Ulcers just like in humans can affect our dogs. A gastrointestinal ulcer is an erosion of one of more layers of the stomach or small intestines. This form of upper gastrointestinal ulcer is the most common.
An ulcer causes normal healthy tissue to be eroded away. It can affect any layer of the stomach. If it reaches the outer layer of the stomach it is called a perforated ulcer, because stomach acids could leak out of the stomach. Gastrointestinal ulcers can affect any breed of dog at any age.
Signs & Symptoms
The most common sign of gastrointestinal ulcers in your dog is vomiting, usually with blood in the vomit. 90% of dogs who are diagnosed with an ulcer will have vomiting as a symptom.
Other symptoms that can be caused by an ulcer are weight loss, melena, diarrhea, decreased appetite, drooling, dehydration, abdominal pain, lethargy, weakness, or a fever. These symptoms overlap with other conditions that could be affecting your dog.
There are lots of things that can cause ulcers in dogs. One of the main ones is long term use of NSAIDS, non steroidal anti-inflammatories. If your dog is on these for arthritis, or other conditions that are needed long term they can cause ulcers.
Gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, an ingested foreign body, or an increase in the gastric acid production can all cause ulcers as well. Metabolic diseases that affect the liver and kidneys can also cause ulcers.
Diseases such as Addisons or Cushings disease can also raise the risk of ulcers in your dog. Heavy metal poisoning from arsenic, zinc, thallium, iron, or lead is another cause.
Cancer in the gastrointestinal tract can cause ulcers as well. Such as carcinomas, lymphomas, leiomyomas, or gastrointestinal stromal tumors.
The first thing a veterinarian will do is do a physical exam on your dog. They will see if there is any stomach discomfort when they push on the stomach. They can also check to see if the stomach is distended. Next they may want to do bloodwork and a chemistry panel. These two things will be looking for findings of anemia, low proteins, or elevated blood urea nitrogen. It may also show if your dog’s white blood cell count is elevated.
A barium study with X-ray may also be suggested. This is when your dog will drink a liquid and then X-rayed to see if there are any blockages in the GI tract. This won’t actually show an ulcer, but will rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.
An abdominal ultrasound is another option that your vet may suggest. An ultrasound may also not be able to pick up an ulcer if it is hard to see, or the stomach lining is too thick. It is another tool to rule out other causes of your dog’s symptoms. A fecal occult blood test can be done, to test the feces for abnormal amounts of blood.
Treatment for a canine ulcer depends on the underlying cause and severity.
If an ulcer perforates the stomach wall your dog would need surgery. IV fluids may need to be given if your dog is showing signs of dehydration. Antacid medication may be prescribed to help reduce the stomach acid.
A diet change can help long term with a low fat bland diet. This will mostly contain boiled chicken and rice. Some dogs who are prone to getting ulcers easily may be suggested to be kept on this diet always. Other dogs may be able to switch back to their normal food, or there are brands that have GI specific foods to help with dogs who get ulcers easily. These foods are easier to digest and easier on your dog’s overall digestive tract.
If the cause of the ulcer is bacterial, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. Gastrointestinal medications your doctor may prescribe are sucralfate, H2 receptor antagonists, proton pump inhibitors, or prostaglandin E analogs.
Natural remedies that may help an ulcer are licorice root, aloe vera, slippery elm, echinacea, or alfalfa.
Recovery for a dog with an ulcer is usually good. Your dog should start to show improvement within a few days, but full recovery could take a few weeks. If they are getting the right treatment for their cause of ulcer. Ulcers can recur. As long as the ulcer is not perforated most dogs heal from them.
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