Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation in the intestinal tract. In dogs and puppies, this inflammation is typically in the stomach and small intestines. It is a common condition in dogs and puppies and, with supportive treatment, usually clears up within a few days. One form of gastroenteritis, known as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, involves bleeding and can be fatal if left untreated.
The basic symptoms of gastroenteritis include vomiting and diarrhea. Diarrhea is frequent and produces large amounts of soft, pale stool. Vomit typically contains bile and has a yellowish, foamy appearance. Dry heaving or gagging is also common. Other symptoms include stomach tenderness, lethargy, loss of appetite and a low-grade fever. In cases of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, bright red blood, in large amounts, appears in the diarrhea.
Many cases of gastroenteritis are idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. In other cases the inflammation is caused by parasites, allergies, bacterial infection or an underlying medical condition. In cases of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, the exact cause is unknown. Anxiety, hyperactivity and stress may be risk factors.
While gastroenteritis affects dogs of all ages and breeds, it typically affects dogs under the age of 5. Possible predisposition has been observed in German shepherds, shar-peis, rottweilers and wheaten terriers. Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis is most often diagnosed in smaller dogs, such as miniature poodles, miniature schnauzers, Yorkshire terriers, Pekingese, Shetland sheepdogs, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels.
Frequent diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration quickly, especially in puppies. Treatment begins with oral, subcutaneous or intravenous fluids to reduce symptoms of dehydration and help restore the electrolyte balance in the body. If an underlying condition is determined, treatment then focuses on that condition. For example, dewormer medication treats parasites, while antibiotics treat bacterial infections. Food is typically withheld for 24 hours while treatment takes place. Your veterinarian may then recommend a bland diet until your puppy completely recovers. In cases of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, intravenous fluids are necessary for excessive fluid loss. If the fluids are not quickly replaced, red blood cell counts rise, leading to a condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation. This condition causes life-threatening bleeding and, once diagnosed, is often irreversible and likely to result in death.
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