Digestive problems have many causes

McClatchy Newspapers
Dudley, a 5-year-old retriever mix, has been dealing with diarrhea intermittently for six months. At times, Dudley's stool appears relatively normal. Other times, it is more fluid, with gelatinous material and occasionally traces of what appears to be blood.

Dudley has seen the veterinarian a few times. Antibiotics were prescribed. There was improvement, but the diarrhea returned each time in full force.

Diarrhea is one of the more common problems associated with the digestive tract in many different species. The list of possible causes is lengthy. Without determining the underlying cause, there is seldom a cure.

One of the first things we look at is the consistency of the fecal material. This can help narrow from where in the digestive tract the diarrhea results.

In Dudley's case, Tom describes gelatinous material in the stool, as well as occasional blood. These are symptoms of diarrhea resulting from a problem in the large intestine, or colon.

The colon's primary function is to resorb water from the stool. When it is not functioning properly, the stool will be more watery, often containing mucous - a gelatinous material. When there is fresh blood in the stool, it likely is from the colon; if the blood were coming from farther up the digestive tract, say the small intestine or stomach, the blood would be digested on its way down and appear as a dark, tarlike substance in the stool.

I believe Dudley's diarrhea is colonic in origin. Now it's important to determine whether it is primarily a colon problem or if there is a problem farther up the digestive tract, possibly the stomach or small intestine, that may be affecting the colon.

A few diagnostic steps are needed: radiographs of the abdomen to visualize the digestive tract; a blood sample to check organ function, including of the pancreas; and a stool sample to check for parasites.

I have seen many cases of chronic diarrhea in dogs that end up being caused by intestinal parasites. These cases are easily treated and cured and easily prevented.

As is often the case, there are many possible underlying disease processes that could be causing Dudley's diarrhea. Even something as simple as his diet may be playing a role, although, statistically, it is a lower possibility.

It is always best to try to arrive at a specific diagnosis and as a result be able to treat Dudley effectively.

And remember, every case is different. Even though the symptoms may be exactly the same as in another pet, the underlying cause may be unrelated.

(Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto, Calif. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto CA 95352.)

© 2009, The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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