Just like in humans, colitis in dogs is a broad term describing the side effects of digestive illnesses. The terms colitis and diarrhea are often used interchangeably, however, this is not quite accurate. So, what causes colitis in dogs? How is it treated? And when should you worry? In this article, we’ll share everything you need to know about colitis in dogs.
What is Colitis?
Colitis is simply an inflammation of the colon (otherwise known as the large intestine). Occasionally, it is just that—an inflamed colon. In most cases, however, it is an indicator of some other underlying issue. After all, colitis is a side effect of many digestive illnesses.
To some, colitis is synonymous with diarrhea and the terms are used interchangeably. Thus, you might hear colitis referred to as large-bowel or large intestine diarrhea. And since diarrhea is the most common symptom of colitis, the terms do go hand in hand. But this not strictly accurate since colitis can cause a whole host of other issues. So, what are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Colitis in Dogs
The first indicator of colitis is usually loose, watery stools—not completely formed or semisolid. In a nutshell, dog diarrhea isn’t any different to human diarrhea. You’ll also notice your dog may go the bathroom more frequently and more urgently. They may not have the same self-control as usual but it’s best not to simply blame any incontinence on bad behavior. Although pups can have diarrhea for totally innocuous reasons so it may just be a lack of fiber.
The cues that separate harmless diarrhea from a potentially dangerous condition are important! Is your dog straining to defecate? Is there bright red blood or mucus in their stools? In addition, nausea or vomiting could be an indicator of colitis in dogs. These may be signs of colitis or a more serious condition, so it’s best to consult your dog’s vet to rule out any serious illnesses.
What Type of Colitis Does my Dog Have?
There are three main types of colitis in dogs:
Acute colitis is characterized by sharp pain during defecation and is apparent if your dog is yelping or whining. Fortunately, acute colitis only sticks around for a few days. Quite often, the true cause of acute colitis is never actually treated as the problem passes before the owner realizes there ever was a significant problem.
With chronic colitis, the bowels remain inflamed for several weeks to months. Chronic colitis in dogs is likely to cause frequent irritating pain, however, if your dog is quite tough, they may not show any signs of being in pain. Unlike other forms, chronic colitis is often accompanied by dehydration and long-term weight loss.
As you may have guessed, episodic colitis is more or less a combination of the two previous forms—acute pain punctuated by periods of relative calm.
What Causes Colitis in Dogs?
A common underlying reason for colitis in dogs is an ulcer. Ulcerative colitis is caused by the same factors thing that causes ulcers in humans—the Helicobacter pylori bacterium. Ulcers are often attributed to stress or diet, but there is little evidence to back this up, and ultimately, they are caused by a bacterial infection.
Another microbe may be the cause of your dog’s chronic colitis—the Leishmania family of protozoan parasites. Leishmania parasites are usually transmitted via sand flea bites and the infection can cause severe—even fatal—illness if left untreated.
Other more common parasites also cause colitis including Giardia, roundworm, hookworm, and whipworm, to name a few. And bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella can affect our canine friends too! But don’t forget the regular culprits like your dog eating something they shouldn’t have. Moreover, allergies can cause colitis, as well as abrasive or sharp objects and food passing through the GI tract.
Colitis is one of the common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) however, IBS itself can indicate a more serious problem. If your dog has an insatiable appetite and sucks up everything in their sight, whether edible or not, they may be at a higher risk of colitis. The same goes for outdoor pets since you can’t always monitor what they eat.
How to Prevent Colitis in Dogs
The best way to prevent colitis is to feed your pooch a healthy, varied diet that is free of any potential allergens or food-fillers. Stay away from low-quality stuff and pay attention to what your dog can reach—and consume! It’s best to consult your dog’s vet if you are concerned about colitis. The vet can recommend a tailored diet or certain medications to promote positive gut health.
How to Diagnose Colitis In Dogs
If you’re not a trained vet, it’s best not to attempt any sort of diagnosis or treatment for your pooch. You may be putting your dog’s health at risk and possibly your own! If you notice any of the symptoms described above, it’s best to bring your dog to the vet. If colitis is a probable cause of your dog’s discomfort, the vet will perform some blood tests.
You may also be required to provide stool and urine samples from your dog for testing. In severe cases, a colonoscopy or x-ray may be necessary.
How to Treat Colitis in Dogs
Your dog’s vet will prescribe any necessary drugs, and instruct you on how best to nurse your canine friend back to health. When deciding on a course of treatment, your dog’s vet will generally attempt to address the symptoms, as well as the underlying cause of colitis in dogs.
To treat colitis itself, anti-inflammatory drugs and sometimes painkillers are prescribed— especially in acute cases. Treating the root of the problem may vary depending on your dog’s underlying condition. Anything from surgery to correct perforation of the GI tract to antibacterial medication may be required.
What to Feed Dogs with Colitis
Your dog’s vet will advise you on what to feed your dog while they are recovering from colitis. Usually, when recovering from diarrhea (especially colitis), your dog’s gut will need to be rebooted. After a 24-hour fast, bland food is generally the starting point. Don’t worry! An otherwise healthy dog won’t be bothered by a day without food (although you’ll definitely get an earful). Rice and ground beef are often recommended. As an alternative, your dog’s vet may suggest pumpkin puree and turkey.
If an allergy is suspected, new food sources without any overlapping ingredients may be required. This can be tough if your pup has previously been used to a varied diet.
How Long Does Colitis in Dogs Last?
If your dog’s colitis is caused by anything more serious than a bad meal, colitis will not go away on its own, except in rare cases. Your dog’s underlying illness will need to be treated before the colitis will fade. The adjectives acute and chronic aptly describe the length of time your dog will be in pain—either a couple days or indefinitely! For this reason, it’s important to seek professional medical help immediately and determine the underlying cause.
After being treated symptomatically, colitis often clears up within a few days. If any underlying illnesses are tackled at the same time, colitis in dogs is unlikely to come back.
Is Colitis in Dogs Contagious?
Colitis itself—inflammation of the colon—is not contagious, however, the various causes of colitis may be. Concerned about the possibility of the disease spreading? The root cause of the illness will need to be diagnosed by a vet who has experience with gastrointestinal illnesses.
What Dog Breeds are Susceptible to Colitis?
Any dog prone to gastrointestinal disease is a likely candidate for colitis. Boxers frequently suffer histiocytic ulcers, which may be due to a deficiency in their mucosal immune system, and may naturally get colitis as a result. Collies may also be predisposed to colitis in dogs.
What is the Prognosis of Colitis in Dogs?
Fortunately, colitis is usually nothing more than a short period of tummy pain for a puppy and inflammation of the colon is easily treated. However, since colitis often indicates a more serious underlying illness—some potentially fatal—it should never be ignored. With prompt diagnosis and timely treatment, you can expect your dog to make a full recovery quickly!
Has your dog ever suffered from colitis? Please share your experience in the comments.
References and Further Reading
Sethi AK and Sarna SK. 1991. Colonic motor activity in acute colitis in conscious dogs. Gastroenterology.
Lium R. 1939. Etiology of ulcerative colitis II. Effect of induced muscular spasm on colonic explants in dogs, with comment on relation of muscular spasm to ulcerative colitis. Archives of Internal Medicine.
Simpson KW et al. 2006. Adherent and invasive Escherichia coli is associated with granulomatous colitis in boxer dogs. Infection and Immunity.
Hostutler RA et al. 2004. Antibiotic-responsive histiocytic ulcerative colitis in 9 dogs. Journal of Internal Veterinary Medicine.
German AJ et al. 2000. An immunohistochemical study of histiocytic ulcerative colitis in boxer dogs. Journal of Comparative Pathology.
Thomas JB and Preston N. 1990. Generalised protothecosis in a collie dog. Australian Veterinary Journal.