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Gastric Motility Disorder in Dogs

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Gastric motility disorders result from conditions that directly or indirectly disrupt normal emptying of the stomach that results in gastric distention and subsequent signs of illness. Although some gastric motility disorders are primary, the majority of cases occur secondary to other conditions or disorders.

The magnitude of clinical signs depends on both the specific disease process and the severity of that disease. The clinical signs are often chronic, often present for weeks or months and most often include some degree of vomiting, usually of food. Because the history, physical exam findings and overall presentation of animals with gastric motility disorders may be variable and sometimes nonspecific, there are other illnesses and symptoms that might initially be considered when establishing a definitive diagnosis, especially those that cause chronic vomiting. These include:

  • Chronic, recurrent dietary indiscretion, especially overeating and ingesting foreign material.

  • Dietary intolerance can cause chronic vomiting, and mimic gastric motility disorders. They are often associated with protein, lactose, diets high in fat and certain food additives.

  • There are many infectious agents that can cause chronic vomiting. Bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic diseases are common. Parvovirus is one of the more likely offenders.

  • Chronic drug administration and/or toxin exposure can cause chronic vomiting by directly irritating the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Examples include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin), corticosteroids, antibiotics, insecticides, heavy metals, and lawn and garden products.

  • Obstruction/blockage of the gastrointestinal tract causes an outflow obstruction, and in turn, motility disorder. This is usually secondary to the presence of chronic foreign bodies, tumors, intussusceptions (telescoping of the bowel into itself), hypertrophic gastropathy (thickening and malfunction of the pyloric area of the stomach) or parasites.

  • Patients with metabolic diseases such as kidney, liver, diabetes mellitus and hypoadrenocorticism (Addison's disease), may present for signs similar to those with motility disorders.

  • Any patients with abdominal disorders present for vomiting. Chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), prostatic disorders, and low-grade peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal cavity) should be considered.

  • Neurologic disorders, especially vestibular disease, can stimulate the area in the brain involving the vomiting reflex. Dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system (dysautonomia) has been recognized as a cause as well.

  • Inflammatory bowel disease is a microscopic accumulation of inflammatory cells of any/all parts of the gastrointestinal tract. No one cause has been identified. Vomiting is one of many signs that may be seen.

  • Lymphangiectasia is an intestinal disorder characterized by the dilation of lymph vessels throughout the gastrointestinal tract, causing chronic vomiting, diarrhea, protein loss and weight loss.

  • Gastrointestinal ulcers are associated with liver disease, kidney disease, stress, or pancreatic disease. Chronic vomiting, with or without blood is commonly seen.

  • A hiatal hernia is the sliding of abdominal contents into the chest cavity through the diaphragm.

  • Lymphosarcoma (a type of cancer) is most often a microscopic disease that infiltrates the gastrointestinal tract, and can cause many GI signs. It is seen in all ages and breeds.

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