Just An Upset Stomach? Signs That Your Dog May Have a GI Disease Instead

Recently, we have seen a huge upsurge in dog owners claiming their dogs have food allergies. We have become more aware of the effects of what we feed our dogs and many of us have helped our dogs by eliminating things in their diet that bother them. BUT all this hype had a bad side-effect.

Many are “self-diagnosing” at home to save having a vet bill. Their dog starts to have problems like diarrhea or vomiting, they assume it’s because of allergies, and start fussing around with their food instead of taking them to the vet.

“Sometimes people think ‘this must be a food allergy,” Says Dr. Andy Roark, MS, DVM. “I’ll just change the diet a few times’ or ‘she just vomits every few days. That’s just what she does.’ These sentiments can, in some cases, slow down getting the real diagnosis. Being slower getting the diagnosis means more slowly getting the best treatment protocol started.” https://www.facebook.com/DrAndyRoark

Doing this could result in a serious GI disease going undetected – some of them are FATAL.

Here are Dr. Roark’s answers to the questions you should be asking about GI Disease.

What is considered a GI Disease? 

Any disease of the gastrointestinal tract (including esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and rectum, as well as organs directly associated with digestion like the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder).

How can you tell your dog may have a disease and not just an upset stomach?

"His allergies are just acting up" is something dog owners commonly say. But if your dog is not acting right. Take him to the vet. It could be something far worse, including cancer.
“His allergies are just acting up” is something dog owners commonly say. But if your dog is not acting right. Take him to the vet. It could be something far worse, including cancer.

The term “Gastrointestinal Disease” is extremely broad, and symptoms can vary widely depending on the case and condition. The signs for an “upset stomach” are often included in the signs we look for to diagnose gastrointestinal disease.

Since pets can’t tell us how they feel or what they have gotten into, persistent (more than 24 hours) or severe “upset stomach” signs should always be checked out by your veterinarian.

Also, if your pet’s behavior changes (they seem to feel sick or act differently) while showing signs of an upset stomach, that’s a good indication that it’s time to go to the vet.

How hard is it to diagnose?

It depends on the case and cause of the disease. If a pet owner caught her dog after it ate 2 lbs of sliced ham, and now her dog is vomiting, the diagnosis will probably be easy to make.

In cases where a pet has irritable bowel disease, chronic pancreatitis, or other less-obvious or long-term signs of illness, it can be quite difficult.

What are the normal procedures for diagnosing?

Again, it depends on the case and what specific signs of illness a pet is showing. Blood work and radiographs are common first steps (after a good physical examination by your veterinarian). In some cases, ultrasonography, endoscopy, colonoscopy, and even surgery to take biopsies of the GI tract may be warranted.

Can it be life-threatening?

Some GI diseases are very mild and require little treatment (like a pet with an upset stomach the just needs to eat a bland diet for a few days) . Others are extremely dangerous and even fatal (like severe pancreatitis or cancer of the GI tract, for example). It depends on the specific cause of the disease.

What type of treatments are available?

Everything from bland diets tolaparoscopic surgery or radiation therapy may be employed to help treat GI disease. It all depends on the specific case.

Can diet affect GI disease?

It depends on what the specific disease is. In some cases of GI disease, diet is the primary type of therapy. In others, it is a supplemental piece of the treatment plan. Still in others, diet may play a small role in treating the disease.

If your pet is diagnosed with a disease of the digestive system, make sure to ask your veterinarian what kind of diet you should be feeding. Choosing the right diet for YOUR pet’s specific circumstances is often very important.

The Bottom Line

So while diet may be able to help you manage or treat a disease, you need to FIRST know what that disease is and you can’t do that without a vet. If your dog is having “tummy issues” like vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, etc. Do not assume it’s food allergies. Take him to the vet and have him checked out. It could be the difference between life and death.


Dr. Roark was the 2014 NAVC Practice Management Speaker of the Year, outstanding Young Alumni Award from the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and named one of the “25 Veterinarians to Watch in 2013” by Veterinary Practice News.

About the Author

Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She is the founder of A Fairytail House, a unique all-positive all-sport dog training facility that helps rescue dogs in her area and provides free seminars and training classes for the community. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.


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