Lack of Absorption of Nutrients in Dogs

Lack of Absorption of Nutrients in Dogs - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

What are Lack of Absorption of Nutrients?

In some situations, certain conditions and disorders may cause a dog not to process their food properly, thereby reducing the amount of nutrients that their body receives. Dogs that are being affected by the lack of nutrients caused by a poorly functioning digestive system may experience weight loss even when eating more food. Inflammatory disorders of the intestines, bacterial overgrowth, and severe diarrhea are all triggers for the development of a disorder that can interfere with the absorption of nutrients.

Dogs that are unable to get the nutrients they need out of their food due to an inadequately functioning digestive system should be evaluated by a veterinary professional.

Symptoms of Lack of Absorption of Nutrients in Dogs

Dogs who are experiencing general malabsorption may exhibit certain symptoms or behaviors that will help with making a preliminary diagnosis. Some of these symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Decreased appetite
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Foul-smelling flatulence
  • Gurgling sound from intestinal tract
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased stool volume
  • Soft or greasy stools
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss 


In some cases, the underlying disorder that is causing the malabsorption of nutrients affects all of the nutrients, such as in cases of severe diarrhea or bacterial overgrowth. In other situations, however, just one specific nutrient is deficient. Some notable deficiencies that can be caused by a lack of absorption include: 

  • Iron - One of the more common causes of iron deficiency in dogs is bleeding in the intestinal tract or bleeding ulcers in the gut  
  • Protein -  Albumen, the most abundant blood plasma protein, is one of the more common proteins to be lost due to lack of absorption; a disorder known as protein-losing enteropathy (PLE) can also contribute to a deficiency of protein 
  • Zinc - Although zinc deficiency is most frequently caused by a dietary deficiency, in some breeds, specifically malamute and husky breeds, the animals have difficulty processing the nutrient even when sufficient quantities for other canines are consumed

Causes of Lack of Absorption of Nutrients in Dogs

  • Bacterial Overgrowth - The overgrowth of bacteria lining the intestinal wall can prevent nutrients from being absorbed into the bloodstream 
  • Breed or Genetic Disposition - Certain breeds may be more likely to have trouble absorbing certain nutrients, such as certain sledding breed dogs and zinc; other breeds may be predisposed to getting disorders (for instance, German Shepherds are prone to bacterial overgrowth and Basenjis, Norwegian lundehunds, and Yorkshire terriers are prone to PLE) 
  • Cancers - Cancers that attack the gastrointestinal system may interfere with its ability to properly absorb the nutrients 
  • Intestinal Inflammation - Any inflammation of the intestinal tract can hinder the absorption of nutrients through the intestinal wall; some of the causes for swollen intestines include infection, internal trauma, and allergic reactions 
  • Shortened Bowel - When a dog has a portion of their bowel removed due to damage or illness, this reduces the efficiency of the system, and some nutrients may not get absorbed 
  • Severe Diarrhea - Severe diarrhea forces the food through the intestinal tract at too rapid a pace for nutrients to move from the gastrointestinal tract to the bloodstream

Diagnosis of Lack of Absorption of Nutrients in Dogs

When you first bring your dog into the veterinarian’s clinic for these types of symptoms, they will probably start the visit by gathering some information from you about the history of the symptoms. This will include information regarding any other symptoms that have been observed, how often and how much is your dog has been eating, and if there have been a change in either diet or medications. A full physical will also be completed at this time, including standard diagnostic tests such as a biochemical profile, a complete blood count (CBC), and a urinalysis. 

These tests will help to rule out several infections and imbalances that may be the cause of nutritional deficiencies. In many cases, a fecal float test may also be done in order to check the condition of the stools and to check and ensure that no blood is present and that there are no parasite eggs to be found from parasites such as tapeworms, which can interfere with getting enough nutrition.

Treatment of Lack of Absorption of Nutrients in Dogs

Lack of absorption of nutrients can be caused by a number of different disorders, so the treatment is equally variable. If your animal is in distress when it is first examined, an IV drip may be set up in order to ensure that the patient has proper hydration and to allow the veterinarian to make temporary adjustments to imbalances in the system. If cancer is to blame, then the cancerous growth will need to be removed, and chemotherapy may be recommended. Dogs typically tolerate chemotherapy better than humans, and only around five percent require hospitalization from the treatment itself.  

If the gastrointestinal system is experiencing swelling, it may be related to a food allergy, particularly if the symptoms of malabsorption are accompanied by swollen or itchy skin. If this is the case, an elimination diet may be utilized to determine which ingredient your dog may be allergic to. An elimination diet restricts the dog's food to either a diet of reduced ingredient commercial food or unseasoned human grade food. Any foods or food groups you’re your pet has not yet been exposed to may be used as a novel ingredient that can be utilized for the elimination diet. Your veterinarian may suggest supplementing the diet with vitamins and minerals as well, particularly in situations where only one type of nutrient is deficient. 

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Recovery of Lack of Absorption of Nutrients in Dogs

If your companion's condition is serious and requires surgery, then ensuring a calm and quiet environment for the patient to return home to will help speed healing, as will having sufficient food and clean water within easy reach. It is also crucial that any medications that are being administered to your animal be continued for the full measure recommended by your veterinarian to avoid any of the diseases or disorders that may cause the malabsorption to  reassert itself. In some cases, supplements will be required throughout the animal’s life, and diagnostic tests may need to be repeated more frequently to ensure that any problems with the kidneys or liver due to a lack of nutrients are caught early for easier management.

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