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Gastrointestinal and stomach problems in dogs are quite common and they often range from mild and barely noticeable to very serious and even life-threatening. Most dog owners will have to deal with this, and a 2015 study showed that digestive issues are the most prevalent health problem in dogs.

Knowing how to recognize these stomach problems in dogs can help you identify their severity and how to deal with them. Spotting symptoms and signs of dog stomach ache can prevent this from becoming a more serious issue, save you time, money and even your dog's life. Here are the 11 most common stomach problems in dogs and what to do about them.

1. Vomiting

Although vomiting can often be a symptom of a more serious GI issue, it can also be caused by something simple. Most common causes of vomiting in dogs include overeating, eating something that your dog can’t digest properly and fully, sudden diet changes, ingesting inedible things, and medications. Occasionally, dogs may only vomit in a car, which likely means your pet has motion sickness.

How to prevent it:

Preventing and addressing vomiting related stomach problems in dogs is as simple as looking at potential causes. So if you're making changes to your dog’s diet, you must do that gradually (slowly changing food over 1-2 weeks). Keep your dog away from inedible things, keep your trash bin closed firmly and pay attention to what he puts in his mouth when you walk him. Make sure your pet doesn't have access to his food (keep all pet foods in air-sealed containers) and that your pooch isn't stealing table scraps. Do not give your dog any medications without consulting with a veterinarian first.

How to treat it:

Just like with humans, occasional vomiting in dogs is nothing to be concerned about. According to studies, most cases are harmless and will pass quickly. But if this repeats itself, and your pup vomits much too often, it's likely a sign of potentially serious stomach problems in dogs, and there's nothing you can do by yourself. It's time to take your pup to the vet to determine the cause. The vet might prescribe medications and often antibiotics will be used for serious cases.

Otherwise, if your Fido vomits only on occasion but you still see a pattern, try changing his diet (he might be allergic to specific ingredients/foods, or unable to digest something). Try an elimination diet. You can feed your dog some boiled potatoes, rice and skinless chicken only for two weeks. Keep your dog hydrated at all times.

2. Diarrhea

Diarrhea in dogsLike vomiting, occasional bout of diarrhea in dogs is very common and can be caused by many benign things as well as serious health issues. Diarrhea is most often associated with stomach problems in dogs and can be caused by the dog eating something bad and indigestible, eating foreign objects, bacterial infections, allergies, medications and even stress.

Diarrhea can also be a symptom of something much more serious, so when it happens on a regular basis, take your dog to the vet after the first few instances.

How to prevent it:

Similar to cases with vomiting, investigate potential sources and causes. Prevent your dog any access to garbage or spoiled food. Keep him away from feces of other animals. Watch if your pup eats things while on the walk. If you want to make changes to his diet, whether before diarrhea occurs or just after (and if choosing firm stool foods), do it gradually. Try to keep your dog in a stress-free environment. Stay up to date on your dog’s vaccinations to prevent viruses which can lead to diarrhea.

How to treat it:

Hydration is particularly important when a dog has diarrhea. Provide clean water for your pooch and actually encourage him to drink it (sometimes dogs refuse or forget). Chicken or bone broth are good to keep him hydrated and are more enticing for dogs. Feed your dog boiled white chicken meat and rice, or try this homemade recipe. You can also switch to dog foods made for diarrhea which are going to be more gentle on your dog's stomach. Take your dog to the vet if diarrhea lasts more than a day.

3. Constipation

Constipation is the complete opposite of diarrhea – an inability for the dog to pass stools or passing dry and very hard stools. Some of the common reasons for constipation in dogs include lack of fiber in diet, lack of exercise, enlarged prostate glands, medication side effect, dehydration and ingestion of inedible things.

How to prevent it:

Regular exercise is the best way to prevent constipation in dogs. If your pup is moving a lot through the day, his organs will be working at better efficiency to process, digest and release the food from his body. Some owners inadvertently choose dog foods with little fiber, and do not supplement that diet with extra fiber, which is often the cause of these stomach problems in dogs. Ensure your pet's food contains approx. 4% fiber and encourage your dog to drink enough water, especially in summer and after exercise. Using high fiber foods may prevent this but can also be the cause of constipation.

How to treat it:

Similar to humans, stomach problems in dogs that result in constipation can be treated using stool softeners and laxatives are a quick short-term solution for constipation. You can also include digestive aids to help your pet process foods better. Switching your dog to high fiber dog food (which often contain about 10% fiber compared to 2-4% in regular foods) is recommended, as well as encouraging hydration and more exercise. Veterinary treatment may include medication in more serious cases to improve the contractile strength of the dog's large intestine. In some instances, it is necessary to perform an enema (performed only by a veterinarian).

4. Viruses

Parvovirus in dogsViruses like canine distemper or canine rotavirus (intestinal viral infection) can sometimes cause stomach problems in dogs. However, the most dangerous virus that affects dogs and often cause dog stomach ache and other digestive issues is canine parvovirus, and studies show there's a risk of co-infection of rotavirus and parvovirus.

Parvo in dogs most often affects unvaccinated adult dogs and puppies, and results in more health problems than just stomach problems in dogs. Parvovirus is transmitted by direct contact with either other infected dogs or feces. The most common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and lack of appetite in dogs.

How to prevent it:

Vaccination is the most efficient way to prevent canine parvovirus, as well as other viruses that might attack your pooch. However, even vaccination does not guarantee complete protection from the disease. On top of vaccines, maintain good hygiene and regular grooming schedule because parvovirus is resilient and can survive for more than a year on some surfaces. Use a bleach solution with water (1 part bleach, 30 parts water) to clean areas where your dog spends his time.

How to treat it:

Since canine parvovirus spreads quickly, a fast reaction is crucial. By the time you've noticed stomach problems in dogs, the disease has likely progressed already so it's time take your dog to the vet right away. In most cases of CPV, hospitalization will be necessary. The treatment will usually consist of IV fluids and anti-nausea medications, supported by antibiotics to avoid any secondary infections. Also, keep your dog warm and keep him away from other dogs until his infection is resolved.

5. Parasites

Intestinal parasites is a common cause of stomach problems in dogs. These are most often presented in the form of worms like hookworms, whipworms, roundworms and tapeworms. Other than worms, another common parasite that attacks a dog’s GI tract and causes stomach problems in dogs is Giardia, which is a single-celled protozoan. Symptoms can vary depending on the type of parasite that is present, but some of the common symptoms include diarrhea, mucus in stools, vomiting and weight loss.

How to prevent it:

Generally, all dogs must be treated with dewormers. If you live in an area where parasites and worms are especially common, giving your dog preventive medicine is essential. If you do this, give them year-round and be consistent. Newest types of heartworm meds will prevent most other types of worms in dogs – here's what you must know about this.

Additionally, keep your yard clean of any feces and don’t let your dog eat poop when you take him out on the walk or to a dog park. Don’t let your dog drink standing water since many parasites thrive in those conditions. Take your dog’s feces for an exam from time to time since some parasites can go unnoticed and without any symptoms.

How to treat it:

The treatment of stomach problems in dogs associated with internal parasites will depend on the type of parasites or worms your pooch has attracted. For example, roundworms and hookworms can be treated with products containing pyrantel pamoate. In any case, make sure to deworm a dog regularly and take your pup to the vet to get the proper therapy after you notice serious symptoms.

6. Bacterial Infections

Bacterial Infections in DogsDifferent types of bacteria can attack your pooch, with most often seen ones being E.coli, Salmonella, Helicobacter, Campylobacter. They often cause stomach problems in dogs with common symptoms of bacterial infections being diarrhea, vomiting, fever and lethargic behavior.

Bacterial infections in dogs are usually caused by contaminated water, feces, dairy or undercooked meat (raw feeding). Bacterial infections are more common in dogs that spend time in shelters or otherwise spend a lot of time with other animals in the same area. Also, puppies and senior dogs have a higher chance of getting an infection since their immune systems are not as strong as that of adult dogs.

How to prevent it:

Prevention of bacterial infections in dogs is similar to that of viruses – avoid stagnant water sources, don’t let your pooch eat feces and keep him away from trash, watch what he's consuming when on your daily walks and whom he interacts with (unvaccinated stray dogs, for example). Keep your dog's water and food bowls clean, and feed him a well-balanced diet. Be particularly careful with dairy and raw meat. If switching to raw food diet, make sure you understand how to prevent bacterial infections.

How to treat it:

The usual therapy for bacterial infections and associated stomach problems in dogs involves antibiotics and diet change. However, this cannot be done by yourself and you need to take your pup to the vet to get the right treatment plan; it will differ depending on the type of bacteria and your dog's current health condition, age and size.

7. Inflammation of the Large Intestine (Colitis)

Inflammation of the large intestine or colon in dogs (also known as colitis) can be caused by stress, bacterial or parasitic infections mentioned above, injury and trauma, and through ingestion of contaminated foods. The main symptom of stomach problems in dogs associated with colitis is diarrhea, and often bloody diarrhea. Straining to defecate and mucus in stools are also common symptoms, while vomiting occurs in 1/3 of the colitis cases in dogs.

Inflammation of the Large Intestine (Colitis)

How to prevent it:

The best prevention is to keep your dog away from common sources of bacteria and parasites, similar to the tips provided above. Again, prevent your dog from ingesting any foreign objects, contaminated foods, inedible things and so forth. Don’t make sudden changes to your dog’s diet and instead do it gradually.

How to treat it:

Colitis is treated by dealing with the underlying cause. However, there is also a non-specific treatment which includes the dog fasting for a day or two, feeding a hypoallergenic or low residue diet and increasing the amount of dietary fiber in a dog’s diet. If the cause is known, your vet will prescribe the appropriate treatment. You can also try a homemade diet alongside elimination trial – here's a recipe to try.

8. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (and Syndrome)

Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs (IBD) is actually a name for a group of digestive system diseases that all have similar symptoms, causing a mountain of stomach problems in dogs, and lead to inflammation without a specific, known cause.

Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome in dogs (IBS) is a different but related condition, shares some similar symptoms and is often stress-induced, studies show. IBS in dogs is far less serious and more easily treatable than IBD, which is a broad term that displays a lot symptoms, including almost all possible stomach problems in dogs.

IBD in dogs symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss and inflammation of the intestines. This is a hard condition to diagnose since the symptoms are common for many other stomach problems in dogs and don’t have a known cause, but one of the common ways of diagnosing IBD in dogs is a biopsy of the affected organ.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (and Syndrome)

How to prevent it:

Since the causes of IBD in dogs will be unknown, there is no way to prevent the onset of the disease. Your best chance is to use all the above prevention tips for other stomach problems in dogs and hope for the best. IBD is not too common in dogs (IBS is seen more often than IBD), so after you notice any dog stomach ache symptoms, it's more likely to be a condition other than IBD.

How to treat it:

There is no way to cure IBD in dogs, according to research (Malewska, et al. 2001; Batt, et al. 1989), but it is possible to control it through diet changes and medications prescribed by your vet. Use the above mentioned treatment tips for other stomach problems in dogs, and develop a treatment and management plan with your veterinarian. Adjust the diet and discuss stomach aid supplements with your vet.

9. Malabsorption

Malabsorption in dogs is a condition that leads to poor absorption of a specific nutrient or nutrients. This condition results from interference with absorption, digestion or both. Interference with food digestion is usually caused by the lack of certain pancreatic enzymes (Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency), while absorption failure is mostly caused by the small intestinal disease in dogs.

Symptoms of malabsorption include long-term diarrhea, changes in your dog's appetite and consistent weight loss. Sometimes, anemia, dehydration or fluid retention as well as other mentioned stomach problems in dogs can also be present.

How to prevent it:

There is no way to prevent malabsorption in dogs that can be caused by exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or small intestinal disease. However, since this condition can also be caused by viruses and bacterial infection, preventing them using the above mentioned tips may potentially prevent malabsorption as well.

How to treat it:

Treatment involves dealing with the cause directly but only in those cases where the actual cause can be identified; almost all treatment plants will include dietary changes. For example, there's research on how malabsorption in dogs caused by exocrine pancreatic insufficiency usually requires giving your pup enzyme supplements, in addition to dietary changes like feeding your dog a low-fiber diet.

10. Bloat

Bloat in dogsWhile bloat in humans can often be harmless, it can be fatal in dogs. Canine bloat, also known as gastric dilatation and volvulus in dogs, or GDV, is a condition that is not completely understood by scientists and veterinarians yet. However, it's known to be a very serious disease in which the dog's stomach twists and fills with gas and can lead to death in a matter of hours, as seen in many cases.

Larger breeds with deep chests are more susceptible to canine bloat but this condition can affect any breed and will be associated with a number of stomach problems in dogs along with its own unique set of signs. Bloat symptoms include retching without vomit, a hard and swollen belly, drooling and other signs of distress in the dog.

How to prevent it:

Although the causes of Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus in dogs are not that understood yet, there are a few things that veterinarians recommended for preventing the condition, like sticking to low fat foods and feeding your dog smaller meals more often as opposed to one or two large meals throughout the day. It is also recommended to avoid exercising your dog straight after a meal. Maintaining a healthy weight is also advisable since overweight and extremely underweight dogs are more prone to canine bloat.

How to treat it:

Take your dog to the vet as soon as you notice any of the bloat symptoms since time is of the essence when it comes to this condition. Treatment will usually involve the release of the built up gas and giving IV fluids. Once the dog is in a stable condition, a surgery is necessary to remove damaged tissue and prevent further attacks.

11. Gastrointestinal Ulcers

Gastrointestinal or stomach ulcers are lesions or sores that occur on the dog's stomach lining, which serves as protection from gastric acid. Most common symptoms of stomach ulcers are weakness, decreased appetite and pain in the abdomen. Chronic diarrhea and vomiting can also be present, and it can gradually transfer into symptoms related to the above mentioned stomach problems in dogs. There are many causes of GI ulcers in dogs including allergies, viral or bacterial infections, ingesting foreign objects, and stress.

How to prevent it:

Feeding your dog multiple times a day in small meals is a good way to relieve any GI irritation and possibly prevent ulcers. Some foods for GI problems will work better but you must discuss this with a veterinarian. Keep your dog away from stress as much as possible since that can also contribute to gastrointestinal ulcers as well as IBS in dogs.

How to treat it:

Treatment of stomach problems in dogs that are directly related to gastrointestinal ulcers will depend on the severity of this condition. For example, if ulcer has perforated the dog's stomach wall, surgery might be necessary. IV fluids are often administered if signs of dehydration due to vomiting or diarrhea are present.

In less severe cases, antacid medication and dietary changes (low-fat and bland foods) are a common way to fight ulcers, in addition to finding and treating the underlying cause. There are also a few natural remedies you can use like aloe vera, licorice root, alfalfa and slippery elm. You can also switch to well-balanced homemade dog foods and try a recipe like this for sensitive stomach or a recipe for digestive disorders, both of which will be more gentle on the dog's stomach and not agitate the ulcers.

In Summary

Stomach problems in dogs are very common, and almost every pet owner will have to deal with them throughout a pet's life. Most of them are minor and usually not a cause for concern. However, it is often best to take your dog to the vet if you notice symptoms of stomach problems in dogs that last longer, or that are more serious than simply an occasional vomiting or diarrhea (see canine bloat, for example). A quick reaction and a proper diagnosis with a treatment plan from a vet can make a difference when it comes to your dog’s health, and sometimes even save your pet's life.

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