Digestive Problems in Dogs

Digestive Problems in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Digestive Problems?

Sometimes the causes of digestive upsets may be as simple as a dog developing intolerances to food or eating garbage, to something more severe, such as bacterial or viral infections and the presence of disease. Many cases of digestive upset often share similar symptoms such as diarrhea or constipation, colic, lethargy and/or an inability to consume meals. Thus, as result, most digestive problems rely on supportive care as a method of treatment.

The digestive tract involves all the organs responsible for digestion, absorption, movement of food, and excretion. These organs include the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, pancreas, liver, colon and anus. Often, when a digestive problem becomes prevalent in a dog, a veterinarian's main goal will be to isolate where the problem has occurred.

Symptoms of Digestive Problems in Dogs

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression 
  • Blood or mucus in stool 
  • Changes in stool consistency and color  
  • Abdominal pain (colic)
  • Abdominal distension and bloat 
  • Inability to eat food
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Anorexia ( for chronic cases)
  • Fever 


  • Diet
  • Bacterial infections
  • Viruses 
  • Disease

Causes of Digestive Problems in Dogs

  • Eating inappropriate foods that are indigestible
  • Changing type of dog food too quickly
  • Consumption of garbage
  • Pancreatitis due to feeding food high in fats
  • Gastroenteritis 
  • Bacterial infections (E.coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella variants)
  • Parasites (hookworms, whipworms and Giardia)
  • Viruses (canine parvovirus, distemper, canine rotavirus)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease 
  • Hemorrhagic gastritis

Diagnosis of Digestive Problems in Dogs

The veterinarian will first conduct a full physical exam on the dog; questions asked may include duration and onset of clinical signs, history of vaccines, travel history and behavior of the animal. If it is suspected that bacterial infections may be involved, blood counts, bacterial culture, fungal culture, blood chemistry panel and urinalysis may be done.

If suspicion of parasitic infections is the case, then a stool sample may be taken in order to determine number of eggs and species of parasites residing in the dog.

For cases that may be viral, tissue samples may be taken and antibodies towards a probable virus are measured through the use of an enzyme assay test known as ELISA. X-rays and ultrasounds may be done to rule out the possibility of intestinal obstructions. An endoscopy may be done in cases where there is a possibility of inflammation.

Treatment of Digestive Problems in Dogs

Once the cause of the digestive problem has been diagnosed, then the veterinarian will create the appropriate treatment plan based on the cause. In general however, digestive problems as a result of viral infections often simply involve supportive care until the virus runs its course. This may often as well be the case for chronic diseases such as colic and pancreatitis.

Supportive treatment for diarrhea and vomiting may often involve the administration (subcutaneous is minor, intravenous if severe) of electrolytes and fluids in order to prevent dehydration. Antiemetics (anti-vomiting) drugs may be given in small dose to reduce nausea and vomiting in dogs.

For mild cases involving improper diet, your veterinarian may simply suggest trying your dog on food for sensitive stomachs. Ideal diets may involve low fat foods with a high amount of insoluble and soluble fibers. 

In severe cases where obstructions may be prevalent, surgical intervention may be necessary. For cases such as bloody diarrhea associated with gastroenteritis, veterinarians may administer antibiotics to halt the possibility of bacterial infections. Antiemetics and plasma transfusions may be given should the dog lose a significant amount of blood plasma. Enemas may include isotonic saline, lactulose or mineral oil. Laxatives may be added to food along with fiber supplementation which includes 1 to 4 tbsp of pumpkin or 1 to 2 tbsp of wheat bran per meal.  

Inflammatory bowel disease first involves the use of medications such as fenbendazole (50 mg/kg/day) and then the use of sulfasalazine to reduce any inflammation of the colon.

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Recovery of Digestive Problems in Dogs

For acute cases, prognosis is often good and recovery may take anywhere from days to weeks. Often, for simple digestive issues, owners may need to just take away their pet’s solid food for 24 hours till the upset stomach clears out. In many cases that involve allergies or intolerances, owners may put their pet on a food trial to see which proteins can be tolerated by their pet.

Dogs diagnosed with intestinal parasites may be put on broad spectrum anthelmintics in order to decrease and kill any parasites residing in the gastrointestinal tract. Supportive therapy such as iron supplements and nutrient dense food may be given in extreme cases where parasites may have caused anorexia and anemia in the dog.

Other cases that are more chronic, such as inflammatory bowel disease, may simply involve supportive care for the pet through the use of anti-inflammatory drugs, omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics as this disease cannot be cured.

In the case of viral or bacterial infections, your veterinarian may suggest that in the future the dog should be vaccinated for common viral/bacterial agents in the area. For example; canine parvovirus may be given once every 3 years after the dog has received its first set of vaccines.

Digestive Problems Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals


Great Dane



20 months


8 found this helpful


8 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Regurgitation, Vomiting, Lethargic
Sudden onset of regurgitation upon eating royal canin great dane. Followed by vomiting to empty stomach. Normal bowels. X-rays showed no obstrution or dilated esophagus. Holds down water and chicken and rice just fine. Will puke with eating a single royal canin piece. Previously had diarrhea issues while on blue buffalo chicken and brown rice. Mix the royal canin great dane with purina sensitive systems lamb and rice. Have not tried feeding only lamb and rice purina. Could this be an allergy, an underlying disease, etc?

July 12, 2020

Answered by Dr. Sara O. DVM

8 Recommendations

Hello, This could be an allergy but could be an underlying condition. I would first try to switch him to a limited ingredient dog food to see if that helps will this issue. You can also have him tested to see what he is allergic to. If this change in food does not help, it would be best for your dog to have a full GI workup. This may include x rays with barium, a GI blood panel, fecal cultures, and abdominal ultrasound. Some vets feel comfortable doing these test and some will refer you to a specialist. I hope your dog starts to quickly improve.

July 12, 2020

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Labrador Retriever




17 Years


2 found this helpful


2 found this helpful

My pet has the following symptoms:
Not Drinking
Struggling Eating
It began with diarrhea, with no blood in urine or stools. We began giving her chicken and rice. It seemed to help for one bowel movement. Then a few days after we began feeding her only chicken and rice we tried to give her half dog food and half chicken and rice to see how it affects her and it gave her diarrhea again (no blood). So we switched back to all chicken and rice. She has been on the chicken and rice diet for a week; beginning yesterday she started having diarrhea again (no blood) after not having a bowel movement for multiple days. Recently she has struggled eating, it almost looks like she is choking on the chicken and rice but she isn't coughing its more like she is trying to chew it and spit it up at the same time. Is she eating it too quickly, or what would cause that? She began this process by drinking a bunch of water and now she won't drink any water at all. She has always had arthritis issues and we have her on Glucosamine for that. She is extremely old but there are times where she still acts like a puppy but other times she is extremely lethargic but that could also be old age. We are going to take her into the vet within the next 2 days but I would like to know ahead of time what to expect and to get a second opinion.

Sept. 20, 2018

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