When is gastro in dogs dangerous? Print E-mail
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Saturday, 19 September 2020 07:08
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


Dr Liesel van der Merw

Gastroenteritis in dogs is a common condition that typically involves diarrhoea and may be accompanied by vomiting. It can also have a bloody component referred to as haemorrhagic gastroenteritis or HGE in dogs.

Because dogs are scavengers, by nature they often will eat something which may cause some nausea and even vomiting. They will often then start eating grass in an effort to ‘cleanse’ themselves. This is okay if it happens intermittently and is short-lived (24 hours – 48 hours) and you dog is not ill. 

It is unfortunately usually difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the gastroenteritis in most patients.

What we veterinarians generally try to do is to ensure that it is not one of the more serious causes and eliminating those, rather than trying to include causes to make an exact diagnosis.

When evaluating a patient we first note from the history if the condition is acute or longstanding (chronic). We also then assess if the patient is showing systemic effects due to the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea. Specifically here would be signs of dehydration, severe volume loss and shock, abdominal palpation of an obstruction, blood loss, pain, infection or sepsis and weight loss.

Vomiting in dogs can have many potential causes, not all directly related to the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). Some of the more serious intestinal causes are canine parvovirus, gastrointestinal ulcers, intestinal foreign bodies, intestinal obstructions (‘twisted bowel’) and GIT tumours.

Serious non-intestinal causes of vomiting are pancreatitis, renal and liver disease and some hormone deficiencies – Addison’s disease.

Less serious causes of GI signs are dietary indiscretion (eating spoiled or raw foods), diet changes, intestinal parasites and a food allergy or intolerance. This being said, the degree of dehydration caused by an infection or food intolerance can be severe and cause systemic infection requiring emergency fluid therapy.

These cases generally present with profuse vomiting or diarrhoea, fresh blood in the vomit or stool and the dogs are clearly not themselves.

Fresh blood in a dog’s stool is not a red flag for colon cancer as it is in humans. Dogs can have some blood in their stool from a colon inflammation, anal sac infection, intestinal worms and a dietary intolerance as well as the acute haemorrhagic diarrhoea syndrome, which causes severe rapid dehydration.

With the haemorrhagic diarrhoea syndrome the stool is like red jelly or jam, mixed with mucus and there can also be blood in the vomit. The condition tends to affect small breed dogs, although it can occur in all dogs.

These patients need to see a vet as soon as possible. Some have lost a lot of fluid from their blood vessels into the intestine and their blood becomes extremely thick and sludges, causing shock.

This happens within a few hours, before they can develop signs of dehydration. The mechanism of this condition is uncertain, but it is thought to be an allergic reaction in the intestine or a toxin, which causes leaky blood vessels.

Dog owners can manage mild diarrhoeas at home. Most dogs with uncomplicated diarrhoea will recover with simple interventions. However, if signs persist or your dog is showing pain, is dehydrated or there is blood in the vomit or stool, then rather visit your vet.

Nil per os for 24 hours is possible in adult dogs but is contraindicated in small puppies or teacup type breeds. Alternatively, feed your dog a bland diet for a few days, such as rice and a lean source of protein. You can add pumpkin or another easily digestible fibre to the food. Make sure they are drinking. In general, a low-fat diet is preferred, especially in small breed dogs.

Though a common condition, gastroenteritis can be frustrating. Generally the real cause of the gastroenteritis remains unknown and the majority of pets will be treated successfully with symptomatic and supportive treatment.

However, because it is difficult to know whether a dog’s condition will progress dangerously, careful monitoring and adherence to guidelines regarding expected symptoms and recovery times are important.


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