Gastrointestinal problems in dogs and cats.
The digestive system of humans is quite different from that of predators such as cats and dogs, but for each species, the digestive system is subject to a number of problems and their attendant unpleasant symptoms.
I shudder to think about what would happen if we ate the raw flesh of the sickest animal around, but dogs and cats can do that with ease. I shudder to think of what would happen if we dismantled and swallowed a rawhide bone, or a bunch of loose hair. But dogs and cats can do just that, usually without significant digestive problems.
Dogs and cats love to eat grass but it usually makes them throw up. There are a number of theories as to why. Some believe that the animal has an upset stomach so is purging. Detractors believe they don't possess the intelligence to do that. If they were that smart, would they eat poop?
Some believe that there's a nutrient lacking in the diet, so the animals are "filling in the empty space." As obligate carnivores, there's nothing in grass that would satisfy a dietary insufficiency in cats. Besides, today's commercial diets are so well formulated that the chances of something lacking are pretty slim.
My favorite speculates that the coarse surface of the blade of grass irritates the stomach lining. If you run your fingers from the bottom to the top of a blade of turf grass, you’ll feel its coarseness; like fine sandpaper.
The "cat grass" product you find in pet supply stores is not the same as the turf grass that causes our pets to vomit. They're seeded with wheat, oat or barley grasses. Those hay products have a smooth surface that won't irritate the stomach lining.
A Look At IBD and IBS In Pets
But when their gut is ailing, life is miserable for them. They're susceptible to a couple of conditions that we'll look at over the next several paragraphs: IBD and IBS, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome respectively.
We know that many of the maladies that befall people also befall our pets. Of course, the way we diagnose and treat people is quite different from the way we diagnose and treat animals. People are easier. And people don't usually make things worse just by doing the things people do.
Pets, on the other hand, are more difficult to diagnose simply because doctors can't ask them the things that doctors need to know, they have to sedate them to do a decent examination, and they frequently make matters worse just by doing the dumb things animals sometimes do.
If you have, let's say, an intestinal disorder and you know that you shouldn't eat certain things such as seeds and nuts, you don't eat seeds and nuts. Dogs and cats haven't reached that evolutionary plateau yet.
"Indelicate Moment" Alert
In inflammatory bowel disease, cells that are involved in inflammation and immune responses collect in the lining of the GI tract causing thickening. This thickening interferes with the bowel's ability to absorb and move food and, depending upon where this disruption is, creates symptoms.
For instance, if the problem occurs in the stomach or upper reaches of the small intestine, chronic vomiting results. If the problem is in the lower areas of the small intestine, a watery diarrhea and, perhaps weight loss, occurs. And if you see mucous diarrhea with blood, the problem is in the large intestine.
They don't really know what causes IBD, but there are lots of suspicious characters: an allergy to a food protein, parasites, inflammation originating with the digestive bacteria that normally inhabit the bowel, or some problem with the animal's immune system, to name a few.
Treatment is with medications and a fat restricted diet (fat prolongs the amount of time food spends in the stomach, and that can cause nausea). Vets will often recommend a limited ingredient diet (L.I.D) or suggest food with a novel protein source.
A novel protein source is simply one that the pet hasn't been exposed to before. It doesn't necessarily have to be exotic, either. If your dog never had chicken, then chicken is a novel protein to your dog.
Popular novel proteins include, for example, bison, venison, duck, kangaroo or fish. Some companies are even exploring the use of insect protein, for both pets and humans.
IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome, is quite different, although many people get the two mixed up. Where IBD is a physical disease, IBS is a stress related, psychosomatic disease. Its symptoms include bowel urgency, straining to pass stool, and mucous diarrhea.
The simplest things, occurrences we take for granted, can be very stressful to pets since nothing can be explained to them. Any kind of change…new furniture, addition or absence of a family member, weather changes, changes in schedules or routines, can trigger an attack of IBS.
Our own gut takes a hit during times of stress, and we have the intelligence to analyze and reconcile situations. Dogs and cats have similar reactions to stress, only they can't readily reconcile things.
To treat IBS vets will prescribe anti-anxiety and anti-diarrhea medications, and usually a high fiber diet. Increased amounts of fiber appear to normalize bowel function somewhat and help reduce spasms.
You'll also be asked to put your thinking cap on to see if the animal's stress factors can be identified and dealt with.
It would all be so much easier if we could just sit down and have a heart to heart with them.
© 2012 Bob Bamberg