Gastroenteritis in dogs

Gastroenteritis can happen to dogs of any age and can have many causes, from nasty viruses to too many treats. Most cases are cured by adjusting what they eat for a few days, but severe cases are emergencies and require intensive care.

The digestive system is a long, curly tube that takes what we need from our food and excretes what is not useful. To achieve this, it needs close contact between the digestive cells and the food, as well as the help of many friendly bacteria. Anything that damages the digestive cells or the balance of friendly bacteria causes digestion to slow down and increases the build-up of gas and fluid. The body quickly tries to get rid of the problem. This causes the usual symptoms of gastroenteritis.



What is gastroenteritis in dogs?

Gastroenteritis means inflammation of the stomach and intestines. This can have many causes:

  • Stress or other disruptions to normal body function
  • Sudden changes to food, exposing the gut to things it’s not used to digest
  • Infections with viruses or bacteria. Vaccinations can protect against some of the more dangerous ones.
  • Parasites, including worms and microscopical types like Giardia
  • Toxic or irritant plants, algae or mushrooms
  • Spoiled foods containing toxins from bacteria or moulds
  • Meals that are very hard to digest, with large amounts of fat or bones
  • Toxic or irritant chemicals or substances
  • Internal causes, such as liver or kidney disease
  • Food intolerance, where the body cannot digest a food or starts reacting to it as if it were a dangerous infection

Some types of gastroenteritis are much more severe, such as Haemorrhagic Gastroenteritis.



Symptoms of gastroenteritis in dogs

Gastroenteritis can have a range of symptoms. The urgency of the problem often depends on how severe and frequent one or more of these symptoms are. Common symptoms are:



Dogs at higher risk of gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis can affect dogs of any age or breed, although young puppies and older dogs may have weaker immune systems and struggle to cope with the symptoms.

Dogs that scavenge for inappropriate things to eat are more likely to eat harmful things or catch infections.

Dogs with ongoing digestive problems often develop symptoms more easily if they eat something out of their routine.



Diagnosis of gastroenteritis in dogs

Mild cases of gastroenteritis usually get better with treating the symptoms, so finding the cause is not always necessary. In severe cases or when things aren’t getting better, the following tests may be recommended:

  • Blood tests to check for immune response, underlying diseases and electrolyte imbalances
  • Stool tests to check for infections and parasites
  • X-rays to check for swelling of the intestines and foreign materials
  • Ultrasound scans to check mobility, shape and structure of the intestines


Vet treatment

Vet treatment of gastroenteritis in dogs

If symptoms are serious, your dog will need to see a vet. Depending on what is found, the vet may recommend:

  • Fluids given on a drip in to vein to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances
  • Anti-vomiting medication
  • Antacids to help the stomach heal
  • Pain medication when necessary
  • Some types of infections can be treated with antibiotics, although these are much less common than previously thought.


Home treatment

Home treatment of gastroenteritis in dogs

If the symptoms are mild, or once they have improved with treatment at the vet, a few things can be done at home to help with recovery.

  • If vomiting has been a problem, a short period (4-12 hours, depending on age and other factors) on an empty stomach may help things settle. Encourage them to drink small amounts of water and allow them to rest.
  • Small, frequent meals and an easy to digest diet for a few days will help the healing of the gut while reducing the symptoms. Chicken/white fish and white rice can help in many cases, and special foods, such as Hills Prescription Diet I/D, are available to boost the healing of the gut.
  • Anti-diarrhoea pastes contain special minerals (for example, kaolin or montmorillonite)  that firm up the stool and help reduce the symptoms.
  • Good bacteria (probiotics) and their food (prebiotics) will help the gut function return to normal.



Can gastroenteritis in dogs be prevented?

  • Gastroenteritis has many possible causes. Avoiding scavenging and maintaining a healthy, balanced diet will help prevent many of them.
  • Keeping up-to-date with vaccinations and parasite control will prevent some infectious causes.
  • Unfortunately, some types of bacterial gastroenteritis can be passed from dogs to people, such as E. coli and Salmonella. It’s always important to clean any soiling thoroughly with a household disinfectant. Careful hand washing after touching your pet is also fundamental.
  • Some viral causes of gastroenteritis are highly contagious between dogs. Avoid contact with other dogs during illness and for a couple of weeks after recovery. Try to restrict toileting to isolated and easy to disinfect areas.

Can I catch gastroenteritis from my dog?

Some infectious causes of gastroenteritis in dogs can also affect people. Speak to your GP if you have any concerns.


When to worry

When to worry about gastroenteritis in dogs

Take your dog to see a vet immediately if they show:

  • Large amounts of blood in their diarrhoea
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Constant vomiting
  • Weakness or lack of response when you interact with them

Speak to a vet as soon as possible if your dog:

  • Continues to vomit even on an empty stomach
  • Is constantly passing watery diarrhoea
  • Loses interest in food
  • Is quiet or lethargic
  • Passes blood in their diarrhoea

The vets and nurses at the Joii app are always available to give you advice and answer any questions.

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