Colitis is an inflammation or irritation of the colon or large intestine and, you guessed it: it commonly causes diarrhea in our furry friends.
Colitis can be acute (meaning it comes on suddenly) or chronic (lasting several weeks or longer, or recurring). There are several potential causes of colitis.
- Intestinal parasites such as roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, and Giardia
- A secondary reaction to antibiotics and many other medications
- Dietary intolerance or allergy
- Dietary indiscretion, such as eating grass, garbarge, or people food
- Bacterial infection
- Viral infection
- Foreign body
- Inflammatory and irritable bowel disease (IBD)
- Bowel cancer in older dogs
Dogs with colitis often have fresh, red blood and/or mucus in their stools. They may strain to defecate and go more often than normal. In some cases, your dog may seem constipated and strain without producing any feces. With acute colitis, your dog might show no other signs of being sick except diarrhea or straining to defecate. With chronic colitis, you could notice poor appetite, weight loss, and general lethargy.
Because there are so many potential causes of colitis, be sure to provide your veterinarian with a complete history of your pet, including:
- Travel history
- Exposure to other dogs (such as going to the park or doggy daycare)
- If your pet roams/has free, unsupervised access to your yard
- If you leash your dog when on walks
- If your dog has eaten something she shouldn’t have (like a favorite holiday ornament)
- If your dog has recently gotten into the garbage or was given people food
- If you have recently changed your dog’s food
If your veterinarian suspects colitis, they will want to identify the underlying cause.
In order to do this, they may recommend a combination of the following tests:
- Chemistry tests to evaluate for kidney, liver, and pancreatic dysfunction, as well as sugar levels
- A complete blood count (CBC) to evaluate for inflammation, infection, anemia, and other blood- related conditions
- Electrolyte tests to ensure your dog isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
- X-rays of the abdomen to look for foreign material and/or obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract
- Ultrasound to image your dog’s digestive tract and other major abdominal organs
- Endoscopy to evaluate the intestinal tract
- Specific tests to rule out viral infections, such as Parvovirus
- Pancreas-specific tests to rule out or confirm pancreatitis
- Fecal tests
- Special fecal tests, such as cultures and PCR testing
Depending on the severity of the colitis, your dog may be hospitalized to better control her diarrhea. In less severe cases, your veterinarian may give you medications and instructions on how to care for your four-legged friend at home. It is very important that you follow the treatment instructions from your veterinarian carefully, to reduce the chance of the diarrhea returning.
Some of the best ways to keep your pet healthy are to watch what she eats, keep her free of parasites by giving her monthly preventives, and submitting her fecal samples to your veterinarian. Also, make sure your dog is current on all recommended vaccines. Keeping her away from trash and other unfamiliar (if yummy) items, such as people food, and restricting her contact with potentially sick dogs in public places, like the park and boarding facilities, will also protect her from becoming sick.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.