Kristina Johansen June 01, 2018

 If your cat or dog seems to be a little under the weather one of the top things to consider is their gut health. Like humans, an upset stomach can be common in pets. Canine nutritionist Kristina Johansen tells us more about the signs and causes of digestive disorders.

How common are digestive health issues?

Digestive disorders are fairly common in dogs. Some digestive disorders are long-lasting and serious but most are mild and do not have consequences beyond an upset tummy.

What types of digestive complaints do you see?

Diarrhoea, vomiting, blood or mucus in the faeces, loss of appetite and excessive gas are all common complaints. Other complaints may include abdominal pain, dehydration, lethargy or your dog not responding as normal. Many different factors cause digestive disease. Less serious causes include eating table scraps, a sudden change in diet or a food intolerance. Digestive problems can also be caused by viral, bacterial or parasite infections (such as hookworms) or allergies. Sometimes the primary cause isn’t known.

What are the symptoms of digestive complaints?

The most common symptoms of digestive disorders are soft stools or diarrhoea. If the diarrhoea is accompanied by other signs such as black, tarry stools or stools with fresh blood, frequent vomiting, lethargy, signs of pain or if the diarrhoea lasts for more than 24 hours, it’s time to see your vet.

How can digestive health be improved?

Acute and chronic gastrointestinal (GI) diseases are managed differently. Acute GI disease can usually be managed by fasting your dog for 12 – 24 hours (do NOT withhold water). This gives your dog’s gut time to rest and recover. Once the fasting period has ended, slowly begin to reintroduce your dog to food. To begin with this should be a ‘bland food’ diet consisting of foods that are low in fat and easily digestible such as boiled chicken breast (without skin) and white rice. Following 3 to 4 days of a bland diet, gradually reintroduce your dog to ‘regular’ food, until your dog is back to their ‘normal’ diet.

During this reintroduction you can give your dog a probiotic to help with recovery. Probiotics help to strengthen the digestive tract by adding ‘friendly’ bacteria to the existing, healthy bacteria population in your dog’s gut.

Chronic GI disease often necessitates a permanent dietary change. The need for novel foods, i.e. foods your dog has not been previously exposed to, is part of most chronic GI cases. The most important of these new foods is the protein source. Choose easily digestible lean foods such as skinless turkey, rabbit and low-fat cottage cheese or lean fish or egg whites.

Because fat can delay the digestion of food and exacerbate diarrhoea, gastrointestinal diseases that include loose stools require a lower fat diet. Once intestinal inflammation is controlled, tolerance to fat in the diet may increase.

Most GI problems are responsive to dietary fibre. Depending on your dog’s condition this may involve a low level of dietary fibre or the addition of fibre. The correct amount and type of fibre is extremely variable for each dog. Sometimes trial and error is the only way to determine what will work best for your dog.

Numerous diseases affect the digestive system and each may require different management. Diet changes alone may not be enough but limiting your dog’s diet to foods that are easier to digest can have significant impact and aid recovery.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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