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Common Digestive Problems in Dogs and Cats

While it’s normal for your fur baby to get a stomach upset now and then, dogs and cats can suffer from a number of digestive problems that may be more than just a passing complaint. Whether your pet has been experiencing vomiting, diarrhea or other symptoms, here are the most common gastrointestinal problems that could be affecting them.


Gastroenteritis is a catch-all term that refers to any inflammation or irritation of the digestive tract, meaning the stomach and intestines. Symptoms of the condition usually include diarrhea, abdominal pain, and vomiting, often with foamy bile found in the vomit. This condition may be acute (severe and short-lived) or chronic (ongoing). Acute gastroenteritis is normally caused by the animal ingesting something toxic or indigestible such as rotten food, poisonous plants or bone. Chronic gastroenteritis may be caused by infections, parasites or diseases. Regardless of the cause of the gastroenteritis, most pets will become dehydrated and should be encouraged to drink plenty of water. Depending on the severity, your pet may need to see a veterinarian to have additional fluids administered intravenously.


This refers to the inflammation of the colon, which is also known as the large intestine or large bowel. This is where the final stages of digestion take place and where water is removed from the feces before it is eliminated from the body. When the colon becomes inflamed or irritated, the water is not removed efficiently, resulting in diarrhea. Colitis can be acute (sudden and short-lived), chronic (lasting more than two weeks) or episodic (coming and going over time). Symptoms of colitis include frequent diarrhea, mucus or blood in the feces and straining to defecate. Symptoms of ongoing or chronic colitis include lethargy, poor appetite and avoiding contact with animals or humans. Colitis can be caused by a wide range of factors, so pinning down the exact cause might be difficult. If the symptoms last for more than two days, you should see your vet to diagnose and eliminate the problem. Common causes of colitis include food allergies, eating inappropriate foods or non-food items, stress or infections. Colitis may also be a symptom of other diseases including colon cancer, diabetes or kidney disease.


This can be both a problem on its own or a symptom of another primary digestive issue. Some of the most common non-disease causes include a change in diet, eating something they shouldn’t have, infections or stress. Regardless of the underlying cause, diarrhea can cause your dog or cat to become very dehydrated, so make sure their fluids are being replenished. In many cases, diarrhea is a short-lived issue that passes without any further complications, however, there are some cases where you may wish to see a vet. This includes additional symptoms such as loss of appetite, lethargy, blood in the stool or if your pet is already in ill health or very young/old.


Like diarrhea, this can be both a symptom of another issue and a gastrointestinal problem in itself. Constipation can be caused by a wide range of factors, many of them related to lifestyle or diet. A dog or cat that does not get enough fiber or water may create dry stools that are difficult to evacuate. A lack of exercise may also cause constipation, as the muscles of the digestive tract do not get enough stimulation. Other non-disease causes include excessive grooming, which leads to hair collecting in the stool, ingestion of non-food items such as bone or pieces of toy, side effects of medication or simply old age. If constipation is left untreated it can lead to fecal impaction and permanent damage to the colon.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Very simply put, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a sensitivity of the lower bowels, which develop recurring bouts of inflammation. This inflammation leads to symptoms including diarrhea (often containing mucus), bloating and constipation. The cause of IBS is not always known, but it is often triggered by stress or anxiety, though food intolerances are also an issue. Diagnosing irritable bowels syndrome is what’s known as a diagnosis of exclusion – if the vet can rule out other diseases and conditions, the cause of the upset will be IBS.


The pancreas plays a part in digestion by releasing enzymes into the intestinal tract that help to break down food. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it can release the enzymes too soon, causing damage to the pancreas and nearby organs. Pancreatitis is often mild and passes without complication, but it can become life threatening if the inflammation affects other organs. Symptoms can include vomiting, abdominal pain, a hunched back, diarrhea, loss of appetite and fever. The cause of pancreatitis can be hard to pin down, but it is thought that a fatty diet is a particular trigger. Other factors include obesity, diabetes or a trauma directly to the area.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

Somewhat connected to pancreatitis is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). This is when the pancreas fails to produce sufficient amounts of the enzymes that help to break down food. This not only affects the gastrointestinal process also their general nutrition, as they are not absorbing all the nutrients from their food. Symptoms of EPI include chronic diarrhea, weight loss and large volumes of feces. Cats with EPI may experience weight loss without displaying any other symptoms. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is often caused by chronic pancreatitis, but can also be the result of infection of or injury to the pancreas, or a genetic disposition. If EPI is diagnosed, your pet will require lifelong medication to replace the digestive enzyme that is no longer being produced.

Small intestine malabsorption

The small intestine is where nutrients are absorbed from food as it is broken down during the digestive process. However, a number of causes and diseases can result in this process not functioning as it should, meaning your dog or cat is not getting the nutrition they need. Symptoms of this condition include weight loss, increased appetite, diarrhea and stools that still contain partially digested food. If your vet rules your pet has small intestine malabsorption, they will also need to discover that has caused the problem in order to help your pet recover. Some of the most common causes include general inflammation of the small intestine, cancer and bacterial overgrowth.

Common Digestive Problems in Dogs and Cats

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