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Colitis in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations.

Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests are needed to identify colitis and exclude other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. Tests may include:

  • A complete medical history and thorough physical examination (including a digital rectal examination and thorough abdominal palpation) are the first steps in establishing an accurate diagnosis.

  • Several fecal studies designed to evaluate for the presence of parasite worm eggs and protozoa (fecal flotation, direct fecal smear, and zinc sulfate tests for Giardia and Balantidium) should be performed in all dogs with suspected colitis. Parasitism is one of the most common causes and contributing factors in dogs with colitis.

  • A complete blood count (hemogram or CBC) may identify a high white blood cell count in infectious and inflammatory disorders and may disclose anemia due to chronic blood loss in the stool in some forms of colitis.

  • Serum biochemistry tests usually are normal in dogs with colitis, but such tests help identify abnormalities of other body systems (pancreas, liver) that may cause similar symptoms. These tests also help determine the general health of your dog.

  • Urinalysis may be performed to evaluate kidney function.

  • Abdominal X-rays usually are normal but may disclose evidence of abnormalities in other organs (lymph nodes, prostate gland) that may be pressing on the colon and causing symptoms of colitis.

  • Chest X-rays often are recommended in older dogs and in those suspected to have cancer so as to evaluate for spread (metastasis) of the tumor to the lungs.

  • Serum trypsin-like immunoreactivity (TLI) is a blood test often recommended in all dogs with chronic colitis if the other tests are not diagnostic. This test will help identify certain pancreatic diseases (pancreatic enzyme deficiency) that can cause loose stools that may be confused with colitis.

    Your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests to ensure optimal medical care if the previous tests were not conclusive. These are selected on a case-by case-basis.

    Tests may include:

  • A barium enema (in which a radiographic contrast dye is placed directly into the colon followed by X-rays of the abdomen) sometimes is recommended to identify masses or changes in the colon that would be difficult to visualize on plain abdominal X-rays. This procedure is cumbersome to perform and often uncomfortable for the dog. Consequently, it is not frequently performed.

  • Ultrasound examination of the abdomen allows internal organs such as the colon, regional lymph nodes, and prostate gland in males to be visualized and evaluated with minimal discomfort. Abnormal tissues may be sampled with a needle or biopsy instrument with the guidance of ultrasound. Abdominal ultrasound examination often is performed by a veterinary radiologist or a veterinary specialist in internal medicine and may require referral.

  • Examination of the colon (after withholding food and performing several cleansing enemas) with a flexible fiberoptic endoscope allows direct visualization of the inside surface of the colon so that polyps, tumors, chronic inflammation and occasionally parasites can be identified. During this procedure, several small biopsies of the inner surface of the colon can be taken and submitted for microscopic examination by a veterinary pathologist. Only brief hospitalization is required for colonoscopy but this procedure may require referral to a specialist in veterinary internal medicine. Colonoscopy usually is performed after routine tests have been inconclusive and the dog has not responded to conservative treatment such as anti-parasitic medications and dietary modification.

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