Critter Culture
How to Spot and Treat Colitis in Dogs

How to Spot and Treat Colitis in Dogs

Critter Culture Staff



After your dog eats, food travels to the stomach and into the small intestines, which break it down and absorb the nutrients your pet needs to grow and thrive. The colon or large intestine sits at the end of your dog's digestive system, collecting undigested food and indigestible fibers. Colitis is inflammation in the colon and is quite common in dogs, causing about half of all cases of chronic diarrhea.


What does the colon do?

Midsection of female doctor examining dog with stethoscope. Young veterinarian is with domestic animal at clinic. Morsa Images/ Getty Images

A dog's colon does three things: digests the parts of the food that haven't been digested yet, absorbs water, and stores stool. It holds ten times more bacteria than the small intestine, making it an important part of digestion. When a dog has colitis, things in the colon don't work as they should. It can't absorb food and water properly, which causes many problems.


Acute colitis

Handsome man and a charming puppy. Sviatlana Barchan/ Getty Images

Acute colitis comes on suddenly and is pretty common in dogs. It usually only lasts a few days and typically clears up on its own, but diet changes and medication may be needed to cure it. It's a good idea to check with your vet if you notice symptoms of acute colitis.


Chronic or episodic colitis

Veterinarian checking a dog with stethoscope in a veterinary clinic Westend61/ Getty Images

Chronic colitis can last weeks or months. Symptoms can come and go or keep going with no relief. If they persist for longer than a month, take your dog to the vet to see what's causing the problem. Many things can cause chronic colitis in dogs. Some of them are easily treatable, but your vet may need to perform multiple tests to reach a diagnosis.


Symptoms of colitis in dogs

Parson Russell Terrier dog feeling tired, desperate and sleepy, lying on a charcoal grey sofa at home Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman/ Getty Images

The main symptom of colitis in dogs is diarrhea with smaller but more frequent bowel movements. Dogs with colitis may need to go more often or find it more difficult to go. Other signs are stools that start normal and finish loose, mucous or blood in the stool, slimy or gooey poo, and increased gas. Eventually, dogs may lose weight and become dehydrated.


Acute vs. chronic symptoms

Owners bringing their pet to veterinarian shironosov/ getty Images

The type of symptoms dogs are experiencing may tell you whether they have acute or chronic colitis. Dogs with chronic colitis often seem like they're otherwise healthy but have mucusy or bloody stools, while dogs with acute colitis are more likely to experience urgency or have accidents in the house even after they are housetrained.


Causes of colitis in dogs

Sick or sad Rhodesian ridgeback dog lying on the floor next to bowl full of dry food and refuse to eat, no appetite Zontica/ Getty Images

Acute colitis in dogs is often caused by stress from boarding or other environmental changes, sudden dietary changes, bacterial infections, parasites, and eating things they weren't supposed to, whether that foreign objects or too much table food. Parasites and foreign materials can cause chronic colitis, too, as can inflammatory bowel disease or cancer. In some cases, the vet may not be able to determine the cause.


Other causes of colitis

Cute dog is looking at his guardian while is being examined by the veterinarian vadimguzhva/ Getty Images

There are a few other causes of colitis in dogs, too. Highly excitable or stressed dogs may have irritable bowel syndrome, which can lead to diarrhea and possibly colitis. Food allergies and extreme food sensitivities to things like lactose and gluten can also cause it, as can eating straw, grass, or anything else that is difficult to digest and can lead to irritation.


Colitis treatment for dogs

A personal perspective shot of an unrecognisable woman feeding her cocker spaniel SolStock/ Getty Images

Treatment for colitis in dogs depends on the cause. Your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics if they suspect a bacterial infection. Some antibiotics even act as anti-inflammatories, which can help control symptoms even more. Your vet may recommend adding more fiber to the dog's diet in the form of canned pumpkin, psyllium, or prescription dog food. Bland diets with simple proteins and carbs can help, as can adding pre- and probiotics to help support healthy gut bacteria. Chronic colitis in dogs is not always curable, but you can manage it long-term by working with your vet to come up with a treatment plan.



Two six week old Golden Retriever puppies share a water dish, with one of the puppies looking straight at the camera. chapin31/ Getty Images

Sometimes, there's nothing you can do to prevent your dog from getting colitis. The best you can do is make sure your pups get high-fiber diets with plenty of water and try to keep them from eating things they're not supposed to, especially grass, straw, fabric, and table scraps. Look for symptoms, and call your vet if you think there may be something wrong.


Breeds prone to colitis

Black French Bulldog resting on grass at a park. Tatyana Consaul/ Getty Images

Although any dog can develop colitis, some breeds are more prone to it than others. There's a rare type of colitis called granulomatous colitis, where part of the bowel wall gets invaded with bacteria, causing a partial blockage that leads to weight loss and bloody stools. Dogs with this type of colitis require antibiotics, corticosteroids, and diet changes, and it is more common in French bulldogs and boxers.


What Is Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

What Is Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

Get your paws on the latest animal news and information