Colitis in the Dog and Cat
Sometimes also called…
IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
SBS (Spastic Bowel Syndrome)
IBS (Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome)
Lymphocytic-plasmacytic Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Click down to read about constipation and megacolon
The term colitis in the dog and cat is very general. It often refers to any one of a variety of afflictions of the intestinal tract with emphasis on the large intestine (large bowel). Whenever veterinarians are confronted with a case of colitis in the dog or cat, a process of elimination is started in order to achieve a specific diagnosis for what type of colitis is present. In general, colitis is either acute (sudden onset) or chronic (long term and reoccurring). Below are a few abbreviations that are frequently used when referring to types of colitis…
AC… Acute Colitis
IBD… INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE
IBS… IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME
SBS… SPASTIC BOWEL SYNDROME
LPIBD… Lymphocytic-plasmacytic Inflammatory Bowel Disease
These five designations are all describing a disease state where a dog or cat is showing signs of “colitis”.
SIGNS OF COLITIS
(In veterinary medicine, “signs” means the same thing as the word “symptoms” in human medicine.) The usual signs of colitis in dogs and cats can cover a range of abnormalities from intermittent constipation to long term (chronic) diarrhea. In general, because the bowel tissues are inflamed and irritated, the most common signs are frequent need to defecate and soft to watery stool. Some dogs and cats with colitis pass liquid stool, often with blood, six to ten times a day. Straining to defecate (called tenismus) while producing little or no stool, is another common sign. These dogs and cats with colitis are very uncomfortable and often their appetite is suppressed due to a general state of ill health. Along with the debilitating effects of passing frequent, loose stool (called diarrhea), many dogs and cats with colitis ( IBD, IBS, SBS ) will display a gradual weight loss. Chronic colitis almost always creates a weight loss situation in dogs and cats due to the loss of vitamins, rapid transit of food through the entire gastrointestinal system, blood and fluid loss, and infectious agents entering the animal’s body through the damaged intestinal wall.
DUTIES OF THE COLON
The words “colon”, “large intestine” and “large bowel” are interchangeable. This portion of the digestive tract is the last segment to retain the digested food that has been processed by the stomach and small intestine. (The small intestine has a smaller diameter but a four-times greater length than the large intestine). Very little goes on in the colon other than reabsorption of water, thus making the fecal volume smaller, bacterial breakdown of ingesta and production of certain vitamins. Storage of the feces occurs in the large bowel until an appropriate time and place for elimination is selected. All these functions, though, are seriously affected when a dog or cat develops colitis.
Common Causes of Colitis:
1. Parasitic – Whipworms reside in the upper colon (unlike hooks and rounds); protozoan parasites in some areas of the country are caused by Giardia, Trichomona, Amoeba and Balantida.
2. Foreign Body Colitis – We’ve all seen the dog that eats grass and straw. This indigestible fiber really irritates the large bowel. Any dog with pica (the compulsion to eat non food material) is a candidate for intermittent colitis.
3. Bacterial Colitis – Often is caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter.
4. Chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease ( IBD )– This is an important group. This disorder is due to an invasion of the wall of the large bowel by certain types of body cells. Eosinophilic Colitis is a good example. Another common cellular infiltration into the wall of the large bowel is due to lymphocytes and plasmacytes. This is referred to by veterinarians as LPIBD… Lymphocytic-plasmacytic Inflammatory Bowel Disease and is thought to be due in great measure to allergic reactions within the bowel and even throughout the digestive tract. The wall of the large intestine is invaded by the individual’s own inflammatory cells in response to some triggering antigen. An allergen is any substance that incites an immune reaction.
5. Irritable Bowel Syndrome – Usually has a neurological or psychological origin. It is seen often in the hyper-excitable dog that is stressed, overworked, or apprehensive.
6. Typhilitis – Inflammation of the cecum which is a dead-end pocket branching from the intestinal tract where the small and large intestine join. (The medical term for this area is Ileoceco-colic junction.) This is located near where the human appendix would be, however dogs and cats don’t have an appendix.
7. Cancer – The two most common types are lymphosarcoma and adenocarcinoma.
The following email question was sent to a veterinarian regarding “colitis” and how to treat it. The veterinarian’s answer displays how difficult it is to formulate a single, precise answer to this topic of colitis…
From Janet P.
I have a cat with colitis and would like to treat him with medication. i.e. – natural remedies. Any suggestions?
I do hope the local veterinarian has been interacting with you and the kitty about this, Janet. “Colitis” is a general term for a condition that has a number of different causative agents, each needing a different treatment approach. See ThePetCenter.com and search for COLITIS for a full discussion of “colitis”.
I have no idea what herbal remedy would help because I don’t know if this “colitis” is due to a food allergy or intolerance, from Giardia or other parasites, from bacterial infection, from leukemic cell infiltration, an autoimmune disorder or even cancer.
I wish I could be more helpful but you need to have a diagnosis of what is causing the colitis, then the proper remedy can be started.
|Increased volumes||Normal Volumes|
|Normal to Increased||Increased|
|Loose, Dark Bloody, Undigested Fats||Loose or Semi-formed, Mucus, Red Blood|
|Vomiting||More commonly||Less Commonly|
The most obvious signal of colitis is loose stool, mucus and an increased frequency of passage. The dog or cat often strains to pass small amounts of stool and may actually appear to be constipated.
Note: Weight loss is not a common finding unless long term (chronic) colitis is present. Rapid weight loss associated with loose stool usually means the small intestine is involved. Red blood, rather than black, tarry blood associated with small intestine bleeding, is indicative of the bleeding coming from the colon.
The loose stool in colon disorders is due to lack of proper reabsorption of water from the feces. This can be due to:
1. A hyperactive colon where the feces don’t spend enough time in the colon to have the water reabsorbed.
2. Interruption of the proper chemical reactions necessary for reabsorption of the water.
Diagnosis of colitis:
1. History – It is very important to observe and describe accurately all factors such as the type and frequency of stool, the dog’s environment, diet, stress factors, straining, etc.
2. Laboratory analysis – fecal exams are invaluable as a basic part of the patient analysis to determine the presence of parasites, undigested nutrients, and blood. A blood test for evidence of Pancreatic digestive enzyme insufficiency called an TLI Test (trypsin-like immunoreactivity) can be used to evaluate the ability of the pancreas to properly digest food presented to the digestive tract. There are state-of-the-art blood tests that only a few laboratories can run that will indicate probabilities of specific food ingredients to which the patient may be hyper-responsive.
3. Radiography – Barium, a substance that shows up on an x-ray very well, can be given orally or via enema. X-rays are very helpful in gathering data about the colon.
4. Colonoscopy – Direct visual exam by a specialist can be very revealing.
5. Biopsy – Often in chronic colitis the biopsy provides the final step in determining a diagnosis as to the cause. This requires an anesthetic and surgical procedure, therefore, other modes of diagnosis and treatment are employed first. The biopsied specimens are sent to a veterinary pathology lab for what is called a histological exam by a specialist in veterinary pathology.
The treatment depends of course upon the cause. Whipworms in dogs must be ruled out even if fecal samples are negative; so too with Giardia. These single celled organism can be very debilitating to dogs and cats. Antibiotics, proper worming, and adding bran to the diet are employed with varying success. Food allergy is a multifaceted and difficult-to-manage disorder. There are special ingredient foods (Therapeutic Diets) now available to help dogs and cats avoid the specific dietary ingredient that triggers the allergic response.
As a general rule, the treatment of colitis is prescribed and applied according to what the final diagnosis is. A thorough workup of each case is important because if a treatment protocol is undertaken and the actual cause is something other than the assumed cause, more harm than good can come of the “treatment”. Often a specific antibiotic will be prescribed that affects mostly intestinal bacteria and is not absorbed systemically like most antibiotics are when used to treat infections outside the intestinal tract. Cortisone may be the drug of choice for chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease but would be inappropriate for use in a Giardia infested dog or cat so the diagnosis must be accurate if success is to be achieved.
Special diets, called Therapeutic Diets, may be prescribed by the veterinarian that contain select ingredients unlikely to irritate the bowel. In many cases, chronic colitis will require lifelong therapy in order to achieve a good quality of life for the dog or cat.
A Note About Constipation:
One of the most frequently occurring digestive tract disorders of cats is constipation. Dogs suffer from constipation on occasion, generally from ingesting an unusually large meal of bones or fibrous, indigestible material. Cats, especially older cats, commonly will be afflicted with constipation. Repeated episodes can lead to a serious condition called megacolon. The most common reason for intermittent vomiting in a cat (other than to expel hairballs) is constipation. Click on the x-ray image on the left to see a typical x-ray of a constipated cat. When the colon is filled to capacity and the ability or impulse to defecate is missing, the colon contents dehydrate and become firmer and dryer. The longer the stool remains in a static and non-motile large intestine the more difficult it is for the cat or dog to pass that material. As a result of the constipation the animal looses its appetite and in severe situations might become dehydrated and noticeably sick. Veterinary intervention maybe required. Physical examination, and the added informative value of radiography, will assist in determining if constipation is affecting a patient.
Repeated episodes of constipation where the wall of the colon is stretched and inflamed, may eventually lead to a condition called an Atonic Colon. In this very dangerous situation the colon wall loses its ability to contract and to propel the stool retrograde along the digestive tract. The wall of the colon eventually becomes very thin instead of elastic and muscular. Some of these affected cats may need to have the colon removed surgically in order to lead a reasonably healthy and happy life, free from repeated enemas, diets full of fiber, and the ill health associated with constipation.
The TREATMENT for constipation really is determined by the cause. For intermittent constipation due to sudden ingestion of fibrous, bony, indigestible material, the treatment may be gentle enemas and stool softeners taken by mouth. For more chronic constipation due to bowel abnormalities (such as poor nerve transmission, stretched bowel wall, megacolon or cancer) each case must be evaluated on an individual basis.
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