As those of us with canine fur babies know, our dogs will eat just about anything – no matter how it affects their health. We are therefore not generally alarmed when our precious canine fur baby occasionally vomits, eats grass or otherwise shows signs of mild stomach distress. However, if this behavior continues for more than a day or is severe in nature, your dog might be suffering from gastroenteritis.
Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Any part of the GI tract can be affected but the gastroenteritis most commonly occurs in the stomach and intestines. Canine gastroenteritis can be very uncomfortable and is generally an unpleasant experience but the good news is that the condition is rarely fatal if treated in a timely manner, treatment is fairly simple and most dogs recover in about 48 hours. Here are some tips on how to spot and treat it.
Symptoms of Gastroenteritis
Gastroenteritis is characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:
- frequent diarrhea: may be pale, have the consistency of soft-serve ice cream and may include signs of blood.
- vomiting: could be foamy, yellowish or bile-like, as when your dog eats grass and then vomits it up a couple hours later onto your carpet.
- low-grade fever
- reduced activity
- loss of appetite
- Your dog might also show signs of abdominal pain, including sensitivity to being touched around the stomach or abdomen.
After the first 24 hours of gastroenteritis you may notice the additional symptoms of weight loss and dehydration.
Causes of Gastroenteritis
There are a lot of potential causes for gastroenteritis. You and your vet will need to discuss your dog’s specific situation including your dog’s typical environment, any unusual foods or substances recently ingested and any history of intestinal ailments.
The most common causes of gastroenteritis are the following:
- Adverse reaction to new food or medication
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Metabolic disorders
- “Dietary Indiscretion” (This is Vet-speak for “dog ate something he shouldn’t have”). This can include ingestion not only of dangerous foods but also of toys, coins, marbles or other non-food items.
- Infection caused by parasites, bacteria or a virus. Triggering infections may include UTI, pneumonia and meningitis.
- And…drum roll, please…one of the leading cause of gastroenteritis is a diet which includes too many table scraps a.k.a. “people food.” Foods like onions, chocolate, artificial sweeteners and grapes can be toxic to our canine fur babies and a diet too high in fats can cause severe gastric distress leading to gastroenteritis. If you want to treat your pup, try some of these homemade recipes.
Identifying the Cause of Your Dog’s Gastroenteritis
Once initial symptoms suggest gastroenteritis, you may want to take your suffering pup to your vet for thorough exam and, as necessary, diagnostic tests. Your vet will examine your dog’s stool sample in search of parasites. If parasites are found, your vet will prescribe a broad spectrum de-worming agent.
Your vet may also do blood work to identify any infections and and do a urinalysis to determine if the gastroenteritis has caused any organ function impairment. If allergies are suspected, after proper diagnosis, you and your vet may decide to pursue a course of natural allergy management through immunotherapy. In more severe cases, X-rays and abdominal ultrasonography may be needed to see what is going on inside your dog. Finally, in rare cases, exploratory surgery may be necessary. Note that this is usually only done when you know that the cause of the gastroenteritis is the fact that your pup has engaged in a dietary indiscretion (see above) and hasn’t managed to pass whatever it is that he ate or all other causes have been ruled out and your pup seems to be in imminent danger of more serious harm or death.
In almost all cases, your dog will be treated for dehydration. In severe cases this will require an IV of fluids in your vet’s office. Milder cases of dehydration can be treated at home.
Important Note: While Onpets strongly supports the use of all-natural pet remedies, if you suspect gastroenteritis, you need to get your dog to the vet fast – preferably that same day. Certain types of gastroenteritis can cause permanent damage or even death within as few as 48 hours. There are plenty of homeopathic treatments available for gastroenteritis but the sooner you involve a veterinary professional the greater your dog’s chances are for a full recovery.
Natural Treatments for Gastroenteritis
If the gastroenteritis doesn’t appear to be life-threatening, your vet will probably send you and your dog home to complete treatment. There are a few gentle, homeopathic remedies which have proven quite effective.
Animals often fast naturally when they don’t feel well. You can help this process by restricting your pet’s diet for about 24 hours. You’ll want to slowly re-introduce water and then gentle foods like boiled chicken with rice. Start with small bites and then gradually increase portion size over time. This gives your dog’s digestive system the opportunity to rest and recover. Fasting also prevents any additional potentially toxic materials from entering the body.
Acidic foods can cause certain types of gastroenteritis. You might want to change your pet’s diet – at least temporarily while he’s recovering. Protein can cause acidic levels to rise. A diet of rich, full grains can help bring down your dog’s acidity levels, which can lead to a quicker recovery.
Pumpkin is rich in fiber. This helps with diarrhea but, because it is high in fiber, can also helps your dog feel full, so he’ll be less likely to overeat, thereby giving his belly a rest until he recuperates. For a medium size dog, you will want to feed 1/3 of a cup of pureed pumpkin (NOT pie filling) twice a day.
One teaspoon of coconut oil twice a day will help relieve gastrointestinal distress. Coconut oil lubricates the colon and helps alleviate constipation. You can mix the coconut oil in with food and most dogs will eat it without a problem.
Probiotics and Digestive Enzymes
As with people, probiotics and digestive enzymes promote all-around good digestive function. Your vet can recommend a supplement specifically for dogs and you can feed your dog low fat, active culture yogurt with no artificial sweeteners or colors. Feed your dog one to two teaspoons twice a day with her regular food.
Watching your dog struggle with gastroenteritis isn’t pleasant. If your dog is vomiting excessively or suffering from diarrhea, first check with your vet. You want to rule out anything serious. If the gastroenteritis is mild, you’ll likely be able to treat your dog at home. Plenty of rest, gentle foods and a few supplements will have your dog feeling better in no time. Once your dog is back to normal, regular use of pumpkin, coconut oil, probiotics and digestive enzymes should drastically reduce future problems.
Dogs might not always know what’s unsafe for them to eat but with a little bit of knowledge and preparation, you can help your dog get through an occasional bout of gastroenteritis.
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