Is your dog throwing up? Experiencing diarrhea? Acting lethargic? Find out what these, and more, symptoms could mean.
When pets start showing signs of illness, owners fret. With the recent wave of pet food recalls, thoughts tend to jump first to contaminated food.
“Blaming food for maladies is much overplayed,” advises Dr. Ken Tudor, DVM. Dr. Tudor is a veterinarian, and the founder and CEO of Hearthstone Homemade. He knows the worries of pet owners. He created his holistic dog diet products after his own granddog experienced a severe reaction to commercial food. “I have to believe the companies weren’t trying to do anything to him. He was just one of those genetic nightmares that couldn’t handle commercial food.”
Sensitivities and allergies play a roll, but he also wants pet parents to note the contrast in how we and our animals experience the same environment. Imagine you take your dog for a walk. You traipse down the sidewalk together, run through the park, and splash through a puddle before coming back home. You take your shoes off before going inside. “”We may walk the same ground,” Dr. Tudor reminds us, “but they lick their paws. We don’t lick our shoes.”
Dogs also roll around in the grass and dirt, later licking their skin. They lick places on their own bodies that we would never dream of. All of this adds up to a much greater exposure to environmental toxins. Food is not always the culprit.
What is the culprit? Like so many things in life, it depends.
My dog is throwing up! and/or My dog has diarrhea!
According to Dr. Tudor, many times diarrhea and vomiting can be attributed to these sensitivities, and environmental toxins. Your dog may be having an allergic reaction, or be experiencing something similar to the flu.
If your dog is both vomiting and having diarrhea, you should get them to the vet. They are at risk for dehydration, and should get medical treatment. They should also immediately go to the vet if there is a possibility that they have an obstruction, or foreign object, in their system.
If, however, they are only experiencing one or the other at a frequency of one to four times a day, Dr. Tudor advises that you can wait a day or two before raising the flags in alarm, as long as they’re otherwise acting normally. You will want to change what you’re feeding them, though.
The Bland Diet
When we are sick, we eat chicken noodle soup and applesauce. When pets are sick, why do we keep giving them kibble?
When we are sick, we know to eat chicken noodle soup or applesauce. When our pets are sick, we tend to keep feeding them the same thing. “It makes no sense,” he explains. “The kibble is just irritating the lining of the stomach that’s already sensitive. When you give them a bland diet like cottage cheese and rice, or chicken and rice, the food can be digested more easily and pass out of the stomach with less trauma.”
In fact, he relates that doing so can remove the symptoms within three to four days in many cases. Trying one of these two blends will stop your dog from producing feces, and give their lower intestine a chance to heal:
• One part cottage cheese to one part rice
• One part rotisserie chicken (sans skin) to one part rice
In other words, you want a 50/50 mixture of the two given ingredients. These recipes will give their bodies the break they need until they can digest fiber again.
Taking a break from certain foods doesn’t mean taking a break from all foods. Dr. Tudor says pet owners should continue feeding their dogs to help them build their immune system back up. “The longer animals go without eating, the more effect it has on the bacteria in the gut, which not only interferes with the intestinal immunity, but now we’re finding that that has an impact on the internal immunity.” On top of feeding pets bland food during illness, it’s also good practice to make sure they get plenty of fluids, just like you would provide for an ill person.
If the symptoms persist or otherwise worsen, you’ll find yourself at the vet’s office. There, they will be able to determine if antibiotics are necessary, and give your pet probiotics and prebiotics. Dr. Tudor relates that, “probiotics add back some of the bacteria that have been disseminated by the destruction of the colonic tissue,” while prebiotics promote the production of the good bacteria your pet produces naturally.
My dog’s gums are beet red!
Beet red gums make vets suspicious of cyanide poisoning. “What’s characteristic about cyanide is that in the early stages, the animal’s gums are beet red,” relates Dr. Tudor. “They’re taking in a lot of oxygen with the hyperventilation, but it’s not attaching to the red blood cells. So the tissue is not getting the oxygen, but the blood stream is just teeming with oxygen.” Other symptoms of cyanide poisoning can include:
• Gastrointestinal issues
• Muscle tremors
• Trouble walking
Dr. Tudor tells us that cyanide poisoning is “commonly found in evil attempts to get rid of the neighbor’s dog. It’s unfortunately something we see rather commonly in veterinary practice.” Symptoms tend to surface within a few hours.
My dog’s gums are white!
White or pale gums are suspect of rat poisoning. Rat poisoning is an anticoagulant. “The body constantly is hemorrhaging and clogging,” explains Dr. Tudor. “That’s part of the living process. If you add an anticoagulant to that mix, animals can’t coagulate when these normal bleeding episodes and inflammatory processes take place. They chronically lose blood.”
Dogs that have rat poisoning may also demonstrate anemia-like symptoms, especially weakness.
In cases of rat poisoning, most owners know it has occurred before the symptoms are evident. Typically, Dr. Tudor’s patients come in because their owners have discovered a box of the poison with chew marks on it, or containers that have been opened. That is a good thing, because when you catch it early enough, preferably before symptoms arise, rat poisoning can be successfully treated with veterinarian-administered Vitamin K. “If there’s any suspicion that an animal got into rat poison,” he warns, “they should immediately take the animal to the veterinarian.”
If caught early enough, rat poisoning can be successfully treated with Vitamin K.
Sensitivity and Allergies
If you feed your pet a new brand of food, and shortly thereafter they fall ill, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that the food was contaminated. That is not commonly the correct conclusion, according to Dr. Tudor. “When we go to a foreign country and eat something, and immediately, that evening or the next morning, are experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, it’s not because we were poisoned at the restaurant. It’s because our body wasn’t used to the combination of spices and foods that they used.” The same is true with our pets.
To identify food sensitivities, he recommends the same bland diet you’d use for a pet that is ill from environmental contaminants. Then, you can start introducing more flavorful foods. You should make the food yourself, not out of distrust, but because you can better isolate what your pet is eating, allowing you to identify the exact ingredients they don’t have tolerance for. Dr. Tudor notes that commercial foods, even those labeled as having limited ingredients, typically have four to five main ingredients. This makes it extremely difficult to isolate the problem.
“It’s an experimentation thing. You can feed animals single proteins, and single carbohydrates,” he recommends. You also normally add an oil. “Typically they can’t be allergic to oil, but some kids are. Use only purified vitamins and minerals that have no allergens in them. It’s easy, then, to play with the food, and substitute and find out what works for the dog and what doesn’t. That’s the only true test for finding out food sensitivities.”
When it Actually is the Food
In some cases, the culprit will, actually, be the food. It just doesn’t happen as often as we think it would. The most common types of contaminants in these cases are salmonella and listeria. Dr. Tudor informs that while it is possible to have these contaminants in cooked, processed food, it is more commonly seen in raw pet food products.
When it comes to listeria and salmonella, Dr. Tudor tells us that “dogs can actually ingest those and be symptom free, but they can still harbor them in their gut, shed them in their gut, and become a problem for the humans. It is more common for dogs and cats to be carriers than it is for them to be victims.” This means that while they may have ingested the contaminants, they are more resistant to the resulting symptoms.
If they do start showing symptoms, treatment is much the same as it was for pets with an illness due to environmental factors, though this time, your vet will add an antibiotic as these medications “cut down the population of the bacteria in the gut.”
Veterinarians do not hastily prescribe antibiotics, though. They want to make sure it’s an invasive, harmful bacteria causing the infection, because if it’s not, the antibiotic could draw out the healing process.
“Antibiotics could kill the good bacteria that we want to help the immune system,” Dr. Tudor explains. “Antibiotics help keep a population of bacteria in a relatively small state so that the immune system can take over and right itself. It’s not that the antibiotics in and of themselves cure anything. They give the body’s immune system a chance to do what it’s supposed to do.”
Pet owners are typically alerted to salmonella or listeria poisoning when their pet has eaten new food and subsequently become ill, though, as we’ve discussed, this could also signal an allergy or food sensitivity. The only way to know if the illness is caused by these bacteria is to sample one of your dog’s stools. If you want to prove that it was the food that caused the infection, and not an environmental contaminant, you must also retain a sample of the food in question. Both samples must contain the same strain of bacteria. Even then, it is suggestive and likely, but not conclusive.
Related Article: Who Pays my Vet Bill After a Pet Food Recall?
It’s Usually Not the Food
While recalls do alert us to the foods out there that are, in fact, contaminated, they do not tell the whole story. Many pets that ingest the contaminated foods will show no symptoms. The pets that do show symptoms may not be having a problem with something they ate, but rather something dirty that they licked or played with. It’s important to keep an open mind when dealing with a sick pet. Without it, you may bias yourself against the real issue, and its solution.
Have you ever falsely suspected pet food as the cause of your fur baby’s illness? We want to hear your story in the comments!
While this article was written with dogs in mind, the same principles apply to cats.
While we hope this article is helpful, it is meant to provide hints and useful information on a large scale. It should not be used as a diagnostic tool for your individual pet’s maladies. If your pet is sick, seek personalized advice from your veterinarian.