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Colitis in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Treatment In-depth

Many treatments are available for colitis. If at all possible, a specific cause for colitis should be identified so that proper treatment can be instituted. In otherwise healthy dogs with colitis, outpatient treatments such as anti-parasitic medications or dietary modification may be recommended initially. If this approach is unsuccessful, additional tests (including colonoscopy and biopsy) are recommended to improve the chance of a specific and accurate diagnosis. Complete resolution of clinical symptoms may not be possible, even with an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.

Treatments for colitis may include one or more of the following:

  • A 24 to 48 hour fast with gradual introduction of a bland diet followed by gradual re-introduction of the dog's normal diet may be sufficient treatment for many dogs with acute colitis.

  • In dogs with chronic colitis, dietary modification using hypoallergenic diets may be tried. Using a home-prepared or commercial diet that contains a "novel" protein source (one which the dog has not previously encountered) sometimes is sufficient to control the colitis and eliminates the need for further medical treatment. No food items except for the "hypoallergenic" diet should be fed to affected dogs during this trial period of treatment. Dogs that respond to this approach are thought to have a food allergy that is manifested as colitis.

  • Fiber supplementation (either by adding fiber to the dog's normal diet or choosing a diet that is naturally high in fiber) sometimes is of great benefit to dogs with colitis.

  • Anti-parasitic (deworming products, anti-protozoal drugs) treatment is indicated in colitis to eliminate the possibility of parasites that are intermittently shed in the stool (whipworms, Giardia). Parasites are a leading causes of colitis, and this approach is routinely done as a first step in the management of colitis.

  • Antibiotic treatment can play an important role in the management of colitis. Although useful when a bacterial cause of colitis has been identified, antibiotics are sometimes useful even when a bacterial cause of colitis has not been established. Three anti-microbial agents commonly used in this situation are metronidazole, sulfasalazine and tylosin. These drugs have been used successfully as single agents, in combination with one other, or in combination with other drugs.

  • Anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive drugs (drugs that suppress the immune system) such as cortisone-like drugs (corticosteroids) and the immunosuppressive agent azathioprine generally are reserved for dogs in which colitis is strongly suspected to be immune-mediated in nature based on microscopic examination of biopsy specimens obtained during colonoscopy. These drugs have potential adverse effects and only should be used under close veterinary guidance with regularly scheduled re-evaluations. These drugs are invaluable and extremely effective when used appropriately.

  • Motility-modifying drugs (drugs that effect the motor activity of the intestinal tract) most often are used for symptomatic relief rather than for long-term medical management of colitis.

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