Many dogs suffer digestive problems. Some related to diet and others with factors unrelated to food: parasites, infections, anxiety, etc. In this post we will review the main problems related to digestion in dogs.

Lots of dogs experience digestive problems. Some are linked to their diet and others to factors that are unrelated to food, such as parasites, infections and anxiety. In this post, we’ll take a look at the main digestive problems affecting dogs.

Digestion in dogs

Digestion is the process through which an animal’s digestive system transforms food, converting it into a substance that can be used by the body. Poor digestion can be a cause or a symptom of a more serious problem. Digestive problems in dogs can have a significant effect on their health, and also on their behaviour.

Stages of digestion

Digestion causes food molecules to break down so that they can be absorbed by the body. In dogs, digestion can be split into three stages:

  1. Mechanical digestion: This involves the chewing of food (you could say that digestion begins in the mouth) and the movement of the bolus – the mush-like substance that is formed – through the gastrointestinal tract.
  2. Chemical digestion: This is the second stage, which takes place once the food has been chewed and prepared for absorption by the dog’s body. It is the digestive enzymes which control chemical digestion, converting large food molecules into smaller ones that can be easily absorbed.

    Dogs have digestive enzymes in their gastric juice, pancreatic juice and intestinal secretions. Unlike in humans, dogs’ saliva does not contain the enzyme alpha-amylase, a digestive enzyme which works during the chewing process.
  3. Excretion: The final stage of digestion is the expulsion of everything that the dog's body doesn’t retain, whether because it is not useful or because there is a digestive problem hindering the absorption of nutrients.

The main digestive problems in dogs

Digestive problems are common in dogs. The cause is often an unsuitable diet, so it’s useful to know how to spot problems in order to change your dog’s diet in time. The main symptoms are the onset of vomiting or diarrhoea, but sudden weight loss, changes in appetite, flatulence, a gurgling stomach and inactivity can also occur.

The most sensible course of action on noticing any of these symptoms is to go to the vet so that they can check your dog over and identify the cause of his discomfort.

Causes of digestive problems in dogs

You will probably spot any changes in your dog’s digestive system because you’ll notice some of the symptoms described above (diarrhoea, vomiting, etc.). However, the most important thing when it comes to treating your dog and ensuring their recovery is understanding the cause of the digestive problem.

The main causes of digestive disorders in dogs are:

Gastritis: This is an irritation or inflammation of the stomach .The main symptoms are vomiting, and abdominal pain, but the condition may also manifest itself in other ways.

Gastritis may be acute or chronic Acute gastritis is almost always caused by the ingestion of a substance that is harmful to the dog (such as poison, or indigestible objects including plastics, fabrics, and rubber toys).

Acute gastritis can also be a symptom of a bacterial or viral infection, diseases of the kidney or liver, or internal parasites in the dog. Chronic gastritis develops from acute gastritis. This means that if acute gastritis lasts for a prolonged period, it becomes chronic gastritis as the gastric mucosa and the bacterial flora of the digestive tract become damaged over time.

It’s important to keep an eye on your dog because, occasionally, dogs can swallow an indigestible object such as a toy, scrap of fabric, or piece of plastic which stays in the stomach without passing through the digestive tract, causing inflammation and irritation and leading to chronic gastritis.

Food intolerance: Another of the main digestive problems in dogs is linked to food intolerances. A food intolerance refers to an inability to digest certain foods or to absorb particular nutrients without triggering an adverse health reaction. Some dogs are intolerant to particular components of the dog food they are being given and it can sometimes be difficult to determine which ingredient is causing the intolerance. In these cases, an elimination diet is recommended, which your vet will suggest if a particular ingredient is suspected.

An intolerance to a particular food usually manifests itself through gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhoea, gastritis, excessive flatulence or vomiting.

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO): Another of the main digestive problems in dogs is what is known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO is a disorder which causes the small intestine (which doesn’t naturally contain large amounts of bacteria) to start accumulating excessive amounts of bacteria, or of the wrong type of bacteria.

An excess of bacteria in the small intestine can lead to poor absorption of nutrients and, as a result, malnutrition and all the problems that come with it. SIBO can cause a variety of gastrointestinal problems, including flatulence, abdominal pain, diarrhoea and weight loss.

Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis can be another cause of digestive problems in dogs. When the pancreas is inflamed, or it fails to produce enough digestive enzymes, a dog might have trouble digesting food properly.

Pancreatitis can be acute, recurrent or chronic, and its symptoms are soft stools or diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, loss of appetite and even dehydration. This illness can have very serious consequences. In the case of chronic pancreatitis, permanently damaged pancreatic tissue means that complete recovery is very unlikely.

Prevention of digestive problems in dogs

The most important thing when it comes to preventing gastrointestinal disorders in dogs is to always make sure you give them a quality dog food, which is tailored to the needs of each individual dog. Equally, it’s just as important to keep a close eye on your dog to make sure that they don’t swallow anything that might damage their health. When it comes to puppies, who are more likely to engage in exploratory behaviour, you need to be extra vigilant.

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