What Is Gastroenteritis in Dogs?

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When your pets are healthy, it’s tough to think of them being in pain, diagnosed with a medical condition, or even getting older. You think they’ll always be the young, spry dogs they are today. However, there are conditions that afflict dogs just as they do humans.

Gastroenteritis, or more commonly referred to as the stomach flu, is the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, which often involves both the stomach and intestines. This inflammation in dogs can be the result of any number of things including a bacterial infection, viruses, parasites, or a bad reaction to medication or food. The result is pain and discomfort for your pet and symptoms like diarrhea or vomiting. When your dog’s body doesn’t respond well to something, the effects are almost immediate as the body physically rejects whatever substance is not in agreement.

Of course, vomiting and/or diarrhea in dogs are common symptoms that could point towards a number of different conditions. It doesn’t automatically mean he has gastroenteritis, but it does mean that a visit to the veterinarian is most likely the best for an official diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of Gastroenteritis in Dogs

If your dog is experiencing gastroenteritis, the bouts of vomiting and diarrhea will likely be more frequent then if something upsets his stomach temporarily. Dry heaving or gagging may be part of the symptoms as well. Also, if the vomit looks yellowish or foamy, this may be a good indicator of gastroenteritis specifically versus another type of stomach ailment.

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Your dog’s fecal matter may have a softer consistency and be more pale in color than usual. And, if your pet is producing diarrhea more than 3 to 6 times a day, that is a big indicator of gastroenteritis over other similar conditions with like symptoms. Gastroenteritis will also create discomfort in your pet and he may feel skittish with being touched or moved.

Dehydration also accompanies these symptoms since your dog is not retaining any of his nutrition or water supply. As a result, he may become weaker and lose his appetite altogether. As you can see, one symptom can lead to another and create a state of discontent for your pet. It’s important to keep track of these symptoms and the times they’re occurring so you can provide your veterinarian with a full picture of his health.

Mark down any changes any symptoms or behavior and note when they began. The veterinarian can then more easily eliminate other sources of the problem. While the condition may be short-lived, it still means your dog is in considerable pain or discomfort.

Causes of Canine Gastroenteritis

When the “stomach bug” goes around the office for people, it’s usually only a matter of time before it’ll catch up to you. It’s usually due to an enclosed space where germs and bacteria can manifest and viruses can more easily be spread. But what causes gastroenteritis in dogs?

It could be due to a variety of factors. Commonly, infections like meningitis or urinary tract infections in dogs can ultimately lead to a gastroenteritis diagnosis. Food or toxin poisoning, thyroid disease, and other medical conditions can also lead to this inflammation from occurring as well. Pay close attention to what your dog eats and require that he stick to his diet when in the care of others.

While it may seem harmless to feed him a treat from the table, it can upset your dog’s stomach, especially if he’s prone to food sensitivities. Let guests and those who care for your dog know of his diet plan to avoid vomiting or diarrhea in dogs.

Gastroenteritis could also be indicative of a larger or more serious condition. For example, the inflammation and symptoms may be a result of a tumor or cyst. While the initial symptoms may be treatable and less serious, it’s still important to have your dog checked out by a veterinarian to ensure that it is not the result of something more serious. Your dog’s doctor can run necessary tests to do a more thorough examination of your pet’s health. This may include x-rays, a urinary analysis, or blood work. It’s the diagnosis that’s important so treatment can begin as soon as possible.

Diagnosing Gastroenteritis in Dogs

In order to officially diagnose gastroenteritis, your veterinarian will go through a process of elimination. Again, symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea are associated with several stomach or internal medical conditions. Other conditions will be ruled out to determine what is causing these symptoms in the first place.

It’s helpful for your pet to have his current medical history on file. This includes any reactions to past medications, past diagnoses, and/or past surgeries or procedures. You’ll also want to update the veterinarian with the current situation of his health. This includes his current diet, new foods or supplements he’s taking, new environments, or any illnesses he’s experienced.

The symptoms on their own are a little more difficult to pinpoint without providing context to accompany them. The more information you can provide your veterinarian, the better it will be for your dog’s health. After assessing your pet’s current health and running through his history, your veterinarian will perform a physical checkup and look for signs of abdominal pain or tenderness, swelling, inflammation, or other physical abnormalities.

The diagnosis requires a full scale assessment plus any necessary tests to determine the contributing factors and also to eliminate the condition from being something else. Once diagnosed, then a treatment can be recommended and discussed.

How Is Gastroenteritis in Dogs Treated?

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One of the main things that can immediately help a dog with gastroenteritis is rehydration. If your dog is constantly vomiting or having diarrhea, he will become dehydrated quite quickly. When you witness these symptoms, it’s important that you keep your dog hydrated as much as possible. In the event that your dog cannot stay hydrated or is severely dehydrated, your veterinarian may recommend intravenous fluids to help.

Depending on the severity of the inflammation, antidiarrheal medication may be temporarily prescribed to help with this specific symptom. Once the veterinarian has pinpointed other areas which may need attention, there may be other medications prescribed. In general, it’s also a good time to take a good look at your pet’s daily nutritional intake and activity and make some positive changes.

You may find that as your dog grows older, he may become more sensitive to certain foods or supplements. An organic diet can help give your dog whole foods with added chemicals or preservatives that may upset his stomach. Talk through different options with your veterinarian and introduce steps slowly so your dog can more easily acclimate to a new routine or plan of care.

Alternative Wellness Treatments for Dogs

Typically, gastroenteritis is treatable within a few days. There are steps you can take that will help keep your dog in good health. In order to address his overall well-being, there are alternative treatments that may help with his comfort level and help reduce symptoms like inflammation. They may not aid with a condition of gastroenteritis specifically, but certain alternative treatments will contribute to his overall health.

These may include acupuncture, massage therapy, and introducing a more organic lifestyle. Acupuncture works to stabilize different energy points in your pet and reduce pain and inflammation that lead to many health conditions. Massage therapy also helps reduce inflammation and pain in dogs, while increasing blood flow and flexibility.

Your pet’s nutrition also plays a larger part in his overall health. The more organic food sources you can provide for him, the less chance for toxins to enter the bloodstream. There are a variety of healthy options now available for pets that have been introduced in recent years. Even small changes made over time can do wonders for the improvement of your dog’s health. Consult your veterinarian if you have questions about any of these types of treatment and their benefits.

Your pet’s treatment may require a mix of more traditional treatments and alternative wellness care. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other. It also may take some time to find out what your dog responds best to. Each case is different and each dog responds differently to being ill and receiving care. Find what works best for your pup under the guidance of your veterinarian.

Frequently Asked Questions about Gastroenteritis in Dogs

What foods are good to give my pet if he’s continuously vomiting?

Bland foods are the best way to go. Any spices or foods that have extra ingredients may only worsen inflammation. Stick with rice, plain boiled chicken, and plenty of fresh water while he’s in the treatment or recovery process. As his health slowly starts to improve, you can then reintroduce other of his more typical foods back into his diet.

How long is the recovery period for gastroenteritis?

It depends on the severity of your dog’s condition and his current state of health. For example, if your dog is in otherwise good health, his recovery time can be in as little as 48 hours. But if he is severely dehydrated and suffering from other health conditions, then the recovery process may take longer. As a result, it’s best to maintain your dog’s well-being as much as possible at different phases of life to strengthen his immune system.

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Are there ways to prevent gastroenteritis in my dog?

Inflammation or other “bugs” that go around may not be preventable but there are healthy habits you can follow to ensure your dog is following a regimen that is most beneficial to his well-being. This includes limiting the types of food that cause inflammation in your pet. It also involves taking a look at his current medications and asking your veterinarian if there are side effects that are leading to inflammation or stomach problems.

How do I know if my dog’s symptoms are temporary or indicative of a more serious problem?

You’ll know what’s best for your pet and what is considered “abnormal” based on his day-to-day life. What kind of symptoms is he experiencing and how have they changed over the course of a couple of days? When in question, it’s always good to consult veterinary advice. But if you see a change in behavior (even without the mentioned physical symptoms) or your dog is in pain, it is a good indication there is something going on with your pet that is worth getting checked out.

When should I consult a veterinarian’s help?

If your dog has ingested a kind of toxin that requires immediate attention, contact your emergency veterinarian to see what can be done at home. If your dog is just starting to present symptoms, then you can schedule a regular visit with your veterinarian to get it checked out. Again, you know your pet’s behavior the best and it’s always best to err on the side of caution, if you feel that he is experiencing symptoms uncharacteristic to his typical behavior.

Caring for Your Dog With Gastroenteritis

As your dog ages and you become more familiar with his daily needs and care, it’s easier to detect when there’s a problem. Keep your pet on a consistent health regimen and notate any changes to gauge his reaction. Sometimes it’s the smallest symptom that may be the indicator of something bigger.

By scheduling regular veterinary appointments, ensuring your pet’s healthy diet and exercise regimen, and making him as comfortable as possible, you’re taking good care of his wellness. When a dog suffers from gastroenteritis, it may seem discouraging for a few days, but once he works the illness out of his body, he can return back to his normal self.

The good news is that since you know when your dog isn’t feeling well, the instinct to see a veterinarian is already there. Don’t put off going if your dog is in pain or discomfort. There’s no harm in finding out what he has is temporary and fixable. It’s worth the trip if it turns out to be a more serious condition that can be better treated in its early stages. Your dog relies on you to make the best health choices for him. Keep him as healthy as possible.


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