Gut upset is one of the most common health problems that we see in our animal patients. Therefore, we’d love to put canine gastrointestinal problems under the microscope and identify three of the top causes of acute (sudden) gut upset in dogs.

What are the most common symptoms of acute gut upset in dogs?

Most commonly, pets with gastrointestinal issues show symptoms such as vomiting and/or diarrhoea. They may behave normally or become lethargic, continue eating fairly normally, or lose their appetite. Owners may also note symptoms of nausea in their pet, such as dribbling, retching, or lip smacking. 

Pets with more severe unwellness will usually lose weight due to dehydration. After several days of poor eating, they may also lose body condition (fat and muscle). Dehydration greater than 5% will cause symptoms such as dry gums, reduced skin elasticity, sunken eyes, and weakness.

What are three of the most common reasons for acute gut upset in dogs?

In very food-motivated dogs, we tend to suspect something obvious like ‘dietary indiscretion’. This involves the pet picking up and eating something they weren’t meant to – this may be unsuitable foods (e.g. garbage scraps), potentially toxic foods (e.g. chocolate), or non-food items that can cause gut irritation or blockages (such as socks or hair bands). 

However, in pets with gut upset, we will also consider other common issues such as gastrointestinal infections and pancreatitis. Common gastrointestinal infections in pets include parasitic infections like coccidiosis and giardiasis, and in some areas, viral infections like parvovirus. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas (an organ that aids in digestion) and can be triggered by a fatty meal.

How do we treat acute gut upset in dogs?

In milder cases of gut upset, where the pet is still eating and does not seem too uncomfortable, dehydrated, or lethargic, we may not perform any specific diagnostic tests and instead manage them as outpatients with simple, supportive care. This includes ensuring good fluid intake, feeding a bland, easily digestible diet, and administering medications to help settle any vomiting or diarrhoea (such as anti-nausea drugs or probiotics).

In cases where pets are significantly dehydrated, are having severe vomiting or diarrhoea, or are in a lot of pain or lethargic, we will generally recommend options for diagnostic tests and hospital care.

Depending on the pet’s particular symptoms and history, suggested diagnostic tests may include blood tests, poo testing, or imaging of the abdomen (such as x-rays or ultrasound).  Hospital care usually involves intravenous fluids for rehydration, anti-nausea and pain relief medications, and other treatments as required (e.g. antibiotics).

If a foreign body causing a gut blockage is suspected, we may suggest taking the pet to surgery for an “exploratory laparotomy” – this is an operation performed under general anaesthetic where we aim to locate and surgically remove blockages from the stomach or intestines.

Should your pet develop signs of gastrointestinal unwellness, please don’t hesitate to phone our helpful team for further advice. Depending on their symptoms, we may be able to provide guidance on home care or recommend further assessment by one of our tummy-taming vets.

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