Vomiting and diarrhea can be signs of multiple disorders, making gastrointestinal disease in dogs and cats difficult to diagnose and treat. Here’s what you should know
Andrews McMeel Syndication
If you’ve taken your dog or cat to the veterinarian recently -- especially during the holidays -- chances are it was for stomach upset. That’s one of the most common problems veterinarians see in pets -- and not just during holidays, when pets are given (or steal) extra goodies to eat, but year-round.
Vomiting and diarrhea are obvious signs of intestinal upset, but you may also notice appetite loss, weight loss, blood in the vomitus or stool, or even more subtle clues, such as changes in attitude or decreased energy levels. But because these signs can indicate any number of disease states, getting to the root of the problem can require high-level detective skills on the part of your veterinarian. Possible causes include viral or bacterial infections, dietary indiscretions (aka garbage gut), ingestion of toxic substances, intestinal obstructions, allergic reactions, parasites and Addison’s disease.
“One of the most common things we see in both dogs and cats is something termed chronic enteropathy, which refers to conditions of the intestinal tract that result in gastrointestinal signs of at least three weeks duration,” says internal medicine specialist Sara Wennogle, DVM, at Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “However, we only arrive at the diagnosis of chronic enteropathy after the exclusion of a lot of other common causes of these clinical signs."
One of the diseases that must be excluded before a diagnosis of chronic enteropathy is Addison’s disease. Certain indicators from the pet’s history, breed or lab work will suggest the need to screen for other diseases as well.
Veterinarians typically begin by excluding the most obvious suspects. They’ll ask whether your pet’s diet has changed recently or if he has gotten into the trash or been somewhere that he could access something toxic, and they may order a fecal exam to screen for intestinal parasites such as hookworms, roundworms, Giardia and cryptosporidium.
Once the basic baddies are ruled out, your veterinarian may pull out the big guns: complete blood count, serum biochemistry panel, urinalysis to check for evidence of kidney disease or imaging such as abdominal ultrasound or X-rays to see if there’s a foreign object causing a blockage or an intestinal mass.
Certain indicators from lab work or the animal’s breed may suggest screening for Addison’s disease. For instance, Dr. Wennogle says, a 5-year-old poodle should probably have Addison’s excluded. No single test can indicate that a pet has, say, inflammatory bowel disease.
The diagnostic testing of chronic gastrointestinal signs in pets can be lengthy and costly. Fortunately, not every pet with chronic gastrointestinal signs requires a $2,000 workup. In many cases, a simple change in diet can solve the problem. A large proportion of both dogs and cats have a positive response to dietary change. It’s a mainstay of therapy in managing chronic GI disease.
“There’s good evidence that dietary constituents will contribute to gut inflammation,” Dr. Wennogle says. “Therefore, manipulation of the diet has a lot of value in treating underlying diseases.” Some diets available from veterinarians contain prebiotics or probiotics that can be helpful or alterations in the fatty acid ratio that can help modulate inflammation.
Another tip: Take your pet to the veterinarian sooner rather than later for signs of gastrointestinal disease.
“We have a better chance for cure the earlier the client can bring in the dog or cat,” says M. Katherine Tolbert, DVM, an internal medicine specialist at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “It takes a long time to get control of a chronic disease. If the disease has been going on for months, we often can't achieve remission within one week.”
Take pets to the veterinarian immediately for sudden signs of severe illness such as weakness, continual retching and inability to keep down water, says Michael Stone, DVM, an internal medicine specialist at Tufts University’s Foster Hospital for Small Animals in North Grafton, Massachusetts. Don’t let vomiting go on for more than six hours, and take pets in right away if they appear weak.
Cat’s new fear
is a mystery
Q: We adopted our 8-year-old female cat when she was a kitten, and she is an indoor-only cat. She has always been somewhat timid and easily frightened by loud noises. Last week, we couldn't find her; we finally discovered her hiding behind the couch. At first, I thought she might be sick, but she acts normal as far as eating and using the litter box. She seems to have been terrified by something. She spends almost all her time in the basement and won't go into our bedroom. This is abnormal. She used to cuddle with me and would run to the door when we came home. We have no other pets. Can you give me some ideas on how to help her return to her old self?
A: Although your cat is eating normally and using the litter box appropriately, she could still have an underlying health problem. Her abnormal behavior may be her way of telling you that she doesn’t feel right. Any time an animal has a sudden change in behavior, whether it’s eating more or less than normal, breaking housetraining or acting fearful for no apparent reason, it’s a good idea to have your veterinarian check for health problems.
Have there been any changes in your home environment? Visiting guests? Remodeling? A child off to college? A trip? Cats generally like things to stay the same. Many cats adapt to change with little problem, but cats who are already timid may have a more difficult time with it.
Another possibility: Is an outdoor cat coming around your house? Even if that cat can’t get inside, seeing, hearing or smelling him could cause your cat stress or anxiety.
Your veterinarian can refer you to a Fear Free-certified veterinary behaviorist for additional help or may have other suggestions to help your cat. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Single odors not so
easy to sniff out
-- A complex “soup” of odorants is easier than a single scent for animals to detect, according to a recent study conducted at Great Britain’s University of Sussex. Professor Thomas Nowotny and Ph.D. student Ho Ka Chan found that complex mixed odorants are detected more quickly and reliably by olfactory receptors and can be identified over a wider concentration range than pure odorants. The study, published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, adds to what is known about sense of smell. “Everything we take in from our environment is mixed smells, so it makes evolutionary sense that our olfactory systems would be better at those type of smells,” Professor Nowotny says. “Similarly, animals secrete odorant mixtures as communication signals, pheromones, so it is vital that they can quickly and accurately identify these chemical signals so they can decode the message they are being sent.”
-- There’s a lot for pet lovers to celebrate in January. It’s National Train Your Dog Month, Walk Your Pet Month and Adopt a Rescued Bird Month. Also on the calendar are National Dress Up Your Pet Day on Jan. 14, National Answer Your Cat’s Question Day (in other words, try to understand what your cat is communicating) on Jan. 22, Change a Pet’s Life Day on Jan. 24 and the 90th anniversary of the founding of Seeing Eye Guide Dogs on Jan. 29.
-- Did you get a sweet new cellphone, e-reader or other gadget for the holidays? Place it out of pet reach to keep it safe. Pets love to chew on cables: Dogs will swallow just about anything that fits in their mouth, and cats are notorious for swiping pricey electronics onto the floor just to see them die. Protect wiring with cable wraps, and buy a tough cover for items that might hit the floor. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.