Digestive System For Dogs
Dogs have a digestive system much like our own. The gastrointestinal tract starts at the mouth, runs through the body, and ends at the anus, where waste is eliminated. In between are the various areas where food is swallowed, digested, and absorbed for use by the body.
Swallowing is initiated at the pharynx and is a reflex action, meaning it’s not under the dog’s control. Once swallowed, the food then passes through the esophagus, a muscular tube that extends from the pharynx to the stomach. It enters the stomach at a sharp angle, which is why food generally doesn’t back up into it.
Once the food reaches the stomach, secretions called hydrochloric acid and proteolytic enzymes (protein bashers) break it down. This can take up to eight hours. Then the pyloric sphincter, a ring of muscle located between the stomach and duodenum, goes into action, moving the stomach’s contents into the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine.
In the intestinal tract, more enzymes secreted by the pancreas and the intestinal mucosa, the inner surface lining of the intestine-as well as bile secreted by the liver continue the digestive process, turning the food into usable carbohydrates, amino acids, and fatty acids. These end products are absorbed and carried to the liver, where they’re converted to energy and stored.
Anything left over, such as fiber or undigested food, moves on to the colon or large intestine. Here, water is removed and the remaining waste material is stored until it’s eliminated in the form of feces.
From one end to the other, any number of things can go wrong with the digestive system. They include trouble swallowing, vomiting and diarrhea, bloat, intestinal obstructions, anal sac problems, constipation, colitis, and flatulence (passing gas). Many other gastrointestinal problems can affect dogs, but these are among the most common.
Dogs who have trouble swallowing may have a partial blockage of the esophagus caused by a foreign object that’s stuck or a tumor that’s blocking the passage. Another possibility is a condition called mega esophagus in which the esophagus becomes enlarged and is no longer able to push food into the stomach.
Megaesophagus can be managed by raising the dog’s food and water dishes of the floor to facilitate swallowing. Some surgical techniques have been tried, with variable success.
Vomiting and Diarrhea
Vomiting and diarrhea re are common problems in dogs. The brain actually has a vomiting center, and the dog’s center is highly developed making it easy for a dog to vomit. The usual suspects behind vomiting are indigestible substances, eating too fast and then being too active, anxiety or excitement, and infectious or chronic diseases.
Should you be concerned about vomiting? That depends on certain factors such as how often your dog vomits, whether the vomiting is violent (projectile), and whether the vomited matter contains blood, worms, or other foreign matter.
If your dog is healthy and the vomits doesn’t appear abnormal, simply withhold food and water for 12 hours to give the stomach a rest. Then give a small, gland meal of rice and boiled hamburger meat, cottage cheese, or chicken and rice soup. Feeding your dog one or two tablespoons of this diet every few hours is enough. If he is able to keep the food down, you can gradually return him to his regular diet.
Take your dog to the vet right away if vomiting continues even though your dog hasn’t eaten for several hours, the vomits contains blood, or the dog seems weak and listless. Diarrhea is another warning sign. A dog who’s vomiting and has diarrhea can quickly become dehydrated.
Lose liquid stools characterize diarrhea. Most often, diarrhea occurs when a dog eats something indigestible that irritates the stomach or bowel. Other times the irritant is food to which the dog is sensitive, such as certain meats, spices, fats, milk products and grains.
Each dog is different, so it’s hard to say exactly what might cause a bout of diarrhea. Intestinal parasites, anxiety, r excitement can also cause diarrhea. The reason the stool is runny or liquid is because the food passes rapidly through the bowel before it has time to remove the water.
If diarrhea is a problem, be prepared to tell your veterinarian its color (yellow, greenish, black, bloody, light, or gray), consistency (watery, foamy, mucus like), and odor (food like or rancid). Mild cases of diarrhea can be treated at home by withholding food for 24 hours while still giving the dog plenty of water to drink. Take the dog to the veterinarian if diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours, the stool looks bloody or black and tarry, the dog is also vomiting, or the dog seems weak or has a fever.
Also known as gastric torsion, bloat is a life threatening emergency that occurs when the stomach distends with gas and fluid, and then twists, trapping gas and fluids in the stomach. Any dog can suffer bloat, but it’s most common in large dogs with deep chests such as bloodhounds, boxers, Doberman pinschers, Great Danes, German shepherd dogs, Great Pyrenees, Irish setters, Irish wolfhounds, Labrador retrievers, Old English sheepdogs, and standard poodles.
A dog in the early stages of bloat may pace restlessly or appear sluggish, gag, or make unsuccessful attempts to vomit, producing only excess saliva. Other early indicators include shallow breathing and a dull, vacant, or pained expression. The abdomen may look distended, sounding hollow if thumped. In later stages, dogs with bloat may retch or salivate, their pulse weakens, their gums look pale, and they become unable to stand. A dog with bloat is unable to belch or vomit; he is in obvious physical distress.
If you believe your dog has bloat, take him to the veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately, even if it’s the middle of the night. The earlier bloat is caught, the more likely the more likely the dog is to survive.
In simple cases, bloat is relieved when the veterinarian passes a long rubber or plastic tube through the mouth and int the stomach, allowing air and fluid to escape. Abdominal X-rays can confirm whether the stomach is twisted, a condition that requires emergency surgery. Surgery involves returning the stomach and spleen to their correct positions and then suturing the wall of the stomach to the abdominal wall, which helps prevent bloat from recurring.
You can take steps at home to prevent bloat from occurring or recurring by dividing the amount of food your dog gets into three meals daily instead of one or two meals; restricting access to water for an hour before and after meals; enforcing arrest period after meals; and ensuring that you dog doesn’t drink a large amount of water all at once.
Swallowing something such as a ball, toy, rawhide, piece of string, tea towel or other cloth is the most common cause f an intestinal obstruction. The list of things that dogs will put in their mouths and swallow could o on and on, When a foreign object isn’t the problem, the next most likely result in the bowel sort of turns itself inside out. This is most common puppies.
Normally the dog scooting on the ground or licking and biting. If the intestinal obstruction is partial, the dog may suffer vomiting and diarrhea over several weeks or until the problem is recognized. If the blockage is complete, the dog is unable to defecate. Intestinal obstructions are determined through abdominal X-rays and must be corrected surgically.
Dogs have two glands called anal sacs on either side of the anus-usually at the five o’clock positions. The anal sacs are scent glands that serve to identify the dog and help mark his territory when he eliminates. As the stool passes out of the anus, the pressure empties the anal sacs. When this doesn’t occur, however, the sacs can become impacted. Infection and abscess can follow if the impaction isn’t relieved by manually emptying the anal glands, a technique your veterinarian can show you how to do at home. Impacted anal glands are most common in small dogs and are indicated by the dog scooting on the ground or licking and biting at his rear.
A dog with constipation strains while defecating, defecates less often than usual (normal is one or two stools daily), or doesn’t defecate at all. While fewer or no canine stools might be nice for an owner to deal with, it’s not at all comfortable for the dog. Constipation is usually a problem of advanced age and is also seen when dogs don’t drink enough water. Indigestible materials such as bone chips, grass, or other items can become compacted with feces, causing a hard mass that’s difficult to pass. Constipation can also be a side effect of certain medications.
If your dog is constipated, don’t just assume that giving him a laxative will solve the problem. Constipation and colitis (inflammation of the colon) are similar in nature, so it’s best to let you veterinarian make the call. If the problem is indeed constipation, he or she can advise you about the appropriate. Laxative to give and suggest ways to prevent recurrence, such as adding fiber to the diet.
This inflammation of the colon is usually caused by a form of inflammatory bowel disease or an infestation of whip worms. Signs of colitis are painful defecation or straining to defecate; flatulence; or small stools that contain blood or mucus. Dogs with chronic diarrhea should also be checked for colitis. Both a colonoscopy and colon biopsy are necessary to diagnose colitis. Treatment involves correcting the underlying condition and can range from feeding a hypoallergenic diet to the use of antibiotics and corticosteroids.
Less serious, but not very pleasant for those with a sensitive nose, is flatulence, or passing gas. Dogs who emit stinky fumes often do so because they’ve swallowed large amounts of air while wolfing their food. Dogs can also be prone to flatulence if they eat foods such as beans, cauliflower, cabbage, and soybeans. A medical cause of flatulence is mal-absorption syndrome in which the dog isn’t able to completely digest carbohydrates.
To reduce the incidence of flatulence, try feeding your dog a highly digestible low-fiber diet, and feeding him two or three small meals a day instead of one large meal. If that doesn’t hep, your veterinarian may recommend a dose of simethicone, available over the counter drugstores to absorb intestinal gas.
We have learned about a variety of gastric problems that dogs get, and what to do about it if it does occur. Please feel free to leave comments, I’ll be happy to answer them.