Some dogs just smell bacon grease and break with diarrhea. Others can chomp on trash without nature’s consequences. Many dogs have occasional soft stool, but how can you tell when they need to see the vet?
Causes of vomiting and diarrhea, or gastroenteritis, are myriad. And although the occasional “bile pile” happens even among those with iron stomachs, vomiting can be a sign of a medical emergency. Here we explore several causes of gastroenteritis, and how to tell if Checkers needs a late night check-up.
Age Matters… Sometimes
Puppies are more likely to carry intestinal parasites, which is why deworming is essential. Roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms can all cause severe illness. If you see a worm in stool or vomit, make an appointment. Any age dog can get worms or other parasitic infections such as Giardia. People can also become infected, so get pets properly treated.
Puppies are also susceptible to viruses such as canine parvovirus. Unvaccinated dogs of any age and puppies who have not completed their initial series are at risk. A puppy that is thin, depressed, not eating, and has vomiting or diarrhea should be seen by a vet immediately.
Although young dogs are often the most active chewers, any age dog can swallow parts of toys, bones, rope, stuffing from toys or pillows, rocks, socks, you name it. These objects can cause obstructions, leading to vomiting and liquid or bloody diarrhea. If you find objects in the vomit or diarrhea, the trouble may have passed. But if Sparky is still vomiting, fails to pass stool, exhibits depression, lethargy, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain, he needs to be checked out pronto.
Breed Matters Too
Ailments common to a four-pound Chihuahua vary from those affecting a 95-pound German Shepherd dog. Several small breeds are more prone to hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, also called Acute Hemorrhagc Diarrhea Syndrome. This causes a severe raspberry jam-like diarrhea. Several breeds including the German shepherd dog and rough-coated collie can be born with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI. In this disease, digestive enzymes are lacking, causing gray, greasy, malodorous stool, and weight loss. The first scenario warrants an emergency visit, whereas the second is an ongoing problem and can wait for an appointment with your primary veterinarian.
Many people can tolerate a sudden shift to rich foods, but dogs are not built with such digestive fortitude. If your chow-hound ate a special treat such as turkey drippings or steak scraps, they may be at risk for pancreatitis, a serious, painful, and sometimes life-threatening condition. Dogs may exhibit vomiting or diarrhea, depression, lethargy, and belly pain. Sometimes they stand with their rear legs, but lie down in the front with legs stretched. Any of these signs means call your vet immediately.
Gastroenteritis can be milder, caused by “dietary indiscretion.” Typically dogs will strain to have frequent, small amounts of diarrhea. This can happen if they steal trash or eat things they normally don’t. Rawhides and other animal-based chews can carry bacteria. A dog may have vomiting or diarrhea, but if they are otherwise normal and vomiting ceases, the diarrhea may resolve quickly with a bland diet.
If diarrhea occurs after your dog has gone swimming in a lake or pond, they should be seen for a regular appointment to rule out infection. If a switch in dog food precedes gastroenteritis, your dog may have a dietary intolerance or sensitivity. Usually the bland diet and a switch back to the usual brand will resolve signs.
Common toxins include chocolate, xylitol, grapes or raisins, pet or human medications, poisonous mushrooms, antifreeze, household cleaners, and pest control products. If you suspect your dog has ingested any of these, or they exhibit gastroenteritis, depression, tremors, or are unresponsive, beeline to the vet emergency clinic.
Kidney and liver disease can cause signs of gastroenteritis. These organs can suffer at any age due to toxins or infection, but often older animals will experience chronic loss of function, or even cancer. Cancer can affect any organ and lead to gastroenteritis. Any sudden onset of signs warrants a vet visit, but chronic milder signs can wait for a scheduled appointment. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can also cause chronic gastroenteritis. A vet can help diagnose and manage these conditions.
Some dogs develop diarrhea every time they are boarded or experience stress. If this happens with your dog, your vet can recommend a plan for minimizing belly drama. A switch to a bland diet and probiotics may ward off the runs.
Although vomiting and diarrhea may be mild and self-limiting, these signs, along with lethargy, depression, pain, or tremors could spell serious trouble. In addition, if there is blood in the vomit or diarrhea, or a “coffee-grounds” appearance to the vomit (digested blood), a veterinarian should see your dog without delay. A bland diet resolves many mild cases, but your dog’s health can slide downhill fast with more serious conditions. A veterinarian can diagnose the problem and recommend a treatment plan to ensure all flows properly once more.