When your dog has an inflamed colon you’ll notice it soon enough … in the form of diarrhea. This is the first sign of colitis in dogs … so, here’s more about this problem, and how to manage it effectively.
What Is Colitis In Dogs?
Colitis is inflammation of the large intestine, also known as the colon. The colon absorbs water and stores waste that’s eliminated from the body as stool. Undigested food that reaches the colon is digested by beneficial bacteria in the gut. During stress or illness, the colon can become inflamed, which stops the colon from absorbing water and prevents further digestion and nutrient absorption. The water has to go somewhere so it’s released as loose stools and diarrhea. But it can usually be resolved within 72 hours.
There are two main types of colitis in dogs.
Acute Colitis In Dogs
Acute colitis is when your dog has a sudden case of diarrhea but it only lasts a day or 2 and usually clears up on its own. Your dog’s stool will be very soft or liquid, and can contain blood or mucus. Your dog will have an urgent, frequent need to go outside and might even have accidents in the house.
Chronic Colitis In Dogs
Chronic colitis lasts several weeks or longer. Dogs with chronic colitis typically seem healthy except for diarrhea that comes and goes. If the underlying cause isn’t addressed, the diarrhea episodes can continue intermittently.
Chronic colitis can be caused by:
- Poor or new diet
- Pancreatic issues
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Internal parasites
- Bacterial or fungal infections
- Food sensitivities
There are 2 other types of chronic colitis in dogs.
Granulomatous Colitis In Dogs
This rare type of colitis affects Boxers, French Bulldogs and some Mastiffs. It’s caused by an aggressive form of E. coli bacteria that infect the intestinal lining and hide within intestinal macrophages, a type of white blood cell. It causes a thickening and partial blockage of the colon. A Cornell University study suspects there’s an abnormality in these breeds that allows the bacteria to infect the intestinal lining. The symptoms of granulomatous colitis include: bloody diarrhea, weight loss, anemia and debilitation. (1)
Histiocytic Ulcerative Colitis In Dogs
This is a severe form of colitis because it’s not caused by an infection, it’s lifelong and it’s a risk factor for bowel cancer. It’s thought to be an autoimmune condition or a result of genetics. It causes inflammation and ulcers to the lining of the large intestine that produce bleeding and pus. This primarily affects Boxers but French Bulldogs, Alaskan Malamutes, English Bulldogs and Doberman Pinschers can also be susceptible.
Symptoms Of Ulcerative Colitis In Dogs
- Frequent straining when trying to poop
- Bloody diarrhea with mucus
- Pain when passing stool
- Intestinal cramping
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss as disease progresses without dietary changes
Ulcerative colitis in dogs (2) is managed by treating the inflammation and improving the diet. You need to avoid feeding foods that are hard to digest like grains, nuts and seeds, dairy, processed foods and meats that are high in salt and unhealthy fats, and high fiber cruciferous vegetables. Instead, you can feed a low residue diet which is higher in protein and low in fiber so there’s less waste to be eliminated through the colon. You can feed peeled and shredded, lightly steamed vegetables like carrots, squash, zucchini, beans and sweet potatoes, eggs, bananas, melons and single source proteins for easier digestion.
There are several things that lead to colitis in dogs.
Causes Of Colitis In Dogs
There are physical, digestive and emotional causes of colitis like these:
- Dietary – sudden changes, too many treats or getting into the garbage
- Loud noises from construction, fireworks or thunderstorms
- Parasites (giardia or whipworms)
- Food sensitivity
- Infection from bacteria or fungus
- Foreign materials such as parts of toys or clothing
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Dysbiosis (leaky gut)
Stress has its own series of factors that cause colitis in dogs.
What Causes Stress Colitis In Dogs?
Dogs are emotional beings so what happens in their lives can affect their health. Stress colitis is short-term, acute colitis that occurs when your dog becomes anxious or distressed. This also stresses his immune system making it possible for harmful bacteria to take hold.
These situations can cause stress colitis.
- Boarding or doggie daycare or being left alone
- Being rehomed or moving
- Adding a new dog to the family
- Having a new baby
And it’s not just the situation that can affect your dog. The sound of a new baby crying … or the constant interaction of a new puppy … are changes in your dog’s environment and his routine. It takes time to adjust and you might find the colitis will resolve in a few days as your dog gets used to new factors in his life.
Here are ways you can tell your dog has colitis …
Symptoms Of Colitis In Dogs
If your dog has colitis, you’ll see some of these signs.
- Sudden intense diarrhea
- Stool is loose and mucousy
- Sense of urgency to poop
- Straining with frequent, low volume stools
- Small amounts of blood in stool
- Greater amounts of gas
How Long Does Colitis Last In Dogs?
Acute colitis in dogs is usually situational or stress-related, so your dog will adjust in a few days.
Chronic colitis in dogs is a longer process as the cause is probably a deeper problem that you have to address, especially if you didn’t recognize your dog’s diarrhea as colitis. It could take weeks and often months or longer to heal leaky gut, pancreatic issues, eliminate food sensitivities or rid your dog of parasites. But the sooner you start, the sooner your dog will begin to heal.
How To Prevent Colitis In Dogs
Many of the treatment methods that follow also form the basis of ongoing good health for your dog. That means you can prevent colitis by feeding a healthy, whole food diet, giving your dog fiber and probiotics and using natural antibiotics for infections instead of toxic drugs that suppress symptoms. That way you’re supporting your dog’s entire body and strengthening his microbiome to fight off bacteria, infection and disease.
Treatment For Colitis In Dogs
A traditional vet will want to prescribe antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. It’s been found that some antibiotics aren’t effective against E. coli and lead to antibiotic resistance. They also break down the beneficial bacteria in your dog’s microbiome. Instead, there are many natural means of treating colitis.
Colitis happens when food isn’t processed or digested properly. You need to slow down your dog’s digestion so there’s less water in the stool and more time for nutrient absorption. Then you’re able to address the inflammation and manage potential infection. Here’s what you can do.
Fast Your Dog
A 24-48 hour fast will rest your dog’s intestinal tract. If diarrhea continues, add another day of fasting. Often dogs will fast themselves … you should let them. They can go for several days but be sure they get plenty of liquids.
Caution: Don’t fast young puppies. See your vet for serious diarrhea in a puppy.
After fasting, slowly feed a bland diet. Soup or broth is better than chicken and rice as you return your dog to regular food. You can make your own bone broth or buy a low sodium broth without onion or other potentially harmful ingredients..
Fiber will slow down waste and absorb water as it moves through the digestive tract. Fiber will also bind with toxins and bacteria and eliminate them with the stool. Slowly add foods like pumpkin (plain, not pie filling), broccoli, microgreens, raspberries, blueberries, shiitake mushrooms, leafy greens, apples and carrots.
Modify Your Dog’s Diet
As colitis improves, slowly transition your dog to a whole food, raw meat diet. It will support a healthy gut by improving levels of beneficial bacteria and promote good digestion and elimination. As much as 90% of your dog’s immune system is in his gut so keep it strong to fight infectious bacteria, parasites and disease.
Colitis forces food and nutrients … and good bacteria … to move quickly through your dog’s system and to be expelled as diarrhea. You can replace the beneficial bacteria with probiotics and prebiotics to rebuild his microbiome.
Supplement With Soothing Herbs
There are many soothing herbs to heal and protect your dog’s inflamed digestive tract including calendula, marshmallow root, slippery elm, licorice root, chamomile and ginger root.
Use Natural Antibiotics
These natural antibiotics can fight infection without further damage to your dog’s microbiome:
- Oil of oregano
- Olive leaf
- Turmeric (for inflammation too)
- Garlic (in supplement or food form)
As always, support your dog’s overall health with a healthy diet and you’ll be building a strong immune system that can fight disease, infection and parasites that can easily lead to colitis … in an unhealthy dog.
- Simpson, Kenneth. 02050: Defining the Genetic Susceptibility to Granulomatous Colitis, a Severe Form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Canine Health Foundation. June 2016
- German, AJ, et al. An immunohistochemical study of histiocytic ulcerative colitis in boxer dogs. J Comp Pathol. 2000 Feb-Apr;122(2-3):163-75.