Colitis in Dogs – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Picture of a dog in the field

Colitis is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions that people can develop. But humans aren’t the only species that can suffer from colitis — so can our canine friends. 

In today’s article, we’re looking at everything from the causes of colitis in dogs to how it is diagnosed and treated and what you can do to prevent it. 

What is colitis in dogs?

Colitis can be defined as the inflammation of a dog’s colon. The colon is one of the largest parts of the digestive tract in general and of the large intestine in particular. 

It’s not an easy condition, as the colon has to be in good health in order for it to function properly and maintain the fluid and electrolyte balance in a dog’s body. The colon is also in charge of absorbing a part of the nutrients from the food that the pet eats. 

Due to its size, it is one of the sections where a lot of fecal matter is collected before a dog ‘goes to the bathroom.’ For the same reason, there are a lot of microorganisms living inside the colon, and when a dog is healthy, they maintain a healthy intestinal medium. 

Pets with colitis can show severe symptoms for at least two weeks, and during this time, they might also be affected by dehydration. 

Causes of colitis in dogs

There are a huge number of factors that can lead to canine colitis, and they range from infections and stress to trauma, parasites, and food intolerances. Sometimes, colitis can be a complication of other gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome. 

Fungal infections can also be at the root of this health problem in some cases. 

Symptoms 

Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms encountered in canine colitis cases. It is different from other types of diarrhea, though, since its origin is in the large intestine. That’s why the feces are covered in mucus. 

When defecating, most dogs are in pain and they can have cramps throughout the day. Compared to other digestive issues, two clinical signs that aren’t as common are vomiting and weight loss. Flatulence is common. 

Diagnosis

As is the case with any other digestive issues, your veterinarian will recommend a number of tests in order to find out what’s wrong. A complete blood count, as well as blood biochemistry, are necessary first to assess your dog’s health (and to rule out any other causes of the diarrhea). Imaging methods such as an ultrasound or an X-ray (with a barium enema) might be helpful and can rule out the presence of foreign bodies, an occlusion, or an obstruction. 

When every other condition has been ruled out, from cecal inversion and irritable bowel syndrome to colon tumors, the vet will base their decision on a differential diagnosis. 

Can colitis in dogs be treated?

Yes. If an infection has led to this health issue, your vet will use the right antibiotic (after performing an antibiogram), dewormer, or specific medication that works for that particular pathogen. 

More often than not, colitis can be the result of a poor diet, food allergies, and high stress levels. The stressful factors have to be eliminated from the dog’s living environment, his/her diet has to be significantly improved, and an elimination diet might be recommended, too. 

Sometimes, vets use a variety of anti-inflammatory medications in order to speed up the recovery process. Unfortunately, some dogs develop chronic colitis, just like humans do, which means that they can have episodes of diarrhea every once in a while – even if you, as the pet parent, try to be as careful as possible and feed them the right thing. 

Another purpose of the treatment is re-populating the colon with healthy microorganisms. Your vet will probably recommend probiotics for this goal to be achieved. Still, it depends on the specific type of colitis that your canine friend has developed (lymphocytic-plasmatic, neutrophilic, eosinophilic, or granulomatous). 

What dogs does colitis affect?

Colitis seems to affect middle-aged dogs more than young, adult, or geriatric dogs. Young dogs can sometimes develop eosinophilic colitis, but the frequency is generally lower. 

Granulomatous colitis is very breed-specific, and it affects young French Bulldogs and Bulldogs. 

Prognosis

In most cases, the prognosis for acute, but less severe colitis cases in both cats and dogs, is good. But it is poor when relapses occur often. 

In most situations, colitis is a health issue that has to be managed for the remainder of a dog’s life, so you will have to feed your dog a special diet and make sure that he/she doesn’t get into your trash can or eat anything that might trigger a colitis episode. 

Preventing canine colitis

Breed-specific colitis cases are practically impossible to prevent. 

Nevertheless, since this gastrointestinal problem can also be caused by infections with bacteria, parasites, and fungi, you should ask your vet about how you can prevent all of these. 

Deworming your dog regularly can go a long way, and it can also prevent you and your family from getting a parasite from your pet. 

Feed your dog a healthy, well-balanced diet, which contains as little wheat and corn as possible, as both of these are known to create problems. Teach your dog to refrain from eating anything that could be edible, and that might have been dropped on the sidewalk. Get a dog-proof trash can if your pooch seems to be obsessed with your scraps. 

Finally, avoid feeding human food to your dog — besides well-cooked meat that has no spices, salt, or condiments, pretty much nothing of our diet is perfectly safe for our canine friends. 

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