Colitis is best described as the inflammation of the lower intestines and colon. The result can be any number of visible symptoms, including diarrhea, constipation and, sometimes, vomiting. Dogs that have colitis also experience severe abdominal pain, which may or may not be apparent to pet parents.
Treatment for colitis typically centers around the underlying cause of the inflammation and symptoms themselves. While diarrhea is one of the main symptoms, in and of itself it does not signal colitis. If, however, your dog is experiencing diarrhea (or the occasional constipation) in conjunction with the following signs, alert your veterinarian. According to Pet Education and Mar VistaVet, some other symptoms to look out for include:
- Straining to defecate
- Having to defecate with urgency
- Fresh blood in the stool
- Mucous in the stool
- Gooey stool
- Stool that starts normal and finishes loose
Onset of colitis can be chronic, meaning there is a continued problem, or acute, which means the condition appears suddenly. What are the differences?
Acute, or Sudden Colitis
According to Mar VistaVet, a dog can experience stress-related colitis after such activities like boarding, moving to a new home, digestion issues (like raiding the garbage), severe weather changes or other changes to the dog’s routine.
Parasites, such as giardia and whipworms, are also possible culprits of sudden bouts of colitis. Testing can easily determine whether or not this is the case. Generally speaking, though, when it comes to acute colitis, “a few days of medication and bland diet should resolve the problem and the pet will be back to normal quickly,” reports MarVistaVet. “During recovery it is common to find the pet has no stool at all for a couple of days. This is normal and not a sign of constipation.”
Prolonged bouts of colitis require more extensive care and testing. Your veterinarian will likely start by doing blood work, but may also decide to perform a colonoscopy and biopsy. Here the underlying causes may prove more pivotal when it comes to treating the condition.
Ulcerative colitis is a form of colitis that is “particularly ulcerative and involves infiltration of the tender colon lining with cells called ‘histiocytes,’” writes Mar VistaVet. “These cells are the cells that are normally called into the scene of inflammation relatively late so that they can absorb the dead cells and debris that have been created by the inflammatory event.” This condition, which Boxers appear to be especially vulnerable to, is considered more debilitating than the regular forms of colitis. Currently, it’s believed that dogs with the ulcerative form suffer from an “inappropriate immune response against the common bacteria of the colon.” Generally, dogs with this form of colitis don’t respond as well to the usual remedies.
Causes and Treatments
Several conditions can cause colitis, so your veterinarian will likely ask you a lot of questions to pinpoint the origin. Once that is accomplished, your dog can receive treatment for colitis as well as the underlying cause. As mentioned above, some causes of canine colitis include (according to VetInfo and Mar VistaVet)
- Parasites, such as whipworms, hookworms and giardia can irritate the intestinal tract. Have your veterinarian perform the necessary tests to determine if that’s the cause so the doctor can start a deworming program.
- Dietary or Foreign Body Colitis, such as when dogs eat too much grass, can cause irritation because of the indigestible fiber contained in the stalks and stems. Eating non-food materials can similarly cause acute colitis.
Furthermore, colitis can result from a food intolerance, such as dyes, preservatives, contaminants or even natural proteins in the food, reports Mar VistaVet. Because allergic reactions can also account for colitis, work with your vet to figure out which foods to which your dog is reacting. This will involve eliminating certain foods and/or ingredients from his diet so it may take a while to figure out. Changing your dog’s diet may also help, reports Mar VistaVet. “In general, colitis is felt to be a ‘fiber-responsive’ disease. Fibers are broken down into nutrients for colon cells and also for food for beneficial colon bacteria.”
- Bacteria, such as Salmonella and Compylobacter, can cause dogs to have a bout of colitis.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is when the body’s own protective cells invade and inflame the intestinal walls. The cause of IBD is unknown, but because allergens may be part of the problem, consider eliminating corn, soy and wheat from a dog’s diet. Also avoid giving your dog spicy, fatty or processed human foods.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is often considered stress related, though it may also be neurological. Feed your dog a high-quality diet and make sure he gets enough exercise. And most importantly, address the source of anxiety if it’s known.
- Antibiotics can cause temporary bouts of colitis “because the beneficial bacteria in the gut die along with the infectious agents for which the drug was prescribed. Probiotics or yogurt can restore the flora and resolve this type of colitis.”
- Rat Poison can cause bloody diarrhea. If you suspect that your dog has ingested any type of poison, contact your veterinarian or poison control hotline immediately.
The occasional upset stomach is expected and nothing to worry about. If symptoms persist, however, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with the veterinarian. When the causes of the colitis are known, it’s easier for the doctor to plan a treatment. For general management, however, there a few things you can do to make your dog’s life easier and more bearable. Medications to help control the inflammation, for instance, and can also kill harmful organisms, reports Mar VistaVet.
Finally, keep your dog fit and healthy, as exercise “increases the efficiency of the immune system and helps with muscle development, digestion and overall health,” reports PurelyPets. “A well-conditioned will work and perform better and increase the ability to carry blood and oxygen to muscles.”
Your dog’s exercise routine will depend on his age, health and temperament, so check with your veterinarian to find the right level of exertion for your dog.