The Scoop on GI Upset in Cats & Dogs
Published October 13, 2020
Content Reviewed by an Essentials PetCare Veterinarian
1. What: GI upset refers to Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders that may impact cats and dogs’ digestive health. Gastroenteritis is the most common GI disorder. It is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, namely the stomach and intestines.
2. Why: Gastroenteritis is usually a treatable minor disease. However, there are several serious conditions that can cause GI upset in pets. Cats and dogs with GI upset experience abdominal pain, intermittent diarrhea, occasional vomiting, and dangerous dehydration.
3. When: A veterinarian should be consulted whenever your pet vomits or has a diarrhea more than twice within a 48-hour period. Also see the doctor if your pet refuses to eat for more than 24 hours.
4. How: The workup for a GI upset requires the process of elimination. The veterinarian will eliminate more serious conditions, before making a diagnosis of gastroenteritis. A detailed medical history, thorough physical exam, and diagnostic tests may be required.
5. EPC affordable price: GI Upset Package for dogs and cats: $80. Book a visit now.
What GI Upset Is
GI upset refers to gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. Any disorder that prevents the proper digestion of food or absorption of nutrients is considered a digestive disorder. If your pet suffers from GI upset, she is experiencing issues with her digestive system.
The most common GI disorder is gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, namely the stomach and intestines. GI upset in your pet can be caused by infection from bacteria, viruses, food allergies, medications, parasites, lack of digestive enzymes, or the ingestion of a foreign object. A cat or dog with GI upset feels abdominal pain and experiences intermittent vomiting and diarrhea.
Like humans, a pet’s healthy digestion is essential for maintaining adequate energy levels, building tissue, and regulating electrolytes and amino acids. Keep reading to learn how to recognize the signs of GI upset in your pet and consult with your veterinarian before resorting to any remedy.
Conditions that Cause GI Upset in Dogs and Cats
There are several serious conditions that can cause GI upset in pets. Your veterinarian will discuss the possibilities applicable to your pet given his medical history, breed, and test results. Some of the most severe health issues that lead to GI upset in dogs and cats are:
- Allergies or adverse reactions to food
- Bacterial overgrowth
- Brain disorders that cause vertigo, also known as vestibular disease
- Cancer – of almost any type
- Chronic disease – pancreatic, liver, or kidney
- Hormonal disorders – such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or Addison’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease, similar to Krohne’s disease in people
- Intussusception – an intestinal blockage where the intestines actually telescope inside themselves
- Pain or stress
- Poisoning – from plants, cleaning agents, medication, or other toxic household items
- Stomach ulcers
- Stomach bloating – almost exclusively in large breed dogs.
- Urinary tract infections
Symptoms of GI Upset in Dogs and Cats
In addition to abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, dogs and cats with GI upset may refuse to eat or drink, or gag when trying to eat or drink. Regurgitation is another common symptom where undigested food is produced without the signs of retching which are common with vomiting. Once the pet expels the contents of the stomach, there will be a foamy, yellowish bile in the vomit that continues on. Pets may also seem uncomfortable, lethargic, and experience flatulence. The pet will likely display a low-grade fever. Dehydration sets in after 24 hours of vomiting and diarrhea.
Essential Tip: Call a full-service veterinary hospital or animal emergency room immediately if you see large amounts of blood, a toy, or foreign object in your pet’s stool or vomit. If you realize your pet ingested medication, chemicals, toxic plants, or any other hazard substance.
Even if none of these are present, a veterinarian should be consulted whenever your pet vomits or has a diarrhea more than twice within a 48-hour period. As you make your way to the veterinary clinic, be extremely careful when picking up your pet suffering with GI upset. The pain in the stomach and hindquarters may make the pet resistant to handling and petting.
Diagnosing GI Upset in Your Pet
The workup for GI upset requires the process of elimination. The veterinarian will rule out more serious conditions before making a diagnosis of gastroenteritis. Be prepared to provide detailed answers to critical questions about your pet’s medical history, including: what you normally feed your pet and how often; everything your pet ate or may have eaten in the 48 hours before displaying GI upset signs; exposure to toxic substances like medications, pesticides, cleaning supplies, or chemicals; pre-existing health issues and medications administered. Make sure to let the doctor know if your pet has been in contact with new people or animals, for example, if you frequent a dog park.
During a thorough physical exam, the veterinarian will look for evidence of dehydration, abdominal pain, bloating, swelling, and any other physical abnormalities. Your pet’s vital signs, such as heart rate and temperature, will also be recorded. The doctor may need additional tests to zero in a diagnosis, which may range from:
- Complete blood cell count (CBC)
- Serum chemistries and electrolytes
- Abdominal radiographs (X-rays)
- Abdominal ultrasound
Upon receiving tests results, your veterinarian will be able to rule out possible causes for the GI upset and advise you on the best route of treatment for your pet’s needs. Until then, the veterinarian will likely recommend supportive treatments to keep your pet as comfortable and hydrated as possible.
Treatments for Pet GI Upset
General gastroenteritis treatment includes rehydration and restoration of electrolyte balance in the blood by administering fluids with chloride, potassium, and sodium. Fluid replacement may be given orally, subcutaneously, or by intravenous therapy, depending on your pet’s level of dehydration. Your veterinarian may also provide portable prescriptions for medications like:
- Antibiotics to fight bacterial infection.
- Antidiarrheal drugs to alter intestinal activity after an obstruction is cleared.
- Anti-vomiting medication to alleviate your pet’s symptoms.
- Gastrointestinal protectants to prevent stomach ulcers.
Ask your veterinarian for the best diet to feed your pet for a complete recovery. Fasting is usually part of a GI upset treatment. Initially, you may be asked to withhold food for 24-48 hours and slowly reintroduce it in small, frequent feedings. Generally, highly digestible, high-fiber, and low-fat food is recommended during treatment. The diet should be customized for your pet’s own needs. You must also monitor your pet’s hydration at home, following the veterinarian visit.
Although GI upset cases are common and most pets are completely healed within a few messy and stinky days, there are those pets who have digestive disorders or other more serious health conditions that cause ongoing GI tract issues. If your pet needs long-term management, discuss with your veterinarian the best diet approach. If your pet’s tummy troubles are caused by food allergies, devise a plan with your veterinarian to come up with an alternative menu. In any case, what you feed your pet is a crucial factor in your pet’s overall health.
Home Remedies for GI Upset in Dogs and Cats
Make sure to consult with your veterinarian before resorting to any home remedy. If the doctor tells you to just keep an eye on your pet, you might want to ask if any of the following is recommended to help soothe your colicky fur baby.
It might help your pet to reset GI tract functions by fasting from 12 to 24 hours. Then ease your pet into eating small and more frequent portions until she is acting like herself again. While this usually helps most pets, it may not be advisable for small breeds and pets with other health issues. Follow your veterinarian’s direction.
If your pet gags and has trouble drinking water, offering ice cubes might help to keep him hydrated. After 12 hours, offer water with ice chips until your dog resumes normal water consumption.
Preventing GI Upset in your Dog or Cat
You can help promote your pet’s digestive health by feeding quality food and supplements recommended by your veterinarian. You can also be on the lookout for household items that may be poisonous for your pet.
According to the Humane Society, the following foods may be dangerous to your pet:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Apple seeds
- Apricot pits
- Cherry pits
- Coffee (grounds, beans, and chocolate-covered espresso beans)
- Gum (can cause blockages, and sugar free gums may contain the toxic sweetener Xylitol)
- Hops (used in home beer brewing)
- Macadamia nuts
- Moldy foods
- Mushroom plants
- Mustard seeds
- Onions and onion powder
- Peach pits
- Potato leaves and stems (green parts)
- Rhubarb leaves
- Tea (because it contains caffeine)
- Tomato leaves and stems (green parts)
- Xylitol (artificial sweetener that is toxic to pets)
- Yeast dough
The ASPCA names these common houseplants as toxics for pets. If you have them, make sure they are out of your pets’ reach.
- Aloe Vera
- Bird of Paradise
- Chinese Evergreen
- Desert Rose
- Dumb Cane
- Elephant Ear
- Sago Palm
- ZZ Plant
Avoid pet poisoning by locking away medications, cleaning supplies, and any other toxic substance. Watch for any toy and object that may come apart as your pet chews or plays with it, which they might swallow.
Essential Tip: Essentials PetCare offers a GI Upset Package including a doctor’s exam, fecal testing, parvovirus testing if indicated, treatment recommendations, and a portable prescription for medication if necessary, for only $80. Book a visit now.
The visit to treat GI Upset in your pet at Essentials PetCare takes about 15 minutes on average. You should bring a fecal sample. The doctor may recommend supportive treatments until lab results are back—usually within 3 business days. Book a visit now. We are conveniently located at Walmart.
*Essentials PetCare treats minor GI upset symptoms. Click here for a list of symptoms that should be seen at a full-service veterinary hospital or animal emergency room.