Unfortunately, it’s a common story. Your dog isn’t acting right. Something is off. And then it strikes. Diarrhea. This unpleasant affliction is common. An upset stomach is one of the most common reasons pups visit the doctor. Oftentimes, the gastrointestinal or stomach issue is colitis.
People with dogs need to understand the differences between an upset tummy and colitis. For some dogs, the disease will evolve into chronic diarrhea. No fun. This is how to recognize the disease and what to do about it.
What is colitis?
You don’t need a degree in biology to understand this illness. The definition is simple. Colitis is the inflammation of the large intestine (colon). Colitis is often used to describe diarrhea or loose stools. Remember: colitis and diarrhea are not synonymous. However, large bowel diarrhea is also used interchangeably with colitis.
Sometimes, an upset stomach is just an upset stomach. If your dog has loose stool once or twice, it doesn’t mean she has the disease.
What are the symptoms?
“Frequent, small volumes of semi-formed to liquid feces,” are indicators. In many cases, the loose stool becomes more common than normal feces.
Your dog may strain when defecating. Gas and constipation are other common symptoms. Also, you may notice small amounts of blood or mucus in your pup’s stool. Dogs also exhibit an increased urge to defecate. This is what you won’t see if your dog gets this disease: vomiting or weight loss.
What is the cause?
Many different factors can lead to this disease. Harmony Animal Hospital identifies the most common causes of it:
- One common cause of colitis in dogs is whipworms. These worms live in the intestine and reproduce rapidly, causing digestive problems that could lead to diarrhea.
- Other parasites, like Giardia and Crystosporidium, can also cause colitis.
- Colitis can also be caused by irritable bowel syndrome or chronic inflammatory bowel disease.
Some other causes of the disease are:
- Stress (did you board your dog recently?)
- Infections from Salmonella, Clostridium, and E. coli
- Eating contaminated food (think: things found in the garbage can or on the sidewalk)
No matter the impetus, the disease is dangerous. An inflamed colon leads to reduced water absorption and the decreased ability to store feces in the colon. Which results in, you guessed it, diarrhea.
Is my dog at risk?
There are risk factors that increase your dog’s risk for acute or chronic colitis. Age, breed, environment, and immune status can lead to an acute version of the disease. For example, puppies “are susceptible to a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause an acute episode of colitis.”
If your dog is undergoing cancer treatment the immune system suppression can aid the growth of bad bacteria in the colon. Then your pup could have loose stool.
Chronic colitis is not tied to a specific age or gender. However, some breeds are predisposed to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This disease often leads to chronic colitis. These are the breeds at risk:
- German Shepherds
- French bulldogs
- Miniature schnauzers
What is the diagnosis process?
As you are now aware, there are many causes of this disease. When you visit the vet, the doctor will ask you a host of questions about your dog’s medical history. They will want to know about recent travel, interaction with other dogs, symptoms, what your dog eats, and more.
Once the vet gets more information from you, testing and exams are necessary. The doctor evaluates your pup’s feces, gives a rectal examination, cytology, and conducts blood tests.
According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “Additional testing such as radiographs to examine the colon and intestinal tract, colonoscopy and colon biopsies, fecal cultures, barium enemas, or ultrasound evaluation of the abdomen may be necessary in some cases. These tests are important to rule out conditions such as colonic tumors or polyps, irritable bowel syndrome, cecal inversion, and ileocecocolic intussusception (a rare condition in which the intestines ‘telescope’ or fold into themselves).”
What is the treatment protocol?
Treatment depends on the cause of colitis. So, if worms gave your pup the disease, your doctor may prescribe deworming tablets. In addition to the medicinal treatment plan, your dog’s doctor may suggest changes to your pup’s lifestyle. For example, changing your dog’s eating by increasing his fiber intake or switching to an intestinal or hypoallergenic diet.
What else should I know about Colitis?
Thankfully, there are some ways to prevent your pup from acquiring this illness. The Pet Health Network offers these suggestions
- Watch what your dog eats (keep her out of the trash!)
- Provide fresh water daily
- Get rid of any parasites in her body by giving her monthly preventives
- Give fecal samples to her veterinarian during her annual examine
- Make sure your dog is current on all recommended vaccines.
- Avoid interaction with other sick dogs in public places like the park and doggy daycare
- Pick a nutrient profile with high quality, high digestibility protein. Protein for adult dogs should be between 15% and 30% on a dry matter (DM) basis.
Don’t beat yourself up if your pup eats food from the trash or finds some unsavory snack on his walk. After all, dogs have free will and you are not all-seeing. Be on the lookout for changes in your dog’s bowel movements. When behavior becomes abnormal, it’s time to seek medical assistance.
Remember, this disease is highly treatable. Changes to your pup’s diet and medication will get their bowel movements back to normal.