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canine health problems

Colitis in dogs

Is your pup having runny poop? Here’s essential information on how to diagnose, treat, and manage your dog’s colitis.

Updated July 23, 2021

Created By

Victoria Lancaster,

📷 by Ana Martin

The essentials

  • Colitis is inflammation of the colon — Colitis is the medical term for inflammation of the colon, or large intestine.
  • Diarrhea is the predominant symptom — If your dog is having frequent diarrhea, it’s worth seeing the vet.
  • Dogs are what they eat — Diet is one of the key tools for colitis prevention.
  • By managing colitis effectively, you could save your dog’s life — It’s possible for dogs to live long and healthy lives with colitis if it’s not neglected.

What is colitis?

Is your pup having excessive or frequent diarrhea? While this could point to a variety of health issues, more often than not it’s a sign of colitis. Colitis is inflammation of the colon. The colon, or large intestine, is responsible for the final stages of digestion. It does things like pass stools and stores them temporarily.

The colon absorbs water and makes stools ready for passage. When inflamed, the colon does not absorb water. As a result, it produces diarrhea.

Acute colitis

Acute colitis is when a dog suddenly develops symptoms of colitis. Acute colitis is often stress-related. Stress occurs for some dogs when they travel, board, or visit the groomer. It can also develop when a dog eats something they shouldn’t. Sometimes acute colitis resolves on its own, but it’s important to visit the vet regardless.

Chronic colitis

If your dog’s colitis symptoms repeatedly occur over the course of a month or more, they likely suffer from chronic colitis. Chronic colitis does not resolve on its own and needs vet assistance.

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The common causes of colitis

The causes of colitis can vary. For the most part, the causes of acute and chronic colitis are similar. Stress is one of the primary causes of acute colitis while chronic colitis typically occurs due to ongoing health issues.

Causes of colitis include:

  • A gut infection
  • Stress
  • Ingesting a foreign body
  • Worms or parasites
  • Auto-immune disease
  • Cancer or tumors
  • Food allergy
  • A bacterial/gut infection like salmonella
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or IBD (inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Intestinal injury
  • Occasional weight loss

🚩 A note on Boxers

If you have a Boxer dog, you might notice that they start displaying colitis signs at a young age. This is a specific type of rare colitis called histiocytic ulcerative colitis. It happens more to Boxer dogs than other breeds. It causes ulcers to form in the colon’s lining. This condition surmounts in response to a poor immune response to bacteria like E. coli.

The symptoms of colitis

The symptoms of chronic and acute colitis are the same for the most part. The primary difference in symptoms is the fact that signs of acute colitis arise out of the blue while the symptoms of chronic colitis are ongoing.

The symptoms of colitis include:

  • Frequent, small bouts of runny stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Obvious pain or strain during defecation
  • Traces of red blood in stools
  • A sense of urgency
  • Vomiting (though this is not as common)
  • Mucus or fat in fecal matter (this is more likely in a chronic case)

👉 The stool of a dog suffering from chronic colitis may look like this.

Diagnosing colitis

When diagnosing both acute and chronic colitis the vet will carry out specific tests. After discussing your dog’s clinical signs of colitis, the vet will have a look at your dog’s other medical history.

Then they will likely do one or more of the following tests:

  • Microscopic evaluation/cytology or cultures of the feces (this requires a stool sample)
  • Rectal examination
  • Blood tests
  • Radiographs and x-rays to examine the colon
  • Colonoscopy
  • Barium enema
  • Ultrasound (in specific cases to rule out things like tumors)

Treatment

The specific cause of colitis informs how it’s treated. Therefore, getting your pup to the vet for diagnosis is very important.

When the vet identifies the underlying cause of colitis, they can begin looking at treatment options:

  • Antibiotics such as antimicrobials
  • Deworming (if worms are the cause of the colitis)
  • Probiotics and a bland diet
  • Anti-inflammatory medication (although this can cause further gastrointestinal symptoms in some cases)
  • If your dog is having a severe episode of diarrhea, they may require hospitalization
  • Surgery in very rare cases when there is damage to the colon (the colon does not heal well after surgery)

Treatment also includes things like adjusting your dog’s diet and stress levels. The vet will give you instructions for ongoing colitis treatment at home.

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Managing colitis goes a long way

There are several day-to-day habits that you should adopt when taking care of a dog with colitis.

Dietary tips

In more mild cases of colitis, the vet might prescribe a new temporary diet for your pup. This diet may include temporary fasting, increasing fiber intake, bland foods, or a hypoallergenic diet. Diet is also important for dogs dealing with ongoing or chronic colitis.

In general, dog owners should be aware of some diet do’s and don’ts:

  • Do feed pups high-quality and highly digestible protein
  • Do feed them enough fiber
  • Do reduce potential allergens
  • Don’t feed pups too much fat
  • Don’t feed them too many treats or table scraps

Focus on making sure your dog’s diet supports overall nutrient balance.

🚨 The vet is the best person to consult when it comes to structuring your dog’s diet plan for colitis management.

Stress tips

Stress puts pressure on a dog’s immune system. This makes dogs more prone to colitis and flares of the digestive tract. Managing your dog’s stress is super important when they’re suffering from colitis.

The do’s and don’ts of preventing high stress levels for your pup are as follows:

  • Do keep your dog in a regular daily routine
  • Do pay special attention to puppies that are still getting used to their new home
  • Do keep your dog out of extreme weather
  • Don’t travel too much
  • Don’t board your dog too often
  • Don’t socialize a timid dog around a more aggressive dog

A note on prevention

Sometimes a bout of colitis is inevitable (especially in acute cases). There are a few reliable colitis prevention methods:

Keep an eye on your dog Make sure your dog does not go scavenging.

Watch their diet Feed your pup a healthy diet.

Visit the vet Your vet will provide regular deworming, vaccinations, and other routine tests.

Make sure your pup is happy Keep stress levels low at all times.

Frequently asked questions

Dog owners often have a lot of questions when it comes to their pup and colitis.

What is the primary cause of colitis in dogs?

While there is not one most prevalent cause, stress can be one of the main causes of a dog’s colitis. This comes down to the way the immune system depletes under stress. Anything that causes the immune system to falter may cause a colitis flare-up.

Can my dog live a healthy and long life with colitis?

Yes! Colitis is not a death sentence for your pup. Depending on the cause, it’s both treatable and manageable. It’s still very serious, however, and can cause irreparable damage if ignored.