Miscellaneous Gastrointestinal Conditions
“Gastroenteritis” specifically refers to inflammation of the stomach, small intestine and large intestine without diagnosis of the cause. Most often this condition is caused by changes in diet whether intentional or unintentional, bacterial disease, viral disease, parasites, medical diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease or other conditions, toxicities, etc. The most common cause is changes in the diet and is usually seen as colitis which typically has clinical signs such as loose, cow-pie stools, mucous (“slimy stools”), straining to have bowel movements with little or no stool (tenesmus), blood in the stool (hematochezia), having frequent, small stools and house-broken dogs which have bowel movements in the house due to a sense of urgency. In the vast majority of cases the dogs are not systemically ill – they continue normal activities, eat well, and look good. These signs are due to inflammation of the large intestine or colon. By changes in diet I am referring to changes in brands, formulation, amount fed, frequency, dogs that eat raw hide chews, pig’s ears, garbage, plant material, and foreign objects. Many times colitis can be handled by withdrawing solid food for 24-48 hours only giving small amounts of liquids often. I often continue feeding through colitis but add a fiber supplement such as Colon-Pure™ obtainable from General Nutrition Centers. For the average size Shar-Pei I add about ½-1tblsp per meal. It is a powder and I mix it with a little bit of water and the resultant gel is added to the food. If I don’t see a response within 24-48 hours then medical treatment may be necessary especially if the dog is systemically ill. Another common but often over-looked cause of colitis is emotional or stress-induced colitis. This often happens in house dogs that are boarded during the owner’s vacation. Other changes in routine can also cause colitis – changes in work schedules, new people (workmen) in the house, visitors, new animals, training classes, etc. These cases also often respond to fiber supplementation but additional measures may need to be taken. These may include the use of a pet sitter, dog walker, doggy daycare, behavior modification techniques and even drug therapies such as anxiolytics, tricyclic antidepressants and other drugs.
Another manifestation of gastroenteritis may be vomiting. Pretty much the same causes of colitis can result in vomiting. The recommendation of liquids only still goes – usually small amounts often. Occasionally anti-vomiting medication and fluid therapy are necessary if the vomiting doesn’t respond to conservative measures. Dehydration is always a major concern.
Lastly gastroenteritis can show up as a small intestinal diarrhea with very watery stool as the major clinical sign. Again conservative therapy is tried for 24 hours but medical therapy is often necessary. Dehydration can occur very easily especially if vomiting accompanies the diarrhea. As long as the dog is not systemically ill conservative therapy can be tried for 24-48 hours.
Gastroesophageal reflux is similar to GERD (gastroesphogeal reflux disease) in humans and usually results in the vomiting of a small amount of yellow to green fluid early in the morning before the dog has breakfast. This fluid usually consists of stomach acid. Dogs do not continuously secrete stomach acid as humans do but tend to produce acid in anticipation of a meal. If there is no food in the stomach at the time the acid is present then irritation can result and vomiting can result. This can often be handled by giving a little bit of food or several dog treats at bedtime or early in the morning before feeding the dog. If it persists I often try Tagamet HB® to decrease stomach acid formation for several days. Rarely this condition can result in esophagitis or erosions in the esophagus. This condition is painful and loss of appetite, trouble swallowing, regurgitation and dehydration can result.
Coprophagy (Stool eating)
Most dogs that eat stool do not have a dietary deficiency and there is not a gastrointestinal basis for this behavior. At some level coprophagy involves play, sampling and learning. It is a normal behavior for a mother with young pups to exhibit and probably developed as a behavior to keep the den area clean and disease-free as well as preventing predators from finding the den area. In my experience the behavior occurs much more often in female dogs and is usually directed toward eating the stool of other dogs. The easiest way to avoid the development of this behavior is to keep the yard free of feces and supervise and correct dogs when they are in the yard or on leash walks. Some limited success in stopping this behavior can occur by making the stool distasteful to ingest. This can be done using monosodium glutamate (Adolf’s Meat Tenderizer® or similar product) at ½-1 tsp. per meal to the dogs producing the stool the coprophagic dog is eating. The earlier the behavior is caught and delat with the better although the secret is not to let this habit develop in the first place.
Dogs invariably eat things they shouldn’t such as socks, nylons, plastic articles, their toys, wood, etc. Other favorites include wire twist ties, cable ties, rocks, keys – you name it and they’ll swallow it. I’m continually amazed at how many of these things will pass. I begin to worry when there is a history of eating a foreign object, the dog has continued vomiting, and we see clinical signs such as depression, painful abdomen and not eating. A trip to the veterinary office is certainly recommended to do abdominal radiographs as well as a quick search of the house to see what’s missing.
Along with foreign body ingestion dogs may also eat rat baits, garbage, poisonous plant material, human drugs, cigarettes, chocolate, and other potential poisons. Call our office immediately. We may advise administering hydrogen peroxide immediately at home to induce vomiting prior to bringing the dog to the office. In the case of poisonous plants, drug or household cleaning agents we may have you call a poison control hotline. There usually is a charge for this service but it is very difficult to know the potential toxicity of every human drug, household agents, or plants. An additional advantage is that these services maintain a database of lethal doses, what treatments work, prognosis and other very useful information. Poison control centers also provide treatment advice, and follow up consultation to the veterinarian.