Common Gastrointestinal Disorders in Dogs: Causes and Solutions

sad dog looking out the window.

When you have a dog with an upset stomach, it can be unpleasant for both you and your pet. Vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite in pets can have many potential causes. It’s not necessarily easy to tell all the time what the underlying issue is, but South Seminole Animal Hospital thinks it is important for pet owners to understand some common causes of tummy trouble and know when to worry and when to wait it out. 

Common Doggy Digestive Downers

There are almost as many potential causes of digestive problems in dogs as there are dog breeds. Some of the more common causes of tummy trouble might include:

  • Dietary indiscretion: Dogs are known for eating things that they sometimes shouldn’t. While ingestion of things like bunny poop in the yard, items in the trash, or the chicken defrosting on your counter may not have serious consequences, ingestion may result in gastritis in dogs (irritation of the stomach) or the rest of the GI tract.
  • Foreign body: Pets who ingest a foreign object (pieces of a toy, undergarments, bones, trash, etc.) might not be able to pass the item. Lodged foreign bodies typically cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, and lethargy. This issue is an emergency and your pet should visit their veterinarian or emergency pet hospital as soon as possible. 
  • Stress: Increased adrenaline such as during travel, boarding, or intense activity can certainly result in colitis and diarrhea. Veterinarian prescribed calming medications should help prevent these messes.
  • Food allergy or intolerance: Dogs with sensitive stomachs or true food allergies may not tolerate changes in diet without serious consequences. Most food allergies in dogs are to a protein source such as chicken or beef. A novel protein prescription diet might be recommended in these cases.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease: True inflammatory bowel disease can cause serious gastrointestinal symptoms and even chronic diarrhea in dogs. IBD often requires prescription diets and/or medications to manage successfully. 
  • Pancreatitis: The pancreas is the abdominal organ responsible for producing many of the enzymes used in fat digestion. It can become inflamed and lead to GI problems such as abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and decreased appetite. As pets become seniors they may become more susceptible to pancreatitis when eating rich treats, human food, or even some canine diets.
  • Gastrointestinal infections: Pets can get infections, too. Canine parvovirus can result in severe and even deadly symptoms in puppies and unvaccinated dogs. Dogs can also contract bacterial infections like Salmonella, e. Coli, and campylobacter from contaminated or undercooked foods. Pets who eat a raw diet are at high risk of contracting these infections. 
  • Intestinal parasites: Dogs can contract intestinal parasites such as tapeworm, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and Giardia from their environment, and is why routine fecal screening is recommended. 
  • Toxin ingestion: Some toxins can cause gastrointestinal upset ranging from mild to severe. Our doctors work with Pet Poison Helpline to determine treatment in these cases as they maintain a database of toxins, associated exposure rates, and have veterinarian specialist that provide treatment plans unique to your pet’s needs.
  • Systemic disease processes: Systemic conditions such as serious infections, kidney disease, liver disease, or even cancer can affect the gastrointestinal tract. Lab work is typically needed to help determine what internal organs may be causing your pet’s GI symptoms.

When to Worry About a Dog With an Upset Stomach

It is not always a pet emergency when a dog is having some GI symptoms, but sometimes it can indicate a serious problem. So how do you know when to worry?

  • Consider why your pet may be having symptoms. Recent stress or a new treat may offer an explanation and make you more inclined to wait a bit before calling us. While finding just a portion of a chewed up toy or other object could be an emergency.
  • Pay attention to details such as when your pet last ate and drank, what the vomit (bile vs pieces of food) or stool (well formed, liquid, or somewhere in between) looked like, and when symptoms started to help our doctors determine the best course of action for your pet.
  • Very tiny or very young dogs should be seen more urgently. On the contrary, senior pets can develop sensitives to treats or human food that they previously enjoyed without repercussion.
  • In some cases feeding a bland, easy-to-digest food like boiled chicken breast and white rice (no seasoning, no rotisserie, no skin) can help you pet to feel better. Additionally, there are prescription canned and dry foods that we keep in stock to help your pet recover from an upset stomach. If these gentle diets don’t sit well, it’s time to call the vet. 
  • Do not to give your pet any medications without our advice. Some common GI medications meant for humans can be toxic to pets. Additionally, medications can cover-up symptoms and prevent you from recognizing a more serious problem.

Allowing a pet to continue with gastrointestinal symptoms for too long can have serious consequences. Have your pet examined right away if they have more than two bouts of vomiting or diarrhea in 24 hours, have skipped more than one meal, have blood in the stool or vomit, have a known toxin exposure, or are acting lethargic or like they are in pain. Plan to bring a recent stool sample from your pet at the time of their exam.

It is always better to have your pet checked than to wait if you are unsure. After all, that is what we are here for!