Stomach ulcers in dogs

A stomach ulcer is a wound that forms on the inside of the stomach. Often, it’s a side effect of some medications, especially when human painkillers are given to dogs. Some cases can be severe and even life-threatening.

The acid inside the stomach is fundamental for digestion and protection from infections. However, the stomach needs to protect itself from the acid with special secretions and other mechanisms. If something damages these defences, the acid will cause one or more wounds that will struggle to heal. Most stomach ulcers can be treated, but some can cause complications like internal bleeding or peritonitis.



What is a stomach ulcer in dogs?

A stomach ulcer is damage to the stomach caused by the acid within. There are two main types:

  • Peptic ulcers happen when the protective mechanisms fail and the acid attacks the stomach wall. Common causes:
    • Side effects of medications, especially with overdoses or when human painkillers are given. Steroids and dog anti-inflammatories/painkillers can also cause this.
    • Foreign objects that are sharp or stay in the stomach for long periods of time
    • Diseases of internal organs, such as kidney failure, liver disease or hypoadrenocorticism
    • Some types of tumours in other organs, such as mast cell tumours in the skin and gastrinomas in the pancreas.
    • Damage to the stomach from bloating or a twisted stomach
  • Malignant ulcers are caused by a tumour in the stomach wall, which leaves it exposed to the acid. Unfortunately, most stomach tumours are cancerous.



Symptoms of stomach ulcers in dogs

In more severe cases:



Dogs at higher risk of stomach ulcers

  • Sled dogs that participate in extreme races often develop stomach ulcers
  • Dogs on long-term treatment with anti-inflammatories are at higher risk of this side effect
  • Dogs with spinal disease and taking steroid medication may be at higher risk of developing stomach ulcers, especially Dachshunds



Diagnosis of stomach ulcers in dogs

A stomach ulcer can be suspected, and treatment can start, based on a physical examination. To confirm the diagnosis, however, tests are required.

  • A special type of x-ray, called a contrast study, can sometimes show a stomach ulcer. Unfortunately this is not very reliable and is not frequently used anymore
  • An ultrasound can detect the inflammation in the stomach wall caused by the ulcer, but cannot tell for sure if it’s an ulcer
  • Endoscopy of the stomach, called gastroscopy, is the best way to confirm an ulcer, as it can be directly seen. This also allows a biopsy to be taken if there are concerns about an underlying tumour.


Vet treatment

Vet treatment of stomach ulcers in dogs

  • The most important part of treating a stomach ulcer is to find and treat the cause, if possible.
  • Severely ill or actively bleeding patients will need to be hospitalised to receive intensive care and treatment for complications.
  • Some medications are available to protect the stomach from further damage and promote healing:
    • Antacids, such as Ranitidine or Omeprazole, will temporarily reduce the acidity in the stomach and make healing a lot easier
    • Sucralfate is a medication that covers damaged portions of the stomach, protecting them from further injury
    • Some cases may benefit from a medication that boosts the stomach defences called Misoprostol


Home treatment

Home remedies for stomach ulcers in dogs

No effective home treatments for stomach ulcers have been recognised, but a high quality, easy to digest diet (given in small, frequent meals) is likely to help the stomach cope and reduce complications. You can get further advice in the Joii app 24/7.

Living with stomach ulcers in dogs

If the cause of the ulcer can be diagnosed and treated, the ulcer can usually be cured, although this may take weeks or months. Unfortunately, some causes are not treatable and the only option may be to manage the symptoms and provide comfort while possible.



Can stomach ulcers in dogs be prevented?

  • Don’t give any medications to your pet without consulting your vet, so the risks of side effects like stomach ulcers can be minimised.
  • In cases where the risk of developing this side effect is significant, antacids or Misoprostol will sometimes be prescribed preventively.
  • If your dog has been accidentally exposed to a human painkiller or other potentially harmful products, speak to a vet immediately to discuss preventive measures.


When to worry

When to worry about stomach ulcers in dogs

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

  • Constant vomiting, especially if blood is present or it has a ground-coffee appearance
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Very painful and hard tummy
  • Pale gums
  • Weakness or lack of response when you interact with them

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

  • Has a small amount of blood in their vomit
  • Continues to vomit even on an empty stomach
  • Seems to be in pain in their tummy
  • Passes blood in their diarrhoea

Joii can help if your dog:

  • Loses interest in food
  • Is quiet or lethargic
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