Intestinal Tract

Submitted January 4, 2009

Q.) Three weeks ago on a weekend hunt I noticed, while hunting and running hard, my 2.5 year old setter was squeezing every last ounce out of himself and there was a some blood in his stool. It happened on two occasions that I know of. I talked to my vet an she said to monitor it and see if it persisted. It did not, until yesterday. It seems to only happend during any heavy running or hunting. I haven't noticed it in the yard when he has a complete movement. It only occurs when he really pushes and has been hunting. She mentioned hook worms? I haven't noticed any other symptoms. Any thoughts?

A.) Very likely this is a common digestive issue that we see with hunting dogs. Essentially the stools bounce around in the digestive tract, particularly the colon, and cause irritation to the colon. This irritation can range from diarrhea all the way to actually producing blood in the stools. Often times it is a self-limiting problem; however, because it is disrupting the digestive tract it can also lead to a longer case of diarrhea that results from the disruption.

This is one of the reasons that many performance nutritionists recommend once-a-day feedings in hunting dogs, perferrably as long before an activity as possible (e.g. right after a hunt to allow the longest time before the next hunt). The hope is that the dog will have a chance to empty its colon at the beginning of the hunt and not have excess stool and food bouncing around in the digestive tract. This simple change on hunting weekends may solve many of your issues. In human marathoners and endurance athletes the colon can be affected by changes in the blood flow to the digestive tract, in addition to the mechanical damage. I have never seen it discussed in the veterinary literature, but I would not be suprised if a similar change occured in some dogs, which could also lead to stool issues.

On a diagnostic front it never hurts to check a stool sample for parasites to make sure that this is not the issue. Some of these can be difficult to identify, so a proactive course of a general dewormer may also be warranted. Our dogs are exposed to a number of different hazards out in the field, and depending on where you hunt, some of those hazards are carried and deposited by others' hunting dogs. Lastly, I would also recommend that your vet perform a rectal exam to evaluate for polyps and tumors that may be getting traumatized during exercise. We do not see this all that regularly, but I have had two cases this fall.

Submitted 11/24/04:
I have a male 3.5-year-old wirehaired pointer. When hunting for several hours he strains to defecate and when he does there is blood in his feces. He is very healthy and eats a high quality food. What’s wrong with him? Is it worms? Is it colitis? Is it cancer?

If this only occurs while hunting and immediately resolves after hunting, it is likely related to the physical activity; however, if it is an on-going problem, never goes away completely, or results in a large amount of blood, you may have a bigger issue on your hands that will require a diagnostic work-up by your veterinarian. Also, if you are concerned about parasites, a simple fecal test can help rule them in or out as a cause.

That being said, this is a fairly common occurrence in hunting dogs and typically is related to one of two factors. One school of thought believes it may be stress-related, while the other leans towards small amounts of damage to the intestinal tract that is done by feces bouncing around inside the tract during exercise. My current opinion is that it’s a little of both.

One of the things I do to help prevent this problem is to fast my dogs the morning of a hunt, and if I’m hunting multiple days in a row I’ll usually just feed them once daily in the evenings. This allows the dog to empty itself at its initial airing and not have an intestinal tract full of food and feces for its body to deal with and potentially cause problems.

My other suggestion would be to ensure you are indeed feeding a high-quality food. Many people feel that they are, when in actuality it may not be the best choice for a hunting dog. Talk with your veterinarian about your current dog food choice and make sure you are indeed feeding a high-quality product, one that promotes athletic performance and overall body well-being.

Submitted 8/18/04:
My dog, 2.5 year old intact male, seems to have recovered from two days of diarrhea and gas. No other physical symptoms. This was his first time of diarrhea.

Here’s what I did: first off I gave him 1/2 an antacid for the gas; then feedings of not more than two tablespoons, at least two hours apart. In sequence: cottage cheese; boiled skinless chicken and rice; yogurt; four more feedings of chicken and rice.

I bought but did not use Immodium tablets, I plan to put them in his first aid kit, figuring if he didn’t need them I might.

What would you have suggested?

With uncomplicated diarrheas (i.e. the dog is otherwise normal and something likely upset the stomach or colon) I like to keep things simple. The GI tract repairs itself remarkably fast and often withholding food for 24 hours will give the body time to take care of itself. The problem is that we get impatient and want to feed them to see if they will continue to vomit or what the stools will look like. It is this constant stimulation that usually leads to the continuation of the diarrhea or vomiting. Also, once the intestinal tract has repaired itself we want to offer it a bland, gentle diet before going back to the normal ration. In most situations I would highly recommend the Iam's prescription Low-Residue diet, but in a pinch here's a bland diet I recommend:

Bland Diet:

  • Carbohydrate (cooked)/Protein Ratio: 3 parts/1 part
  • Carbohydrates: Cooked white rice or boiled potatoes
  • Protein: Low-fat cottage cheese, boiled skinned chicken or boiled hamburger (pour off the fat)
  • Amount: Feed approximately 1/2 cup of this mixture per 10 lbs. of body weight per day. Divide this amount into small, frequent feedings. This would be the maximum amount to feed for the first day.
  • Gradually increase to 1 cup per 10 lbs. over the next 2-3 days.

In my opinion your method probably made this a little more complicated than it probably needed to be, although the problem did resolve.

As far as medications, I’ve never used Immodium in a dog, as I think there are other more effective, less chemically active methods...especially with uncomplicated diarrhea. If a dog comes to me with diarrhea, I will typically try to identify any complicating factors (parasites vs. bacteria) and use the appropriate antibiotic/antiparasidal medications and a coating/absorbing product. I currently use a medication called Diawin (I believe it is kaolin and pectin based), as I have had great success with this medication. I would talk with your veterinarian about what product he/she typically uses and possibly have some on hand for the first aid kit. Again, I like to keep it simple and let the body handle the problem as best it can. With products like Immodium you are actually changing how the body functions, and I always worry are you solving the problem or masking it???

Diarrhea and vomiting are probably the most common problems we see in veterinary medicine, with the possible exception of itchy skin. My advice would be to not make it any more complicated than it needs to be. If your dog appears sick, or does not respond to simple therapy, you’ll need to get them into your vet for further diagnostics such as bloodwork and x-rays.

Submitted 3/3/05:
I have a seven-month old male Vizsla and like any puppy he likes to puke. The question/concern I have is this: he seems to have food left in his gut for what seems to me to be an extensive period of time. For instance, this morning he vomited twice, and each time the vomitus consisted of bile and a large amount of food. He had not been fed yet, and his last feeding was 12-13 hours prior. This evening, he again threw up his breakfast in my truck (he does seem to get a bit car sick), again, many hours after eating. This past weekend, he threw up food in my truck after approximately 16 hours since his last feeding. The vomit has a very strong bile smell. The only non-food I’ve noticed was two snow goose feathers this evening. As well, he seems to burp a fair amount after eating. He eats well, has regular formed stools, no diarrhea, doesn’t act ill, or any other signs of obstruction. Do I have a any cause for concern with his digestion, or do dogs carry food in the gut for a long time? He doesn’t vomit extensively, but the food concerns me considering the length of time following feeding.

Typically most dogs’ stomachs will empty quicker than the times you are experiencing. When doing a barium study, typically we will see gastric emptying begin in about 15 minutes and complete in 1-4 hours, and with food this can be much more variable based on type, amount, etc. Though this rate can be variable from dog to dog, in your particular situation I would examine several different factors. First would be your feeding schedule, some dogs when fed only once a day will develop gastric irritations as a result of the long times between meals, and some of these problems will be resolved simply by splitting the meal into two portions instead of all at once. Although less common, some foods will trigger these types of problems, and with a switch to a different type of diet you may see resolution of the problem.

From a veterinarian's perspective, although less likely from your other descriptions, I would still want to get my hands on the pup and feel the abdomen, as well as take some X-rays to evaluate for a partial obstruction. Although uncommon, occasionally we will see dogs eat pieces of things (particularly rubber toys) that will act as flaps in the stomach…sometimes they will let things out and sometimes they won’t. A few years back I was presented with a cat that had been occasionally vomiting and had weight loss for about five weeks. On the x-rays there was a metallic object and so I went in for an exploratory. I removed a nickel that had been on a necklace and was acting as a valve in the digestive track. After talking with the owner and examining the cat, this was definitely not what I expected to find. So, for completeness I’d recommend a thorough exam, though I suspect it will likely be something much simpler to resolve.

Submitted 1/6/05:
I have a 2.5-year-old GSP. For the past several months he has been vomiting in the early morning about 5 ounces of fluid. He is fed at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. This vomiting occurs about 4-5 times a week and always in the morning. Any ideas as to what is causing this? Could this be dietary or a nervous reaction?

I’m going to assume that because it has been going on for a couple of months that the dog is otherwise healthy? Based on that assumption I’ll give you my simple answer. Some dogs have a problem when their stomachs sit empty for long periods of time and will have vomiting episodes like you describe. This can sometimes be corrected by spacing the meals more evenly. For instance, feeding the second meal later in the day, or even early evening, may remedy the problem.

The important thing with any vomiting animal is to realize it is a sign that something is indeed wrong, and that if the simple solutions do not work, then more aggressive diagnostics will be needed. I had a cat in the clinic a while back with similarly vague symptoms: occasional vomit and he appeared to be losing weight. We did the full work-up, as nothing was really screamingly obvious…until we took the x-rays. There in the intestinal tract appeared to be a coin. Upon surgical investigation there was indeed a coin with a hole in it so it could be worn around the neck, it was lodged in the intestinal tract and was acting as a valve, sometimes allowing stuff through and sometimes not. My very vague symptoms had turned into a very real problem.

Submitted 1/5/05:
I have a two-year-old GSP that I absolutely cannot keep at the proper weight. She is very under weight. I have tried different foods, (currently she is on a 30/20 diet) she doesn’t have worms, and seems to be very energetic. I have noticed no vomiting and she has a firm stool, she also eats like a horse to no avail. I have started giving her yogurt and buttermilk to try to increase “good flora.” Can you think of what this problem may be?

I often see dogs that owners, or owner’s acquaintances, think are underweight, when in actuality the dog are at an ideal body weight. Sporting dogs, and the pointing breeds in particular, will look thin when compared to other dogs, particularly couch potato retriever mixes. Couple this with the fact that too many people, veterinarians included, accept obesity as normal in too many pets, and sometimes it is difficult for people to accept a healthy dog as being normal.

If, however, this isn’t the case and your dog is underweight my game plan would be as follows: first I would have a veterinarian take a couple of different fecal samples, looking for microscopic parasites, eggs, and abnormal bacteria. Next I would do a complete blood work-up, looking for anything out of the ordinary. From there, more advanced blood work may be needed, particularly looking at the pancreas, as some dogs will have pancreatic insufficiencies. Essentially they are unable to fully break down their food and utilize it in the body. In a case like this, it is important to take it a step at a time, starting with the simple and moving to the more complex to ensure nothing is missed.

Submitted 5/14/04:
My dog has been eating grass a lot lately. He never seemed to do this before. But now, he’s chomping down every time he goes outside. Could it be a GI problem, nutritional thing, or something else? He is a four-year old male lab. Thanks.

To answer the nutritional part first, if you are feeding your dog a well-balanced, nutritionally-certified food, he is not trying to replace something he’s missing. Even if you’re feeding a poor quality food, it’s a stretch to think a dog’s body could analyze what it’s missing and go and seek that out in its environment. As far as a GI problem it does appear that some dogs with intestinal upset will eat grass, either to vomit it up or to pass through. If he has been vomiting, has had loose stools or otherwise isn’t himself I would get him to your regular veterinarian.

Now, that being said, I have had a number of clients this spring indicate their otherwise normal dogs are eating grass. I have had the same issues with my chessie, and it seems she favors the thicker bladed grass around the edges of my yard. With her I’ve searched for an explanation and have come up with none. Basically I try to discourage it but have found no problem I can truly isolate.

I guess to sum up my answer would be if he is sick in any way (vomit, diarrhea, lethargy) I would definitely take him to the vet, if otherwise he is happy, healthy, playful with good stools, it likely is nothing to worry about and he just likes grass.