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canine health problems

Your guide to gastroenteritis in dogs

How to spot the symptoms and what you can do to prevent it

Updated September 14, 2021

Created By

Madison Blancaflor,

The essentials 

  • Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract — It’s commonly caused by an infection, but it can also point to more serious issues.
  • Diagnosis typically happens after you rule everything else out first — Make sure to contact your vet if your pup is vomiting, dry heaving after eating or drinking, or experiencing diarrhea.
  • Treatment generally includes rehydration and restoring your pup’s electrolyte balance — But your vet may also prescribe medications such as antibiotics to treat an infection or antidiarrheal or anti-vomiting meds to treat symptoms.

Is your pup vomiting, having lots of diarrhea, or running a low-grade fever? It’s possible that gastroenteritis is to blame.

Gastroenteritis is characterized as inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract — which includes the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine.

Common causes of gastroenteritis 

It’s commonly caused by viruses or a bacterial infection, but it can also be a sign of other conditions and health issues such as:

  • Food allergies
  • Reaction to medications
  • Cancer
  • Poison
  • Pancreatic, liver, or kidney disease
  • Endocrine disease such as diabetes or hypothyroidism
  • Ulcers in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
  • Intestinal obstructions

It’s not considered contagious, so you won’t catch it by being near your pup.

👉 Bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis can spread through feces, so be careful when cleaning up after your pup.

Types of gastroenteritis 

Gastroenteritis is often a blanket term used to describe symptoms, but there are some specific types of gastroenteritis that point to specific types of issues.

Acute gastroenteritis. Acute gastroenteritis typically comes on suddenly and goes away by itself, though in extreme cases, it will continue to worsen until treatment is provided. This type is more common and is generally caused by infection, food allergies, toxins, poisons, or other GI irritants.

Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE). This type happens when there’s blood in your dog’s diarrhea. It may be caused by their diet (especially human foods that are high in fat or seasoning), toxins, or pancreatitis, and the onset is generally quick and severe. It’s also generally more common in smaller dog breeds.

Chronic gastroenteritis. Will develop over weeks, months, or even years — and could be a sign that there’s an underlying long-term health issue to blame.

Eosinophilic gastroenteritis. This is another specific type of inflammatory condition caused by a type of white blood cell called eosinophil. It’s more common in younger dogs but certain breeds are prone to it, too. Parasites are a common cause.

How to spot if your dog has gastroenteritis

Symptoms of gastroenteritis can include any of the following:

  • Vomiting (which may contain foamy, yellowish bile)
  • Anorexia
  • Diarrhea (typically there will be large volumes of diarrhea several times a day)
  • Sensitive abdomen or resistance to being handled around the stomach/hindquarters
  • Low-grade fever
  • Lethargic behavior
  • Dry-heaving or gagging after eating/drinking

You should take your pup to see a veterinarian as soon as you see symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, blood, pain, or lethargy.

👉 This is extra important if you have a puppy, older dog, or a small breed because these dogs are at higher risk of dehydration.

How is gastroenteritis diagnosed? 

This condition is really a diagnosis of exclusion, so your vet will eliminate or rule out other causes or conditions first. And remember that gastroenteritis is often an umbrella term used to describe its symptoms, so it may not be a diagnosis in and of itself.

When you take your dog to the vet for any of the symptoms of gastroenteritis, be prepared for them to do a full workup.

Make sure you have a grasp on your dog’s medical history, and be ready to answer the following questions:

  • What’s your dog’s current diet — including specifics such as what, how much, and how often they eat?
  • Give a full list of everything your dog has consumed in the past 48 hours.
  • Has their diet changed at all, including new foods, treats, and rewards?
  • Has your pup had any recent exposure to pesticides, medications, cleaning supplies, or other new substances at home?
  • Has your dog been exposed to new people, animals, or places — including recent travel?
  • Has your dog been sick in the past month?
  • Does your dog have a history of vomiting and diarrhea? If so, what were the diagnoses and treatments?
  • Does your dog have any chronic illnesses?
  • Have you given your dog any medications, vitamins, or supplements within the past month?

Beyond an extensive history taken, your vet will likely run other diagnostic tests to rule out other issues.

What does diagnostic testing include?

  • Complete blood cell count (CBC). A CBC panel will detect dehydration, infection, and/or anemia.
  • Serum chemistries and electrolytes. This test will tell the vet if there are electrolyte imbalances or any organ system abnormalities.
  • Urinalysis. Urinalysis can detect urinary tract infections (UTIs), kidney disease, diabetes, and more.
  • Abdominal x-rays. Tumors or other obstructions will show up on an x-ray.
  • Abdominal ultrasounds. Similar to an x-ray, an ultrasound can detect obstructions, tumors, and more.

How is gastroenteritis treated?

In most cases, the first step is to treat any dehydration that may have been caused by the gastroenteritis. Your vet will want to keep your pup hydrated and restore their blood electrolyte balance with fluid therapy, which could mean subcutaneous or intravenous (IV) fluids being administered.

Oftentimes, acute gastroenteritis improves rapidly upon rehydration, and pet parents will start to notice a significant difference within 48 hours. Of course, the earlier you catch and treat gastroenteritis, the faster and easier the recovery for your pup.

To treat the symptoms of gastroenteritis, your vet may prescribe medication such as:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antidiarrheals
  • Antiemetics or gastrointestinal protectants to prevent stomach ulcers

Remember, gastroenteritis can also be a symptom of larger health issues, so your dog may need treatment for the gastroenteritis symptoms but also the underlying cause.

Gastroenteritis isn’t generally fatal, though extreme cases can become dire if left untreated.

Preventing gastroenteritis

To help prevent gastroenteritis, keep an eye on your pup’s nutrition and diet.

Feed your dog regular meals — Choose a food that your dog likes and that doesn’t irritate their stomach. If you’re having trouble finding food that sits well with your pup’s stomach, ask your vet for recommendations.

👉 Try not to change your dog’s food or add new ingredients quickly because it can mess with their digestion.

Hide things your dog may chew on Also make sure that your pup stays away from clothes, shoes, and other household items they could chew up, which is a common way for toxins and other dietary irritants to enter their system.

Try a probiotic — Ask your vet if your pup’s stomach could benefit from adding a probiotic to their diet to boost their immune system. We love Native Pet’s organic vet-developed formula which includes ingredients like pumpkin and artichoke.

Add pumpkin to their diet — Pumpkin is known to help soothe upset stomachs in dogs — many treats and supplements contain pumpkin as well. Of course, check with your veterinarian before you add this orange fruit to your dog’s diet.