How to Treat Colitis in Dogs

Chocolate Lab Taking a Treat From His Owner

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Colitis can be a very common cause of diarrhea in dogs. Unfortunately, because it can be caused by so many different things, the term colitis can seem more like a catch-all and less like a diagnosis. How can you know if your dog has colitis and what can you do about it?

What Is Colitis in Dogs?

Colitis literally means inflammation of the colon. It is sometimes referred to as large bowel disease, as the colon can also be referred to as the large bowel or large intestine. The term "large bowel disease," though, can be a bit of a misnomer; a disease is characterized by a specific set of symptoms with a very specific cause.

Symptoms of Colitis in Dogs

Believe it or not, there is a difference between diarrhea originating from the large intestine and diarrhea originating from the small intestine. Diarrhea from the large intestine is characterized by smaller but more frequent bowel movements. A dog with colitis may be in pain or may have tenesmus, which is an increased feeling of urgency to defecate. Tenesmus can manifest as frequent posturing and/or straining to defecate. The stool produced may also have mucous and/or frank blood (bright red blood) in it.

Acute colitis may only manifest as diarrhea, though dogs suffering from chronic colitis may also have a decreased appetite, weight loss, and even lethargy.

What Causes Colitis in Dogs?

As previously mentioned, colitis can sometimes seem like a generic, catch-all diagnosis because the it can cause various conditions. Common causes of colitis can be intestinal parasites (such as giardia and whipworms), bacterial infections (such as E. coli, Clostridium spp., Salmonella spp., or Cryptosporidium), viral infections (such as parvovirus), Irritable Bowel Disease, dietary indiscretion, pancreatitis, stress, foreign bodies within the gastrointestinal tract, secondary to antibiotics, and even bowel cancer.

How is Colitis in Dogs Diagnosed?

A diagnosis as to what is causing a dog's large bowel diarrhea is made based on lab work as well the history of the dog. Recent travel, boarding, new foods or treats, or even getting table scraps or into the kitchen trash can be stressful to your dog's GI tract and can also potentially expose your dog to bacterial pathogens. A CBC, or complete blood count, can let the vet know if a dog suffering from colitis is dehydrated and/or anemic from their diarrhea.

A chemistry profile can give insight into any liver, kidney, or pancreas involvement. It can also highlight any electrolyte imbalances that can come as a result of the diarrhea. Radiographs can help to determine if a foreign body is present. Ultrasound can look at the integrity of the intestinal walls and can also look at other organs vital to digestion, such as the gallbladder and pancreas. There are specific tests to check for the presence of parvo or to check for pancreatitis. Your veterinarian can check your dog's stool sample to see if there are intestinal parasites as well as an overgrowth of bacteria that could be the cause of symptoms

How is Colitis in Dogs Treated?

Specific protocols will depend on what caused the colitis, but for the most part a vet will recommend starting them on a bland diet, such as boiled chicken or boiled turkey and white rice or white potatoes. If you are unable to cook for your dog, there are therapeutic diets that the vet may prescribe. These diets are higher in fiber and low residue (a polite way of saying low stool production).

Your vet may prescribe gastrointestinal protectants and anti-nausea medications pancreatitis. If intestinal parasites are found on a stool check, your vet will prescribe anti-parasitic medications. Antibiotics with concurrent probiotics can treat any bacterial infections or imbalances. If the vet suspects the colitis is because of antibiotics, they may change or discontinue antibiotics.

Anti-inflammatory medications and immune boosters can help soothe colitis caused by IBD. Anti-anxiety medications, such as Trazodone, in conjunction with probiotics, when given during travel, boarding, or other stressful events, can help to prevent stress-induced colitis.

More severe cases may require more aggressive care. This can include hospitalization for IV fluid therapy and IV medications.

Colitis in your dog can be a frustrating, smelly thing to deal with. If you are worried about your dog's risk of colitis or if they have ongoing issues with diarrhea, talk to your veterinarian about treatment and management options.