CHRONIC DIARRHEA IN DOGS AND CATS
Like humans, dogs and cats may suffer from chronic diarrhea at some point in their lives. It is often a sign of a digestive system problem and truly the body’s way of flushing out toxins from the body. If diarrhea lasts longer than a week, then your pet may become dehydrated too fast that could have serious results. Bacterial infection, worms in the stomach, allergic reactions to certain foods, eating contaminated food indigestible materials of any kind can cause diarrhea. Notice how your pet reacts to any new type of food given and if diarrhea occurs, eliminate it from their diet.
Chronic diarrhea in dogs and cats is characterized by uncontrollable liquid squirts that vary depending on the underlying cause. Changes in consistency, frequency and color of feces including mucous or blood-coated stools are signs to watch for as these may be signs of a more serious condition. If the diarrhea ceases to stop, take your pet to your Veterinarian immediately.
You may notice your pet straining during bowel movements and this is usually associated with inflammation of the anus and rectum. Abdominal distention or bloating is also common due to an accumulation of gas, fluid or specific foods that make it difficult for the food to move through the digestive system. Overeating or a foreign object can also cause abdominal distention in your dog or cat.
Be prepared to give your Veterinarian a complete history of your pet if an office visit is needed. They will want to know your pet’s age, current diet, any past health problems and when the signs or symptoms began. A stool sample will be required and your Veterinarian will conduct a visual exam of your pet’s mouth and abdomen looking for any changes in shape or size of the internal organs. Listening to any abdominal sounds with a stethoscope will help your Veterinarian make a proper diagnosis.
Additional tests like an x-ray, ultra sound and blood test may be required to determine the cause of the problem. An internal exam may be done using an endoscope to examine the esophagus, stomach, duodenum, colon and rectum. It may also be necessary to collect fluid from the abdominal cavity if the abdomen area is swollen. In order to detect any lack of absorption of nutrients, a biopsy of the liver is sometimes needed or the intestinal tissues.
Other invaders like foreign organisms can get into the digestive track through your pet’s mouth making them more prone to parasites, bacteria infections and viruses. They can spread through contamination of food or water through direct contact or through feces. There are specific intestinal microorganisms found in the digestive tract known as ‘intestinal flora’ that are actually beneficial as they help prevent infections and aid in digestion.
Infections can occur if these organisms start to multiply when your pet has a weakened immune system or is living under stress or in an unclean environment. It is important to identify the specific organism that is causing the chronic diarrhea. The digestive tract can become infected with parasites and affect your pet significantly depending on their age, nutrition and overall health. Your Veterinarian should be knowledgeable about the seasonal cycles of parasites and be able to look for evidence of their larvae or eggs in your pet’s feces or through a blood test.
Putting your pet on a liquid diet for a period of 24 hours is one of the best methods to gain control over chronic diarrhea in your dog or cat. Feeding your pet a broth made of meat stock, vegetables and rice work well. Make an effort to coax your pet to drink more water whenever possible. Cats are usually allergic to fish, beef and milk products and eliminating these foods can really help eliminate and prevent chronic diarrhea.
It is absolutely essential to replace the water that has been lost in your pet due to the diarrhea. Fluid and electrolytes (salts) need to be replaced immediately. Once the symptoms subside, include fiber, amino acids, polysaccharides and pro-biotic supplements in your pet’s diet. You can purchase these supplements with all of these elements online or ask your Veterinarian. Again, if symptoms persist for more than 2-3 days, please take your pet to your Veterinarian immediately as it may be necessary to include specific drugs that will kill parasites and the bacteria. Not all cases require drugs to treat chronic diarrhea because they do not always give consistent results. In many cases, diarrhea is your pet’s way of eliminating harmful organisms and their toxins.
Understanding the life cycles of parasites make drugs and treatment more successful. Many times, a single treatment is all that is needed unless the damage done by the parasites is too severe. Good hygiene and sanitation are the first line of defense to control digestive diseases and parasites in all breeds of dogs and cats. This can be achieved by providing your dog a regular opportunity to eliminate, your cat a clean litter box if living indoors combined with good nutrition. All of these strategies will help keep your pet happy and healthy.
Reviewed and Approved by Dr. David L. Roberts, DVM
Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer McGinn via Flickr (CC by 2.0)