Reggie has inflammatory bowel disease :(

Reggie has been having issues lately, and they are not over. I thought he was getting better, but unfortunately it was brief and he has relapsed.

He has been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, something I never considered dogs could have. But, they have the same parts! His abnormal bile acid count from a few weeks ago was a precursor, a warning sign, to what was coming. He has been vomiting, he will not eat, and I have had the [dis]pleasure of shoving his medication down his throat and making him swallow because he wouldn’t take food a few times this past week.

Reggie’s dad and I joke that Reggie is on a “hunger strike.” Meaning, every once in a while, for maybe two days we know that his stomach acts up and he doesn’t feel well and he won’t eat. He takes Zantac on a daily basis to help with this, but it still occasionally occurs. This time however was different. It was the reverse; he was spending more time not eating and only a couple days eating. Today, I found out the high liver count, the abnormal bile acid, the vomiting- all equal canine inflammatory bowel disease. A quick Google search from Pets WebMD yields that the most common form of the disease “has been associated with giardiasis, food allergy, and overgrowth of intestinal bacteria…Vomiting is common.” Uh oh. Well, Reggie does not have giardiasis. But, vomiting? Check. Intestinal bacteria? Check. Food allergy CHECK.

So now Reggie is on probiotics and antibiotics. Sounds conflicting I know but I’m not a doctor. In one week we reassess to see how well he’s eating (if he’s eating…). He may have to temporarily be on anti-nausea meds to get some food in him. Then, he may have to have prescription food specific to GI issues. I’ve been down that road before- he ate prescription food during food trials.

So we carry on, and restore Reggie’s tummy to balance!

Liver function in dogs

Reggie has been having bile acid problems lately. This is not completely unexpected; he has had these problems on and off his whole life and because of the seizure medications his liver function is already compromised. This time, though, was a little worse.

His liver enzyme count was much higher than it was back in February, and his bile acid count was abnormal. He stopped eating- for about three weeks. He would eat treats (of course, right?) and handfuls of food every couple of days, probably just when he got really hungry and needed to eat something. He already takes Zantac twice a day to control the stomach acid, and now his vet has him on probiotics. After about a week, he returned to normal eating.

Being me, I googled the heck out of everything related to a dog’s liver, the liver processes, liver failure, what would cause the abnormal bile acid count, how to fix it…you get the idea. I learned some interesting things- first the liver.

The Liver Process

The liver is pretty amazing. It performs a zillion functions, but the main ones are: production of proteins, metabolism of carbohydrates, vitamin production, digestion, and detoxification. Reggie’s particular problem involved digestion. The liver excretes bile which ultimately goes into the small intestine to help breakdown food, particularly fats. The bile acid is secreted by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. The gall bladder releases bile as needed during the digestion process and bile acids are absorbed into the small intestine and returned back to the liver. In Reggie’s case, the bile acids were not removed from the bloodstream and recycled back to the liver, resulting in an abnormal test result. This impacted his ability to properly digest food and, to put it simply, gave him an upset tummy.

The very serious side of this is that these are signs of liver inflammation, potential liver disease, or ultimately liver failure. Because the entire organ performs all of the same functions, up to 80% of it can be diseased or damaged before failure sets in. In dogs this is especially hard to tell because of their stoic nature.

The Liver and Food

In the beginning, I went down the rabbit hole and panicked and thought that Reggie’s food (duck and oatmeal) was duck being manufactured in China. I know better; due to his allergies I have researched the heck out of food and manufacturers and I feel pretty confident about the quality of what he eats. Nonetheless, I called to make sure (it’s not). However, I learned some interesting things.

High protein food and high fat food is taxing on the liver, particularly for compromised dogs. There is controversy regarding high protein diets. Most information states that anything over 25% protein isn’t appropriate for any animal. The type of protein comes into play too- a high protein food made up mostly of soy isn’t as good for a dog as meat. Dog food manufacturers that reference wolves forget that; 1) dogs aren’t wolves; and 2) the 40% protein “wolf” diet they promote has very little moisture which is not like a true wild wolf diet of raw meat. Raw diets get controversy as well, but most of the information I found indicates that once you factor in the bone, tissue, etc. the protein is about 25% which is where you want to be.

Fat is another potential pitfall. Diets with 10-15% fat are considered normal and over 20% are considered high fat. There is not really any controversy over fat- just your veterinarian’s recommendation for your dog for whether they should be on a normal or low-fat diet. Considering Reggie had a high bile acid count and bile aids in the digestion and breakdown of fat, I checked his food for fat content. Turns out his wet food has a whopping 30% fat! This will require some reworking- he needs the wet food with his dry food but it may have to be cut back as this could be contributing to his liver issues.

A Final Note

In my research I came across these interesting abstracts about high protein diets and aggression. The nutshell is that in the test groups of dogs with territorial aggression (in one study) and dominance aggression (in the other study), the high protein diets scored highest in behavioral scores, and reduced protein reduced aggression. Fascinating topic if you have a dog with these issues, and another tool for your toolbox.

Bloat in dogs

The unofficial start of summer has arrived, and with that comes new fun, new playtime, and unfortunately, new dangers. Bloat is a dangerous condition that can be deadly in under an hour, and is more common in summer.

A teammate of mine tragically lost her dog a few weeks ago to bloat. Bloat actually refers to two separate conditions, gastric dilation and gastric volvulus.

Gastric Dilation

In the first phase the stomach distends with gas and fluid- that feeling of being “bloated” that humans refer to. It usually develops suddenly, and in healthy active dogs. Bloat is caused by eating too fast, drinking large amounts of water too fast, or exercising too much before or after eating. These acts cause the dog to ingest or gulp air quickly. Deep chested dogs such as German Shepherds, Great Danes, St. Bernards, Labradors, Irish Wolfhounds, Greyhounds, Standard Poodle, etc. are predisposed to this condition. Small dogs are rarely affected by bloat. Signs of gastric dilation are a distended stomach, salivation, pacing, restlessness, attempts to vomit. If you tap the dog’s stomach it may sound hollow. The dog may walk in a stiff-legged kind of wobble, uncomfortable, be lethargic. To relieve the gas, a veterinarian must pass a tube down the dog’s throat into the stomach. There will be an immediate rush of air and possibly fluid bringing relief, and the veterinarian will “wash out” the dog’s stomach. When a dog has bloat they have a 70% chance of having bloat again.

Gastric Volvulus

Quite frequently, once the stomach distends with gas and fluid it rotates on its long axis which is called volvulus. When the stomach rotates it closes off the duodenum (the beginning of the small intestine) and prevents fluid and air from escaping the stomach. This also prevents the dog from being able to vomit or belch. The stomach becomes hugely distended, and any material trapped in the stomach ferments. Because of the twisting there is interference with blood circulation which results in necrosis of the wall of the stomach. If a dog is at the volvulus stage he might be approaching shock; weak pulse, labored breathing, weakness, delayed capillary refill time, and pale gums and tongue. The only way to correct volvulus is by emergency surgery and reposition the stomach, and possibly remove part of the stomach if some of the tissues have died (necrosis).

Solutions

This is incredibly serious, both stages are. If you suspect your dog has developed gastric volvulus, you probably have one hour. I was shocked to learn that. How many of us could recognize the signs of bloat and rush our dogs to the ER in less than an hour? Mortality rates can be as high as 90% at this stage, 50% with dilation. Many dogs don’t present with typical symptoms either. Dogs are known to be stoic creatures that don’t show pain. If you have a deep chested dog, feed your dog several smaller meals in a day, don’t let them drink large amounts of water at once, avoid fat and citric acid in your dog food, don’t exercise on a full stomach, and pay attention to the symptoms. And the most important- if you suspect bloat, take your dog to the ER. For additional reading, check out this informational article from the ASPCA.