GI Upset – Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and/or the intestines, also called the gastrointestinal tract.

What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis? – This condition usually presents as intermittent bouts of diarrhea sometimes accompanied by vomiting.  Other symptoms may be lethargy, low appetite, abdominal sensitivity, and a low-grade fever.

What causes gastroenteritis and how common is it? – Dogs are very susceptible to bouts of gastroenteritis.  It can be caused by:

  • Changes to your dog’s diet and the quantity/frequency of feedings.
  • Recent or chronic illness.
  • Exposure to/ingestion of things such as toxic foods, pesticides, or household cleaners.
  • New medications, vitamins, or supplements given in the last month.

Unfortunately, many times we can’t definitively tell what caused a bout of gastroenteritis.

How is gastroenteritis diagnosed? – We diagnose gastroenteritis by ruling out other causes of these symptoms.  We test the feces to rule out the presence of intestinal parasites.  We take radiographs to check the abdomen for foreign bodies or other abnormalities.  We do bloodwork to look at organ function and other markers of illness.  If these diagnostics do not definitively lead to another diagnosis, your veterinarian will treat for gastroenteritis.

How can I treat gastroenteritis at home? – You can try withholding food for 24 hours and then slowly reintroduce to a “bland diet”.  A bland diet refers to an easily digestible, low-fat food that can be purchased from your veterinarian or homemade.  Feed this bland diet until symptoms have been resolved for at least 2-3 days.  Then slowly transition your dog to their normal kibble over 8 days.

However, if your dog is having frequent diarrhea/vomiting, the risk of severe dehydration increases and it’s time to bring him to the vet.   The vet will administer fluids and medications to help suppress the diarrhea and vomiting.  They may also provide a probiotic to help restore the intestinal microbiome.

Homemade Bland Diet Instructions – Pick 1 protein source and 1 carbohydrate source for each meal.  Serve 1 part protein to 3 parts carbohydrate.  If your dog doesn’t like one, try substituting with another.

Protein Carbohydrate Treats
Chicken breast (boneless/skinless) White rice (cooked) Animal crackers or white bread
Turkey breast Pasta noodles (cooked) Unsweetened applesauce
Scrambled egg whites Baby food (vegetables) 2% plain yogurt
Lean hamburger (boiled/fat drained) Plain oatmeal- OK to add brown sugar Bananas

What is the prognosis for gastroenteritis? – The prognosis for this condition is very good, and it usually resolves after 3-5 days.