Whenever we talk about a dog’s well-being, a big emphasis is on their digestive health. Even vets place great importance on maintaining a healthy digestive system to promote your dog’s optimal health and happiness.
But despite all the awareness and efforts made by pet owners, digestive issues remain a common problem in dogs. What’s worse is that these issues can arise due to various factors, including diet, stress, infections, or an underlying health condition.
We fully understand how complicated it can get when you’re trying to better understand your dog's digestive health. That’s why we have compiled this list of the 15+ most common digestive issues that can affect dogs. This guide will help you identify these issues and address them effectively to prevent any major health complications.
But before that, let's discuss when you need to seek the help of a veterinarian for your dog's digestive issues.
When to Visit a Veterinary for Digestive Issues in Dogs?
The first thing you should do when your dog has stomach issues is to monitor their symptoms. If it’s a case of mild and occasional problems with no other concerning symptoms, you can firsttry some home remedies like temporarily switching to a bland diet and keeping them hydrated.
However, you should take your dog to a veterinarian immediately when:
- Diarrhea is persistent and lasts for more than a day or two
- There’s a sudden decrease or increase in appetite
- You notice changes in their behavior like increased irritability, excessive whining, restlessness, decrease in energy levels, or aggression
- There’s blood in the stool
- You suspect they have eaten something they shouldn’t have
- You notice an unexplained and significant change in their body weight
Remember that whenever you’re unsure, a vet visit can save you a lot of trouble. They will help you understand your dog’s unique digestive needs and may recommend diet and lifestyle modifications to improve the quality of their life.
15+ Most Common Dog Digestive Issues
Although this isn’t an extensive list, below, we have tried to compile some of the most common dog digestive issues every pet owner should know:
This is undoubtedly the most common issue every pet owner encounters. Diarrhea in dogs can happen due to endless reasons, ranging from minor issues like dietary changes to more significant concerns like eating something they shouldn’t.
If your dog experiences diarrhea once in a while, then you probably don’t have anything to worry about. In such cases, you can try simple home remedies like temporary fasting, a bland diet, and proper hydration. However, if the diarrhea is more frequent or lasts for more than a day or two, then you might want to take the situation more seriously, as it can be a sign of an underlying health issue.
It’s important to consult with a veterinarian in case of persistent diarrhea.
After diarrhea, constipation is a major digestive problem that can affect your dog. It’s a condition that is characterized by difficulty in passing stools, straining while pooping, or infrequent bowel movements.
The biggest cause of constipation includes dehydration, lack of dietary fibers, lack of physical activity, or some kind of blockages in the digestive tract. In some cases, constipation can also be a symptom of a more serious health issue.
That’s why, just like in case of diarrhea, you can first try home remedies like dietary adjustments and increased water intake for mild and occasional constipation. In case of persistent constipation, it's recommended to consult with a veterinarian to diagnose the underlying cause.
Simply put, gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It can be caused by dietary indiscretion (eating food items found in the garbage or foreign objects), bacterial or viral infections, intestinal parasites, or food allergies.
In most cases, gastroenteritis presents two common symptoms - vomiting and diarrhea. It’s also easier to resolve with proper treatment and dietary adjustments. But nonetheless, this situation requires prompt veterinary attention.
4. Intestinal Parasites
Intestinal parasites like roundworms, hookworms, Giardia, tapeworms, and whipworms can cause various health issues in dogs. They can lead to anemia, nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, weight loss, and a variety of gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and vomiting.
This situation can be avoided by routine deworming, practicing good hygiene, promptly removing your dog’s feces, and properly cleaning and disinfecting their drinking bowls regularly. But if you suspect your dog has an intestinal parasite, consult your veterinarian promptly for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
5. Bloat or Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (GDV)
Bloat or GDV is a much more serious condition that most often affects dog breeds with a deep and narrow chest, like Great Danes and Saint Bernards. It happens when a dog’s stomach fills with air and twists on itself, trapping the air, food, and fluid inside. This restricts the blood flow from the hind legs and abdomen, returning back to the heart. It can send a dog into shock and can result in serious organ damage.
Unfortunately, the exact cause of bloat isn’t well understood, but it’s advised to seek immediate veterinary attention if you suspect your dog may be experiencing bloat.
Colitis, also known as large bowel diarrhea, is the inflammation of the colon. It leads to symptoms like frequent and loose stools, straining to defecate, blood in stool, and abdominal discomfort.
Stress is one of the major causes of colitis, but this condition can also be caused due to other reasons, including bacterial infections or parasites. Additionally, the treatment for this digestive problem depends on its specific cause. A veterinarian will be able to determine that cause and guide you on the most effective course of action.
7. Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
EPI is a condition where the pancreas cannot produce enough pancreatic enzymes. This causes difficulty in digesting proteins, fats, and carbohydrates as well as poor nutrient absorption, which then leads to health problems like malnutrition, weight loss, diarrhea, and dry, dull coat.
The primary cause of EPI is the lack of functional pancreatic tissue that produces digestive enzymes. In some cases, genetics play a huge role in the development of this condition, but other factors, like chronic inflammation, injury, or pancreatitis, can also lead to EPI.
It's important to bear in mind that while EPI cannot be completely cured, it can still be managed effectively with the right treatment and diet under the guidance of a veterinarian.
8. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
IBD is caused due to the inflammation of the intestinal lining, and it often leads to various digestive problems. This condition is characterized as a syndrome rather than a disease in itself.
The exact cause of IBD remains unclear, but it’s often believed to be a result of an exaggerated immune response, certain bacterial infections, or exposure to certain toxins or allergens. Depending on the cause, the treatment can include dietary management, medication, and, in severe cases, surgery.
Therefore, it’s important to consult your veterinarian promptly if you notice persistent symptoms of IBD, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or weight loss.
Your dog’s gut consists of various microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. These microorganisms play an important role in various bodily functions like digestion and immune response.
When the balance between these microorganisms is disrupted due to stress, infections, aging, dietary changes, or any other reason, it leads to dysbiosis. This condition can impact your dog’s digestive health and immune system, potentially increasing the risk of many health problems.
At-home remedies to address dysbiosis include dietary modifications and prebiotics and probiotics supplements. However, if symptoms persist or worsen, it's crucial to consult a veterinarian.
Megacolon occurs when a dog's colon becomes distended, and it loses its ability to contract and move feces effectively. This leads to severe constipation, as the feces accumulate in the colon, causing it to become enlarged.
This condition can occur due to genetic abnormality or can be a result of various factors, including dietary issues, dehydration, and certain medications. The treatment for megacolon will generally depend on the cause and severity of the situation. But in worst-case scenarios, dogs might even need surgeries to remove waste from their body.
If you suspect your dog might have a megacolon, consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.
11. Obstruction Caused by Foreign Bodies
Dogs have a natural tendency to smell and chew on unfamiliar objects in their surroundings. It’s quite a natural behavior, but it can become dangerous when they accidentally ingest something that isn’t suitable for consumption. It can be a small toy, socks, or even some spare change that you left on the table.
If a dog has swallowed an object, it can lead to an intestinal blockage or obstruction. In such cases, dogs often exhibit signs like vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, lethargy, loss of appetite, and straining during defecation. This is typically considered a medical emergency and needs immediate veterinary attention.
12. Gastric Ulcers
Gastric ulcers, or stomach ulcers, are painful sores that develop on the lining of your dog’s stomach. They can be caused due to bacterial infections, stress, or increased production of stomach acid.
This is a painful condition that can make your dog experience discomfort and distress. They might also exhibit other symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal pain, and black, tarry stools.
You should to take them to a vet as this condition requires medications, dietary adjustments, and management of any underlying causes.
13. Food Allergies And Sensitivities
Food allergies and sensitivities can cause significant digestive issues in dogs. When they eat something they are allergic or sensitive to, it can trigger gastrointestinal problems like vomiting, diarrhea, excessive gas, and abdominal pain.
In case of a mild allergic reaction, a dog will feel better when you have removed the allergen from their diet. However, in case of a severe allergic reaction, you might need professional help to identify and eliminate the source of your dog’s allergies.
Pancreatitis, as you might already know, is a condition that refers to the inflammation of the pancreas. Your dog’s pancreas is located near the stomach, and it plays a crucial role in digestion as it produces various digestive enzymes and hormones. When inflamed, the pancreas starts to function abnormally by releasing digestive enzymes prematurely, leading to damage and irritation within the pancreas itself.
Some common signs of pancreatitis in dogs include vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea, etc.
Now, the exact cause of pancreatitis is unknown, but it’s believed that in some cases, it can be triggered by a high-fat diet, certain medications, or obesity. The treatment for this health condition varies depending on whether it’s acute or chronic. But in both cases, you should seek medical care for your dog in order to manage their condition.
Intussusception is a serious condition in which a dog’s intestine "telescopes" or slides into another, causing a blockage or obstruction. It’s more common in large and giant breeds of dogs and is often caused by intestinal parasites, bacterial or viral infections, ingesting foreign objects, or abrupt dietary changes.
The signs and symptoms in dogs will depend on the location of the intussusception. But in general, you’ll notice vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, distended abdomen, and blood in the stool.
This condition almost always requires surgical correction.
16. Liver Disease
The liver is a vital organ, and it plays an important role in your dog’s digestive health. It produces bile, which helps in breaking down and absorbing fats and nutrients from the food. But when it's affected by a disease like hepatitis, its ability to produce bile gets disrupted. This results in poor digestion, decreased nutrient absorption, and a range of gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Additionally, the signs, symptoms, and treatment of liver disease will vary based on the specific type of disease that has affected your dog. However, if you notice any persistent digestive issues or changes in your dog’s behavior, it's essential to consult with your veterinarian.
How to Prevent Digestive Issues in Dogs
Occasional digestive issues in dogs are fairly common, but you can take the following steps to protect them from more severe and frequent problems:
- Provide them with an appropriate and well-balanced diet in the right amounts
- Avoid feeding them table scraps as that might contain food ingredients that are toxic for a dog, such as chocolate, onions, and garlic
- Avoid sharing high-fat, sugary, spicy, or processed human foods with your dog
- Monitor their water intake and provide them with clean and fresh water at all times
- Provide regular physical activity to keep them physically fit and prevent various health issues
- Keep household chemicals, plants, and garbage cans away from the reach of your dog
- Create a safe & calm environment for them to grow
- Socialize them with other animals & humans from an early age
- Incorporate positive reinforcement training, such as offering treats and praises
- Schedule regular vet check-ups to monitor your dog's health and prevent digestive issues
Most digestive issues sound scary! And the mere thought of our dog suffering from such a health condition can be distressing. Yet you should understand that even though you cannot fully protect your furry friend from occasional digestive problems, you can ensure that they receive the best possible care to minimize the impact of such issues.
You can take preventive measures, such as providing them with a well-balanced diet, avoiding harmful substances, helping to keep them stress-free, and, most importantly, scheduling regular veterinary check-ups.
Also, note that the above list of digestive issues is not exhaustive, and there are many other less common digestive issues that may affect your dog. Ultimately, you should continuously monitor your dog's behavior and promptly seek veterinary advice if you notice any signs of digestive discomfort.
Let’s answer some frequently asked questions about a dog’s digestive health:
1. How do I know if my dog has digestive problems?
In most cases, dogs with digestive problems exhibit symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, excessive gas, and abdominal pain. You might even notice some behavioral changes like lack of appetite, decrease in energy levels, or lethargy in your dog.
If you observe any of these signs, you should seek veterinary attention for a thorough examination of your dog's digestive health.
2. How to prevent stomach issues in dogs?
You can take various precautionary steps to prevent stomach issues in dogs, such as providing a well-balanced diet, avoiding harmful ingredients, maintaining a regular exercise routine, keeping them stress-free, and practicing good hygiene.
You should also schedule regular veterinary check-ups to monitor your dog's digestive health and overall well-being.
3. What to feed a dog with digestive issues?
The diet of a dog experiencing digestive issues depends on their unique health condition and the severity of the problem.
In case of mild and occasional stomach problems, most veterinarians recommend temporarily switching to a bland diet consisting of boiled chicken, steamed rice, or cooked sweet potatoes. However, when a dog is suffering from a serious digestive issue, your dog will probably need a specialized diet plan that addresses their specific needs.
4. What causes digestive issues in dogs?
There can be various factors that can cause digestion issues in dogs. Some of the most common ones include eating something they shouldn’t, allergies, bacterial or viral infections, intestinal parasites, and stress.
Digestive issues can also have a genetic component, as certain breeds may be more susceptible to certain health problems.
5. What to do if my dog has digestive issues?
When your dog is suffering from digestive issues, you should monitor their symptoms closely. If they have a mild and occasional stomach problem without other concerning symptoms, you can try some home remedies like temporarily switching to a bland diet and keeping them hydrated.
In case the digestive issues persist or you notice other concerning symptoms, it is important to seek veterinary advice.