It’s tough to watch our usually upbeat pooch struck down with sickness - especially when we feel helpless to soothe them. Gastroenteritis can be an unpleasant experience for dogs and should be taken seriously, but when picked up early, they usually make a full recovery. You can also feed your dog a combination of gut-friendly foods and supplements to both ease the symptoms of gastroenteritis and prevent another bout in future.
Read on for an in-depth guide to the causes, symptoms and treatment for gastroenteritis in dogs (and brace yourself for talk of poop).
Gastroenteritis literally means ‘inflammation of the stomach and intestines’. As a dog’s stomach is delicate and very responsive to bacteria and toxins, gastroenteritis in dogs is a relatively common condition (1). It usually causes vomiting, diarrhoea and stomach pains in dogs as well as dry heaving and lethargy - though not necessarily all of those things.
There are different severities of gastroenteritis, so it pays to be vigilant when noticing unusual bowel movements or ‘off’ behaviour in your dog. Though common gastroenteritis is treatable and usually passes quickly, there are other more aggressive forms to look out for - and sometimes, gastroenteritis can be a symptom of something else.
How long gastroenteritis lasts is variable, and highly dependent on what your dog has picked up. If it comes on suddenly and randomly in a one-off bout of sickness, it’s acute gastroenteritis. If your dog has had diarrhoea or been repeatedly unwell for a period of weeks or even months, this could be chronic gastroenteritis - which can indicate an underlying problem or condition.
Beware of blood in your dog’s stools, as this could indicate hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE) - a more severe form of the condition caused by a specific bacteria in your dog’s gut. HGE usually clears up with emergency treatment, but it can be lethal if ignored, and is more commonly seen in smaller dogs (2). Take your dog to the vet immediately if you suspect it.
Gastroenteritis has many forms and is picked up in lots of ways - so you may never find out exactly what caused it.
Though gastroenteritis itself isn’t contagious (as it refers to inflammation of the gut and intestines), when it isn’t brought on by food poisoning or ingestion of toxins, it can be carried in viruses and bacteria - so in those cases, it is contagious. Sickness bugs such as the canine parvovirus (CPV), for example, are carried in dog faeces and can therefore spread quickly to dogs who use the same park or walking paths (3).
If your pup has gastroenteritis, they could display all or one of the following symptoms…
The most common sign of gastroenteritis in dogs is soft stools - often starting with a poop that appears softer than usual, then becomes more watery and mucusy with each bowel movement. Sometimes, your dog may appear well, but has uncharacteristically pooped in the house. These toilet issues could be the only symptom of gastroenteritis that your dog shows.
If your poor pooch is being sick regularly, with or without accompanying diarrhoea, this is a clear indicator to take him to the vets. Without diarrhoea, they could have gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), which still needs to be treated.
Pay attention if your dog’s poop has signs of blood in it, as bloody diarrhoea in dogs could be a symptom of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE). Don’t panic - HGE in dogs is treatable, but is a much rarer and more severe version of the condition, so should be responded to with emergency vet care.
If your pooch whimpers or shows signs of discomfort when you touch them around the stomach and hind legs, they could have tummy pains due to gastroenteritis.
One of the less obvious signs of gastroenteritis in dogs is if your pup is off at meal times, especially if they’re usually hyper at the mere sight of the dog food spoon.
If your dog comes down with any of the above symptoms very suddenly, it’s essential that they see a vet as a matter of urgency. In severe cases gastroenteritis can be fatal, with younger dogs being most at risk.
Gastroenteritis can be tricky to diagnose, as dog vomiting and diarrhoea are both symptoms of a range of illnesses and intolerances. It’s important to take your dog to a vet quickly if they’re being sick or having recurring toilet trouble.
The vet will likely:
Gastroenteritis is usually diagnosed once any more serious causes of your dog’s sickness are excluded.
As the severity of gastroenteritis in dogs varies significantly, treatment can too. Your dog may become well after a few days of rest, or they may be kept at the vet’s on an intravenous drip in isolation so as not to spread the sickness to other dogs. In a more common case, your dog will likely be sent home with a strict diet of specific foods and given medication to settle their stomach.
After diagnosis and treatment begins, it will usually only take a few days of rest for your beloved pooch to make a full recovery. Keep an eye on them during this time and be sure to return to the vet immediately if there is no change or a worsening of their condition.
Though gastroenteritis in dogs is a pesky illness that occurs sporadically and without warning, there are steps you can take, nutrition wise, to both lower the risk of getting gastroenteritis and of managing the symptoms should your dog pick it up.
To protect your dog from nasty stomach bugs, browse Pooch & Mutt’s range of natural, digestion-boosting pet foods. If you have further questions about preventing and treating gastroenteritis in dogs, you can send us an email, or chat to your vet.