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Stress Colitis In Dogs

stress colitis in dogs
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There are many reasons for your dog to experience diarrhea. A reaction to anxiety and stressors in his life is one of them … and these situations can lead to stress colitis. 

A stressful situation like moving or boarding or a new family member can create inflammation in your dog’s intestinal tract. This is usually just a short-term condition so it’s known as acute colitis. You should be able to regulate it in a few days by being in tune with your dog’s emotions and his diet. 

So here’s what you can do to address stress colitis … and try to prevent it in the future. 

6 Steps To Manage Stress Colitis In Dogs

Stress colitis happens when food isn’t being processed and digested properly. What you need to do is slow down your dog’s digestion so there is less water in the stool. Here are 6 ways to help your dog.

1. Fast Your Dog

Start with a 24-hour fast to rest your dog’s intestinal tract. If diarrhea continues, you may need to extend it to 48 hours. This is an important step, and often dogs will fast themselves … and can go for several days as long as he’s getting water or liquids. 

Caution: don’t fast young puppies … you should see your vet when a puppy develops diarrhea.

When diarrhea stops or slows, offer small sips of water. If there are signs of improvement after 6 hours of water only, try giving your dog some broth. 

2. Slowly Add Food

When diarrhea has resolved, you can feed a bland diet and slowly add food to prevent further tummy upset. Soup or broth is a gentler way than chicken and rice to transition your dog back to regular food. Plus, you don’t want to add starch that can create its own problems with your dog’s health. It’s easy to make bone broth yourself. If you buy it, make sure it’s low in sodium and doesn’t include onion.  

3. Add High Fiber Foods

High fiber foods help improve colon health and stool quality.  

Fiber will slow muscular contractions that push food through the intestines, which causes liquid to be absorbed … rather than quickly flowing through to create loose stools and diarrhea. Fiber will also bind with toxins and bacteria and dispose of it with the stool. Use moderation and start slowly because too much can create diarrhea, gas and bloating.

Here are some fiber-rich foods to add:

  • Broccoli 
  • Microgreens
  • Berries like blackberries, raspberries and blueberries
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Leafy greens like kale, spinach and swiss chard
  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Pumpkin (don’t use canned pie filling that has spices and sugar)

4. Consider A Low Residue Diet

For those dogs who don’t do well with a high fiber diet, a low residue diet might help in the short term. Foods in this diet are higher in protein and low in fiber. They are easily digested so nutrients can be absorbed better. That reduces the amount of waste that needs to be passed as stool so the bowels will move easier.  

Examples of foods that are low in residue include: 

  • Chicken 
  • Fish 
  • Eggs
  • Squash 
  • Lightly steamed green beans and carrots
  • Bananas and melons

Your dog’s system still needs help as it heals so you can support his digestive process by finely chopping these foods. You can also lightly cook the meats and lightly steam the veggies. Use moderation when including fruit due to the sugar content. 

When you notice improvement in your dog’s stool, you can slowly return to your dog’s regular diet. A whole-food, raw meat diet will include proper amounts of protein, fats and fiber to maintain your dog’s health. 

5. Add Probiotics

When your dog has stress colitis, his intestines are inflamed. Food and nutrients … and beneficial bacteria … are being quickly pushed through his system and eliminated as diarrhea. You need to replenish the beneficial bacteria with probiotics. As you work on his diet, be sure to include prebiotics and probiotics to rebuild his microbiome. The fiber-rich foods already listed earlier do double duty as prebiotics for your dog. 

Saccharomyces boulardii

Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii) is a yeast that is a probiotic. It’s known for its ability to manage gastrointestinal (GI) issues and diarrhea … and mild cases of colitis. 

Note: If your dog was given antibiotics, S. boulardii can stop antibiotic-related diarrhea

6. Include Supplements

You’ll want to support your dog’s immune system to aid healing. 

If your dog’s stress has allowed pathogenic bacteria to create infection, there are natural antibiotics that can help. These include:

  • Oil of Oregano (1, 2)
  • Garlic (as a supplement or in your dog’s food) (3)
  • Olive Leaf (4)
  • Goldenseal (5)
  • Turmeric (6)

Here are some herbs that’ll lower inflammation in your dog as he heals. 

  • Slippery elm
  • Marshmallow root (7)
  • Licorice Root (8)
  • Chamomile
  • Ginger root (9)
  • Quercetin (10)
  • Turmeric

Now let’s take a closer look at stress colitis.

What is Stress Colitis?

Colitis is inflammation of your dog’s large intestine (his colon) (11). This is where his body absorbs  water and stores waste until it passes from your dog’s body as stool. During periods of stress, the colon can become inflamed. This prevents the colon from absorbing water, leading to loose stools and diarrhea. It can usually be resolved within 72 hours. 

Stress colitis is short-term, acute colitis when sudden symptoms arise. It happens to dogs that become anxious or distressed in certain situations. Some dogs are easily stressed by a change in routine. When your dog experiences stress often, his immune system is also stressed. That creates an opportunity for harmful bacteria to cause infection. And that leads to stress colitis.

A more serious type of colitis is chronic colitis((12). It lasts a longer period of time, especially when it isn’t addressed.  It can be caused by:

  • Poor or new diet
  • Pancreatic issues
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Internal parasites
  • Bacterial infections
  • Food sensitivities
  • Cancers

If you think your dog has stress colitis, consider whether he’s experienced any of these situations recently. 

Causes of Stress Colitis In Dogs

Stress can be physical or emotional. Here are some situations that can lead to stress colitis:

  • Boarding or daycare
  • Fireworks or thunderstorms
  • Travel
  • Being left alone
  • Distress from surgery
  • Moving to a new home
  • Adding another child or pet to the family

And here are some symptoms you will see.

Signs Of Stress Colitis In Dogs

Here are symptoms of colitis …

  • Diarrhea happens suddenly and intensely
  • Loose, mucousy stool  
  • Stools that start normal and end loose
  • Sense of urgency to have a bowel movement
  • Frequent, low volume bowel movements
  • Straining to have a bowel movement with a sense of pain
  • Blood in stool from straining and irritation of the intestine
  • A change in the amount of gas your dog releases

To confirm whether your dog has a more serious case of chronic colitis, you’ll need to have your vet do some tests. 

Diagnosis Of Stress Colitis

There are no specific tests for stress colitis. If you’re following the earlier suggestions and are seeing positive results, then further diagnostics shouldn’t be necessary.

But if you’ve eliminated stress colitis as the problem and you suspect another type of colitis, your vet can do diagnostic tests including blood tests. You’ll also need to give your vet a stool sample so your vet can do a fecal culture to check for parasites. She might also suggest an x-ray or ultrasound to check your dog’s digestive tract for obstructions or foreign bodies. There are other tests that can rule out conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, polyps or tumors.

Usually, a diagnosis comes with prescription medication … but it’s best if you try to avoid them. Pharmaceuticals can manage the symptoms but don’t get to the cause of the problem.  

Ways To Reduce Stress Colitis 

If you know your dog tends to be anxious, here are things you can do to avoid a bout of stress colitis. 

 1. Provide Plenty of Exercise

This can relieve and release stress and anxiety. And you should participate too so it becomes a bonding exercise for both of you.

2. Practice Crate Training 

When your dog has a safe place with familiar toys and blankets, he can take comfort during times of stress.

3. Play Music Or Natural Sounds 

Or keep the radio on. This will eliminate the silence when your dog is alone. Or it can be a distraction when there are fireworks or a thunderstorm.

4. Use CBD Oil 

CBD oil can calm your dog during times of stress or anxiety. You can use it before a car trip or when you’ll be leaving your dog alone for a few hours … or during fireworks or storms.

Practice being in tune with your dog’s emotions and treat him as part of the family. It’s key to noticing and managing his stress … so you can avoid messy bouts of diarrhea from stress colitis. 

References

1. Feng J, et al. Selective Essential Oils from Spice or Culinary Herbs Have High Activity against Stationary Phase and Biofilm Borrelia burgdorferi. Front Med (Lausanne). 2017 Oct 11;4:169. 

2. Memar, MY, et al. Carvacrol and thymol: strong antimicrobial agents against resistant isolates. Reviews in Medical Microbiology. 2017. Vol. 28, Issue 2. P 63-68.

3. Petrovska BB, Cekovska S. Extracts from the history and medical properties of garlic. Pharmacogn Rev. 2010 Jan;4(7):106-10. 

Lee KW, et al. Hematologic changes associated with the appearance of eccentrocytes after intragastric administration of garlic extract to dogs. Am J Vet Res. 2000 Nov;61(11):1446-50.  

4. Omar SH. Oleuropein in olive and its pharmacological effects. Sci Pharm. 2010 Apr-Jun;78(2):133-54. 

5. The Functional Medicine Approach to COVID-19: Additional Research on Nutraceuticals and Botanicals. Institute for Functional Med. 2021.

6. Tyagi P, et al. Bactericidal activity of curcumin I is associated with damaging of bacterial membrane. PLoS One. 2015 Mar 26;10(3):e0121313.  

7. Mahmoud Bahmani et al. Identification of medicinal plants of Urmia for treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. Revista Brasileira de Farmacognosia. Volume 24, Issue 4, 2014.

8. Wang L, et al. The antiviral and antimicrobial activities of licorice, a widely-used Chinese herb. Acta Pharm Sin B. 2015 Jul;5(4):310-5. 

9. Liu H, Zhu Y. Effect of alcohol extract of Zingben officinale rose on immunologic function of mice with tumor. Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 2002 Jun;31(3):208-9.  

10. Li Y, et al. Quercetin, Inflammation and Immunity. Nutrients. 2016; 8(3):167.

11. Simpson, James W. Diet and Large Intestinal Disease in Dogs and Cats. The Journal of Nutrition. Volume 128, Issue 12, December 1998, Pages 2717S–2722S.

12. Merck Veterinary Manual. Colitis in Small Animals. June 2020.

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