Just like when people are sick, dogs who are sick or have an ongoing disease may need a special diet. Although every individual dog has different needs and circumstances, we can identify their needs and find foods that might suit them best.
What to give a dog with digestive disorders
Understandably, dogs who are sick, and especially those who are sick with digestive conditions will have a sensitive stomach. It makes sense to feed them as you would a dog who is normally very sensitive. This means no table scraps, no fatty foods, and no treats.
If your dog seems to have ongoing ambiguous digestive issues, it may be helpful to keep a food diary for them. With that information, you and your veterinarian can work together to identify and eliminate problematic food or ingredients from your dog’s diet.
If your veterinarian’s recommended treatment for your dog is fasting, be sure to re-introduce foods slowly and in small amounts. More long-term care and preventative measures may include feeding a hypoallergenic or ‘hydrolyzed’ diet, medications that suppress the immune system, supplements for missing nutrients, awareness of your dog’s general health and behavior, and careful management of their diet.
It is important to remember that all dogs, regardless of their health, age, gender, or any other circumstance, need a nutritionally complete diet. Sick dogs, especially those with digestive illnesses, will need their owner to understand their condition in order to understand their dietary needs.
We can start by learning about each of these diseases, their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and how they can be treated or managed.
Contrary to what most people believe and what the name would lead you to think, IBD is not a disease, but a syndrome. Unfortunately, the cause of IBD is poorly understood and appears to have many sources including parasites, bacterial infections, or intolerance to a specific protein. It is ultimately characterized by an inflammatory response to irritation in the intestinal tract. That inflammation interferes with the body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients.
If the stomach is the primary area affected, the dog will experience chronic vomiting, and if the intestines are the primary location, the dog will have chronic diarrhea. Weight loss and poor appetite are also common symptoms, although in contrast, some dogs will develop a stronger appetite as their body fights to get the nutrients it needs.
If your veterinarian suspects your dog has inflammatory bowel disease, the initial testing may include blood tests, an examination of stool samples, ultrasounds, or even an X-ray. Inflammatory bowel disease is not conclusively diagnosed until a tissue biopsy is performed, and the tissue is studied by a pathologist. Sometimes, the samples needed can be obtained through a simple endoscopic procedure, and will at other times require a full abdominal exploratory surgery depending on the suspected location of IBD.
Unfortunately, even when a diagnosis is reached, your dog’s journey with IBD is just beginning as there is no cure. Most cases of inflammatory bowel disease will become easy to manage when the appropriate diet and medications are determined, and many dogs can live a long life with careful maintenance of the condition.
This is a disease characterized by inflammation of the pancreas. Although it sounds simple, the pancreas performs a multitude of functions in the body and this disease inhibits that. Normally, the pancreas creates digestive enzymes which become ‘activated’ when they reach the small intestine. When a dog has pancreatitis, however, the enzymes are released too early, damaging the pancreas and the surrounding tissues.
If left untreated, the enzymes can eventually begin to digest the pancreas, causing extreme pain and further health complications. Pancreatitis has a large number of causes including a high-fat diet, dietary indiscretion (the medical term for a dog eating unusual items), obesity, severe blunt trauma, endocrine diseases like hypothyroidism, medications or toxins, and even genetic predisposition.
Further complicating this disease is the distinction between Acute Pancreatitis, which is sudden and unexpected, and Chronic Pancreatitis, which develops slowly and sometimes without any symptoms. Both forms of pancreatitis have the potential to be mild, moderate, or severe and usually feature the same symptoms.
Some of the classic signs of pancreatitis in dogs are repeated vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, distention or bloating of the abdomen, dehydration, and fever. Pancreatitis can be initially difficult to identify due to the commonality of the symptoms, and its potential to come out of nowhere.
If your veterinarian suspects your dog has pancreatitis, physical exams, blood tests, ultrasounds or a fine needle aspiration of the pancreas may be performed. Unfortunately, pancreatitis is like most digestive diseases and has no solution or cure, only management. Since the source of pancreatitis can be difficult to pinpoint, and the condition therefore difficult to treat, many veterinarians focus on the comfort of the dog.
They may also recommend no food or water while your dog receives medication and hydration through an IV. This gives the body, and specifically the pancreas, time to settle from its inflammatory response and return to normal before performing its natural function.
Following our theme of inflammation, colitis is the inflammation of the section of the large intestines called the colon. It can also be referred to as large bowel diarrhea because it is characterized by diarrhea or loose stools. It can be caused by a large variety of issues such as infections, parasites, allergic colitis, trauma, and primary inflammatory bowel disease, but stress colitis is the leading cause in dogs.
Some of the most common symptoms include softer and more frequent feces, feces containing fresh blood and or mucus, repeated straining, lack of appetite, weight loss, and lethargy. If your dog has some of or all of these symptoms, and a history of digestive issues, your veterinarian may want to perform some tests.
A microscopic evaluation of their feces, a rectal examination, blood tests, and cytology testing are some of the initial tests which may diagnose colitis. More ambiguous cases may require radiographs of the intestinal tract, a colonoscopy and colon biopsies, fecal cultures, or ultrasounds of the abdomen.
Treatment is usually dependent on the cause of colitis; when caused by parasites, a worming treatment is needed, but when caused by an allergic reaction or inflammatory bowel disease, the best treatment for your dog may be to fast and rest for a few days. After fasting, many veterinarians will recommend simple solutions such as feeding a low residue or hypoallergenic diet or altering the dietary fiber content of your dog’s diet.
Many dogs with chronic colitis follow a strict diet and take medications to manage their condition. Each case will vary and your veterinarian will know what treatment will best suit your dog’s unique case.
Through reading about our listed diseases above, we’ve found that diarrhea is not a disease, but a symptom of illness. And, it can be caused by or a sign of a multitude of minor and major health issues. Usually, diarrhea that stops after a day or so is no reason to panic, especially if your dog continues to behave normally during that time.
If the diarrhea persists, however, your dog may become dehydrated and lethargic. In that case, there is likely some issue or underlying health condition causing the diarrhea. Some of the most common reasons for diarrhea include a change in kibble, allergic reaction, eating rotten or spoiled food, bacterial or viral infection, intestinal parasites, a side effect of medication, ingestion of a toxic substance, dietary indiscretion, kidney or liver disease, or inflammatory bowel disease.
So although your dog may have a brief bout of diarrhea and be fine, you should be aware that extended bouts of diarrhea are not normal, and your dog should be seen by your veterinarian.
Please remember that while this article is meant to be informative and helpful, your veterinarian is the expert. If your dog is suffering from any of these conditions, please seek your vet’s guidance.