What is Colitis in Dogs?

Colitis is simply a term used to describe an inflamed colon within the affected animal. This can occur both acutely or chronically in dogs. In mammals, the function of the colon is to absorb water, salts and some fat soluble vitamins from the previously digested food passed from the small intestine. The colon itself makes up a part of the large intestine in addition to the other sections known as the cecum and the rectum.

Once the colon becomes swollen, then it has a reduced ability to absorb as much water as is usual. This can result in runny stool in addition to subsequent dehydration. There are many different causes leading to colitis in dogs. Owners should be aware of the disease as it can affect any dog at any age and breed.  Treatment can vary from managing the dog’s diet to the use of medication advised by the vet.

Clinical Signs and Symptoms of Colitis in Dogs

The symptoms of colitis are generally simple to spot. Due to the inability to absorb water to its usual capacity, the stool becomes runny. All of the faeces passed by the affected animal can be watery. Alternatively, some dogs affected with colitis will initially pass firmer stool but then pass out looser stool. The colon is so inflamed that the affected dog may constantly strain as it feels as though it still need s to go.

The condition is very uncomfortable and there is often obvious tenderness around the abdominal region. The faeces passed may be covered in a slimy mucous and have an extremely unpleasant odour. It is not uncommon for specks of blood to sometimes be visible in the stool of a dog affected with colitis. Some dogs may even vomit as a result of having colitis. If left untreated and this continues for a length of time, the dog can become severely dehydrated and even collapse.

Veterinary Diagnosis of Colitis in Dogs

A veterinary diagnosis is needed to ensure that the correct treatment is given so as to not further the severity of the problem. Once the dog has been taken into the vets, the veterinarian will enquire as to the history of the dog, either by asking or by consulting previous recorded notes. This will help to diagnose the disease but also to try and work out the possible cause.

Following this, a physical examination will take place and the signs and symptoms the dog has presented will be taken into account. A rectal palpation is required as well as a faecal evaluation.  Additionally, other tests may be needed to rule out, for example, Giardiasis.

How Do Dogs Get Colitis?

There are various causes of colitis although they are, more often than not, linked to dietary problems. Often a dog will ingest something which results in colitis either due to an irritation, allergy or intolerance. As a result, dogs which gain access to areas where they can feed on a lot of these substances are likely to become affected with colitis. If left to do so, the problem is very likely to persistently keep reoccurring.  Dogs which eat too much grass are also prone to colitis as a result of the large quantity of indigestible fibre they have consumed.

Although sensitive digestive systems in dogs can lead to colitis, there are a number of other possible causes. Dogs that are stressed may also be observed to present the signs and symptoms of colitis. Certain parasites and bacteria are able to cause colitis in dogs, as well as cancer and the abrasion or obstruction from a foreign body within the gut. The parasites which can lead to canine colitis include Giardia, Hookworm, and Whipworm. The causal bacteria may be Salmonella or Campylobacter.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease may be cause of colitis in dogs. This is where the body’s cells invade and thus inflame the intestinal wall. Additionally, certain poisons may lead to colitis-like symptoms. If this is the case, then the dog should immediately be treated as, especially rat poisons, can be potentially life threatening. Without knowing the cause of the condition, it can become difficult to treat.

What Can I Do If My Dog Has Colitis?

If a dog is suspected of colitis then it must be taken to the vet in order to establish its severity or if there is another, more problematic, cause. Once the condition has been diagnosed, it is usually advised to allow the dog’s bowel to rest by starving the affected animal for between one to two days.

The dog may need to be given a hypoallergenic diet. These can be advised by a vet and must have the correct balance of nutrients for the individual. If owners wish to switch foods from this diet then it must be done so very gradually in order to prevent the colitis coming back. For example, the new food should replace the old by approximately ten per cent every day.

Human foods should not be given to the dog, especially fatty or spicy foods. Dogs with allergies may require a trial and error approach where certain foods are eliminated in order to determine the cause of the allergic reaction. Once again, this should be done so slowly so as to allow the digestive system to adapt.

However, if the cause is from ingesting substance when out and about, a muzzle may be required to prevent a reoccurrence of the disease.  A bland diet of boiled chicken and rice can be given for a few days until the diarrhoea has stopped. It must be noted that some dogs can actually be allergic to these foods so care must be maintained to observe whether this is the case for the individual.

In cases where a dietary change is not sufficient enough to help the animal, anti inflammatory medication usually works. Antibiotics are also sometimes a necessity for affected dogs.  Clean and fresh water must always be made available as the dog may need more than is usual. Regular worming is another advisable option.


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