When a dog has ongoing symptoms of diarrhea, gas and occasional vomiting, this is often diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). The best description of this is that the lining of the intestinal tract becomes inflamed. This causes the food to shoot through the digestive tract, which in turn, forces the food to pass without being digested well. The diagnosis will occur when symptoms of diarrhea, upset stomach and weight loss have continued for several weeks or months and other causes have been ruled out. Other causes of long-term diarrhea may include the following:
1. Internal parasites, such as whipworm, hook worm, giardia or coccidia
2. Bacteria overgrowth, including helicobacter or SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth)
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3. Addison's disease, an adrenal disorder due to low cortisol
It is recommended you take a stool sample to your vet and have a complete wellness checkup done on your dog. If the cause is not diet related, it could be a variety of things. This could include parasites, bacteria and/or inflammation of the intestinal lining.
Parasites can be a common cause of diarrhea so it is important to rule these out first with your veterinarian. Causes can be roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, coccidia and giardia, to name a few. Once parasites are identified, treatment usually clears up the diarrhea.
Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO)
Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO) is caused by a bacteria overgrowth that is becoming more common in dogs. This problem creates large, gassy stools, weight loss and often appetite loss.
Other causes of diarrhea to rule out include:
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
EPI is a condition where the pancreas does not secrete the proper enzymes to digest foods. This is common in German Shepherd Dogs, but is seen in other breeds as well. Testing is needed to determine and confirm the disorder and prescription enzyme medications are needed for treatment. Like SIBO, EPI has large stools with odor.
Symptoms of EPI include INCREASED appetite, fluffy, very smelly, greasy, gray colored stools, loss of weight, gas, loud stomach noises, etc. The dog's pancreas does not produce enough digestive enzymes to break the food down and therefore no matter how much they eat, they cannot digest their food. Untreated, weight loss happens quickly and can lead to starvation and death.
Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE)
With HGE, there is bloody diarrhea, which is often red and clotted in appearance. Vomiting and lethargy can develop later. A high packed cell volume (PCV) in a blood panel will confirm the diagnosis. Toy breeds are more at risk, but HGE has good recovery outcomes.
When all the above is ruled out, your veterinarian will oftentimes refer you to a specialist who will recommend a series of tests which can include using an endoscope or doing exploratory surgery to obtain a biopsy. These results are to determine which part of the intestinal tract is involved and what degree of inflammation is present. At this point, several medications are recommended. These include steroids, immunosuppressant drugs, antibiotics and flagyl (metronidazole), or other drugs to slow motility (lomotil)
These drugs tend to mask the symptoms and do not address or treat the problem. Steroids will bring back the appetite and help control inflammation, but long term use of prednisone and other steroid drugs have numerous negative side effects that include frequent urination, diarrhea, GI disturbance, ulcers, pancreatitis, renal and liver problems, diabetes, Cushing's Disease, thinning hair, pancreatitis, muscle wasting, bone thinning and changes in behavior.
Immunosuppressant drugs can cause bone marrow loss, anemia and a permanent loss of tears in the eye, causing dry eye.
Metronidazole is an antibiotic, with some anti-inflammatory side effects. However, this drug is processed through the liver and long term effects can cause neurological disorders and it does destroy the natural flora and fauna in the system. Tylan is another antibiotic used that also has anti-inflammatory effects but using antibiotics; long term can destroy the good bacteria in the digestive system and lead to antibiotic resistance.
Diet recommendations often include prescription dry diets of the hydrolyzed protein type, which claims to be more easily digested.
I find it amazing that when a dog's digestive tract is inflamed and the dog is in a weakened condition, the treatment is to offer harsh drugs that reduce the immune system and have a myriad of harsh side effects. On top of that, a poor food source that is heavily processed and high in fiber is included. Besides offering poor nutrition, high fiber diets continue to irritate and keep a dog's digestive tract inflamed. Dogs are carnivores and therefore it is easier to digest animal protein and fats. Food spends more time in a dog's stomach and then speeds through their short and simple digestive tract. Humans, on the other hand, have a longer digestive tract, designed for longer transit time. Dogs labor tremendously trying to digest diets high in fiber. While high fiber will remove moisture in the large intestine and produce firmer stools, the intestinal tract remains inflamed and continues to cause spasms and creates poor digestion.
Rather than using immunosuppressant drugs and high power antibiotics that strip the digestive tract of good flora and fauna bacteria and cause further damage the digestive tract, ideally, a diet change would be the first treatment of choice! This diet would never be a dry food diet such as kibble, which is more irritating to a dog's digestive tract. Instead, this diet would be a moist diet, high in good quality animal proteins and fats. A small amount of carbohydrates would be useful in a cooked diet for a fiber source. In a raw diet, the bones act as the fiber, which keeps stools firm.
Keeping stools consistently firm isn't the main part of the'healing' process, but it makes the human owners more secure when they see their dog's stool look more like their own. Canines in the wild often have loose stools. This is not a sign of being unhealthy or having an illness as long as they are digesting and utilizing the food consumed. Diarrhea now and then is not a big problem; it is projectile or liquid diarrhea for more than a day than cause dehydration. The idea is to reduce the inflammation in the intestinal tract, which puts the digestive tract back into good health and allows for the proper nutrition of food. My best advice is to look at the overall health of your dog. What is the condition of the skin and coat? Are they at a healthy weight? Are their stools consistent? Pay less attention to the stool and pay more attention to their coat, skin and weight for signs of recovery and good health.
If you prefer a cooked diet, I recommend the low fat, low glycemic diet. This diet is 75% animal protein and 25% low glycemic (low sugar) carbohydrates. I would use a variety of proteins, such as beef, chicken, turkey and pork. Remove the chicken skin and trim extra fat from the other meat choices. You may also use low or nonfat yogurt and cottage cheese and egg whites, as they are also low fat. Low glycemic vegetables include broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, green beans and dark leafy greens. For more recipes, see my newsletter on Low-Glycemic Diets . You can also get more detailed information in my book, "Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs."
In raw diets, I suggest using a menu of half raw meaty bones and half muscle and organ meat. For raw meaty bones, I suggest skinless chicken necks, turkey necks and pork neck bones. For the muscle/organ mix, I would use low fat hamburger, white meat chicken (no skin), nonfat yogurt or cottage cheese and wild game (venison, elk) which is naturally lean. More fat can be introduced to the diet later, but while the digestive tract is healing, higher fat diets should be avoided.
For both home cooked or raw diets, it may be best to start with three or four smaller meals per day for the first few weeks. Additionally, adding the supplements below will help during the transition of the diet and help heal the digestive tract.
I recommend three main supplements for dogs with IBD and gastric problems. These include:
L-Glutamine is an amino acid that is helpful in healing the lining of the digestive tract. This supplement helps maintain muscle mass and helps healing after surgery or an injury. The recommend dose is 500 mg per 20 lbs of body weight daily.
Berte’s Ultra Probiotics are a blend of beneficial bacteria, which are typically found in the digestive tract. These probiotics contain the good bacteria the digestive tract needs for proper digestion. During times of stress or illness, this natural bacterium can be depleted. Adding these probiotics to the diet, twice daily with meals, is helpful in restoring the flora and fauna needed for proper digestion and maintaining a strong immune system.
Animal-based enzymes include pancreatin and pancrealipase. They help predigest fats in the stomach so that when food is released into the small intestine, less strain is put on the liver and pancreas. The fat is better digested for easier passage through the small intestine. This leads to better formed stools.
This supplement offers all three of the above suggested supplements (L-Glutamine, Probiotics and Animal Enzymes), as well as GAGs to help heal the gut, and ginger to help prevent nausea.
Yucca is a natural steroidal herb that helps control inflammation. It MUST be given with food and at no more than 1 drop per ten pounds of body weight.
Dimethylglycine is an amino acid recommended to help support proper immune response and glucose metabolism. For dogs with allergy problems, this supplement has been found to be beneficial in helping the immune system. This supplement also helps support skin and heart health, as well as proper nerve and brain functions.
Fall is on its way! We are wishing for cooler weather everywhere, some rain for Texas and dry weather for the Eastern Coast.
Hugo and Chloe Puppies taking a snooze!
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