Dubbed the "health epidemic of the 21st century," stress plays a significant part in the lives of both humans and dogs. In our canine companions, stress often manifests itself in the digestive system; gut microbiome imbalances, inflammations, and infections are its most common side effects. A weaker immune system and an imbalanced gut microbiome pave the way for medical issues, such as stress colitis, to throw your dog's health and well-being off balance. Today's article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of stress colitis in dogs.
Fortunately, stress colitis does not pose a severe threat to your dog's health. Once it is correctly diagnosed, stress colitis will recede within three to five days. By removing the stressors and making specific changes to his diet, your dog will be back to his healthy, cheerful self in no time!
What is Dog Stress Colitis?
Colitis is equivalent to the inflammation of the large intestine, which impedes the colon's water absorption and its ability to store feces. In most cases, stress is the primary cause of large intestine inflammation. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, canine stress colitis can be acute (short-lived and easy to treat) or chronic (long-lasting and more difficult to treat).
Other Causes of Colitis in Dogs
Solid research has proven the link between stress and inflammation. As stress throws the gut microbiome out of balance, the good bacteria are gradually replaced with harmful bacteria. This imbalance will gradually upset the entire digestive system and cause diarrhea, sometimes accompanied by mucus or bleeding.
The stress associated with stress colitis in dogs can originate from both physical (e.g., surgery, intense exercise) and psychological circumstances (e.g., moving to a boarding facility or a new home, the arrival of a new human or pet in the household, etc.).
Aside from anxiety associated with stress, other causes hide behind colitis as well:
- Infections caused by bacteria (e.g., Salmonella, Clostridium, and E. coli) and parasites (Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and whipworms)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Contact with infected dogs
- Contaminated food
Symptoms of Stress Colitis in Dogs
The most telling signs of stress colitis in dogs can be observed in canine feces. A soft or loose stool, frequently accompanied by mucus or blood, points towards stress colitis. Your dog will attempt to relieve himself more often, oftentimes without success. In more severe cases, stress colitis is followed by vomiting and weight loss, although such instances seldom occur.
How is Stress Colitis in Dogs Diagnosed?
Pinpointing the aforementioned symptoms is the first step towards diagnosing stress colitis in your dog. However, a more thorough investigation done by a veterinarian is also required. Your veterinarian will look at your dog's symptoms and medical history and perform several tests, such as a microscopic fecal evaluation, cytology, rectal examination, and blood tests. Additional tests such as X-rays, colon biopsies, fecal cultures, and ultrasound evaluations might be in order for more severe stress colitis cases. These tests will help identify conditions such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Colonic tumors
- Colonic polyps
- Cecal inversion
The basic modality through which your veterinarian can identify stress colitis in your dog is taking a stool sample. Then, your veterinarian will subject the stool sample to fecal flotation, synonymous with spinning the sample in a centrifuge machine. After a few minutes, the fecal flotation process will reveal parasite eggs, if any, which the veterinarian will inspect under the microscope.
Another test that your veterinarian could recommend is the Giardia ELISA test, an immunological test focused on identifying intestinal infections caused by the Giardia duodenalis microscopic parasite.
The absence of parasites or any of the aforementioned medical conditions will help your veterinarian give a solid stress colitis diagnosis.
Treatment of Stress Colitis in Dogs
The approach towards stress colitis treatment modalities heavily depends upon the severity of each case. More severe cases might prompt hospitalization, as well as IV fluid therapy and IV medications. However, veterinarians approach milder canine stress colitis cases through gastrointestinal protectants, anti-nausea medications, and anti-parasitic medications.
Unfortunately, medication-heavy approaches do not solve the roots of the problem, which is the stress factor. On the contrary, the medication itself, designed to relieve stress colitis symptoms, as well as the repeated visits to the veterinarian, can exacerbate the problem and stress your dog's digestive system even further. Therefore, please bring any worsened symptoms to your veterinarian's attention while your dog is on medication; they may propose removing the medication altogether.
A holistic approach towards healing stress colitis in dogs considers not only medication but also the food and dietary practices of your dog. An imbalanced digestive system does not call for medication alone; it primarily calls for healthy foods and a personalized eating schedule.
Fasting is the first step towards returning the digestive system to balance. After suffering from distress due to stress colitis, your dog's digestive system needs time to fight off harmful bacteria and minimize inflammation. You can introduce either of the following two fasting plans:
- Feed your dog all of his meals for eight hours, then introduce overnight fasting
- Choose an aggressive fasting approach, i.e., a 24/48-hour period, while still allowing your dog to drink water
These fasting plans do not include puppies, sick dogs, and senior dogs, who must never fast!
Add More Fiber to Your Dog's Diet
After fasting, the next step in your dog's stress colitis plan is increasing fiber intake. When inflammation takes over the colon, impaired water absorption leads to diarrhea and rapid weight loss. Your dog's colon needs something to slow down digestion and allow more water to be absorbed by the body. Psyllium Husk Powder and the Volhard Veggie Pak are a few of the available options for helping your dog regulate his bowel movements, harden his stools, and reduce inflammation. Other healthy foods with a high concentration of fiber are:
- Beet pulp
- Green beans
Introduce a Low-Residue Diet
Once his digestive system has had enough time to rebalance itself, it's time to introduce your dog to a low-residue diet. Such a diet implies easily digestible foods, which your dog's digestive system can process with less residue as a result. Less residue translates into less pressure on the digestive system and an easier bowel passage.
Decades of research have helped turn Volhard food into a solid foundation of any healthy, low-residue diet! You can add the following ingredients to the Volhard diet for an even more nutritious, low-residue food bowl:
Include Prebiotics and Probiotics Into the Diet
The gut microbiome imbalance caused by canine stress colitis asks for foods rich in healthy bacteria, bringing the healthy and harmful bacteria levels back into balance. For that reason, you will need to look for foods that abound in prebiotics (i.e., the healthy bacteria's food source) and probiotics (i.e., the equivalent of healthy bacteria). Apples, bananas, flaxseeds, chicory root, and raw oats make perfect prebiotic sources, whereas yogurt and kefir (without artificial sweeteners!) are the go-to probiotic foods.
A Parting Reminder
Daily stress affects our canine companions as well, not just humans, and the signs of chronic stress frequently show in the gut. To treat chronic stress colitis, we must first identify and eradicate the stress factors, then choose the proper diet for a dog with gut microbiome imbalances. Canine stress colitis doesn't require extended time and medical treatment to recede, and with the help of today's knowledge, you will bring an end to your dog's stress colitis in no time! For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!
Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!