When my dog was vomiting profusely one day after getting into the trash can, I took her to the veterinarian’s office. While there, they ran some tests and told me she had acute gastritis, so I decided to look into it further.
So, what is gastritis in dogs? Gastritis is inflammation of the gastric mucosa. It can be caused by many things, especially dietary indiscretion. The major clinical sign is your dog vomiting, which can even have blood in it. It can occur with an acute onset or last chronically for many months.
The cause of gastritis is often unknown because of the short duration of clinical signs. Most pets recover from acute cases within a few hours, especially with supportive therapy, such as anti-nausea medications. Like other gastrointestinal diseases, gastritis can manifest with abdominal pain or discomfort.
What is Dog Gastritis?
The gastrointestinal tract is responsible for the digestion and absorption of nutrients from the foods that our pets consume.
Carbohydrates get broken down by enzymes such as amylase, while bile helps to process fats. Proteins and nucleic acids are also digested and absorbed across the gut to be used within the body.
When the gastric mucosa is inflamed, the body isn’t able to digest and absorb nutrients readily. The inflammation can be very painful and cause anorexia, as well.
Gastritis can come on suddenly, such as after your dog gets into the trash, or it can come on over a long period of time, with waxing and waning symptoms (Source: VCA).
Consequences of Gastritis
When a dog has inflammation of its gastric mucosa, such as what happens during gastritis, several different things happen to the gastrointestinal tract.
Inflammatory factors are released within the mucosa, disrupting the epithelial cells lining the stomach.
During gastritis, more gastric acid is secreted by the body, which can make symptoms worse, such as increased nausea and vomiting.
Ulceration of the stomach and esophagus can easily result.
With all of these changes, the barrier function of the gut is disrupted (Source: Merck Veterinary Manual).
Causes of Gastritis
There are many causes of gastritis in dogs, with the most common being dietary indiscretion, where your dog eats something that it is not supposed to.
This can be human food, trash, raw materials, or any number of other things. The cause is most often identified based on the history of what your dog has been exposed to.
Other potential causes include:
- Neoplasia or cancer
- Liver disease
- Viral infections such as parvovirus
- Foreign body ingestion
- Food allergies (Source: Merck Veterinary Manual)
Symptoms of Gastritis
The most common symptom of gastritis is nausea or vomiting.
Many dogs that are affected also have a decreased appetite.
Depending on how long the problem is going on or what triggered the episode, you might see other clinical signs.
These include depression and lethargy.
With infections, your dog might run a fever. Because they’re losing fluids by vomiting, your dog might be extra thirsty.
Your dog might have blood in its vomit, or even in its stool.
This is more common with chronic cases but can certainly occur with acute cases of gastritis as well.
Your dog might have a painful abdomen, leading to a sign called splinting or hunching their back (Source: VCA).
Diagnosing gastritis can be difficult, and acute gastritis is often diagnosed presumptively based on clinical signs and history.
When your pet is brought in to the veterinarian’s office, they will likely run blood work, which may include a pancreatitis test to rule that disease process out.
A urinalysis may be performed to evaluate kidney function and rule out toxin exposure, such as to antifreeze.
A fecal floatation test may be run to rule out intestinal parasites.
X-rays, also known as radiographs, may also be taken to evaluate for issues such as foreign body ingestions.
At the same time, your veterinarian may perform a barium contrast study to help determine if there is a foreign body. The barium will sometimes help treat the gastritis by coating the esophagus and stomach.
Chronic cases of gastritis can be more challenging.
In these cases, more advanced diagnostics may be utilized. This includes:
- Ultrasounding the abdomen to evaluate the mucosal layers of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Endoscopy may also be performed, allowing samples of the stomach and intestinal mucosa to be sampled and analyzed microscopically by a pathologist (Source: PetMD).
Treatment for Gastritis
The treatment for gastritis depends on the exact cause, although acute cases in particular may be treated symptomatically.
Many acute cases will resolve with little to no intervention, but it’s still best to have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian to ensure something else is not going on.
A specific diagnosis is especially important in cases that are on-going, involve blood in the vomit, if toxin exposure is possible, or if your dog may have eaten something inappropriate.
The mainstay of treating gastritis is to allow the gut to rest, which involves withholding food, usually for 12 to 24 hours. You should offer small amounts of water, but be careful as too much may induce vomiting.
After withholding food, it is time to reintroduce it slowly: give small meals frequently of a bland diet.
You may also try feeding chicken and rice at home, generally boiled and in equal amounts, with no seasonings.
If your pet cannot keep food or water down, more aggressive diagnostics or therapy may be warranted.
Anti-nausea medications are often used, such as maropitant or ondansetron, to help your pet feel more comfortable and control vomiting. Metoclopramide may be used to help encourage gastrointestinal transit.
Gastroprotectants are also often used in cases of gastritis, especially when they don’t respond to the initial conservative management. These might include sucralfate to coat the stomach and esophagus.
Proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole or stomach receptor antagonists such as famotidine or ranitidine may also be used, especially if ulcers are expected or confirmed on endoscopy (Source: VCA).
For many cases of gastritis, the prognosis is good and the patients start to feel better quickly. This is especially true of acute cases of gastritis.
The prognosis for more chronic cases depends largely on what the cause is.
Chronic diseases such as pancreatitis or gastrointestinal lymphoma have a much poorer prognosis than treating food allergies.
What can you give a dog with gastroenteritis? If your dog has gastroenteritis, you’ll want to let their gut rest by not feeding them for several hours. Then offer small meals of bland food, like chicken and rice. Your vet may also prescribe medication such as famotidine or sucralfate to help protect the gastrointestinal tract.
Is gastroenteritis in dogs fatal? In most cases of gastroenteritis, your dog will recover with conservative therapy. Some cases, such as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, can be fatal if your pet isn’t treated. Other causes of gastroenteritis can also have a poor prognosis without prompt treatment, such as secondary to foreign body ingestion.