Digestive Problems In Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment — Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Like humans, digestive problems can affect dogs too. However, unlike humans, they are unable to verbally convey their discomfort. Hence, it is important for pet owners to understand and differentiate the different symptoms in order to deliver the correct treatment.

In general, only a simple change in diet could help cure the gastrointestinal issues in your dog. Despite that, digestive problems could sometimes indicate a more serious underlying problem. Therefore, it is vital that pet owners remain updated about the symptoms or signs your dog might display.

This article will discuss briefly about the digestive system, causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention of digestive problems in dogs.

Understanding The Digestive System

An illustration of a dog digestive system.

The digestive system includes every organ in the body that takes part in the processing of food. It starts at your dog’s mouth and includes other organs like the esophagus (gullet), stomach, liver, pancreas, intestines (small and large), rectum and anus.

Once your dog picks up food with it’s mouth, the digestive process starts. When he starts chewing the food, enzymes found in their saliva helps to break down the ingested food into smaller and simpler pieces chemically. This same mechanism is repeated once the food reaches the stomach. The walls of the small intestines are responsible for absorbing nutrients into the bloodstream. On the other hand, the large intestines are responsible for eliminating undigested food matter or water.

It is important that pets have a healthy digestive system. This is because, not only is digestion important for providing nutrients, it is also critical for sustaining an optimal balance of fluid and salt electrolytes in their body.

Causes Of Digestive Problems In Dogs

There are multiple factors that can trigger digestive issues in pets. In general, digestive issues can simply be treated at home. There are several factors that can cause digestive problems in dogs; listed below are some of the following:

  • Parasites
  • Infectious disease
  • Overeating
  • Ingesting poor quality food and/or indigestible food
  • Sudden change in diet
  • Obstruction due to foreign objects swallowed
  • Injury to the digestive system.
  • Enzymes deficiencies
  • Imbalance of intestinal flora (good and bad)

However, digestive issues could also indicate a more serious issue that requires treatment by your pet’s veterinarian. For instance, signs such as vomiting and diarrhea may hint at other more severe issues in the body like kidney or liver disease. 

Symptoms Of Digestive Problems In Dogs

A dog showing symptoms due to digestive problems.

Gastrointestinal problems can affect any organs involved in the digestion process. Listed below are some of the symptoms your canine may display should you suspect that he might be suffering from digestive problems.

  • Diarrhea (especially if it contains blood or mucous)
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite or no appetite
  • Dehydration (increased thirst)
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Flatulence
  • Fever
  • Dry heaving
  • Excessive panting and/or shaking
  • Straining to defecate
  • Abdominal pain and/or abdominal distension 
  • Signs of distress

The above stated symptoms are some of the more common symptoms. It is important to note that your canine may display one or multiple symptoms. If your dog’s symptoms have been persisting for long and are displaying signs of distress and discomfort; it is imperative that you consult the vet for a more accurate diagnosis and treatment to be cautious.

Course Of Digestive Problem Treatment In Dogs

Examination

A physical examination at the vet due to possible digestive problems present in the dog.

If your dog is displaying any of the aforementioned symptoms, it is imperative that you seek the veterinarian’s advice. A physical vet visit will be required for your vet to make an informed diagnosis.

During the vet’s consultation, the vet will ask any pertinent questions such as symptoms, allergies, pre-existing medical condition or any past surgeries. It is vital that you disclose all information to your vet so that accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment can be provided.

Before the vet comes to a final diagnosis, screening tests may include tests such as physical examination, blood test, urinalysis, hormonal test, ultrasound, allergy test and more. A physical exam would include checking their temperature, oxygen blood saturation levels, heart rate, respiratory levels and more.

If the screening test result be positive, an additional diagnostic test will be performed to ensure true positive results. This is so that your vet can provide the proper course of treatment. The diagnostic test might include a lab test of your canine’s stool or urine sample to determine the cause of his digestive issue. If needed, your vet might seek your approval to perform invasive procedures such as endoscopy, biopsy or surgery to either collect samples for lab testing or examination.

Treatment

A dog given IV fluid treatment to treat his digestive issue.

Once your vet has determined the cause of your dog’s digestive distress, an appropriate course of treatment will then be decided. Most treatments are directed to help relieve the discomfort and/or pain, and allow your dog to heal over time. There are several forms of treatment available your vet might perform or recommend like:

  • Medication — to treat symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation and more.
  • Intravenous (IV) fluid to treat dehydration & restore balanced electrolyte levels.
  • Anti-nausea medication.
  • Antacid — to reduce stomach acidity.
  • Prescribed diet by the vet.
  • Bland diets
  • Surgery (for severe cases of gastrointestinal issues or as recommended by your vet).

Prevention — How To Prevent Digestive Problems In Dogs?

A dog drinking water from a bowl of cool fresh water.

While there are certain conditions and illnesses that cannot be prevented, some gastrointestinal issues can be prevented (lower risk) should the following be taken into account. 

  • Ensure that fresh water is always available for your dogs. You should monitor the frequency and quantity of water consumed. They should not be drinking too little or too much water.
  • Keep your canine on a healthy and balanced diet; appropriate to their age (puppy, adult or senior) and health requirements.
  • Ensure that your dog receives timely routine checkups, up-to-date vaccinations at the vet and other parasitic prevention treatment.
  • Do not feed your dogs “human food”. Always check with the vet before feeding or introducing any new food to your dog.
  • Ensure that your house is “dog proof’. This includes any items such as plants or flowers, household cleaners, garbage, small toys. They should be placed away properly or out of their sight and reach.

If you are interested in understanding and finding out what the necessary pet vaccinations are for both cats and dogs in Singapore, click here to read more!

Gastrointestinal issues do not only happen to dogs, cats can also suffer from digestive problems. Click here to read more about stomach sensitivities in cats and what you can do to care for them.