Gastrointestinal issues (digestive upsets) are one of the more common reasons that pets present to the veterinarian for sudden onset of illness. These illnesses have a variety of causes and a range of clinical signs and symptoms. Symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Increased and excessive salivation (drooling)
- Increased licking (often of the lips, but sometimes an item such as the carpet in a house)
- Excess flatulence (gas)
- Difficulty swallowing
Any changes within the digestive system of a pet can impair the animal's ability to digest and absorb nutrients. These changes to the GI tract can be triggered by many factors. Some of these factors include:
- Stress (boarding, out of town company, large gatherings (can you say PARTY???), moving into a new home, the introduction of a new pet, and many more)
- An abrupt change of diet (new bag of food, new brand of food, new treats, etc.) Click HERE for our How To guide if you are changing your pet food from one to another.
- Medications (the number one side effect of any oral medication is vomiting and/or diarrhea)
- Foreign Objects
- Infections (viruses, bacteria and protozoa)
- Pet Food Recalls/ Contaminated Pet food (Though not as common as people think)
- Dietary indiscretion (Eating Garbage)
- People Food (We saved the best for last. This is the most common reason that we identify)
The key to determining the reason for GI distress begins with an thorough physical examination. This includes a very in depth dietary history. We also take a history that looks for potential stressors that your pet may be experiencing (new person moved in, somebody moved away, new pet, a party, fireworks, etc). The next step is the actual hands on physical examination. At this point we look for signs of pain, dehydration and try to judge the severity of the situation. We often follow the physical examination with some diagnostics. Oftentimes, this begins with an internal parasite test (IPT). The IPT is an in house test, which we use to screen for intestinal parasites. We may decide that further diagnostics are required. This often includes either imaging (X-Rays) or blood testing (CBC and Chemical Profile).
If a specific cause is identified, we can treat more specifically. This may include medicine to stop the vomiting. We may also need to target the diarrhea, either specifically or non-specifically.
We often have to educate pet owners to withhold food and water for 12 to 24 hours. This sounds concerning to many people, but is necessary to give the GI tract a rest. A lot of times, the stomach and GI tract are irritated, or angry. During this time, the stomach is very sensitive and your pet is likely to vomit anything that enters it. As far as withholding the food and water (NPO), we often explain to people that this is the same process that people often follow themselves, we are just putting the typical plan into words. What we mean by this is demonstrated in the following example: Let's pretend that you contract the influenza virus (the flu). For the first 12 to 24 hours, you may experience GI distress in multiple forms (vomiting and diarrhea). During this time, you do not feel like eating. This inappetance lasts for an additional 12 to 24 hours. This serves the same purpose of resting your GI tract that we talked about with your pet. Once you feel like eating, you begin slowly with either water or another bland drink (Sprite or Ginger Ale). After consuming several small amounts of water, you may proceed to some bland food in small amounts (for people this is often Saltine crackers). Eventually, your diet returns to normal.
An additional key to treating these cases is the feeding of a bland diet. We recommend either a home cooked diet or a specifically formulated diet made by Purina: EN Gastroenteric formula.