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Gastroenteritis in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Written and published by Tails 'N' Tummies

When your dog begins to show signs of digestive distress, such as vomiting or diarrhea, it can be concerning. And often, these scary symptoms are more serious than your typical, run-of-the-mill upset tummy. Today we’re going to talk about an all-too-common (but little-known) condition that can be largely responsible for these signs known as gastroenteritis.

Gastroenteritis in dogs is a common problem, though not all pet owners are aware of what it means. Fortunately, although the symptoms of gastroenteritis may be upsetting to witness, the vast majority of affected dogs will return to good health with prompt treatment.

At Tails ‘N’ Tummies, we believe that information on dog health should be transparent and accessible to everyone. That is why we’ve created this guide on gastroenteritis in dogs - what it is, how to recognize its symptoms, and how best to treat it before things get out of hand.

While today’s blog post does not encourage self-diagnosis of your pet’s medical conditions, we believe that it is important for pet parents to have a thorough understanding of gastroenteritis so that they can have confidence in knowing when to get involved. To start, we’ll answer one of the most frequently asked questions surrounding the topic: what exactly is gastroenteritis in dogs?

What is Gastroenteritis in Dogs?

Gastroenteritis in dogs is an uncomfortable digestive condition that can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and dehydration. A term used to describe inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, gastroenteritis is a common occurrence for many dogs. Several things can cause this condition, including exposure to bacteria, viruses, intestinal parasites, new medications, and new foods.

Dealing with gastroenteritis in dogs can be tricky - while some cases can clear up on their own without medical attention, others require intervention to prevent serious complications. Fortunately, the condition itself is manageable in most cases. However, if left untreated, gastroenteritis does have the potential to cause long-term damage to your dog’s overall health.

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Knowing exactly what to look for when it comes to gastroenteritis can help you prepare should something happen to your fur baby. The most common signs of this condition are nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or discomfort, and severe bouts of diarrhea.

In addition, the following symptoms may also be present with dog gastroenteritis:

  • Bowel movements with increased frequency
  • Tar-colored stool (dark colored but with the absence of blood)
  • Blood-tinged stool
  • Lethargy or decreased energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excess drooling or salivation
  • Gagging or dry heaving

Hydration is essential for a dog suffering from gastroenteritis, as dehydration can cause further health problems down the line. So, if you find yourself dealing with this troublesome illness, be sure to monitor your pup’s water intake and consider consulting your family veterinarian if possible.

Causes of Gastroenteritis in Dogs

If you find yourself asking, “what causes gastroenteritis in dogs?” you wouldn’t be alone. After all, the symptoms of this condition can be downright unbearable to watch your dog go through. Treating the issue as quickly as possible should be the end goal, and learning where exactly it comes from in the first place is an excellent place to start.

Though the reasons may vary based on the sensitivity of your pup’s stomach, the most common causes of gastroenteritis in dogs include the following:

  • Infection (viral, fungal, or bacterial)
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Ingestion of expired food
  • Gastrointestinal ulcers
  • Ingestion of foreign objects (toys, socks, underwear, etc.)
  • Ingestion of toxic plants, poisons, or chemicals
  • Endocrine disease (hypothyroidism, diabetes, etc.)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Liver or Kidney Disease
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Changes to intestinal flora

Any number of the conditions listed above can be responsible for gastroenteritis or a combination of multiple. Fortunately, determining the exact cause of this common condition in your pup can help guide an effective treatment plan, resulting in a speedy recovery.

Your veterinarian can assist in determining the cause by evaluating all of the collective information you can provide. Information about your pet’s diet, recent exposure to newer items around the house, and any relevant medical history will all be helpful in determining a diagnosis - the more detail, the better!

Types of Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Acute and Chronic Gastroenteritis in Dogs

When it comes to gastroenteritis in dogs, there are two primary types: acute gastroenteritis and chronic gastroenteritis. Acute gastroenteritis is defined as that which is sudden onset. It develops quickly and often without warning and is one of the most common reasons a dog may end up in the veterinarian’s office. Acute gastroenteritis is usually a short-term condition and may even resolve on its own in some cases.

Chronic gastroenteritis, on the other hand, can be a real pain (both literally and figuratively). It is a persistent, ongoing inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and can affect dogs for weeks or even longer. Chronic gastroenteritis in dogs may also recur repeatedly over time. As with acute gastroenteritis, chronic gastroenteritis often presents negative symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and inappetence.

Of the two, chronic gastroenteritis is the most frustrating. Typically, dogs with this persistent condition require a very strict diet, which can easily be upset by the smallest introduction of any outside food or treat. Many pets with chronic gastroenteritis will require daily medication to regulate their gut flora (such as a probiotic).

With both conditions, prompt recognition of the accompanying symptoms is key to a speedy recovery. While the severity of each may vary, both can be easily managed and treated with proper attention.

Whether acute or chronic, gastroenteritis becomes problematic when a dog becomes dehydrated. And while not pleasant to envision, the reasoning makes sense. When your dog expels more liquid from his body than is being taken in, the risk of dehydration becomes significant. And as we know, dehydration can lead to a slew of other, more serious issues within the body - one of which is hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.

Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, known simply as “HGE” in the medical world, is an acute (sudden) disorder characterized by serious bouts of continuous vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Many dogs with this condition will produce stool containing full blood clots that compare to the consistency of raspberry jelly or jam. These clots usually form when the lining of a dog’s gut begins to shed - a huge indicator of how serious HGE can be!

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is far more serious than regular gastroenteritis and can cause serious medical complications if left untreated. If you suspect your dog may be dealing with this dangerous condition, it is always a good idea to seek medical attention sooner rather than later.

Diagnosing Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Oftentimes, veterinarians will act as investigators, seeking out a diagnosis of their patient’s condition based on the available clues. Regarding gastroenteritis, these clues will often come in the form of information about a dog’s diet and lifestyle, including any sudden changes. Some of the information that your veterinarian may be interested in knowing could include the following:

  • What your pet’s diet consists of (including type, brand, and amount fed)
  • Duration of your pet’s symptoms
  • Consistency of your pet’s vomitus or stool
  • Relevant medical history
  • Details about your pet’s home environment
  • Introduction to new things (have you recently given your pet a new type of treat? What about table scraps?)

All this information (in as much detail as possible) will help your veterinarian determine the severity of your pup’s condition. It will also help them to come up with an effective treatment plan so that you can get your fur baby back to normal in no time!

In addition to these important clues about your pet’s diet and lifestyle, your veterinarian may recommend one or more diagnostic tests to reveal more information. These may include:

  • Radiographs (x-rays) of your pet’s abdomen (to look for anything out of place, including gas patterns)
  • Bloodwork (to rule out relevant diseases and organ failure)
  • Fecal screening (to ensure that your pet does not have intestinal parasites)
  • Ultrasound of your pet’s abdomen (to search for intestinal masses or other areas of concern)

Once it has been confirmed that your pet does have gastroenteritis, it’s time to consult with your veterinarian on the perfect treatment plan - one that will get your pup feeling better quickly! When treating gastroenteritis in dogs, it’s important to remember that this will not be cured overnight; patience is key when it comes to this troublesome illness.

Treating Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Gastroenteritis is quite common in dogs but can be treated effectively with proper management. Often, severe cases require hospitalization to ensure adequate hydration levels via intravenous (IV) fluids and to introduce antibiotics and medication to reduce symptoms. However, milder cases can typically be handled at home by keeping an eye on your pet’s hydration status and adhering to a bland diet.

Strict attention should be paid if symptoms persist, though, as the condition may worsen, which will likely require medical intervention for the safety of your beloved pup. Let’s take a closer look at the various treatment options available for curing this tenacious tummy bug.

For Serious Cases of Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Even the heartiest pup can be taken down quickly by a serious case of gastroenteritis. As a pet owner, it’s important to understand that this condition can quickly become dangerous if not properly treated. That’s why many veterinarians recommend hospitalization for the most effective, prompt treatment of gastroenteritis in dogs (especially for cases of HGE).

In addition to intravenous (IV) fluid therapy to reduce the risk of dehydration, your veterinarian may prescribe several different medications to stabilize and improve your pup’s condition. These may include:

  • Antibiotics to help fight off infection
  • Anti-nausea medications to interrupt the cycle of vomiting, keeping your pup from feeling queasy
  • Anti-diarrheal medication to firm up your pup’s stools, stopping diarrhea in its tracks
  • Antacids to treat or prevent gastrointestinal ulcers
  • Appetite stimulants to make your pet hungry
  • Probiotics to replace your pet’s good gut flora
  • Prescription food that is easy to digest and gentle on your pup’s tummy

Once your pet has recovered well enough to leave the hospital, you will likely be sent home with a slew of at-home medications to continue your pet’s progress. It’s important to make all recommended changes (dietary or otherwise) and to diligently follow through with all medical instructions given by your trusted veterinarian so that you can get your pup back to full health as quickly as possible.

For Mild Cases of Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Though caring for a sick pup can be a toilsome task, mild cases of gastroenteritis in dogs can often be treated from the comfort of home. You can compile all you need for safe and effective at-home treatment with some helpful products from your trusted local pet store or veterinarian’s office. Must-have items for home treatment of gastroenteritis include:

  • Anti-diarrheal medication to firm up your pup’s stools
  • Bland dog food ingredients to soothe an upset tummy (boiled chicken, white rice, cottage cheese, or pumpkin)
  • Probiotics to restore your pup’s good gut flora
  • Plenty of water to prevent dehydration
  • Pedialyte to ensure maximum hydration (this can be added to your pup’s regular water supply or given directly - just be sure to grab the sugar-free bottle!)

In addition to this foolproof at-home care kit, it’s important to ensure your pup receives plenty of rest while he recovers, giving the body time to heal itself naturally. This means limiting strenuous activities like running or playing until your pup fully recovers.

Preventing Gastroenteritis in Dogs

Once your pup has fully recovered, it is important to take the necessary steps to prevent your dog from developing a secondary recurrence of gastroenteritis. Following these tips will give you peace of mind knowing that your beloved pup is safe from further tummy troubles, keeping them happy and healthy for years to come:

  • Make sure your dog isn’t left alone for long periods, allowed to scavenge for things he shouldn’t have
  • Introduce new foods to your dog slowly
  • Keep up with vaccinations and ensure your dog receives regular deworming treatments
  • Keep your pup well-hydrated

By adopting these smart habits, you can be sure your dog will stay out of the vet’s office and on the road to recovery!

FAQs About Gastroenteritis in Dogs

“How long does gastroenteritis in dogs last?”

Typically, recovery time can be anywhere from a few days up to a week or more. Sometimes, it can resolve by itself, but it’s best not to risk it. Other times, gastroenteritis can be a more long-term (chronic) issue and will reoccur at different points in a pup’s life.

If left untreated, acute and chronic gastroenteritis can become a severe condition known as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (or HGE for short). HGE is a more severe condition that can significantly elongate or worsen a dog’s symptoms. If your pup’s symptoms persist and blood is found in his stool, it may be time to take him to the veterinarian.

“How do you get rid of gastroenteritis in a dog?”

Gastroenteritis in dogs can be a serious condition; fortunately, treating it quickly can have a positive outcome. First and foremost, you should see your vet if you suspect your pooch has gastroenteritis - they can give you specific advice based on the individual circumstance.

If an infection is suspected, more intensive treatment will likely involve fluids, antivirals, or antibiotics. Keeping up with regular exercise is also an important part of the recovery process to allow your pup’s digestion to get back to normal. The right nutrition can also make all the difference during this time! Most importantly, taking care that your companion gets plenty of rest, lots of water, and probably some extra cuddles for good measure will help them get back on their paws in no time.

“Is gastroenteritis in dogs fatal?”

When it comes to gastroenteritis in dogs, many pet owners worry that it is a fatal illness. In reality, gastroenteritis can be extremely uncomfortable and unpleasant for your furry friend and may require medical care, but it’s rarely life-threatening.

In most cases, a simple course of antibiotics can rid the body of infection, allowing your pup to return to their usual bubbly self in no time! Of course, if you notice any signs or symptoms of gastroenteritis, especially those that correlate with HGE, make sure to check with your veterinarian before taking any at-home action - their expertise and guidance will significantly reduce the risk of serious problems down the line.

“How can I treat my dog’s gastroenteritis at home?”

As we’ve discussed throughout this guide, there are many safe and effective ways to treat a mild case of dog gastroenteritis from home. Feeding your dog a bland food that is easy on the GI tract, giving your dog plenty of rest and relaxation, and adding an electrolyte supplement to their drinking water are all great ways to manage and treat your dog’s gastroenteritis at home.

However, if your pet’s symptoms worsen or persist after a few days of at-home treatment, it’s a smart idea to consult your veterinarian. The most important thing to remember when treating gastroenteritis in dogs is that the risk of dehydration is high and should be avoided at all costs.

Conclusion

That’s all, folks! You have learned all the essential information on dog gastroenteritis - symptoms to look out for, potential causes and treatments, preventive measures you should be taking, and even a few FAQs. While this condition is nothing to be taken lightly and can make your pup feel really ill, know that with the right care, your pup will likely pull through quickly.

When it comes to dog gastroenteritis, a prepared owner is a smart owner. So long as you investigate the cause of your pup’s illness thoroughly and get them the treatment they need in time; you can get your pup feeling back to normal before he can say “woof!”

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