Gastritis in Dogs

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Overview of Canine Gastritis

Gastritis is a general term used to describe inflammation of the lining of the stomach in a dog. The most common sign associated with gastritis is vomiting. Although signs may be mild and self-limiting in some cases, they can be debilitating and even life threatening in others, necessitating hospitalization and intensive supportive care. Acute gastritis is characterized by vomiting of less than 7 days duration. Chronic gastritis is characterized by intermittent vomiting of greater than 1-2 weeks duration. There are a variety of causes of gastritis, some associated with acute vomiting and some associated with chronic vomiting.

Below is an overview of the causes, diagnosis and treatment of gastritis followed by in-depth detailed information about gastritis in dogs. 

Causes of Acute Gastritis

  • Dietary indiscretion (ingestion of spoiled food, foreign bodies, plant material, hair or overeating)
  • Dietary intolerance or allergy
  • Ingestion of chemical irritants or toxins (fertilizers, cleaning agents, lead)
  • Drugs/medication (aspirin, antibiotics, steroids)
  • Infectious agents (viral, bacterial, parasitic)
  • Shock or sepsis (systemic infection)

    Causes of Chronic Gastritis

  • Chronic or long term exposure to, or ingestion of, any of the causes listed for acute gastritis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Stomach cancer

    There are some systemic diseases that can be associated with both acute and chronic gastritis. Those include kidney failure, liver disease, hypoadrenocorticism, neurologic disease and ulcers. Both dogs and cats can be affected and males just as often as females. Due to the increased potential for dietary indiscretion in younger animals, they are more likely to develop acute gastritis. Chronic gastritis can be seen in all ages.

  • What to Watch For

  • Excessive vomiting
  • Excessive vomiting with blood (either red or “coffee-grounds”)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Melena (black tarry stool representative of digested blood)
  • Diagnosis of Gastritis in Dogs

    Many cases of acute gastritis are short lived, resolve easily, and an extensive diagnostic evaluation is seldom required. Diagnostics should be performed in those individuals whose gastritis is severe, chronic, or are exhibiting systemic signs of illness. A thorough history and physical examination is of paramount importance prior to diagnostic evaluation.

  • Complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, urinalysis, and fecal examination
  • Abdominal radiographs (X-rays) +/- contrast/dye evaluation
  • Parvo test on all puppies
  • Abdominal ultrasound in selected cases
  • Endoscopy in selected cases
  • Treatment of Gastritis in Dogs

    There are several things your veterinarian may recommend to symptomatically treat your dog. The principal goals of symptomatic therapy are to restore and maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, and to completely rest the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Nothing orally (NPO) for a several hours, with a gradual introduction of water followed by a bland diet
  • Fluid and electrolyte therapy as indicated in the dehydrated patient
  • Antiemetics (drugs that symptomatically decrease the frequency of vomiting)
  • Antacids (drugs that block acid production by the stomach)
  • Gastric protectants (drugs that coat and soothe the GI tract)
  • Home Care

    The primary recommendation is to withhold all food and water until contacting your veterinarian. Administer medication and diet only as directed by your veterinarian and observe your dog very closely. If clinical signs are not improving, and/or your dog is getting worse, have your dog evaluated at once.

    In-Depth Information on Gastritis in Dogs 

    Gastritis is quite common in dogs due to their indiscriminate (not selective) eating habits. It is not uncommon for a normal healthy dog to have occasional bouts of acute gastritis over the course of their life, especially if they are longhaired or have a habit of getting into the trash. As long as they are short lived and self limiting, we tend to consider these “normal abnormalities”. One must differentiate acute from chronic gastritis, as well as gastritis from regurgitation (the backward flow or effortless evacuation of fluid, mucus, or undigested food from the esophagus) as there are different diseases, diagnostics, and treatment plans for each.

    In those dogs who are otherwise feeling well, symptomatic therapy, to include removing all food and water for a specified amount of time and gradually reintroducing a bland diet, is generally curative. If the dog continues with signs of gastritis (vomiting, lack of appetite, nausea), despite being held off food and water, or if blood is present in the vomitus, it is important to seek veterinary attention at once. In addition, if your dog seems painful, in distress or sick in any other way, you should contact your veterinarian immediately as diagnostics, hospitalization and supportive therapy may be in order.

    There are several disorders/diseases that can cause similar signs and may be confused with gastritis. These include;

  • Dietary indiscretion (ingestion of spoiled food, plant material, hair, or overeating) is one of the most common disorders seen in both cats and dogs. Vomiting, diarrhea and flatulence are commonly seen associated with dietary indiscretion.
  • Dietary intolerance or allergy to a particular food or substance often is associated with vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • Infectious disorders that affect the gastrointestinal tract including viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections must be differentiated from gastritis.
  • Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, and in certain cases, can be life-threatening. The most common clinical signs seen with pancreatitis are vomiting and inappetence.
  • Metabolic disorders (kidney failure, liver disease, hypoadrenocorticism, diabetes mellitus) are often associated with vomiting, inappetence and weight loss, all of which are signs commonly seen with gastritis.
  • Intestinal obstruction/blockage secondary to foreign bodies or tumors must be differentiated from gastritis.
  • Infiltrative diseases (microscopic diseases that penetrate and spread throughout) of the gastrointestinal tract including inflammatory bowel disease and lymphosarcoma (cancer) must be ruled out.
  • Gastrointestinal ulcers can be associated with liver and kidney disease, pancreatic disease, stress and certain types of cancer. Clinical signs associated with ulcers include vomiting (possibly with blood), melena (black tarry stools due to digested blood), abdominal pain, weakness and potential collapse and death.
  • Pyloric hypertrophy is a thickening of the part of the stomach that empties into the small intestine, causing vomiting. It is most commonly seen in small-breed dogs (lhasa apso, shih tzu, Maltese and the miniature poodle.)
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is a syndrome seen in dogs whose cause is unknown. These animals often present with vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is most often seen in urban settings.
  • Neurologic disorders, especially of the vestibular (balance and coordination) center will often present for vomiting.
  • Certain medications or toxins (such as lead) can cause severe gastrointestinal signs by either directly irritating the lining of the stomach (such as with aspirin administration) or by setting off a reflex mechanism that stimulates the vomiting center of the brain.
  • Pain, fear or other psychogenic disturbances can cause gastrointestinal upset, and mimic or cause signs of gastritis.
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