They say it’s a dog eat dog world out there. But what happens when your dog’s ability to eat and digest food properly becomes compromised? Digestive problems are some of the most common types of ailments to plague our beloved canine companions. From occasional nausea to serious illness, digestive problems in dogs can vary greatly in severity and duration.
Knowing the distinction in severity between different types of dog digestive problems can have serious implications for your dog’s health (and for the vet bill’s impact on your bank account!). Read below for some symptoms, causes, and an exploration of the seven most common stomach issues in dogs.
Symptoms of Dog Digestive Issues
One moment your dog is gleefully gallivanting around the dog park, and the next he is sluggish, irritable, and not himself. The moment you notice a difference in behavior, it’s crucial to take inventory of what symptoms your dog is exhibiting. What are surefire ways to tell that your dog’s change in demeanor has to do with a compromised digestive system?
Below are some of the most common signs of dog digestive issues:
- Excessive gas (rumbling stomach, burping, etc.)
- Weight Loss (usually caused by excessive vomiting and diarrhea)
- Disinterest in pet food
The above-listed symptoms could indicate either an ailment that is non-threatening or grave. If your dog is experiencing any of the below, you must seek medical attention immediately.
- Excessive shaking or panting
- Severe dehydration
- Dry heaving
- Vomiting liquids
Causes of Dog Digestive Issues
While dogs are incredibly resilient, there are numerous everyday threats that could disrupt a dog’s immune system and digestive health. Some causes are benign and require little more than home treatment. However, there are certain instances that require a veterinarian’s diagnosis and treatment. Knowing the distinction is crucial to helping your dog heal, and, in certain cases, saving your dog’s life.
Here are several causes of dog digestive disorders you should keep in mind while assessing your pet’s ailment:
- Bacteria (pathogenic)
- Abrupt change in your dog’s diet
- Excessive consumption of grass (non-life threatening)
- Consuming chocolate (potentially life threatening)
- Bloat (a very serious, life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention)
Seven Most Common Dog Digestive Issues
The number of dog digestive issues that can arise is extensive. Luckily, there are only a few most dog owners most commonly encounter. From diarrhea to toxicity, knowing the nuances of your dog’s health and behavior is the key to ensuring a happy and healthy life.
Below we outline what we feel you need to know about the most common dog digestive problems in a dog’s digestive system (7 of them on our list, to be exact).
Issue #1: Vomiting
If there are any guarantees in your experience as a dog owner, you can be certain that one day you’ll be confronted by your dog vomiting. This is one of the most common digestive ailments in dogs, and more often than not the root cause is fairly benign. Sometimes a dog will vomit and then continue frolicking in the yard as if nothing ever happened!
Yet, vomiting can also be an indicator of something more serious. According to the American Kennel Club’s article “Dog Vomiting: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment,” your dog is (probably) fine if he vomits once, but if he vomits multiple times in conjunction with any of the below symptoms there’s likely a more serious ailment afoot:
- Repeated vomiting
- Vomiting a large amount
- Vomiting up blood
- Diarrhea containing blood
Vomiting can indicate a wide variety of conditions or illnesses, ranging from heat stroke to liver failure. Most conditions are curable, especially if you seek medical attention as soon as something seems amiss.
Issue #2: Diarrhea
With an insatiable curiosity for the contents of any trashcan and a mysterious passion for gnawing on grass, diarrhea is an inevitable occurrence in any dog’s lifetime. Similar to vomiting, diarrhea is not necessarily always a cause for concern. In order to determine the severity of your dog’s bowel irregularity, first, you must become acquainted with the four C’s of dog poop. According to Certa Pet, these are:
- Color – Your dog’s stool should have a rich brown hue.
- Coating – There should not be any sort of mucus-like coating on your dog’s stool.
- Contents – The contents of your dog’s stool should appear well-digested and processed. Occasionally, food matter such as vegetables will appear and this is perfectly healthy. However, if you see white, string-like material this indicates the presence of worms.
- Consistency – Your dog’s stool should be firm enough to remain intact, but also slightly soft to the touch.
Any deviation from the above could indicate the presence of dog digestion problems. Diarrhea can be characterized as a liquid-like, loose stool. While this is not an uncommon occurrence for many dogs, it’s important to know both how to treat one’s dog at home and how to determine when the situation at hand may be serious. In the Whole Dog Journal article “Dog Diarrhea Causes and Remedies,” author Catherine Ashe states that:
If your dog seems otherwise normal, and he is currently taking regular parasite preventative medications, then symptomatic treatment at home is appropriate. Usually, most diarrhea will run its course within two to four days, although in some cases, it can last longer. If there are any other signs of illness like vomiting, loss of appetite, depression, or pain, a veterinary trip is in order.
Before escalating to a trip to the vet, many pet parents choose to administer an at-home treatment that is similar to the course of action for humans: a bland diet, access to fresh water, ample rest, and frequent walks. In some cases, consumers also supplement with a quality, refrigerated probiotic to replenish a dog’s gut. Yet if the symptoms persist for more than a few days and are accompanied by other atypical behaviors, it’s time to bring your ailing pooch to the vet.
Issue #3: Chocolate Toxicity
The bottom line is keep all chocolate well out of reach of your dog. Much beloved by humans but lethal for their trusted canine companions, chocolate—cacao specifically—contains the bitter alkaloid Theobromine. This alkaloid, along with the caffeine present in chocolate as well, is incredibly toxic for dogs. The amount of chocolate, as well as the type (dark chocolate is far more toxic than milk chocolate due to the higher concentration of cacao) your dog consumes, will determine the severity of their intake but regardless a medical professional should always be consulted.
Symptoms of chocolate poisoning typically arise six to twelve hours after ingestion and can last up to 72 hours. According to VCA animal hospitals, signs that your dog has consumed chocolate vary but typically include at least one of the below:
- Increased thirst
- Excessive urination
- A racing heart
- Heart Failure
The American Kennel Club’s guide “What to Do If Your Dog Eats Chocolate” states that the best methods of preventing your dog from consuming chocolate are:
- Put your chocolate away – This doesn’t mean merely hiding the chocolate from sight. Instead, AKC suggests that you “make sure all chocolate items, including cocoa powder and hot chocolate mix, are stored where the dog cannot reach them, such as on a high shelf in a closed-door pantry.”
- Leave it – Teaching your dog this command is not only simple but could—potentially—become the difference between life or death (for your canine).
- Crate training – The most surefire method of guaranteeing your dog will not break into your secret candy stash is to keep your dog in a crate when you are not watching him. According to AKB, the key to making your dog comfortable in his crate is to “offer toys, a stuffed Kong, a favorite blanket, and treats to help him feel like the crate is his personal den.
Issue #4: Worms
Worms are some of the most common dog digestive issues and the most terrifying for their human guardians. If you notice your dog’s coat has become dull, their stomach starts to resemble a pot belly, or simply that they’re low in energy and losing weight, it’s possible you may be contending with worms.
According to Blue Cross for Pets, there are four predominant different types of worms that afflict dogs:
- Roundworms – Roundworm larvae typically begin their journey in a dog’s intestinal tract but can travel to other internal organs. According to BCP, “[roundworms] are long, white and spaghetti-like in appearance and absorb nutrients from the infected dog.” Many puppies are born with roundworms, thus it’s crucial to have your puppy examined.
- Hookworms – Hookworms are one of the more lethal types of worms, often causing death in puppies. These vampiric pests tend to be shorter worms and have teeth for sucking blood.
- Whipworms – Whipworms tend to be the most benign sort of parasite. They mostly dwell in the large intestine and produce few symptoms if any.
- Tapeworms – According to BCP, they describe this menacing pest a “live in the small intestine, grabbing onto its wall with six tiny rows of teeth to absorb nutrients as food is digested.” Despite the potential for horror movie stardom, tapeworms typically are not notably harmful to a dog’s health.
If you suspect that your dog has worms, it is crucial to visit the vet for diagnosis. Each type of worms has its own specific medication and course of treatment, so identifying which type of worms your dog may have is imperative.
Issue #5: IBD
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (henceforth IBD), is not unlike the human counterpart IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). IBD is a chronic condition, suggesting a wide array of symptoms that hint at underlying damage to the digestive tract and advanced inflammation of the intestinal tract.
According to Doctors of Veterinary Medicine Krista Williams and Ernest Ward in their article for VCA Hospitals:
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a syndrome rather than a disease. The syndrome is caused by a specific reaction to chronic irritation of the intestinal tract. Most dogs with IBD have a history of recurrent or chronic vomiting or diarrhea and may have a poor appetite. During periods of vomiting or diarrhea, the dog may lose weight, but is normal otherwise.
While little is known about what causes IBD, through a multipart treatment of a healthy diet, medication, and vitamins, the soothing of discomfort is highly possible.
Issue #6: Gastritis
While vomiting is not an unusual occurrence in a dog’s life, if vomiting occurs frequently and in conjunction with other symptoms it’s possible your pooch is afflicted with gastritis. This condition is characterized by inflamed intestinal lining, often accompanied by infection. Often this condition is caused by your dog eating food out of the garbage, ingesting toxins, or a viral infection. While gastritis is typically an acute ailment, this can also take the form of chronic disease.
According to the Banfield Pet Hospital, the typical signs of gastritis are:
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased appetite and water intake
- Weight loss and other abnormalities
If not treated properly, gastritis can be fatal. This is certainly not one of the dog digestive issues to take lightly!
Issue #7: Pancreatitis
Last but not least, what’s considered to be one of the most threatening of dog digestive problems is pancreatitis. The pancreas is an important organ in the digestive process, releasing digestive enzymes that assist in the breakdown of food and other essential functions when “digestibles” meet the small intestine. In the event of pancreatitis, the pancreas releases enzymes that become activated immediately upon release, resulting in the destruction of the pancreas itself. This condition can be incredibly painful and life-threatening for dogs.
You notice your dog is unwell, but how do you know if pancreatitis is the culprit? According to Whole Dog Journals’ article “Canine Pancreatitis,” a few telltale signs are:
- Persistent vomiting
- Disinterest in food
- Abdominal pain
- Walking with an arched back
- Lying in a corner refusing to move
Treatment varies from administering intravenous fluids to hospitalization and even surgery. It’s of the utmost importance to pay close attention to the onset of any of the above symptoms and act as swiftly as possible if pancreatitis is a possibility. While being of the more serious dog digestive problems, luckily it’s highly treatable if caught in time.
Monitoring Your Dog
Now that you’re aware of the 7 most common dog digestive issues, it’s important that you remain alert for warning signs and continue to monitor your pup. While short-term digestive problems are an inevitability, act decisively by enlisting immediate help if those issues dissipate. By taking the proper precautions, you ensure your dog’s long and happy health and well-being.
American Kennel Club: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/what-to-do-if-your-dog-ate-chocolate/
US National Library of Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1215566/
Certa Pet, “Dog Diarrhea”: https://www.certapet.com/dog-diarrhea/
Merck Vet Manual: https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system
VCA Hospitals, “Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs”: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/inflammatory-bowel-disease-in-dogs