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Gastric ulcers and gastritis in dogs

There are many reasons why your dog might be sick or not eat well. Gastritis is common but usually easily treatable. The stomach contains strong gastric acid, which is important in the breakdown of food. Stomach acid is also important as part of the immune defence of the gut against pathogens found in food and water. There is a delicate balance between the acid and stomach wall. A special mucus layer protects the tissues from damage by the acid. If this is damaged it can lead to inflammation of the stomach wall (gastritis). Prolonged exposure can lead to destruction of the layers of the stomach wall forming a gastric ulcer(s). Gastritis or inflammation of the stomach wall also can happen for other reasons which we discuss in this article.

This article was written by a FirstVet vet


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Causes of gastritis in dogs

There are many causes of gastritis. We will discuss the most common ones below. The causes either directly affect the stomach, or the stomach is affected secondarily to systemic disease.

  • Infectious causes - certain pathogens come into the stomach via dietary indiscretion (eating things they shouldn’t). This is often accompanied by diarrhoea (gastro-enteritis). This includes parasites, such as worms

  • Medications - some medications, in particular non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), can decrease the mucus layer protecting the stomach and/or cause direct damage to the stomach

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) - commonly involves the intestines. Forms of IBD include lymphocytic or eosinophilic gastritis

  • Cancer - certain tumours, such as mast cell tumours or gastrinomas can contribute to gastritis

  • Helicobacteria pylori? A bacteria known to cause gastritis in humans. However, it is found in both healthy dogs and dogs with gastritis, therefore the role of this bacteria in dogs is currently unknown. It rarely requires antibiotics, unless the illness is not responding to conventional therapy

  • Other: hypoadrenocorticism, pancreatitis, chemotherapy, uraemic gastropathy (ulceration of the stomach due to kidney disease), stress, diabetes mellitus, chronic hypertrophic gastropathy

All of the causes of gastritis above can lead to gastric ulceration if exposure is severe or prolonged. Cancer or prolonged high doses use of anti-inflammatory medications are common causes of gastric ulcers in dogs and cats. Pets who are prescribed anti-inflammatories for the long-term management of osteoarthritis are unlikely to develop ulcers. However, if you do notice any of the signs below, please speak to your vet.

Symptoms of gastritis in dogs

  • Vomiting - usually with a sudden onset. Vomiting in dogs can be frothy, white, yellow, contain digested or partially digested food, and sometimes fresh red blood

  • Reduced appetite, nausea - lip smacking, drooling

  • Abdominal pain - withdrawn, reluctant to move, whimpering when picked up

  • Additional signs will depend upon the underlying cause, for example gastro-enteritis or IBD may be accompanied by diarrhoea

Symptoms of gastric ulceration in dogs

  • Vomiting fresh red blood OR dark brown speckled material often referred to as coffee granules

  • Passing digested blood, which usually appears as black tarry stools

  • Abdominal pain, nausea and decreased appetite

  • Often if there has been ongoing gastritis there could be weight loss and dehydration.

  • If the gastric ulcer erodes through a blood vessel it could cause severe blood loss and copious blood in the vomit

  • In very severe cases, the ulcer perforates through the stomach wall, leading to septic peritonitis, septicaemia and could be fatal

Diagnosis of gastritis and gastric ulcers in dogs

Diagnosis is usually through a combination of a clinical examination, a clinical history and other investigations such as blood test, imaging and faecal analysis.

Your vet may recommend an ultrasound scan of the abdomen, or an endoscopy where a special camera is passed into the stomach from the mouth. This is usually performed under general anaesthetic or sedation to direct look in the stomach. Biopsies can be taken and samples of fluid and tissue sent for laboratory analysis.

Treatment of gastritis and gastric ulcers in dogs

Treatment of gastritis and gastric ulcers is usually with a combination of medications as well as trying to treat any underlying conditions that could be contributing. Proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole, will decrease the acid content of the stomach. Solutions such as sucralfate are given as a direct protector of the stomach wall. Other measures include a highly digestible bland diet, stopping any medication that is contributing and pain relief. Anti-sickness medications can be given to relieve the patient from repeated vomiting.

Dogs will usually make a full recovery from gastritis depending upon the underlying cause.

How to prevent gastritis and gastric ulcers in dogs

Many of the causes of ulcers are hard to prevent. Always give medications according to the prescribing instructions, such as only giving non-steroidal anti-inflammatories with food. Your vet will also be able to discuss if there are more recently developed medications that might be more suitable for your dog with fewer side effects. Try to prevent your dog from eating things they shouldn’t. If your dog is sensitive to dietary changes, keep them away from rich food and table scraps. Ensure your dog is a healthy weight, up to date with routine health care such as parasite control and vaccinations.

When should you see your vet?

  • Your dog has been sick more than 4 times in 12 hours

  • Passing vomit with fresh red blood or brown speckles

  • Vomiting has persisted for more than 48 hours

  • Passing black tarry stools

  • Sickness is associated with any other worrying symptoms, such as severe lethargy

Further reading

Vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs

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