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A Case of Colitis Caused by Cheap Dog Food

This is why buying cheap, low-quality food for your pets may not work out so well in the long run.

Colitis Caused by Cheap Dog Food
Feeding a high-quality dog food can help prevent stomach problems, among other health issues. Photo: aukirk

Do you need to be a veterinarian to link your dog’s stomach upsets to cheap and nasty food?

I ask the question because sometimes I wonder how much 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.

Ted the Cockapoo

I was getting to know Ted’s person quite well, as this was the 3rd 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 mom 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 young woman now brought Ted straight to the vet 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, his mom was beginning to think the worst and was terrified this was bowel cancer, as the dog kept being ill.

Colitis Caused by Cheap Dog Food
Colitis caused by cheap dog food: Let’s face it; dogs don’t always know what’s best when it comes to scarfing down food (or other objects). Photo: heyitsbenrobinson

Common Things Are Common

As I mentioned, this young dog was a puzzle on clinical exam. His slim tummy was relaxed, and there were no obvious internal lumps or bumps to find.

Although 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 mom 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? Their food is rubbish. I keep telling you, it’s cheap dog food.”

OK, perhaps now we were getting somewhere.

She visibly sagged and, in a hushed voice, agreed it was a cheap supermarket dog food, but both dogs chowed it down, so she’d assumed it was OK. They wouldn’t eat it if it was bad for them, right?

Ahem … that’s the same sense dogs use when eating rocks, golf balls, empty yogurt containers and other various detritus that I’ve surgically removed from their gut.

Colitis Caused by Cheap Dog Food

Things began to fall into place.

Ted’s symptoms of bloody feces 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 dog food that the gut finds difficult to process or is allergic to.

Unfortunately, cheap dog food is 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.

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:

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Switching Dog Foods

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.

As far as dog foods to try, VCA Hospitals suggests:

  • Look for a dog food that has a high-quality, highly digestible (87% or more) protein.
  • You might want to consider a single-source, novel protein that the dog has not previously been exposed to, such as venison or duck.
  • The carbohydrate component, too, should be highly digestible (90% or more).
  • Plus, be sure to provide lots of fresh water to your dog.

In addition, Merck Veterinary Manual says, “Supplementing the diet with fiber (1–6 tsp of psyllium hydrophilic mucilloid or 1–4 tbsp of coarse wheat bran/feeding) improves diarrhea in many animals.”

So I suggested a different dog food. Then came the surprise.

Having accepted that what the dog ate was relevant when dealing with stomach upsets, Ted’s mom now wanted to give him the diet that was technically least likely to trigger inflammation: a top-of-the-line hypoallergenic diet.

She didn’t just want “good” — now she had to have the “best.”

I suggested that 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?

The ironic thing is that by trying to save money on cheap food, Ted’s mom ended up spending a lot of money on vet fees.

The only difference is that she had paid for the supermarket food, but it was the pet insurance company that footed the bill for the dog’s treatment.


vet-cross60pThis pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed March 9, 2018.

If you have questions or concerns, call your vet, who is best equipped to ensure the health and well-being of your pet. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.