Updated March 28, 2019
For the past week, I’ve been up to my elbows in vomiting and diarrhea (thanks to the corn cob fiasco) and so I thought now might be the time to write about gastroenteritis.
What exactly is gastroenteritis?
I’m pretty sure that most pet owners have had some dealings with pets suffering from gastroenteritis. Anyone (and there are a lot of us!) who has come home to find piles of vomit and diarrhea littering their carpeting can count themselves among the experienced.
So what exactly is gastroenteritis? Gastroenteritis literally translates as inflammation of the stomach and small intestine. And, since the gut is relatively limited in how it responds to inflammation, the main symptoms are typically vomiting (unhappy stomach) and diarrhea (unhappy intestines).
You might be wondering what can cause this inflammation. Well, this is truly the most difficult question I am asked when faced with a pet showing symptoms. The short answer is – anything that can cause inflammation. The long answer involves lists of differential diagnosis as varied as viral illness, parasites or inflammatory bowel disease.
Narrowing down the list of differential diagnosis to one cause is sometimes easy (we know the dog got into the trash) and sometimes rather difficult (intestinal biopsies to verify inflammatory bowel disease). Mostly, we can rule out a lot of major diagnosis with a few simple tests beyond our history and physical exam.
If your pet is having symptoms consistent with gastroenteritis, your veterinarian may want to check a fecal sample for parasites, run some blood work, and even take some X-rays. And while the costs of these diagnostics can add up quickly (another great reason to protect your pet with pet health insurance) results of these tests will go a long way to rule out many different possibilities for GI inflammation.
The treatment for gastroenteritis, at least the garden variety kind that we see in otherwise healthy dogs, is fairly straight forward. Generally, we like to “rest their gut” for about 24 hours. This means no food for a day. This is followed by a bland digestible diet like rice and boiled hamburger. Often we will prescribe medications to help diminish the symptoms and resolve the inflammation. This treatment works for the vast majority of pets, if it doesn’t, then we may broaden our diagnostic testing, while still trying to control the symptoms.
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