Enteritis in Dogs

Dog lying on sofa at home, looking ill and sad
Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman / Getty Images

You may be familiar with the term enteritis, but do you know what it is and how it affects your dog? Enteritis can be mild to severe, causing diarrhea, vomiting, and more. Early treatment is the key to keeping your dog healthy.

What Is Enteritis in Dogs?

Enteritis is a term that means inflammation of the small intestine. It often occurs concurrently with gastritis, or inflammation of the stomach. Together, these conditions are called gastroenteritis.

Diarrhea is usually the first sign of enteritis in dogs. Additional gastrointestinal signs may also occur, such as vomiting, abdominal pain, and poor appetite.

Signs of Enteritis in Dogs

Diarrhea

Vomiting

Loss of appetite

Lethargy

Weight loss

Black, tarry stool

Abdominal discomfort

Fever

Causes of Enteritis

There are numerous causes of small intestinal inflammation in dogs. It often occurs after a dog ingests something unhealthy, such as rotten food after getting into the trash. It may also be caused by a new food that simply does not agree with the dog. Some medications cause enteritis as a side effect. Many cases of enteritis are caused by bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections. Enteritis may also be caused by intestinal obstruction. In addition, extreme fear, stress, or anxiety can lead to enteritis in dogs.

Enteritis may be acute or chronic. Acute cases come on suddenly, such as after contracting a parasitic infection or a virus such as parvo. Chronic or untreated enteritis can lead to weight loss, malabsorption, anemia, and malnutrition.

Treatment

If your dog is exhibiting signs of enteritis for more than a day, then it's time to visit the vet. Some cases of enteritis will resolve on their own. However, after a day or two of diarrhea, your dog may be dehydrated and in need of fluid replacement. Left untreated, enteritis can sometimes be fatal in dogs.

Your vet will begin by discussing your dog's history and performing a physical examination. Diagnostic tests may be recommended to determine the cause of enteritis and evaluate your dog's overall condition. Potential testing includes:

  • Fecal analysis to check for parasites, blood, and other abnormalities in the stool
  • Blood chemistry to assess organ/metabolic function
  • Blood electrolytes analysis to look for imbalances
  • CBC (complete blood count) to evaluate blood cell counts and look for blood cell abnormalities
  • Urinalysis to rule out urinary tract infection, kidney problems, and other concerns
  • Radiographs (x-rays) of the abdomen to look for obstruction or other irregularities
  • Abdominal ultrasound to view the abdomen in greater detail
  • Endoscopy to visualize the small intestine with a small camera attached to a mechanical tube that enters through the mouth (performed under anesthesia)

If your vet is able to determine the cause of your dog's enteritis, then a specific treatment will be given for the condition. For example, parasitic infections are treated with dewormers. Bacterial infections require antibiotics. In most cases, some kind of supportive care will be needed. Supportive care typically includes fluid replacement and electrolyte rebalancing. Medications may include anti-diarrheal drugs, antiemetics (to stop vomiting), and antacids as needed.

If your dog is dehydrated, as is common with diarrhea, then fluids may be administered either subcutaneously (under the skin) or intravenously. Subcutaneous fluids can be administered all at once on an outpatient basis. IV fluid treatment requires placement of an IV catheter and hospitalization. The fluids will contain the necessary electrolytes your dog needs to return to health.

Most dogs will recover from enteritis in a few days with proper treatment. However, severe cases may take longer. Sadly, dogs with serious illnesses like parvovirus may not recover. The sooner treatment begins, the better the chances of recovery.

How to Prevent Enteritis

You may be able to prevent enteritis from occurring in your dog by taking certain actions.

  • Be sure your dog is current on all recommended vaccinations in order to prevent parvo and other serious viruses that lead to enteritis.
  • Administer monthly heartworm prevention and flea control treatment. There typically contain dewormers that will prevent intestinal parasitic infections.
  • Keep food and trash out of reach of your dog.
  • Keep your dog on a leash to prevent exposure to harmful substances or contaminated water.

Other circumstances may still occur and lead to enteritis in your dog, but the above steps will reduce your dog's risk.

If your dog does develop enteritis, early treatment is key. Do not ignore signs of enteritis in your dog. Be sure to see a veterinarian if signs last longer than one day.