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Gastrointestinal upsets are one of the most common issues vets see and, whether it’s from eating something funny, stress or diet change, all our pets will experience a GI related issue at some stage of their life.

The trick is to know WHEN it’s a problem. 

If you aren’t blessed with the Dr Doolittle gift, it can be very difficult to understand what’s going on with your pet when they arent “quite themselves” or “seem a bit off this morning”. We also don’t want to be running to the vet when it isn’t necessary and this is where the difficult part comes in.

Here’s a short list with some of the things to look out for when your pet gets the “runs” and I don’t mean chasing-the-ball type of run…

The truth is, I don’t have that answer, but what I do believe is that you know your pet better than anyone; even better than your vet knows your animal. So, if YOU are worried, then rather be safe and get him checked out. Your vet could just send you home and tell you to keep an eye on him, but at least you’ll be able to sleep easier.

What is the colour of the stool? 

Black, tarry stool is called Melena. This black colour is digested blood from bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. This can come from bleeding stomach ulcers or bleeding gastrointestinal tumours. If there’s bright red blood in the stool, also known as haematochezia, this is a sign of active bleeding further down the gastrointestinal tract. This could be in the colon or rectum.

It’s possible to see a combination of the two but if you see these, take your pet straight to the vet.

Remember the gastrointestinal tract is full of bacteria, bad and good types, and once the intestinal wall has been damaged, there is a risk of those bacteria entering the blood stream.

How old is your pet?

Very small puppies and kittens with diarrhoea can’t wait. Take them to the vet.

When a 1kg puppy has a few bouts of diarrhoea they lose a LOT of fluid and can dehydrate quickly, especially if the diarrhoea is very watery. If these fluid losses aren’t corrected ASAP, your pet could become dangerously dehydrated. This is even more worrying when they aren’t eating or drinking enough to replace the fluid losses.

Is your pet showing any other signs of illness? 

When it’s not just an upset stomach that you’re seeing, then it’s worth checking out. Vomiting WITH diarrhoea can lead to rapid dehydration and may be a sign of a foreign body stuck after going through the rubbish bin.

Neurological signs such as seizures/fits/ paralysis, weakness and shaking with diarrhoea could be from poisoning which is life-threatening. The diarrhoea may also be a sign of an underlying illness going on.

For example – Has Jack lost a bit of weight lately and seems a bit less interested in his ball? Maybe he’s just getting old, but now that there’s diarrhoea as well, it could be something more.

How long has this been going on? 

Any diarrhoea that has been going on for 3 days should be checked out by your vet even if the dog is still eating well and “seems alright”.

If you have given probiotics/prebiotics and the stool is still abnormal then it’s less likely they ate something funny and more likely to be something they have picked up, something nasty. Giardiasis and Coccidiasis are examples of these. IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease) or a food hypersensitivity is also a possibility. Your pet may need some tests done or specific diets prescribed by your vet to get to the bottom of it.

Are all your pet’s vaccinations up to date? 

This is especially important with puppies. They need at least 3 vaccinations when they’re puppies to protect them from Parvo virus (Katgriep/Catflu). If Jack is unvaccinated and has a bloody diarrhoea, the sooner you get him to the vet, the better his chances of surviving this terrible disease. 

When was your pet last dewormed? 

Worm burdens can cause diarrhoea and even anaemia in the case of a bad Hookworm infestation. Your pet should be dewormed every 3 months as a maintenance but if your vet diagnoses a severe infestation, a course of deworming may need to be dispensed to kill all the worms and break the life-cycle.

Make sure you use a brand like Drontal or Milbemax that your vet recommends so that they are effective against ALL types of worms.

Does your pet have a previously diagnosed condition? 

Addison’s disease, Cushing’s disease and Diabetes, amongst others, can make animal more prone to developing diarrhoea and early intervention is needed to get these under control.

I know it seems like there’s a general trend of, “take your dog to the vet” and perhaps you’re expecting a quick fix or simple answer to all animals who get diarrhoea.

The truth is, I don’t have that answer, but what I do believe is that you know your pet better than anyone; even better than your vet knows your animal. So, if YOU are worried, then rather be safe and get him checked out. Your vet could just send you home and tell you to keep an eye on him, but at least you’ll be able to sleep easier.

If it’s a once off diarrhoea and there are no other clinical signs, I do try some products before panicking. This is what I keep at home for my pets…

Intestinal diets

I like to keep some intestinal food at home at all times. If one of my pets has a vomit or a soft stool, I give them something like Eukanuba Intestinal diet or Royal Canin Gastrointestinal. These diets have prebiotics and everything else their GIT needs to heal and settle down. It’s best to feed the intestinal formula from the brand that you’re already feeding your pet, so that transitioning back to their normal food goes smoothly, and they don’t develop an upset tummy from the change too.

GIT support products

GIT support products with prebiotics, probiotics or binding agents can be given up to twice a day when your pet is symptomatic (having diarrhoea). Diomec and Canikur are fantastic combination products that contain glucose, electrolytes, prebiotics, probiotics and a type of clay to help bind the stool and heal the intestinal lining. I have often given these to patients and within a day the stool is better.

Your general garbage disease or mild upsets should respond to these, but further tests are warranted if they have any signs as discussed. Definitely something to keep in your pet’s first aid box.

Once the stool has normalised, prebiotics and probiotics can be given daily. Reputable brand Probiotics such as Protexin are not going to cause any harm so, although there is some debate about the efficacy of probiotics, it’s worth a try.

If your Labrador gets an upset tummy each time she eats something in the garden, try pouring a probiotic like Protexin over her food every day as an aid in the prevention of diarrhoea.

Please share this article if you found it informative and useful. Let us know what other health topics you’d like to know more about.
 

Dr Tanya Viljoen
After studying at Onderstepoort, Tanya worked in private practice for 4 years focused mainly on dogs and cats. She believes that the human- animal bond is a precious and essential part of life.
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