How To Spot & Treat Colitis in Dogs

Four Minutes
Sep 06, 2023

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.

What Is 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

Symptoms of colitis in dogs

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.

What Causes Colitis in Dogs?

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.

Causes of acute 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.

Causes of chronic colitis in dogs

  • 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.

Diagnosing Colitis in Dogs

“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

Are Expensive Vet Bills Giving You a Bellyache ?


How To Treat Colitis in Dogs

Treatment for colitis depends on what’s causing your dog’s inflammation. “Acute colitis caused by a dietary upset is usually self-resolving, requiring minimal or no treatment,” says Dr. Wigfall. Some owners also choose to introduce bland or fiber-supplemented food. “Fiber supplementation helps bulk up the feces to a normal consistency,” adds Dr. Wigfall. Possible options include bran and psyllium husk, plus other dog-specific fiber supplements.

If your dog has food allergies or sensitivities, your veterinarian may recommend an elimination diet. “This is when a single protein source is used to prevent hypersensitivity reactions,” says Dr. Wigfall. Probiotics can also help restore normal gastrointestinal microbes. “These can be offered whilst the dog has symptoms of colitis,” adds Dr. Wigfall.

Your vet may also ask you to withhold solid food for 1 or 2 days to give your dog’s colon a “rest.” When you reintroduce food, you may add dissolvable fiber for a period of time before weaning them off, so as to not trigger another diarrhea episode.2

Your vet might recommend changing their food to one that’s high in protein when they first resume feeding — typically a kind of protein your dog hasn’t had before, like duck, lamb, kangaroo, or venison.2 Or you may feed them bland but highly digestible food, like chicken and rice, until their symptoms resolve.4

Medication for dog colitis

Sometimes, additional fiber isn’t enough to treat colitis. “If there is an identified infectious cause of the colitis — for example, Giardia — then medication is required to treat the underlying cause,” explains Dr. Wigfall. This may include antibiotics and anthelmintic medications.

If blood is present in your dog’s poop, antibiotics may also be prescribed. “This is due to the increased risk of bacterial infections spreading to other organs,” says Dr. Wigfall. “Dogs suffering from inflammatory conditions may require anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive medications — for example, prednisolone, which is a corticosteroid,” she adds.

It's important that you work with your vet and follow their advice closely to avoid repeat episodes of colitis.

Surgery for dog colitis

In the event that medication isn’t a sufficient treatment for your dog’s colitis, surgery may be an option. “In chronic, recurrent cases of colitis which have permanently diseased sections of the colon — for example in cases with fibrosis and strictures (narrowing) of the colon — then surgery may be required to correct this,” Dr. Wigfall concludes.

Ways to treat stress colitis in dogs

Not only do you need to treat the colitis itself, but you’ll also have to address the stress. Reducing stress can help decrease the number and intensity of your pup’s colitis flare-ups. You and your vet can come up with the right solution based on what’s causing your dog’s stress.

Some ways you can help reduce or manage the different kinds of stress in your dog’s life include:4

  • Modify your pet’s diet with dog-safe foods, like pumpkin and lettuce.
  • Try dog-safe probiotics to bolster their digestive tract and boost their immune system. Speak with your vet before exploring this option, as many supplements on the market haven’t been tested for safety or efficacy.
  • Avoid stressful situations when possible or utilize prescriptions and supplements, like Trazodone or CBD treats, if you can’t avoid the stressor. Your vet can point you in the right direction.
  • Create a more calming environment for your dog, whether you’re at home or while you’re away.
  • Make sure your dog doesn’t over-exert themselves when they exercise or play.
  • Work with a dog behavioral specialist to help with stress and anxiety.

Dog Breeds Prone to Colitis

“Any dog can develop colitis, but breeds more commonly affected include French bulldogs, border collies, boxers, and German shepherds,” says Dr. Wigfall. Boxers, and younger boxers in particular, can suffer from a rare breed-specific condition known as histiocytic ulcerative colitis. This may be linked to E. coli infections, she adds.

Other dog breeds may be predisposed to IBS and other forms of colitis, including:8

Keep in mind that all dogs can experience colitis, but you may want to pay close attention if you have one of these breeds in your family. Colitis could develop into a lifelong condition, but it can be easier to manage, or correct entirely, if caught early.

How To Prevent Colitis in Dogs

Preventing colitis will depend on the reason(s) behind the diagnosis. Dr. Bradford suggests keeping up with regular fecal exams as an important first step: “The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends intestinal parasite screenings twice yearly in adult dogs and four times in the first year for puppies.”

If your dog’s acute colitis can be traced back to something they ate, then taking steps to avoid it happening again is necessary. “Pet parents should prevent counter surfing, raiding the trash, eating something found on a walk, or [sharing] table scraps,” adds Dr. Bradford. You should also avoid sudden dietary changes or feeding things your dog isn’t used to eating. “Feeding a balanced diet and avoiding raw food is also important.”

How MetLife Pet Can Help With Colitis Costs

Colitis can be an uncomfortable, if not painful, disorder that could be costly to diagnose and treat. Pet parents may want to consider investing in a dog insurance policy, so they don’t have to compromise on care because of the cost.

Pet insurance works by reimbursing you for pet care expenses covered under your policy. For colitis, some of these covered expenses may be vet exams, prescriptions, endoscopies, X-rays, ultrasounds, and special vet-prescribed foods. See if dog insurance is worth it for you and your best pal by getting a personalized quote.

Colitis May Hurt Your Pet and Your Wallet


**As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions.

1 Interview with Dr. Corrine Wigfall, BVM, BVS, BVMedSci

2 “Disorders of the Stomach and Intestines in Dogs,” Merck Veterinary Manual

3 “Colitis in Dogs,” BluePearl Pet Hospital

5 “What is Stress Colitis in Dogs?,” Zoetis

4 “Stress Colitis in Dogs,” Great Pet Care

6 Interview with Dr. Julie Bradford, DVM

7 “Endoscopy in Dogs,” Wag Walking

8 “Breed-Specific Intestinal Disease,” Veterinary Information Network (VIN)

9 As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Learn how MetLife Pet pet insurance works and review our coverage and exclusions.

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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