Are small dogs more prone to digestive issues?

posted: 05/15/12
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Are Small Dogs More Prone to Digestive Issues?
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Your small dog seems to go through regular bouts of an upset stomach, excess gas, vomiting or diarrhea. Is this because your dog's tiny digestive system couldn't possibly be as rugged as your neighbor's 100-pound canine? The answer is no. It's easy to think that small dogs are more susceptible to digestive disorders, but in fact a healthy digestive system has nothing to do with size. Breed type, genetics, what you feed your pet and the luck of the draw determine whether you and your dog will deal with a sensitive stomach. So if clean-up duty is becoming a fixture in your life, what do you do?

According to Dr. Elisa Mazzaferro, director of Emergency Services at Wheat Ridge Veterinary Specialists, making sure your pet gets the right nutrition could make all the difference, and for small dogs, proper nutrition is particularly crucial right from puppyhood. "They don't have as much reserves as a puppy of a larger breed," Dr. Mazzaferro explains. Small breed puppies need to eat frequently so their blood sugar doesn't drop, and they need to eat a well-balanced, semi-moist or moist dog food. Some small dog owners may feel tempted to supplement the menu with treats from the dinner table, but feeding people food to dogs, according to Dr. Mazzaferro, is one of the biggest contributors to digestive issues.

Dr. Mazzaferro also doesn't endorse the Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) diet, a practice of feeding pets primarily uncooked meat, offal and bones. Because uncooked animal products can contain bacterial contamination, the BARF diet leaves your dog open to some pretty significant gastrointestinal illness, and humans handling the dog's raw food are also at risk.

Eating unhealthy food is just one cause of a dog's stomach doing flip-flops. Digestive disorders include a suite of separate illnesses. The most frequent problem Dr. Mazzaferro sees in her emergency practice is "dietary indiscretion" or gastroenteritis, meaning your pet has gotten into something she shouldn't have, like table scraps with a high fat content or a particular food that can be lethal for dogs such as grapes, raisins, chocolate or garlic.

Other digestive disorders include:

- Inflammatory bowel disease: Inflammation of the stomach or the intestines, which can be associated with specific food sensitivities.

- Lymphangiectasia: Abnormal lymphatic flow in the intestines that can cause weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea.

- Irritable bowel syndrome: Associated with anxious or stressed pets.

As pet owners, we know that our dogs can have occasional bouts of stomach problems, so how do you know when an upset tummy merits a trip to the vet? Dr. Mazzaferro recommends consulting your vet if the purging lasts for more than 24 hours, if you notice bloody vomit or diarrhea, if your pet goes more than 48 hours without eating, or if she's still eating, but losing weight.

Diagnosing the exact cause of a digestive disorder can be tricky, but your vet will try to narrow the suspects down through blood work and a physical examination. Your vet may also recommend a food trial -- a systematic method of taking away or adding certain foods to see how your dog's digestion reacts. Based on the results of the food trial, a hypoallergenic diet for your canine pal may be prescribed.

Coping with a digestive disorder is not easy, but working with your vet, experimenting with different dog foods, protecting your inquisitive canine from getting into things she shouldn't and lots of tender loving care can work wonders

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