Digestive disorders, also known as gastrointestinal disorders, occur in dogs as well as in every other animal. In dogs digestive problems are often very challenging for people since they result in messes in the house, serious health conditions but also just socially unacceptable behavior such as excessive gas, burping and vomiting. Each of these conditions may be normal depending on what the dog has consumed, but when the conditions continue they can be very serious and even life threatening, especially for young puppies and dogs that already have their health compromised.
Many people don't understand that digestive or gastrointestinal issues can actually be inherited. These are several different conditions that are caused by structural irregularities that can be passed through genetics, while others are due to inherited malfunctioning within different parts of the digestive system. Different conditions have different treatment options, but like any health issues the faster they are diagnosed and treated the more positive the long-term outlook is for the dog. For many dogs with inherited gastrointestinal disorders the outlook is very good, owners may need to adjust the diet or closely monitor what their dog is eating, however once the issue is corrected it is likely not a life threatening condition.
There are some very serious and potentially deadly digestive disorders that can occur. Most of the time even these can be treated and managed if diagnosed early enough to prevent any serious damage to the rest of the systems in the dog's body.
One of the most common inherited digestive problems that occur in dogs with deep, narrow chest is bloat. The proper name for bloat is gastric dilatation-volvulus or GDV. It is caused when the stomach fills up with any substance including air, then when swollen, twists around in the abdominal cavity to prevent anything from passing out of the stomach to the intestines and out of the dog. When this torsion occurs the pressure builds up in the stomach and pushes upwards on the heart and lungs, resulting in anxiety, decrease in blood flow to and from the heart, difficulty in breathing, toxicity in the blood and eventually death if the pressure is not alleviated.
Breeds of dogs that are most prone to the condition include Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Borzois, St. Bernards, Irish Setters, Bloodhounds, Scottish Deerhounds and some Greyhounds. Any mixed breed dog with the physical attributes of a deep chest that is relatively narrow will also be at risk. Dogs that gulp their food, drink large amounts of water after or during meals, exercise even moderately immediately after eating or dogs that tend to swallow lots of air during eating are most at risk within the problematic breeds.
Dogs with GDV are perfectly fine, then eat and within a few hours start to show signs of anxiety. They pace, attempt to vomit without producing anything, whine, have signs of extreme abdominal pain and bloating and begin panting and having difficulty in breathing. If not treated in a very short period of time, often not more than six hours after the consumption of food, the dog it at high risk for death.
The only treatment at this point is to insert a gastrointestinal tube to relieve the gas pressure, followed by surgery to untwist the stomach and reposition it correctly. Often the stomach is anchored to the abdominal wall since a reoccurrence of the condition is common once it has happened. This condition can be managed by feeding several small meals a day, water the dog before meals but then removing the water while he or she is eating, and refraining from any type of exercise or play for at least an hour after eating.
Pancreatitis is an inherited genetic condition found in many Poodles, especially Miniatures and Toys, as well as in Miniature Schnauzers and some mixed breeds with these two breeds as one of the parent dogs. When the pancreas is working correctly it produces digestive compounds known as enzymes to help the food breakdown in the gastrointestinal tract. Dogs that have pancreatitis actually over produce the digestive enzymes that begin to break down the pancreas itself. Over time the destruction of the pancreas leads to vomiting, internal hemorrhaging, abdominal pain and eventually to toxicity and death.
Typically pancreatitis is seen in combination with other health conditions such as diabetes, exposure to toxins or diets that are very high in fatty and processed foods. Obesity is commonly seen in cases of pancreatitis and often the dog has been overweight for a significant amount of time. Most dogs diagnosed with the condition are over 6 years of age and have had bouts of diarrhea, vomiting and poor health for years, without any diagnosis of the condition. Other dogs may simply eat a high fat meal or get into food in a garbage and have a very sudden and violent attack.
Treatment for mild cases can include changing the dog's diet, increasing exercise to lose excess weight and antibiotics to treat any infections or inflammations. If the pancreas is damaged surgery can be complete that can remove abscesses or other obstructions that may be causing the problem. Many dogs will recover from this condition however if the toxicity has reached critical levels in the blood the prognosis is never good. It is important to note that there is no definite genetic factor found for this condition however it does run in pedigree lines, leading to the belief that it is somehow genetically linked.
Diseases of the liver, often simply grouped as chronic hepatitis, seem to have a genetic component in many breeds. Breeds that are prone to these liver conditions include Labs, Skye Terriers, Bedlington Terriers, Cocker Spaniels (English and American), Doberman Pinschers and West Highland White Terriers. Generalized poor health gradually progressing to yellowing of the eyes and gums, vomiting, chronic diarrhea and fluid build up in the body along with overall weight loss are signs of significant liver damage. If the diagnosis is early, prior to significant liver destruction, medications to treat the cause of the condition can be relatively successful. If the symptoms are significant and have been developing over year it is often the case that that liver damage has already occurred. In these situations there is little that can be done other than helping the dog be as comfortable as possible.
There are now genetic tests that can be done in some breeds, including the Bedlington Terrier, to test for the unique hepatitis found within that particular breed. Researches continue to look for genetic markers that can be used to test for other liver conditions in other susceptible breeds.