What is Intestinal Malabsorption?
Intestinal malabsorption occurs because of some underlying disorder within the small bowel or the pancreas. While your dog may be eating and even eating well, he is not getting the vital nutrients he needs from the food. This leads to ill-health, weight loss, and other complications. One of the most critical symptoms is chronic diarrhea. If your dog is displaying these signs, you need to take your pet to the nearest veterinarian for treatment.
Intestinal Malabsorption is a deficiency or inability within your dog’s system to absorb nutrients within the digestive tract resulting in malnourishment despite a good appetite.
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Symptoms of Intestinal Malabsorption in Dogs
Depending on the cause, the breed and age of your pet, the variety of symptoms can vary considerably between affected dogs.
- Eating of unusual things such as trash
- Weight loss despite insatiable appetite
- Frequent smelly stools of high volume that look oily
- Noisy stomach with rumbling and gurgling sounds
- Lack of energy
- Poor haircoat that may be shabby and scruffy
- Chronic diarrhea
Causes of Intestinal Malabsorption in Dogs
The main function of the small intestine is for digestion and to absorb nutrients from the food eaten by your dog. Absorption of the food occurs in three phases; intraluminal digestion, mucosal digestion and absorption, and then delivery around the body of the nutrients. The disease can interfere with any part of this function rendering your dog unable to benefit from the food it eats.
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
- Obstruction or blockages (tumors or growths) involving the lymphatic system of the gastrointestinal tract; the result is a loss of protein causing profound low protein levels within your dog’s body
- Idiopathic villous atrophy within the small intestine; villi are invisible to the human eye and are hairlike structures that are the absorption surface of the bowel (sometimes these villi are poorly developed causing malabsorption)
- Inflammatory bowel disease is suspected to have started from a compromised immune system caused by the inflamed or destroyed intestinal mucosa
- Shortened bowel syndrome occurs after a large portion has been removed from the intestinal tract as a result of health issues; the remaining bowel is unable to function normally and malabsorption develops
- Infectious agents such as viral and fungal infections and parasites that proliferate once inside the body
- Bacterial overgrowth in the intestines of the normal intestinal bacteria
- Dietary causes such as wheat sensitivity
Diagnosis of Intestinal Malabsorption in Dogs
Your dog needs veterinary help if it is exhibiting any of the signs listed above. Your veterinarian will need to do tests to determine where the problem area is. As so many conditions and disease all have similar symptoms, it is wise to get the tests done to isolate the cause and allow treatment to begin. If the specialist thinks it may be exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, blood tests for B12 and folate can be done to isolate the problem area. With suspected IBD it is wise to ensure your dog is well dewormed. Dietary measures will then be suggested and monitored. If these measures fail to provide relief, other tests may be advised.
Fecal cultures, ultrasound, endoscopy and biopsies, and full thickness bowel biopsies may need to be done. It is rare that your dog would have all these tests done; often the veterinarian can find the cause from one or two types of testing and the less invasive for your dog, the better.
Treatment of Intestinal Malabsorption in Dogs
It depends on the cause of the problem as to the treatment to administer. If your dog is diagnosed with villous atrophy, he can be prescribed a gluten free diet to ease the condition. Bacterial overgrowth is treated via a broad spectrum oral antibiotic. Tylosin, oxytetracycline, and metronidazole are the common choices for antibiotics; in addition, changes in your pet’s diet will be necessary. Adding to your dog’s diet with live cultured yogurt products and probiotics can greatly assist your pet's condition. Often treatment is for life, focusing on your pets’ diet, regular medication and supplements.
For exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, a pancreatic extract such as lypex or pancrex will be needed. If these are in a capsule form, open the capsule and sprinkle the contents over the food. Meals should be regular and good quality. With EPI, an injection with B12 may be necessary once a week. Because intestinal malabsorption can originate from many and varied causes, treatment is specific to that underlying disorder, and each type of cause requires a different therapy. The most often treatments involve dietary modification, antibiotic therapy, anti-inflammatory treatment, pancreatic enzyme replacement and chemotherapy in advanced cases.
Medication can reduce inflammation of the bowel – steroids and H2 antagonists (Tagamet) can help with that area. While German Shepherds and Chinese Shar-peis are often subject to these conditions, other dogs can be affected as well.
Recovery of Intestinal Malabsorption in Dogs
Once your dog is home from his trip to the veterinary clinic, you will need to continue to administer the medication provided and make modifications to your pet’s diet. Recovery will take some time, but if no improvement is noticeable within two weeks, you need to contact your veterinarian for an update. Always give the medication as advised, and control the diet as a simple lapse could see the condition flaring up again. Easy to absorb meals at regular times are necessary to get your dog through this adjustment. Record the symptoms that your dog is experiencing so that you can report back to the specialist. You should see a reduction in diarrhea and a slight increase in weight after a few weeks, and your dog’s overall condition should improve. If in doubt about anything, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Intestinal Malabsorption Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
I figured this was worth a try since my parents are running out of options and we are left scratching our heads at every turn.
We purchased my parents a Boston Terrier puppy as a Christmas gift since they unfortunately had to put down their 11 year-old BT in October. The breeder was reputable and other family members of ours have dogs from the same home over the years. He weighed about 3.4 lbs when they received him on Christmas and ever since, he’s been losing weight and has been back and forth to the vet many times.
Initially, he was given antibiotic to help with a bacterial overgrowth in his system that was causing lack of appetite and chronic diarrhea. This seemed to help but the puppy doesn’t have much appetite and continues to have diarrhea. They checked for a type of issue with the liver (pardon my lack of specifics) and tests came back fine. Steroids were given, an enzyme for something with the pancreas all to no avail. He is currently at the animal hospital and is being referred to a nearby larger city for another diagnosis. Other than the aforementioned issues, the puppy is very smart, active and has been learning house training very well.
We are all mystified, as is the vet, as to what the issue could be. I’m just curious if there is any other insight you could provide. My main fear is that nothing can be done and there may be something very seriously wrong. While this is a potential, I hope and pray that it is not the case.
Thank you in advance.
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Hello. We have a 4 year old French Bulldog who has been maintaining his weight, but losing muscle or not being able to store fat as his body seems to be decreasing in mass over the past few months. He has been battling DCM and went into heart failure around 9 months ago, but has positively progressed due to a taurine defiency causing the disease and should be cleared soon according to our cardiologist. The main issue is the GI problems that result in Diarrhea, Greasy Stools, and Smelly flatulences over the past few months. We are on probiotics, digestive enzymes, omega 3's and other antioxidant and vitamin supplements. His appetite has increased. His blood tests showed a healthy dog and no signs of EPI. We do not know the next step other than starting on a new diet that features rabbit, lentils and veggies. Thanks for your time
What types of tests are done in this particular case involving the feces or what would it be called when looking to have it done? And what types of doctors should we be looking at contacting to diagnose this problem? Thanks for your help
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I have a female Golden Retriever that's coming up on 13 years of age. She's had some seizures in the past that are under control. Last year she started vomiting, losing energy, and breathing heavily. Took her to the Vet, XRays, Ultrasound, Blood work, and ended at Doggie ER near where I live. They said her esophagus was constricted, and had pneumonia. She spent about a week in hospital. After she got out she can't bark. Lately, she's begun her chuffing again is losing weight despite the fact that her diet hasn't changed. I'm giving her a combination of kibble, soft dog food, boiled white rice and boiled chicken. I suspect she's not absorbing the nutrients in the food. Is there anything I can do to increase absorption? How about Yogur?
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Hello I have 10yr Golden Retriever that over the last year in half he has been consistently losing weight. At his last annual check up (May 17') we ran some blood (wellness Chemistry, CBC, differential, heartworm and T4) the only thing out off parameters was a low phosphorus .77 mmol/L. He has always been well cared for on his heartworm every year taking his revolution consistently walked every day fed a good quality of food but I'm starting to get worried. He has no vomiting no diarrhea he does seems to be overly hungry although he was always a good eater and ate all his food he's fed 5 cups a day broken into two am pm. He never gets table food he gets to cookies at night… But this is what has changed over the last two months his skin has become very greasy and there has been quite a buildup of dandruff which makes me feel he's got some sort of malabsorption problem. I consistently bath him but it keeps coming back. Oh and of course he has the consistent old man lipomas scattered around his body none of them grow at any consistency and he's had them for quite a few years and the vet has looked at them. I'm just not sure where I should go with my next visit do I do an x-ray or is there some sort of other bloodwork I should be looking into. Anything you may suggest would be lovely thank you!!
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