My dog has gastroenteritis – what is that?

Has your dog had an upset tummy? Is he throwing up? Does your dog have diarrhea? Or maybe both?

Hopefully you went to your veterinarian. They probably did blood tests, maybe x-rays, depending on how your dog presented. Then the vet told you everything came back normal, and you’re not sure what to think.

How can a dog have normal blood tests, normal x-rays, but they are still obviously very sick? Your dog has vomiting and/or diarrhea, how can things be normal?

This is most likely gastroenteritis! It’s a frustrating disease, and a frustrating diagnosis, but the good news is most dogs recover with treatment! There is no test for gastroenteritis. We basically rule out the other stuff, like pancreatitis, an obstruction, a toxin, etc, and that leaves us with gastroenteritis as the explanation for your dog’s throwing up and/or diarrhea. We call this “diagnosis by exclusion.”

Literally translated, gastroenteritis means inflammation of the stomach and intestinal tract. It says nothing about the cause. And that’s what can make this so frustrating. Yes, we know your dog’s digestive tract is super angry, but we’d like to know why, so we can prevent this from happening again! Often we never know. It could be something they ate in the yard, a new treat that just disagrees with them, or nothing at all!

vomiting diarrhea dog

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

So how do we treat gastroenteritis? We manage the symptoms and let the stomach and intestinal tract calm the heck down. Often, these dogs are dehydrated, so replenishing their fluids is key. This will get them feeling better, and help the intestines calm down. Severe cases may need to be hospitalized on IV fluids, while mild to moderate cases often do great with subcutaneous fluids (IV fluids that we inject under the skin). If the dog is vomiting, your veterinarian can give an injection of a medication that calms everything down. Diarrhea? We can send home some medication for that too!

Often, we will prescribe a bland diet that is easy on the tummy. Imagine if you had those symptoms, you’d be eating crackers or bread, most likely! With dogs, there are many veterinary diets that are more balanced, but are very easy on the tummy (like Purina EN, Hill’s i/d, or Royal Canin gastrointestinal). Of course, there’s nothing wrong with home-made bland diets as well! Cooking lean hamburger, turkey, or chicken, removing any grease, and mixing 3 parts cooked rice with one part meat can get you over the hump for a couple days.

Once your dog starts feeling better, is keeping food down, and the poop is looking normal, you can ease back to their regular food. I usually suggest mixing the bland diet (either home-made or the food your vet sent home with you) with their regular food for a couple days, since this digestive tract is still recovering. Let’s not shock their system with an abrupt return to normal.

If your dog had diarrhea, then doesn’t poop for a while, here’s my article explaining why this is not anything to panic over.

Gastroenteritis can be really scary, especially if your dog has it coming out of both ends! It can be a diagnosis by itself, or it may accompany other diseases (like parvo, an obstruction, liver disease, you name it!). There’s no rule dogs can only have one disease at a time, unfortunately. But with appropriate treatment, most dogs with simple gastroenteritis recover and are back to normal in a matter of days.


Posted in General health.

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