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All About Dog Gastrointestinal Issues — Diarrhea, Vomiting, Constipation and More

From dog diarrhea to dog constipation, here’s how to prevent common dog gastrointestinal issues — and what to do if your pup has one of these problems.

Arden Moore  |  Jul 19th 2017


Like many of you, I’ve dealt with the ABCs of my dog gastrointestinal issues: acute dog diarrhea, bouts of vomiting and chronic constipation. And, as you can relate, my dogs’ gastrointestinal upsets seem to occur at the wrong time (packing for a trip) and in the wrong place (on a brand new living room rug).

Yuck, yes. But when do these episodes require veterinary care or rank as medical emergencies? It depends on how your dog’s “deposits” look and smell as well as their amount and frequency.

GI upsets in dogs run the gamut from the occasional dog diarrhea/constipation to the more serious colitis, often misidentified pancreatitis, the lesser-known exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (sibo) to the downright deadly bloat.

“The gastrointestinal tract ranks as one of your dog’s most important organ systems,” said Ernie Ward, D.V.M., who operates Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, North Carolina, noted author and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. “A healthy GI provides energy, stimulates nutrients for repairs in the body, fights infections and plays a role in longevity. I firmly believe that a healthy gut means a healthy pet.”

Yes, what you put in your dog’s food bowl does matter. And, consult your veterinarian about the benefits of probiotics, supplements and novel or hydrolyzed diets.

A black dog looking sick.

A black dog looking sick to his stomach. Photography by Holly Hildreth Photography.

Here’s a quick rundown of how to combat these headline-making dog gastrointestinal issues:

Dog colitis: Inflammation of the largest intestine, evident by frequent, small volumes of semi-formed to liquid feces. Chief cause: stress (being anxious about being boarded or due to parasitic infections). Antibiotics and fiber supplements often treat this condition.

Dog Diarrhea/Constipation: Adding canned pumpkin to the diet can help an occasional bout, but chronic episodes can signal kidney or liver disease or parasitic infection that requires medicine and veterinary treatment. 

Dog Pancreatitis: Inflammation of this organ occurs due to high levels of fat in the blood. Dogs who eat greasy burgers or devour high-fat leftovers in the trash are most at risk. Untreated, this condition can lead to diabetes.

Dog Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency: This rare condition is due to a lack of certain digestive enzymes needed to properly metabolize proteins, starches and fats. A dog’s stools may look yellow (undigested fat). This is treated with pancreas digestive enzyme supplements.

Dog Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: The overgrowth of “bad” bacteria can cause dogs to experience weight loss and chronic diarrhea and trigger inflammatory bowel disorder. Antibiotics can help knock down the bad bacteria.

Dog Bloat (gastric dilatation volvulus): The dog’s stomach has twisted, blocking blood flow and triggering shock and death if the dog is not immediately taken to the nearest veterinary clinic.

Prevention tip: use a bowl designed to slow down the pace of eating and water gulping, and serve meals in food puzzles. Not all tummy upset incidents merit pronto trips to the nearest veterinary clinic, such as the occasional diarrhea or constipation. And, it turns out that bright-red stools are not nearly as dangerous as are runny stools that pack a powerful stench and look like they contain dark coffee grounds. “The presence of blood in stools can be confusing,” Dr. Ward said. “Bright red is not life threatening [like] horribly smelling black flecks in the stools. The bright red tells me this is coming from the lower, large intestine near the anus. The dog could be straining to defecate and irritated his anus area. But if the dog’s stool smells horribly and has evidence of dark flecks, that is much more serious. It tells me that there is bleeding from the small intestine or a serious ulcer. That dog needs to see a veterinarian right away.”

The next time your dog has a digestive upset episode, heed this parting advice from Keven Gulikers, D.V.M., chief medical officer and internist at the Centers for Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Care in Lewisville, Texas: “It may sound gross, but take pictures of things, and be honest with your veterinarian. If you gave your dog some ‘people’ food or if they possibly chewed on something they shouldn’t have, please let us know. They can’t tell us. You have to be their advocate and help us help them get better.”

A black dog looking sick, like he might have an upset stomach.

A black dog with an upset stomach. Photography by Irina Kozorog/Shutterstock.

Quick info bytes on dog gastrointestinal issues:

You can catch a GI issue in your dog early and, possibly, save on veterinary treatment bills by heeding these three tips:

1. Inspect your dog’s poop — daily. The size, texture, frequency, color and smell of your dog’s poop serve as big clues on how healthy his gastrointestinal tract is. Feces should be brown, formed easily to bag and definitely not reek.

2. Recognize emergency signals. Take your dog to the vet, pronto, if your deep-chested dog is on the ground with a swollen stomach and having dry heaves but unable to vomit. He could be having a bout with bloat.

3. Pick the right pumpkin for occasional mild digestive upset. If your dog has mild diarrhea or constipation, add pumpkin in his bowl. But use real canned pumpkin that provides dietary fiber and not the sugar-filled pumpkin pie variety.

Thumbnail: Photography by Susan Schmitz/Shutterstock. 

Read more about dog stomach issues on Dogster.com:

Arden Moore, The Pet Health and Safety Coach™, is a pet behavior consultant, master certified pet first aid instructor, author and host of the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at fourleggedlife.com.