Do you need to be a vet to link your dog’s stomach upsets to cheap and nasty food?
I ask the question because sometimes I wonder how much joined-up thinking (a.k.a. common sense) people use when it comes to their pets.
OK, this is a sweeping generalization and unfair to the majority of responsible people, so let me explain the reason for the rant.
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Ted the Cockapoo
I was getting to know Ted’s person quite well, as this was the third time I’d seen her in 2 months … for the same problem. Ted was as bright as a button, a shaggy and slightly anxious cockapoo. His human, a young woman, was full of concern for her dog.
Apparently, the previous year, Ted had had a nasty stomach upset that ended up with the dog being hospitalized for 3 days on intravenous fluids. Now things weren’t going so well because Ted kept showing the same symptoms: bloody, mucus-covered stools.
Fortunately, rather than turn a blind eye, the client now brought Ted straight to the surgery at the first sign of problem poop. Hence the regular visits.
At each presentation, Ted was chirpy as a cricket but had especially foul feces. On each visit, he responded well to treatment of a bland diet and gut anti-inflammatories. Only now, the client was beginning to think the worst and was terrified this was bowel cancer, as the dog kept being ill.
Common Things Are Common
Again, the dog was a puzzle on clinical exam. A young dog, his slim tummy was relaxed and, happily, there were no obvious internal lumps or bumps to find. While this in no way rules out cancer, it’s a good starting point. And given Ted’s high energy levels and good body condition, he didn’t look like a seriously sick dog.
Something didn’t add up.
Again, I asked what Ted ate. His human again reassured me that Ted had good food that her other dog, who was fine, also ate. At this point, her partner chimed in: “What? That food’s rubbish. I keep telling you it’s rubbish. It’s cheap and nasty [insert an unpublishable word].”
OK, perhaps now we were getting somewhere. She visibly sagged and, in a hushed voice, agreed it was a cheap supermarket food, but both dogs chowed it down, so she’d assumed it was OK. They wouldn’t eat it if it were bad for them, right?
Ahem … that’s the same sense dogs use when eating stones, golf balls, empty yogurt containers and other various detritus that I’ve surgically removed from their gut.
The Possible Culprit: Colitis
Things began to fall into place. Ted’s symptoms of bloody poop covered in mucus could be consistent with inflammation triggered by food intolerance or allergy. Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or colitis can be linked to stress but also to ingredients in their food that the gut finds difficult to process or is allergic to.
Unfortunately, cheap foods are often bulked up with fillers, such as soy protein, that are hard for dogs to digest. In the best case scenario, this can lead to bulky, soft poop and flatulence, but for some dogs, the end result is bloody stools.
In the case of colitis, the lining of the bowel becomes inflamed, which is where the blood comes from. In an attempt to heal itself, the gut then produces mucus as a “bandage” to seal off the food it’s struggling to process.
Now there are other issues that can cause bowel inflammation, such as infections, parasites, pancreatitis and, indeed, cancer, so it’s not right to jump to conclusions, but common things are common.
And with Ted — who was otherwise hale and hearty — it seemed a good idea to address the obvious first: his diet.
Learn more about stomach upsets in dogs in this video:
A Treatment Twist
I discussed my reasoning with the client and suggested in the long term putting Ted onto a good-quality but easy-to-digest complete food.
Then came the surprise: She, having accepted what the dog ate was relevant when dealing with stomach upsets, now wanted to give the dog the diet that was technically least likely to trigger inflammation: a top-of-the-line hypoallergenic diet. I did suggest a middle ground was worth giving a whirl, but no, her mind was made up. Talk about extremes!
All of which raised the question about common sense. Surely, it’s not unreasonable, if your fit dog eats rubbish food and has regular stomach upsets, to think that diet might play a part? It’s not rocket science, is it?
The ironic thing is that by trying to save money on cheap food, this client spent big on vet fees — the only difference being she paid for the supermarket food, but it was the pet insurance company that footed the bill for the dog’s treatment (including hospitalization for 3 days last year).
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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed March 9, 2018.