigate the cause of your dog's digestive issues. This includes asking questions about anything your dog may have been exposed to and requesting a detailed description of their symptoms to get an accurate history of your dog's digestive issues. 

Your vet will also perform a physical examination that entails palpating the belly for indications of anomalies, as well as assessing your dog's temperature, pulse, heart rate, lungs, level of hydration, gland/lymph node activity, and other things. This helps to plan which diagnostic tests to use and provides important information about the health of a dog.

Laboratory testing reveals information about what is happening inside your dog's body. Based on the information you provide for your dog's health history and the observations of your vet during the physical exam, your vet may order diagnostic procedures such as:

  • Fecal flotation.
  • Bloodwork. 
  • Urine analysis.
  • X-ray.
  • Ultrasound.
  • Hormone tests.
  • Infectious disease tests.
  • Food trials.
  • Endoscopy.
  • Biopsy.
  • Exploratory surgery.

Except in urgent care cases, your vet will likely order the most basic tests first and only move towards more invasive testing procedures if your dog is not responding well to initial treatment.

Treatments for Digestive Issues for Dogs

Treatment for digestive issues in dogs targets the underlying issues involved. A dog with intestinal parasites, for instance, would be treated with a dewormer, whereas a dog with an obstruction would need surgery. To put it another way, the type of treatment depends on what's causing the intestinal issue.

Supportive care is required as well. Anything that is done to reduce symptoms and complications, such as dehydration from vomiting, while making your dog feel more comfortable is considered supportive care. Supportive care treatments include medications for nausea, gas, and diarrhea as well as probiotics, plain foods, and fluid therapy.

If your pup is otherwise healthy and is keeping food and water down but has started showing mild signs of digestive distress, it is usually fine to observe them for a couple of days and try a few simple home remedies including:

  • Over the first 24 hours, you can cook boiled chicken with rice and add fiber (such as canned pumpkin / sweet potatoes) in small amounts throughout the day to help ease their upset stomach and diarrhea.
  • Withhold food for up to 24 hours to help your dog's digestive tract rest and reset.
  • Re-introduce food slowly over 24 hours in half portions that can include low-sodium bone broth, lean meat, cooked rice, cooked sweet potato, and high-quality dog food.
  • Keep plenty of water close to where your dog is resting to encourage them to drink.
  • Do not give your dog any medication without consulting with your vet.

This method is not safe for puppies, older dogs, and small breeds because they cannot tolerate calorie restriction.

Prevention of Digestive Issues in Dogs

Most serious conditions that cause digestive issues in dogs can not be prevented. However, the most common causes of GI distress in dogs can be prevented by following these tips:

  • Stay up-to-date with your pet's vaccination schedule.
  • Feed your dog high-quality, age-appropriate food.
  • Limit table scraps and only share healthy leftovers such as lean meat and simple carbohydrates.
  • Don't allow your dog to roam unsupervised.
  • Prevent your dog from accessing garbage, toxins, plants, and small objects that can be easily swallowed.

Dogs experience digestive problems, and most will experience at least a few episodes of an upset stomach during the course of their lifetime. You can keep your furry friend as healthy as possible by taking precautions and getting your dog to a veterinarian right away if they aren't feeling well.

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