Veterinarians frequently see dogs and cats for severe vomiting and diarrhea. The list of causes for gastrointestinal illness in pets seems endless.
Viral infections like parvo virus in puppies continue to be a problem when dogs are not properly vaccinated. Bacterial infections in pets can be caused by consuming contaminated food, eating something outside or getting into garbage. Parasites such as hookworm can cause diarrhea, although dogs that are on heartworm medication are much less likely to have internal parasites than those not taking a monthly preventative.
Whipworms can cause recurrent diarrhea in dogs. Treatment might be tried even if a stool sample doesn't show whipworm eggs because they can be difficult to find.
Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is a descriptive term for pets that have both vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Sick pets with these symptoms must be treated immediately; the disease can be fatal.
A busy veterinary office can see vomiting and hemorrhagic diarrhea on a daily basis. One of the classic signs of HGEs is an increase in the percentage of red cells in the blood due to dehydration. Dehydration is what puts pets in a medical crisis quickly. We frequently see HGE in small and stressed dogs, although any breed can have symptoms. The true cause of this syndrome is not entirely understood, but recently an infection with the bacteria Clostridium perfringens has been suggested as the cause of bloody stools.
We treat pets with vomiting and bloody stools with intravenous fluids. Vomiting pets are allowed to rest their stomachs before trying to feed them. Additional treatment will vary with the severity of symptoms. Some pets are treated with anti-vomiting medications or ones to coat and soothe the intestine once vomiting is controlled.
Oral or injected antibiotics can be prescribed especially if we think a bacterial infection may be present. Treatment for bloody stools may include antibiotics like Flagyl (metronidazole) and probiotics are helpful to re-establish normal gut bacteria. Gastric acid blockers can also be used.
Special gastrointestinal diets are useful to get the intestine back to normal function, and many pets require such diets long term. Some are high in fiber that helps to control diarrhea.
All dogs and cats should have routine fecal exams, especially if they have frequent or prolonged diarrhea. Additional diagnostic tests might include more sophisticated stool testing looking for evidence of specific viral or bacterial infections. Difficult cases may require endoscopy with biopsies.
Often radiographs are used to rule out foreign body obstructions. Even ultrasound might be necessary to fully evaluate the abdomen, including the thickness of the intestine. Some animals with severe diarrhea suffer from inflammatory bowel disease. Chronic cases of diarrhea might require an abdominal exploratory for biopsies and to look for a tumor.
Pets with vomiting and diarrhea, especially with bloody stools, need to be treated quickly. Those who have severe, frequent or repeated episodes should be taken to a veterinarian immediately to determine the best course of treatment and preventative care.petstories
Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.