Dealing with Your Dog's Digestive Dilemmas

Your dog's digestive system is an amazing mechanism that takes in food, grinds it up, and converts it to nutrients that can be absorbed and used by your dog's body. The digestive tract converts food into all the nutritional building blocks your dog needs to grow and develop. Every now and then, however, something goes awry with this complex system. What you can do about them, and how do you know if your dog needs to see a vet?

Bloat

Gastric dilation and torsion (more commonly referred to as bloat) is a serious medical emergency that often ends in death. In this condition, the dog's stomach becomes dilated with gas and twists on itself, blocking off blood flow to the stomach and preventing the stomach from emptying. This results in further buildup of gas and initiates a vicious cycle.

The actual cause of the condition is not known, but large dogs with deep, narrow chests (such as Doberman Pinschers, Irish Wolfhounds, and Borzoi) have a higher incidence of gastric torsion than smaller dogs with barrel-shaped chests (such as Beagles and Dachshunds). Another factor that contributes to bloat is eating rapidly. Dogs who are picky, slow eaters seem to have a lower incidence of bloat than dogs who scarf down their food like there's no tomorrow.

Bloat is one of the most urgent medical emergencies a dog ever faces. A dog suffering from bloat has a distended abdomen and retches, salivates, and has trouble breathing. She may pace back and forth and appear very uncomfortable. If the dog is not given veterinary treatment within a few hours of developing gastric torsion, she most likely will die. Because bloat is such an acute, life-threatening condition, a dog who develops it when alone usually is found dead by her owner, highlighting the importance of immediate veterinary attention.

Dogs who have suffered from bloat should, in the future, be fed multiple, small feedings each day rather than a single large meal.

Vomiting

Dogs vomit occasionally, for several reasons. If a dog feels a little queasy, she can voluntarily vomit to relieve the irritation. In fact, occasionally a dog will eat a huge meal, vomit it up, and eat it again. Veterinarians don't know why dogs do this — but perhaps this is a cure to deal with the problem of their eyes getting bigger than their stomachs.

Sometimes a dog gets an irritable stomach about 10 to 12 hours after her last meal and regurgitates a little greenish bile. You can relieve this stomach irritation by feeding her less food more frequently — twice or three times a day, for example, instead of once a day.

Another common reason for vomiting is the condition that veterinarians affectionately call garbage gut. Most dogs are pretty indiscriminate about what they eat, and they can develop gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) from eating garbage, especially if they consume a few indigestible ingredients such as aluminum foil along with the edibles. A dog with garbage gut often vomits several hours after eating, after the stomach has made a good try at digesting the indigestible. After the dog regurgitates the offending material, she's usually fine.

If your dog vomits two or three times but doesn't seem seriously ill, give her stomach a rest by withholding her food for 12 to 24 hours. But make sure she has access to fresh water to replenish the fluids lost in the vomit. If your dog is gulping down lots of water, give her a few ice cubes every four hours or so to prevent her from drinking too much water and vomiting it up. After a day of fasting, feed her small amounts of a bland diet consisting of boiled chicken, rice, and cottage cheese for a day or two. Then gradually mix in increasing amounts of her regular food over the next two to three days.

If your dog still is vomiting after a 24-hour fast, if the vomit contains blood, or if your dog has other signs of illness such as fever, diarrhea, or depression, make an appointment to see your veterinarian. She may have ingested a toxin or have an infection.

Diarrhea

Just like their people, most dogs get an occasional bout of loose stools. Diarrhea may just be the body's way of clearing the intestine of something disagreeable.

The best thing you can do for a simple case of the runs — other than giving your dog frequent access to the outdoors — is to have your dog fast for a day. Missing a meal or two won't harm your dog, but it will give her gastrointestinal tract a chance to repair itself. Be sure to give her access to water to replace the fluids she's lost in her feces. Follow the fast with a couple days of bland diet, and your diarrheic dog usually will be back to herself in no time.

If your dog continues to have diarrhea after a day of fasting, if there is blood in your dog's stools, or if your dog has other signs of illness such as a fever, take her to your veterinarian. She may need intravenous fluids to replenish fluids lost in the stools and perhaps antibiotics to fight infection. With persistent or severe diarrhea, finding out the cause is important. Several viruses and bacteria passed among dogs can affect intestinal function and cause diarrhea. There are many other causes of diarrhea including impaired pancreatic function, autoimmune diseases, and food allergies. Your veterinarian can perform tests to make a diagnosis so that appropriate treatment can be instituted.

Constipation

A constipated dog spends longer than usual defecating, and the resultant stools are small, round, and hard. You can bet that if your dog is constipated, she's uncomfortable.

One of the main causes of constipation is insufficient water, often coupled with too much time between potty breaks. Always make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water to flush her intestinal tract. If you will be away from home for a long time, arrange for a neighbor or a professional pet sitter to let your dog out to relieve herself.

If you have cut back on your dog's food intake to help her lose weight and regain her svelte figure, you can prevent constipation by adding vegetables to her diet. Many people use green beans or other canned or fresh vegetables as a source of vitamins and fiber for their dieting dogs.

Don't forget that exercise is a great constipation cure. A long walk or a vigorous game of fetch does a great job of kick-starting a sluggish bowel. With a combination of vegetables and exercise, your dog will be as regular as clockwork in no time.

Don't give laxatives to your constipated dog. Over-the-counter laxatives are more likely to do harm than good.

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