Canine Colitis

Table of Contents

Causes | Symptoms | Treatment


"Canine colitis is a term that refers to inflammation in the colon or large intestine of dogs. The function of the colon is to maintain electrolyte and fluid balance and to help in the absorption of nutrients.

Moreover the colon and large intestine stores feces for quite some time and is a habitat for a number of microbes. These microorganisms can be pathogenic (disease causing) in nature and may cause inflammation in the colon; these may be bacteria, fungus and parasites. Allergies, traumas, infections in associated digestive organs and defects in immune regulation of the colon are some other possible causes for dog colitis.

Dogs with colitis usually appear normal physically, but abnormal defecation i.e. either constipation or diarrhea and vomiting are initially the only signs, and in severe cases, followed by blood in the feces and ulceration of the colon walls.

Any underlying cause should be confirmed with laboratory tests by rectal examination and fecal examination in laboratory. Endoscopy and biopsy is essential if ulcers are suspected. Treatment of the underlying cause, dietary management and supportive therapy will work to resolve the colitis."

Overview and Causes of Canine Colitis

Colitis in dogs may be acute or chronic, depending upon the exposure to and severity of the causative factors. Idiopathic canine colitis or cases whose cause is unknown is most common, as a number of pathogenic microbes such as bacteria, fungi and parasites have been identified as being a primary cause. Trauma, allergies and infections of liver, kidney, spleen, pancreas etc, too have been hypothesized for causing the condition.

Salmonella, Clostridium and Campylobectar are the most common bacterial species that causes canine colitis. Giardia is a protozoon that can lead to inflammation of the large intestine in dogs, while fungal species ingested or developed due to humidity in a kennel can surely cause canine colitis.

Occasional allergic reactions and disturbance in the regulatory mechanism of the large intestine and severe trauma, either due to accidents or due to pelvic stress are considered to be secondary or less common causes of colitis in dogs.

Symptoms of Canine Colitis

Colitis can occur in any dog, but some breeds and dogs with more than six years of age are more susceptible. Boxers are predisposed to colitis due to a relatively stressed digestive immune response. Clinically, a dog with inflammation of the large intestine initially appears normal except for the symptoms of abnormal defecation. Either diarrhea or constipation can occur, with vomiting and nausea seen in only 30% of all cases.

In severe cases, blood may pass in the feces, while “ulcerative colitis” is common in such cases. Boxers will surely develop ulcers if the colitis is not attended to.

Diagnosis of Colitis in Dogs

Clinical history and rectal palpation (touching) and examination are important if colitis is suspected as being the cause of a dog's problem. Fecal examination in the laboratory through culturing and flotation techniques can help to confirm the possible cause, but it is not always helpful.

Dogs with signs of ulceration and blood in the feces requires an endoscopy (visual inspection of the colon by inserting a camera) and/or biopsy to be performed for confirmation and to determine the status of the condition.

Treatment of Canine Colitis

Any underlying cause confirmed by diagnosis should be treated preferably with the necessary antibiotics, anti fungal, anti parasitic or anti allergic drugs.

Dietary management of colitis in dogs is considered to be important if the treatment approach needed is uncertain. Dog food should be withheld for 24 – 48 hours initially, in order to keep the bowel at rest. Administration of nutrients intravenously can help to restore body energy during the fast. A highly digestible commercial diet, containing soluble fiber should be administered, and once diarrhea or constipation is resolved.

On restoration of feeding, dog must be given a “novel protein” only, which should be decided on basis of the dog's feeding history. The addition of anti-inflammatory drugs like, sulfasalizine or azathioprine into the canine colitis prescription diet helps to promote rapid recovery from clinical signs. Some other drugs, such as “motility modifiers”, such as loperamide, if administered can help slow down the passage of feces, but not all affected dogs need to follow this approach.

In addition to conventional "base" approaches, adding a natural supportive approach may help accelerate your dog's progress and also work to maintain balance in the digestive tract once cured. Natural ingredients such as Slippery Elm and Licorice are natural digestive herbal remedies. One product that combines both of these in ingredients is Digestive Support. Clinical information is provided on the manufacturers site.


The Merck/Merical Veterinary Manual