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Relieving Digestive Problems in Dogs

  Michael Dym, VMD
Dr. Michael Dym
Holistic & Conventional Veterinarian ()

Dogs can experience digestive upset for a wide variety of reasons. Common causes of digestive problems in dogs include: dietary indiscretion (eating garbage, table food, or foreign objects); food allergies and hypersensitivity; parasites (roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms); viral infections such as canine parvovirus and canine coronavirus (especially in unvaccinated puppies); bacteria such as salmonella; and diseases of the liver, pancreas, adrenal glands, prostate, and kidneys. Chronic inflammatory gastritis and inflammatory bowel disease are probably the most common causes of chronic digestive upset in adult dogs. Symptoms of digestive problems may include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in stool quantity or quality
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Weight loss (in chronic cases)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

If your dog's digestive problems continue for more than 24-48 hours, and/or intensify, he or she needs prompt veterinary attention. In dogs with ongoing or severe diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, or thirst, the risk of dehydration and infection increases. Veterinarians often administer IV or subcutaneous fluids and injectable antibiotics to help prevent these complications.

Dietary indiscretion, food allergies, intestinal worms, and diseases are common culprits for digestive problems in dogs.

Inflammatory Gastritis & Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Dog digestive problems caused by inflammatory gastritis and inflammatory bowel disease can have various type of symptoms, due to an overactive immune response in the lining of the stomach or digestive tract. While stress and dietary factors may play a role with inflammatory bowel disease, there are no known specific causes in the majority of cases. Since this disease is chronic in nature, periodic flare-ups of loss of appetite, vomiting and/or diarrhea may occur. Veterinarians will often prescribe symptomatic medications such as injectable Cerenia, Famotidine, and Metoclopramide for the vomiting. Antibiotics including Albon Suspension, Metronidazole and Tylan Powder are also used, especially for diarrhea. In chronic cases, veterinarians will typically prescribe Prednisone to lessen the inflammation. For mild flareups, dog guardians can try medications at home, such as Pepcid for vomiting flare-ups, as well as Kaopectate and the slippery elm herb for diarrhea. Probiotics such as FortiFlora and NaturVet Digestive Enzymes with Prebiotics & Probiotics are helpful supplements for dogs with inflammatory bowel disease. Fidomucil by Animal Apothecary is an excellent herbal product in lessening digestive symptoms. Canine Enteric Support and Canine Immune Support from the company Standard Process also are wonderful adjuncts (unmalted grains) in dogs with inflammatory bowel disease. Holistic natural low carbohydrate diets such as Halo Dog Food - Adult Dry Dog Food, Primal, Evo, or Pet Guard are also recommended.


Intestinal Parasites

While dogs of any age can suffer from intestinal parasites, it is particularly common in puppies with overgrowth of hookworms, roundworms, as well as coccidia and giardia, especially from pet stores and shelters. The most common mode of transmission of intestinal parasites is the fecal/oral route. Dog owners must be aware of the health risks to humans with some of these parasites. Stress, overcrowding, and poor diets are the most common factors involved with parasite overgrowth. Adult dogs on broad spectrum monthly heartworm preventative medications such as Iverhart Max, Trifexis, and Revolution, have much less of a problem with many of these intestinal parasites. While the diagnosis of parasites often requires a fecal exam by your veterinarian, if you suspect your dog has intestinal parasites, you can use over-the-counter wormers such as Nemex, Strongid, Pyrantel, and Praziquantel depending on the type of worm suspected. Panacur C is a wonderful broad spectrum wormer that treats many of these parasites. Natural remedies that can be tried at home include Diatomaceous earth (a soft, sedimentary rock supplement) for the management of round and hookworms, and pumpkin seeds and wheat germ oil for the control of tapeworms. Adding extra fiber to your dog's diet in the form of wheat or oat bran may also help remove worms from the digestive tract. The homeopathic remedies Cina (worm seed) and the herb Filix Mas are natural treatment options as well. Probiotics and enzymes are also importantto help restore the normal health of your pet's digestive tract.


Dietary Indiscretion, Food Allergies, and Hypersensitivities

One of the most common causes of digestive problems in dogs is inappropriate food sources, such as rich table food, cat food, garbage, and indigestible items from around the home and yard. Usually these dogs will have acute vomiting and/or diarrhea with a loss of appetite. Diagnosis of these problems is usually made by history and physical exam, but may involve X-rays as well. Veterinary treatment will vary, depending on the cause, but for simple digestive upset, dog owners may use oral-activated charcoal (a drug used for emergency treatment of poisoning) to help find toxins and prevent absorption. Ipecac is often a very effective homeopathic remedy that helps your dog vomit a foreign body he or she swallowed, as is the homeopathic remedy phosphorus. For dogs that overeat or get into the trash, the homeopathic remedy Nux Vomica is also often effective. For dogs suspected of developing food allergies or hypersensitivities leading to vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss, try a 6-8 week trial with a novel protein, natural diet. Some recommended pet food brands include Wysong, Wellness, Evo, and Pet Guard. Ideally, a proper raw meat-based home diet is preferred.


Pancreatic Diseases

Many pets with pancreatic diseases will have diarrhea, increased appetite, and weight loss. In some cases, this is due to a deficiency of pancreatic enzymes known as pancreatic exocrine insufficiency. In other cases, loss of appetite, vomiting, and abdominal pain may be due to acute or chronic pancreatitis. Diagnosis of these problems is made by a combination of your dog's history, physical exam, and blood work. While your veterinarian will probably treat these conditions with prescription medications, there are many things that you can use at home to help manage these frustrating conditions. With pancreatic exocrine insufficiency, giving antacids such as Pepcid, as well as good quality probiotics is very important. Supplemental enzyme therapy with NaturVet Digestive Enzymes Plus Probiotic also may help. The supplement Pancreatrophin PMG is highly recommended for all types of pancreatic disease in dogs.


Vet Tip: Dietary supplements such as NaturVet Digestive Enzymes Plus Probiotic can be helpful for short-term and long-term management of your dog's digestive problems. - Michael Dym, VMD  

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