Canine colitis

Diarrhea is a common condition that almost every dog owner will experience at some point — in the dog, not necessarily the owner. Most often, the condition is inconvenient but brief, lasting only a day or two. Diarrhea that lasts longer than a few days or is particularly severe (with the dog showing other signs of illness such as lethargy, vomiting, or a fever) can indicate a more serious problem.

Diarrhea refers to any condition that results in an increased fluid component to the stool. The condition can originate in either the small or large intestine (also called the colon) and, depending on the origin, the characteristics of the stool are different. Small intestinal diarrhea is characterized by large volumes of watery stool and can be accompanied by the other signs of illness described above. In contrast, dogs with large intestinal diarrhea produce small amounts of stool and have increased urgency. These dogs may also have blood and/or mucus in their feces. Large intestinal diarrhea is often referred to as colitis, which means inflammation of the colon.

Colitis is caused by any one of a variety of injuries that usually involve the innermost lining of the colon (called the mucosa). The mucosa, as the name suggests, has numerous mucus glands that protect the colon from injury and lubricate the passage of feces. The main functions of the colon are to absorb water and store feces until the animal defecates. In dogs with colitis, water is not effectively absorbed, and the ability of the colon to store feces is impaired. Excessive amounts of mucus, and even blood, are often passed with the feces of dogs affected with colitis because of damage to the protective mucosa lining.

Inflammation in the colon can decrease the movement of the colon. The colon normally moves the feces slowly back and forth, enabling maximum absorption of fluids. When this movement is abnormally slowed, the contents pass too quickly through the colon and diarrhea ensues.

There are many different causes of canine colitis. Diet, parasites, bacterial infections, and even stress are among the more common causes of colitis in dogs. Fiber-responsive colitis describes large bowel diarrhea that resolves by adding fiber to the diet. In some instances, hypersensitivity or allergic reactions to certain components in the diet can cause a disease called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) of the colon.

Whipworms, another common cause, are parasites that inhabit the large bowel and attach to the mucosa. These worms interfere with the colon’s ability to absorb water, and thus cause diarrhea.

Certain bacteria can also cause colitis. These bacteria normally live in the colon but, when conditions are right for these bacteria to overgrow, colitis develops. A species of bacteria called Clostridium perfringens is an extremely common cause of colitis in dogs. C. perfringens causes inflammation of the colon by producing a toxic substance called an enterotoxin. This toxin acts directly on the colon mucosa, causes the escape of fluid and salts (also called electrolytes), and results in decreased movement, which produces diarrhea.

In general, colitis is not difficult to diagnose, because the clinical symptoms are very specific for large bowel inflammation. As mentioned above, those symptoms include straining to defecate, production of scant amounts of watery feces that may contain mucus and/or blood, and increased urgency to defecate. The causes of colitis, however, can be more challenging to uncover. Your veterinarian may recommend trial diets with increased fiber or hypoallergenic diets to identify fiber-responsive colitis or IBD. A stool examination may reveal eggs of whipworms, indicating the need for a deworming agent.

Sometimes it’s necessary for your veterinarian to see the inside of the colon, directly, by using an instrument called an endoscope. He or she can then take small biopsies of the colon for microscopic examination. Colitis caused by C. perfringens is a diagnostic challenge because these bacteria are normal inhabitants of the colon. Thus, determining if the bacteria are truly the cause of the colitis is difficult. Often, veterinarians must administer antibiotics based on their clinical suspicion of C. perfringens overgrowth.

Morris Animal Foundation is supporting a study to uncover a more definitive way to diagnose C. perfringens infections that commonly cause colitis in dogs. Dr. Stanley Marks of the University of California-Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine is working to design a “better mousetrap” for catching C. perfringens in the act of causing disease. In the study entitled, “Diagnosis and Epidemiology of Disease Caused by Enterotoxigenic Clostridium Perfringens Type A in Dogs,” Dr. Marks and his colleagues are working to establish a variety of tests that can be used together to more accurately diagnose this disease.

These tests include counting spores produced by the organisms in feces and measuring the amount of enterotoxin present in the feces. This should decrease the number of dogs that receive antibiotics unnecessarily, and will also help veterinarians uncover the actual cause of colitis in many patients. As veterinarians are better able to rule out C. perfringens as the causative agent in dogs with colitis, they will also be able to more rapidly identify the true cause and provide these patients with appropriate therapy.

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Rob Hilsenroth, DVM, is Executive Director of Morris Animal Foundation. This nonprofit organization sponsors animal health studies at veterinary schools and institutions throughout the U.S. and in other parts of the world. All annual unrestricted contributions to the foundation support health programs — not the cost of administration or fund-raising.

If you’d like to make a contribution, write Morris Animal Foundation, 45 Inverness Drive East, Englewood CO 80112. For more information, call (800) 243-2345 or visit

Heritage of the hound

All dogs share many traits due to their common genetic background. But some dogs have been carefully bred for specialized traits. That factors in to what makes each breed different — along with physical traits. If you’re thinking about adding a dog to the family, it’s important to look into those traits and understand what they might mean in terms of the human/dog relationship.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes seven basic dog groups:

Sporting dogs — such as Cocker Spaniels and Retrievers — work with people to hunt game such as pheasant or ducks. These dogs have been selected for their desire to work with their owners; many also have a strong retrieval instinct. If a puppy is mouthy — always chewing on something … including your hands — he may have the retrieval instinct.

So, right from the start, you’ll need good chew toys to prevent destructive habits from developing. And to keep your dog “honestly” occupied, keep in mind that Retrievers can be taught to help carry laundry, lug firewood or pick up dropped items such as keys. Sporting dogs often do well in obedience and agility.

These dogs tend to be athletic and in need of daily exercise. The exact amount can vary quite a bit. A young male Labrador Retriever may be happiest with a two-mile run, twice a day. A mature Clumber Spaniel is pretty happy with a brisk walk around the block.

The Hound Group is next. There are two types of hounds. Sighthounds (such as Greyhounds or Borzoi) hunt visually and tend to be fast and often a bit aloof. Scent hounds (such as Beagles) hunt with their noses, often work in packs and tend to be quite companionable.

Hounds sometimes march to the tune of a different drummer — their nose! They don’t always see the need for close cooperation and can be a challenge in sports such as obedience or agility. On the other hand, lure coursing and field work are their cup of tea. Scent hounds can be noisy and big diggers; sighthounds are happiest with room to run.

The Working Group has a wide variety of dogs. They range from sled dogs to guarding dogs. Many are quite large. The guarding breeds, such as Mastiffs, can be quite protective and need plenty of socialization. The sledding breeds, which include the Siberian Husky, are happiest when they can run. And I’m talking long runs here, not once around the block. Guarding dogs tend to do a bit better in obedience, while the sledding breeds seem to prefer the more athletic outlet of agility.

When frustrated, guard dogs could become nuisance barkers, and sled dogs might just quietly dig large holes.

The Terriers are dogs designed to “go to earth” (digging out vermin). They’re born hunters and, quite often, they’ll have a streak of independence. They’re very smart dogs. Even so, they may require some finesse during training in order to make them realize most dog sports are team sports.

While some Terriers do end up as couch potatoes, many of them are very active. They can be problem chewers or diggers if not kept busy. And if you also raise exotic rodents, a Terrier may not be the best pet for you!

Non-Sporting is a catch-all group. These dogs are hard to classify. They range from the athletic, energetic Dalmatian, to the gentlemanly French Bulldog. Poodles are one of the best known members of this group (although they actually come from a sporting dog heritage). Many of these breeds are made up of active dogs who do best with plenty of exercise.

Toy Breeds, in general, were developed solely as companions and pets. Their small size makes them perfect for this way of life. But they’re not always a good choice for a family with young, rambunctious children.

Some of the toy breeds have other heritages behind them, such as the Yorkshire Terrier — who could still happily dispatch a rat in the cellar — and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, who may hunt sparrows in the garden.

The Herding Breeds are the last AKC group and very dear to my heart. These dogs were developed to help out with livestock control. For the short but tough Corgis, that meant cattle, while the Border Collie is first and foremost a sheep specialist.

These are dogs bred to work as partners with people and they tend to do quite well in obedience and agility. They’re happiest with a job to do and plenty of exercise. They can be problem chewers or barkers if bored.

It’s important to think about the heritage (or multiple heritages of your mixed breed dog) when choosing a pet for your family. If you enjoy competing in many dog sports, a herding or sporting breed might be the ideal choice. If you love winter sports and are thinking of skijoring or sledding, perhaps a working breed would be best.

While our dogs are often versatile enough to work well outside their genetic heritage, it’s wonderful for both of you when you can share some of the fun.

Product Test Report: PoopsAway! Scoop and Bags

If you own dogs, and you go for walks, we certainly hope you’re a member of the Poop Pickup Club. It’s your duty as a responsible dog owner to clean up after your dog, whether on public or private property.

People long ago gave up on building a better mousetrap. But they haven’t given up the search for the perfect pooper scooper. Every year, we get five or ten new products for this unglamorous task.

This year’s “better poop-trap” is called Poops Away!™ It’s a simple plastic scoop, reminiscent of a pair of tongs. It comes with a supply of special blue plastic bags. And together, you never have to touch dog poop again.

I’m a big fan of using the cheap plastic bags my groceries come in for poop pickup. They’re simple, you can stuff a bunch in your pocket, they tie up easily … and they let the odor seep out. That’s a big problem if you have a two-legged walking companion downwind from you.

The Poops Away! clips on your belt or pocket, and you can pre-load it with one of the generously-sized blue bags. The bag stays on the scoop while the scoop stays on your belt.

I rousted Chops and Katie out of a deep nap to take a walk to the park and try out Poops Away! It was one of those special dusky times after a rainstorm, when the sunset was illuminating the sky with an eerie yellow light.

We walked to the local pocket park, where my two girl dogs knew they were free to poop.

I pulled the Poops Away! scoop off my belt, and tried it out on a dainty Katie poop lodged deep in the three-inch grass. The scooper worked fairly well in the tall grass, but it took me three tries to get all the poop up. I would have done better with my hand in a grocery bag. The scoop didn’t work well in the three-inch grass.

But the blue Poops Away! Grab-N-Toss™ bag was simple to peel off the scoop, close and tie. Unlike some bags we’ve tried, there was plenty of extra space in the bag for the biggest of piles, and room to tie off the bag neatly. And the scoop remains clean, so it’s fine to put back on your belt for the walk home.

The blue bag is opaque, so no one needs to look at poop while you’re walking to the trash can, which in this case, means all the way home. (Our brilliant Parks Department removed the can from this park, because so many dog walkers were using it for poop pickup.)

Better yet, the Grab-N-Toss bag locks in the smell. Nothing seeps out through the plastic, as with the bags from the supermarket. That’s a major benefit.

The Poops Away! scooper comes in gray, navy or black plastic, and sells for $10.99, including five bags to get you started.

The Poops Away scoop is cleverly designed, with two angled, deep shovel-like scoops meeting to form a clamshell. The handles, separated by a curve at the end (with the pocket clip), work like tongs, only in reverse: when you squeeze the two handles together, the clamshell opens up to surround the poop. Release and it closes with a spring-like snap. Again, the plastic bag surrounds and protects the scoop, so neither you nor the scoop touches the offending refuse. We recommend the scoop if you walk your dog on city streets or packed dirt.

The 8-1/2″ x 15″ Grab-N-Toss bags come in a box of 50 for about $4.99. They’re easy to stuff in your pocket, and if you’re a real dog person, you’ll stick your hand in the bag, pick up the poops, turn the bag inside out and tie it off. You really don’t need the scoop at all. And as poop bags go, these are worth every penny!

For more information on Poops Away! (including the new pouch that contains a bag, a paper towel and a moist towelette), contact LeisureMore at 1-877-300-MORE or