Dog digestive health and the digestive system in dogs
Your dog loves the nutritious food and occasional treats you give them – a great meal time is all part of their fun and active lifestyle! When their food is such a source of excitement for them and a pleasure for you, it can be easy to forget about keeping an eye on their digestive health.
But there’s no need to worry – many of these problems are easily solved through a change in diet.
Keep reading to find out about keeping your dog’s digestive health in order, and common problems to look out for.
General dog digestive health
Your dog’s digestive system is fairly hardy (just think what they’d eat if they were allowed!), but it’s a good idea to monitor their appetite anyway. As well as what you feed them, remember that your family and friends naturally love giving your dog a bit of extra fuss, attention and treats too!
Here are some general tips for feeding your dog:
- Your dog will enjoy a good quality, complete dog food most, as not only will it have the right balance of nutrients, a good level of palatability will ensure they really enjoy it.
- Tempting as it is, adding human food to a nutritionally complete and balanced commercial dog food can cause digestive problems in dogs.
- Your dog probably knows all kinds of tricks to persuade you to give them table scraps! Firmly but kindly ignore ‘begging behaviour’ for additional food.
- When your dog is focused on getting table scraps, give lots of hugs, praise and playtime instead, which you’re both able to enjoy!
- It’s best to feed your dog at regular scheduled times. Use the correct amount of food to maintain your dog’s optimum body condition so they stay in tip-top shape.
To find out more, check out our guide to feeding adult dogs.
General causes of digestive disorders in dogs
In an ideal world our dogs don’t have any problems with their digestive systems, but of course you can’t always prevent illness. Digestive (gastrointestinal) disorders generally impair your dog’s ability to digest and absorb all those great nutrients that keep them healthy. So what are some of the factors that could cause digestive disorders in dogs?
- Abrupt change in diet
- Indiscretionary eating
- Foreign objects
- Infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites
With so many potential causes, diagnosing digestive problems in dogs can often be a difficult challenge even for your vet! To complicate matters further, the disorder could originate in any part of your dog’s digestive system, from the mouth to the stomach, liver, pancreas and intestinal tract. There are, however, things you can look out for to make sure your dog gets the promptest veterinary treatment.
Signs of dog digestive problems to look out for
If your dog’s appetite changes, or they become a fussy eater, it may be normal – dogs can sometimes be unpredictable, after all! However, it could also indicate an underlying medical problem, so if you are worried about their health make sure you seek veterinary advice. If you don’t think the problem is to do with their digestive system, you can read about other general symptoms to look out for instead.
Digestive problems in dogs are wide-ranging and can include symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Excess gas or flatulence
- Straining when passing stools
- Blood or mucus in the stools
If your dog is showing any of these signs it could be an indicator of dog digestive health problems such as gastroenteritis, colitis, stress diarrhoea, or constipation. But what are these illnesses, and what can you do to help your dog?
- Of course it’s impossible to keep an eye on your dog every second of the day, but watch out for what they eat when out and about – they might see something that looks ‘tasty’!
- Keep rubbish and other ingestible materials out of reach of your dog, as their natural curiosity might lead them to have a nibble!
Managing your dog’s gastroenteritis
- First of all, your vet will be the best person to diagnose your dog’s gastroenteritis.
- If your dog has gastroenteritis you will want to treat it right away, but remember that the management of your dog’s digestion condition will depend on its severity.
- If your dog is dehydrated, fluid therapy may be required. If they’re vomiting frequently, your vet may recommend withholding food and/or water for 12 to 24 hours.
- Before making any dietary changes, any dog showing signs of vomiting or diarrhoea should be seen by your vet.
What is colitis?
Colitis, another digestive disorder in dogs, is the inflammation of the colon (also known as the large intestine). Colitis can be ‘acute’ (beginning suddenly and ending quickly) or ‘chronic’ (where it will last longer and keep returning).
Signs of colitis in your dog include seeing blood and/or mucus in their stools, diarrhoea, and frequently passing small amounts of stool. If your dog has chronic colitis, they may lose weight too.
What causes colitis?
Things that could cause colitis in your dog include:
- Bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infections
- Eating non-food items such as grass, plastic or fabric
- Food allergy
How to reduce your dog’s risk of colitis
As far as you can, keep an eye on your dog and what they eat, and keep rubbish and other ingestible materials out of reach. Sometimes they’re a bit too adventurous in their tastes, no matter how bad something might be for them!
Managing your dog’s colitis
Your vet will tell you how your dog’s colitis can be managed; normally this is easily done through diet and medication, such as a dietary supplement. A dietary supplement will provide additional nutritional support, ensuring your dog still gets everything they need to stay on top of the world.
What is stress diarrhoea?
Dogs can suffer from diarrhoea just like we do. Stress diarrhoea in pets is a common response to stress or anxiety – that is, your dog’s diarrhoea might happen because they’re worried about something. Examples of stressful situations that can trigger digestive problems in dogs are wide ranging – and it depends on what your dog finds particularly anxiety-inducing!
What causes stress diarrhoea?
Stressful situation that may trigger stress diarrhoea in dogs include:
- Separation from you
- Changes in your household or their environment
- The introduction of a new pet or family member, even if they are destined to become best friends!
How to reduce your dog’s risk of stress diarrhoea
Your dog will be at less risk of stress diarrhoea if you ease them into changes gradually and make transitions as smooth as possible. Some vets may recommend a pro-biotic supplement, which adds beneficial bacteria to your dog’s intestine to restore balance.
Pro-biotic supplements can also be used if you know a stressful situation is coming up; this way, you may prevent the problem before it starts.
Managing your dog’s diarrhoea
As with prevention, a pro-biotic supplement can be used to calm your dog’s digestive tract and make everything ‘normal’ again.
What is constipation?
Another treatable digestive disorder in your pet is constipation. If your dog is straining to pass stools, or if they are hard or particularly small, this might be the problem.
What causes constipation?
There are many reasons why your dog might become constipated. These include:
- A lack of fibre
- An enlarged prostate
However, constipation can also indicate more serious digestive disorders in dogs such as a growth, a tumour or neurological problems. These wouldn’t be the most common causes of constipation by any means, but your vet will happily check your dog over to make sure.
How to reduce your dog’s risk of constipation
To reduce your canine companion’s risk of constipation, make sure they have enough fibre or ‘roughage’ in their diet. It is also important to make sure your dog is drinking plenty of water and getting enough exercise, which can all help.
If your dog has sudden or persistent constipation, it’s time for a trip to the vet just to be sure that nothing else is wrong.
Managing your dog’s constipation
Fibre, which your dog should get in their food, helps reduce constipation. This is because fibre absorbs water, which makes the food in their intestines bulkier and easier to pass. It also stimulates the movement of the intestinal tract and normalizes the passing of stools.
A good quality, complete dog food is formulated to provide the right nutrition for your dog, including levels of fibre. The fibre often found in complete, manufactured dog foods include beet pulp or the bran of oats, rice and wheat - all of which are tasty for your dog too!
Fibre is good for your dog, but remember that too much can have adverse effects. These include loose stools, flatulence (gas) and increased stool volume.
Effective treatment for your dog
Treatment for dog constipation may be different depending on the cause. Possible treatments include medication, a stool softener, or a high fibre diet – whatever you need to keep your dog’s digestive system healthy so you can enjoy each other’s company without worry!
Depending on the severity of this digestive problem in dogs, treatment can also involve short-term or long-term dietary management or medicine. If additional tests are needed to find out what’s wrong with your dog, your vet may recommend laboratory analyses, x-rays, or endoscopy. (Endoscopy involves inserting a tube with a small video camera into your dog’s digestive tract so the problem is visible.) In some cases, a sample of gut may also need to be taken, or abdominal surgery required – none of these sound particularly pleasant, but in the end they will all help your dog.
General treatment of dog digestive problems
Some problems may simply resolve themselves once your dog’s digestive system is given a chance to rest. However, as more serious conditions could result in weight loss, dehydration and debilitation, you should see your vet with any concerns – they can easily advise you and determine the appropriate treatment for your dog.
In all, with the right treatment, they’ll be back on their paws in no time!