Frequently Asked Questions by Dog Owners: Part 1

Frequently Asked Questions by Dog Owners: Part 1

A cute dog shakes hands with a woman.A cute dog shakes hands with a woman.
A cute dog shakes hands with a woman.A cute dog shakes hands with a woman.

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Table of Contents:

  1. Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?
  2. Why Is My Dog Itchy?
  3. Why Is My Dog Vomiting?
  4. Why Does My Dog Have Diarrhea?

A key service that veterinarians provide is the ability to guide pet parents and answer tough questions. Since pet owners often share the same dog-related questions, we figured we’d share our answers.

Here are some frequently asked questions (or FAQs) dog owners ask their veterinarians:

Why Does My Dog Eat Poop?

Coprophagia, or the ingestion of feces, is a disgusting habit that plagues many dog owners. In some species, like rabbits, this behavior is normal and necessary for digestive function. However, in dogs, this behavior is likely caused by the smell or flavor of the feces. Typically, there are underlying medical conditions that can cause coprophagia, which include:

  • Underfeeding, or feeding of a poorly digestible diet.
  • Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency. A disease in which the pancreas isn’t secreting the appropriate enzymes to break down food.
  • Gastrointestinal parasites.
  • Endocrine (hormonal) diseases. These include diabetes mellitus and Cushing’s Disease (hyperadrenocorticism).
  • Medication. Prescription medications can cause increased appetite (particularly corticosteroids and the anti-seizure medication Phenobarbital).

Typically, coprophagia is not detrimental to a dog’s health unless the feces is from an animal with gastrointestinal parasites or other diseases spread via fecal ingestion, such as Giardia or Toxoplasma. If your dog is constantly eating their own poop or other animals’ fecal material, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Blood work to rule out an underlying medical reason will most likely be their first recommendation.

If an underlying medical condition is ruled out, there are behavioral modifications that can be done to correct or minimize this behavior. These modifications include:

  • Cleaning up immediately after your dog defecates.
  • Frequently cleaning your yard of any fecal matter.
  • Keeping your dog leashed when they are outside to minimize unwanted behavior.
  • Training your pet to ignore fecal material and give positive rewards when they follow commands.
  • Limit wildlife access to your yard.

There are over-the-counter supplements that can be added to your dog’s food that have been shown to decrease the incidence of coprophagia. However, these supplements only prevent your pet from eating their own fecal material and not that of other animals. Therefore, behavioral modifications are encouraged over supplements.

Why Is My Dog Itchy?

Pruritus, or itching of the skin, can be caused by many disease processes. The most common diseases that cause pruritus in dogs include:

  • External parasites, such as fleas and mites.
  • Allergies, which can be environmental, such as pollen, grass, plants, or food-derived (which is usually due to the protein in the food, not the grain).
  • Skin infections.

Treatment for these ailments vary, so it’s important for your veterinarian to examine your pet and make recommendations on diagnostic and treatment options. Keeping your dog on year-round flea/tick preventative medication is highly encouraged, as this is an common cause of pruritus that can be avoided. If your dog is suffering from environmental allergies, your veterinarian may talk to you about allergy testing or recommend allergy vaccine therapy. If your pet’s pruritus is likely from food allergies, they can discuss food options to try and monitor for improvement. Unfortunately, allergies can be frustrating in dogs and multiple therapies may need to be trialed before an ideal treatment is found.

To learn more, check out Why Do Pets Itch?

Why Is My Dog Vomiting?

Causes and Treatment for Vomiting in Dogs

Vomiting is one of the most common reasons that dogs are seen in the emergency room. Dogs, unfortunately, are indiscriminate eaters and will occasionally get themselves into trouble. There are many causes of vomiting in dogs, but the most common include:

  • Gastroenteritis (inflammation of stomach and intestines). This is usually secondary to dietary indiscretion, meaning that a dog eats something like table scraps, new or excessive amounts of treats, or material they find in the yard or on the street.
  • Obstruction. This occurs when a dog eats something that they aren’t able to pass, like toys or fabric material such as socks, underwear, or carpeting. In these cases, your veterinarian will do a radiograph or ultrasound to diagnose the obstruction and determine if surgery is needed. This is a condition commonly seen in younger dogs.
  • Metabolic diseases. Vomiting can be the first sign of an underlying disease in dogs. Early signs of kidney disease, pancreatitis, liver disease, and diabetes mellitus can be presented as vomiting in some cases.

Treatment for vomiting depends on your dog’s clinical signs, based on a physical exam conducted by your veterinarian and a detailed history. Gastroenteritis treatment often involves rehydrating with intravenous or subcutaneous fluids, anti-nausea medication, and a bland diet for a short period of time. A suspected obstruction is more significant and will often involve surgery or removal of foreign material from the stomach with an endoscope. As for metabolic diseases, treatment largely depends on the diagnosis.

If you notice your dog eating foreign material, it is best to take them directly to a veterinary hospital. Your vet may be able to induce vomiting and retrieve the material before it causes a more serious problem. This is especially true with objects like toys, socks, underwear, rocks, and coins. Time is of the essence in these cases, and your dog should be seen within 2 hours of ingesting the material.

Episodes of vomiting that warrant a veterinary visit include:

  • Multiple episodes of vomiting for more than 12 hours
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting with blood
  • Unproductive retching, which can be a sign of a life-threatening emergency known as Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Known ingestion of foreign material

It is always safer to have your dog examined by a veterinarian if they are vomiting, instead of seeing if it will pass over time. Dogs, like humans, can become dehydrated from vomiting and early treatment can often shorten the course of illness.

Why Does My Dog Have Diarrhea?

Similar to vomiting, diarrhea is a very common emergency for dogs that can be caused by multiple processes. The most common reasons for diarrhea in dogs are:

  • Dietary Indiscretion, which typically occurs when dogs eat table scraps or spoiled food.
  • Sudden changes in diet.
  • Gastrointestinal parasites, such as Giardia.
  • Gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease, malnutrition, pancreatitis, and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

Diarrhea without vomiting is not as emergent, but can lead to dehydration if profuse or bloody. A bland diet and an anti-diarrhea medication prescribed by your veterinarian is usually enough to get your dog back on their feet. If your dog is having chronic diarrhea, further diagnostics and treatments may be recommended.

Do not give your pet over-the-counter diarrhea medications without the instruction of your veterinarian.

For more answers to common dog questions, check out Part 2 of our FAQ.

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