Diarrhoea - Articles of Interest Common Conditions - Pet Care Information from GreenCross Vets Australia
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Common Conditions - Articles of Interest - Diarrhoea


What is Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is defined as an alteration in the normal pattern of defecation resulting in the passing of soft, unformed faeces, with an increased water content, or an increased frequency of defecation.

If your pet is lethargic, won’t drink, has vomiting as well, or blood in the diarrhoea, you should take him or her to your local Greencross Vet!

What causes Diarrhoea?

Diarrhoea is not a disease; rather, it is a sign of many different diseases.  Diarrhoea may be due to primary gastro-intestinal disorders (parasites, bacterial or viral infections, dietary indiscretions, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease etc.) or may be secondary to other disease conditions such as liver disease, diabetes or pancreatic disorders.

How serious is Diarrhoea in dogs and cats?

Many mild cases of diarrhoea can be resolved quickly with simple treatments.  Others may be the result of potentially serious illnesses. Even diarrhoea caused by mild illnesses may become serious if treatment is not begun early enough to prevent severe fluid and nutrient losses. 

When presented with a pet with diarrhoea, your vet will normally try to answer a number of basic questions:

Is the diarrhoea serious enough to make the pet systemically unwell?

(eg. dehydration, fever, weight loss, loss of appetite).  If the answer is No, symptomatic treatment may be all that is required.  If the answer is Yes, more aggressive treatment and tests to determine the cause of the diarrhoea are likely to be required.

Is the diarrhoea acute or chronic? 

Acute diarrhoea is more likely to be due to less serious causes, and more likely to respond to symptomatic or non-specific treatment.  Chronic diarrhoea is more likely to require a specific diagnosis for effective therapy.

Is the diarrhoea primary (ie Due to disorders of the gastro-intestinal tract) or secondary (ie. Due to disorders of other body organs or systems). 

The tests required to diagnose primary diarrhoea are very different to those required for secondary diarrhoea.

Is the diarrhoea typical of a disorder affecting the small intestine, the large intestine, or both? 

As with (3), the answer to this question will determine what tests are required to diagnose the cause of the diarrhoea.

What types of tests are performed to find the cause?

If diarrhoea is chronic, or is associated with systemic illness (other symptoms may include fever, weight loss, vomiting, change in water intake and loss of appetite) we perform a series of tests to try and make a specific diagnosis.  This permits more specific treatment.  Diagnostic tests may include radiography (x-rays) with or without barium, blood tests, bacteriological cultures, biopsies of the intestinal tract and exploratory abdominal surgery.  Once the diagnosis is known, treatment may include special medications and/or diets, or surgery.

If your pet does not appear systemically ill from diarrhoea, or the diarrhoea is acute, the cause may be less serious.  Some of the minor causes of diarrhoea include stomach or intestinal bacteria or viruses, intestinal parasites and dietary indiscretions (such as eating garbage or other offensive or irritating materials).  A minimum number of tests are performed to rule out certain parasites and infections.  These cases may be treated with drugs to control the motility of the intestinal tract, drugs that relieve inflammation in the intestinal tract, and/or a special diet for a few days.  This approach allows the body’s healing mechanisms to correct the problem.  We expect improvement within 2-4 days; if this does not occur, a change in medication or further tests are done to better understand the problem.  Please keep us informed of any lack of expected improvement so that we may manage the situation properly.

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