Gastrointestinal Issues in Pets

Both dogs and cats can go through some gastrointestinal issues. The hard part is finding what caused it. The first thing to ask yourself and your family is if anything has changed in the pet’s environment? Moving, going out of town, boarding, new cleaners, new carpet or furniture, or a change in food can all cause GI upset. You should also look around the house and outdoors to see if there is anything that may have been ingested that could be toxic, irritating to the intestines, or that could get lodged in their GI tract. Things to look for would be medications, garbage, plants, bones and rawhides, toys (kids and pets), fabrics, and strings.

There are endless things that pets can get into. Just like children, it is a good idea to baby-proof the house before bringing a pet home or before leaving a pet unattended. Stress (especially in cats), external changes, and foreign objects could all be causes of vomiting or diarrhea. Fortunately, the more your veterinarian knows about what your pet could have ingested the less you will have to spend on diagnostics to figure out the cause of the vomiting and diarrhea.

If you don’t think an object or toxic item is to blame, and nothing has changed, then it could be a food that they have eaten. Think of what human food they have had in the past few days and what you’ve eaten. Maybe they got into the trash and ate something you wish they wouldn’t have! Pancreatitis is a common cause of vomiting and diarrhea. If your pet is acting abnormal (vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, fever, painful abdomen) your veterinarian may want to screen them for this issue.

GI Health

A healthy gastrointestinal tract is a critical part of your pet’s overall health and happiness. The most common function of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the digestion of food and the subsequent absorption of nutrients. The GI tract also plays a large role as part of the immune system. The intestines contain thousands of different types of bacteria, referred to as microflora, and many of these bacteria provide support for intestinal health and protect against harmful bacteria. Beneficial bacteria are therefore necessary to maintain the overall well-being of the intestines, and proper digestion is critical to ensure nutrients can be processed and used properly to keep your pet healthy.

A high-quality diet is a key component to keeping your pet’s GI tract healthy, but choosing a “good” diet for your pet can be a very challenging task. As a pet parent, you can be overwhelmed with advertisements, commercials, hundreds of different brands, flavors, ingredients, and kibble sizes. There are also many fads and misinformation about which diets would be considered better for your pet. For example, we often hear negative information about corn in diets, fillers, and food allergies that have promoted a grain-free trend in the pet food industry. Unfortunately, most of what you hear is seldom correct and studies now show some of these diets are linked to serious health issues.

So before you choose what you think is a “good” diet, please consult with one of our clinics to help you make the “best” decision for your pet. Our veterinary team can help you choose a diet for your pet based on activity level, lifestyle, and other factors that will keep them happy and healthy.

Digestive disorders may occur for many reasons. Regardless of the cause, these disorders often result in reduced digestion and absorption of nutrients, dehydration, and malnutrition. GI disturbances are rather common and may resolve on their own within a day or two, however, some pets may have continued or worsening symptoms. Symptoms may include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, lethargy, weight loss, or inadequate weight gain. These symptoms may worsen or wax and wane depending on the underlying cause. Some causes may include predominantly GI-associated issues such as eating inappropriate foods, sudden changes in pet diets, food allergies or dietary intolerances, infections, intestinal parasites, foreign bodies, and toxins. Occasionally GI symptoms may occur secondary to stress or other organ-related issues such as pancreatitis.

What Should I Do?

Given the numerous possible causes of the GI tract symptoms, we always recommend contacting one of our veterinary clinics if any of these symptoms occur. Any pet whose symptoms have occurred for more than 24 hours should be examined by one of our veterinarians as soon as possible for diagnostics and appropriate care. Diagnostics may include fecal testing, blood work, and X-rays. Treatment options depend on the underlying cause but may often include the use of prescription diets, anti-nausea medications, antibiotics and probiotics, and deworming medications.

Parvovirus is also a very common cause of vomiting and diarrhea. Parvovirus usually only affects unvaccinated puppies but can be found in older dogs as well- especially if they weren’t vaccinated. If your puppy is vomiting and has very watery stools you should consult your veterinarian to make sure its vaccinations are up to date.

In addition to taking your pet’s history and doing a physical exam, your veterinarian will likely propose several diagnostic tests. Bloodwork and radiographs are always a good place to start. Bloodwork can help see if there is an infection or determine the severity of their condition. Abnormal values can usually steer your vet in the right direction to the cause and select the best treatment! Radiographs help us see what we can’t feel or visualize and are often the only way to identify a foreign object or obstruction of the GI tract.

When it comes down to it, if your pet has vomiting or diarrhea for more than 24 to 48 hours, you need to have them seen by a veterinarian. Given their fragile nature, GI upset in puppies and kittens should be addressed even sooner. In either case, waiting too long can turn an easily treatable issue into a life-threatening one; requiring more expensive diagnostics and care. In fact, most clients like to bring them in soon to help stop a mess in the household and enjoy it that we can care for them instead of having further accidents in the house. For more information, call us!