Aside from skin issues, the top thing that brings most dogs and cats to Animal Care Clinic is vomiting and/or diarrhea. Most cases are acute (less that 2-3 days) and are usually a combination of vomiting, diarrhea and lack of appetite. To many people’s surprise (and contrary to DR GOOGLE) the top 3 causes for vomiting and diarrhea does not include viruses, parasites, or toxins.
#1 Dietary indiscretion: Hands down, the number one cause for vomiting and/or diarrhea is introduction of a new variable to the dog’s diet. The reality is that we have domesticated dogs – they are not roaming the wild eating meat and diversifying their diet, but rather, most dogs eat a commercial processed diet. Their GI tract’s bacteria become accustomed to digesting those fixed ingredients in that particular diet. When a new ingredient is introduced, such as a new bone from the store or a piece of pork from your dinner plate, then the bacteria panics and doesn’t know how to properly digest the new ingredients. This results in an inflamed, gassy gastrointestinal tract which manifests as vomiting and diarrhea. This is no different than a vegan eating a piece of meat or a person that has never had gluten abruptly introducing it to their GI tract.
#2 Food Allergy / Dietary intolerances: Just like in humans, some dogs have an adverse response to certain ingredients. Although most food allergies present as chronic ear and skin issues, a lot of pets concurrently have vomiting and diarrhea as well. These cases usually present more chronic (weeks to months).
#3 Stress/Anxiety: It always amazes me what type of negative impact stress can have on the GI tract. We often refer to this as IBS or inflammatory Bowel Syndrome. It is not uncommon in the history of these patients to see vomiting/diarrhea during boarding/grooming, owners had a party, moving, multiple kids, 4th of July, etc…. Any situation outside of the dog’s routine day is a potential trigger for stress or anxiety.
The take home message is that that there are multiple causes for diarrhea and vomiting and should be addressed on a case by case basis — detailed history, physical exam, severity of symptoms. For example, a dog with chronic dietary intolerance will not be treated the same as a dog with acute dietary indiscretion.
Dr. Adam Conroy, DVM