Colitis is one of many common dog illnesses your pup may experience. While diet, food allergies, and parasites can all cause colitis, stress may also be a culprit. Here’s more information on what colitis is and what you can do to treat stress colitis in dogs.
In the simplest terms, “Dog colitis is inflammation of the colon or large intestine,” explains New Zealand-based emergency care veterinarian Dr. Corrine Wigfall, BVM, BVS, BVMedSci, a vet expert with SpiritDog Training.1
The colon has a lot of functions, like maintaining water-electrolyte balance, providing an environment for healthy gut bacteria, and absorbing nutrients from food.2 When a dog’s colon is thrown out of whack, diarrhea can be the result. Another term for colitis is large bowel diarrhea, says Dr. Wigfall.
Often, colitis comes and goes on its own before a vet can figure out what caused it. However, there are several common causes of colitis in dogs, including stress, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), intestinal worms and parasites, food allergies, poor diet, or eating something bad.3
Usually, the first sign of colitis is diarrhea that lasts more than 2 days. Dogs with colitis may show other symptoms, such as constipation or straining to poop, multiple trips to the bathroom, accidents in the home, blood or mucus in stool, weight loss, and vomiting.4
If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s recommended that you take your pup to the vet. Sometimes, colitis resolves itself, but it’s a good idea to intervene if your pet is vomiting or has diarrhea for more than 4z8 hours.
Dog colitis can be caused by a wide range of factors, with cases typically categorized as either acute or chronic.
Acute colitis in dogs is short-lived. It usually resolves on its own after a few days. Stress-induced colitis in dogs is the most common cause of acute colitis.5
“This can occur from boarding, travel, or other changes, and dietary indiscretion — eating something they aren’t used to or raiding the garbage,” explains GoodVets veterinarian Dr. Julie Bradford, DVM, owner and medical director of practices in Prairie Village and Overland Park, Kansas.6
Chronic colitis, on the other hand, can last for weeks or more and may be recurring.
Here’s a full rundown of the causes behind acute and chronic colitis in dogs.
Stress may be the culprit of your dog’s acute colitis, or it could be intensifying the underlying cause of colitis, such as:
- Dietary changes: If you change your dog’s diet too quickly, they could develop acute colitis as their digestive system struggles to adjust.
- Dietary indiscretions: These can happen when your dog eats inappropriate foods (e.g., fatty table scraps), raids the trash, or consumes too many treats.
- Parasites: Some parasites may cause acute colitis, including whipworms and Giardia.
- Infections: Bacteria and fungi can also cause colitis.
- Foreign materials: If your dog’s intestine is obstructed by a foreign, non-food object — such as a sock they’ve swallowed — this can also cause colitis.
No matter what’s triggering it, stress of any kind can cause undue pressure on your pet’s immune system, which can lead to colitis flare-ups.5 If your dog has canine stress colitis, you and your vet can work together to help reduce stress in your dog's life.
- Parasites: If left untreated, the same parasites that cause acute colitis can cause chronic colitis, too.
- Food allergies and hypersensitivities: Dogs with allergies or sensitivities may suffer from continuous dietary upsets that trigger colitis.
- Infections: Just like acute colitis, chronic colitis is sometimes triggered by infections from bacteria or fungi.
- Foreign materials: If left unresolved, acute colitis caused by an obstruction can develop into chronic colitis.
- Inflammatory bowel disease: This chronic irritation of the intestines can trigger colitis.
- Cancer: When tumors obstruct the intestine, this can cause colitis.
- Pancreatic issues: Sometimes, inflammation of the pancreas (known as pancreatitis) occurs at the same time as colitis, because the pancreas and colon are so close to each other.
- Idiopathic: If a specific cause for colitis can’t be found, it may be diagnosed as idiopathic.
“Most dogs with acute colitis are usually clinically well, despite having some symptoms,” says Dr. Wigfall. Your vet will likely need to conduct a physical exam to find the root cause of your dog’s colitis.
“Conditions that present similarly to acute colitis include rectal tumors or polyps, foreign body obstructions, intussusception, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, and diseases of the anal sacs,” explains Dr. Wigfall. “Chronic colitis can present similarly to cancer of the rectum and irritable bowel syndrome,” she adds.1
Dr. Bradford explains what to expect during an appointment with your veterinarian: “For acute cases of colitis, we’ll ask for a good history of what has been going on, including any recent stressors or dietary changes.” Your veterinarian will also perform a complete physical exam. “This includes a rectal exam to get a fecal sample to screen for parasites,” adds Dr. Bradford. Costs for these initial tests can range from $50 to $200 and up, depending on your location.5
For chronic colitis, further testing may be needed. “This can include blood work, X-rays, and ultrasound,” says Dr. Bradford. “Complicated and recurrent cases may also require referrals for specialist diagnostics, including endoscopy and biopsy, plus lifelong diet and medical management,” says Dr. Wigfall. In these cases, costs may range from $1,000 to $10,000.7