Colitis in dogs is a form of colon inflammation. It’s often a symptom of an underlying condition, so treatment is geared towards treating that condition rather than the colitis itself.
In many cases, dogs with colitis develop chronic diarrhea. How do you recognize when your dog may have colitis versus a simple upset stomach?
Signs and Symptoms
The most common sign of colitis is very soft to liquid feces. This becomes commonplace, to the point where normal feces are rarely seen anymore. In addition, dogs with colitis often strain and seem to be in pain when trying to defecate. They might try to go to the bathroom much more often than usual, even if their intestines are actually empty and they can’t actually defecate. When they do, they will squat for long periods of time.
Gas and intermittent constipation are also common symptoms of colitis. Some dogs will even pass a small amount of blood, slime or mucus together with their feces.
Causes and Reasons for Colitis
Colitis appears when the bowel becomes severely and chronically inflamed. Anything that causes this inflammation could be behind the appearance of colitis.
- One common cause of colitis in dogs is whipworms. These worms live in the intestine and reproduce rapidly, causing digestive problems that could lead to diarrhea.
- Other parasites, like Giardia and Crystosporidium, can also cause colitis.
- Colitis can also be caused by irritable bowel syndrome or chronic inflammatory bowel disease.
Some of these issues are easily treatable, while others can be managed but rarely completely cured. In those cases, ongoing care, such as changes in diet, might be the best option.
Diagnosis of Colitis
Vets will sometimes diagnose colitis in dogs based on the symptoms alone. However, to confirm the diagnosis and to figure out what’s causing the problem, a colon biopsy or a colonoscopy might be needed.
Because invasive procedures like colonoscopies require the use of general anesthesia, your vet will probably recommend other diagnostic options first. For example, sometimes checking a stool sample (fecal testing) is enough, especially if worms are present. Fecal testing is one of the most effective methods for early detection of worms or other issues that could be causing colitis or might lead to more serious problems later on.
Cytology tests and radiographs sometimes help too. Occasionally, abdominal ultrasounds can show the presence of worms or the inflammation, helping the vet to determine the right form of treatment to use.
The treatment for colitis in dogs depends on the cause of the condition. For example, if worms are behind the problem, taking deworming tablets could solve the problem in just a few days.
In addition to treating the specific cause, your vet might also recommend other things to help speed up recovery and provide relief. The first step is often a change in diet. For example, an intestinal or hypoallergenic diet often provides quick relief. Colitis is sometimes worsened by a food intolerance, so vets can suggest an elimination diet. This means feeding your pet only a hypoallergenic diet (no treats, no add-ons) and see if that solves the issue. If this solves the diarrhea problem, your vet can then offer suggestions on managing your pet’s diet to avoid a recurrence and encourage ongoing wellness.
Your pet might also benefit from taking antimicrobial or anti-inflammatory drugs. Bacterial causes of colitis will be treated with antibiotics as needed.
If your pet is also experiencing constipation, adding fiber to the diet will help stop the straining and the pain and discomfort that comes with it. One thing to keep in mind with regard to switching foods – even if you’re switching to higher-quality, this still may trigger diarrhea in some dogs. One way to prevent this is to make the switch slowly. For example, start by replacing only a small percentage of your pet’s current food with the new food. Then increase the percentage of new food so you can phase out the old food without causing a major stomach upset.
Dogs sometimes benefit from taking probiotics as well. Probiotics such as FortiFlora contain live bacteria that can help heal the intestine and ease inflammation while improving the intestinal flora. Probiotics are safe to use and can be helpful for most animals that have been suffering from sporadic bouts of diarrhea or chronic colitis.
Finally, make sure you deworm your pet on a regular basis. While monthly medications such as Heartgard are originally designed to protect against heartworm, they also offer protection against other types of worms (including roundworms and hookworms) that can cause colitis in dogs.