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How To Easily Diagnose and Treat Colitis In Dogs

One of the first signs of colitis in dogs is diarrhea and bloody mucus in the stool. Canine colitis is a painful condition that should always be checked by a veterinarian. I know because we have dealt with the sudden onset of this nasty condition.

When my Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, showed signs of both blood and mucus in his stool, I knew we had an issue. A dog’s poop can tell you a lot about his health, so off we went to the emergency veterinarian. Here’s how my dog was diagnosed with acute colitis, why it happened, and ways to prevent the same thing from happening to your dog.

how to help a dog with colitis

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Symptoms of Colitis In Dogs

When a dog’s colon, or the large bowel, gets inflamed, colitis may result. Often times, what the poop looks like is an indicator of what’s causing the trouble. Bright red blood can indicate canine colitis while a dark, tarry stool is generally not from the large bowel and may indicate internal bleeding. Either way, blood in a dog’s poop should always warrant a vet visit.

When my dog first developed signs of colitis, in addition to the bloody stool which had a mucus texture to it, he appeared to strain during defecation quite a bit. Sometimes he produced a bowel movement, but other times just a few driplets would come out that had a bright red tinge to them, as seen in the photo.

bright red blood from diarrhea
This is the bright red color on the baby wipe during Dexter’s bout with colitis.

When you know what normal is in your dog, it’s easy to then act on “abnormal” when it happens. As a lifelong Cocker Spaniel mom, I know that one of the signs of stomach distress in dogs is they can’t sit still or their backs may arch. Dexter was walking fast during his need to evacuate his bowels, with very little result.

Some symptoms of colitis include:

  • Loose stool often with bright red blood or red flecks in it
  • Mucus consistency to the stool
  • Straining to defecate, often with little volume
  • Flatulence
  • Poor eating habits in some dogs. Some dogs may show no change in appetite, as was the case with my dog’s bout of colitis.
  • Pain: Dogs show many in a variety of ways from retreating to a corner to pacing to arching their back.
  • Losing weight: In a week, my dog lost two pounds from colitis.
  • Dehydration from losing fluids. Once your dog’s skin at the back of the neck doesn’t spring back promptly, he’s very dehydrated. Dogs can be dehydrated and even the savviest dog parents may not recognize it, which is why a vet visit for a blood draw is crucial.

Dog Guts Are Different Than Human Guts

When you eat something, it takes about 20 to 30 hours for food to make its way through a human’s gastrointestinal system. In dogs, the “transit time” is more like six to eight hours.

So while food moves faster through a dog’s intestines, it actually goes slower in the stomach than a human’s. On top of that, dogs produce more stomach acid than people, so in certain circumstances, the perfect storm produces an upset gut.

A dog’s digestive system is a lot like ours and also very susceptible to sudden dietary changes, worms invading it, stress, side effects from medications, food poisoning, and more.

dog with colitis at veterinarian
Dexter waiting to see the veterinarian.

What Causes Colitis In Dogs

Here are some of the causes that are commonly associated with this condition:

  • Intestinal parasites, such as worms.
  • Stress: Noise aversion, separation anxiety, sudden changes in family, being around arguments or family squabbles, etc.
  • Dietary indiscretion: Getting into the garbage, eating too much of something, getting people food, or even too much of the dog’s own food. This was our culprit. More about that later.
  • Pancreatitis: Dexter had pancreatitis, and it is not fun.
  • Injury to the intestines or blockage: Dogs eat the darndest things, and swallowing a bone, bone fragment, or non-edible items like a ball, toy, socks, etc.
  • Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD): Our first Cocker Spaniel succumbed to IBD complications, but there have been many medical advances since she passed away in 2008. IBD is an autoimmune disease and can begin with an episode of acute colitis that becomes chronic.
  • Food allergies or intolerance: Itchy paws, skin, ears are often caused by something in the dog’s diet or environment. Thankfully, removing the offending allergens from the dog’s diet can stave off future episodes of colitis.
  • Side effect from medication, over the counter or prescription.
  • Infections from fungus or algae, which is why it’s important not to let your dog drink from an unsafe/unclean water source.
  • Chemicals: external toxins like chemically-based flea and tick dips, sprays, etc.

What I Did When My Dog Got Colitis

We visited the vet to confirm the diagnosis. Since the internal medicine vet Dexter saw first simply gave him a low-dose antibiotic based on symptoms, the colitis got somewhat better within 48 hours. When he was still straining to poop on day three, we saw his regular veterinarian.

Armed with a poop sample, Dexter’s vet did a complete blood count, fecal test, examination, and made the diagnosis of acute colitis.

This entire time, I logged all of my dog’s symptoms, bowel movements including color and consistency, snapped pictures, and wrote down what I fed him and how much he drank in his canine health journal.

As a diligent dog mom who prides herself on feeding the very best dog food, treats and paying close attention to supplements, what could have gone wrong?

Answer: Human error x2.

Dexter is a fan of a certain marrow bone of which he receives twice a month. We toss the old one out and give him a new one. It satisfies a dog’s desire to chew while entertaining him because he buries it and treats it like the coveted prize it is.

I gave Dexter a new bone and later that evening, unbeknownst to me, my spouse gave him a second “new bone.” Dex buried the first bone, so out of sight and out of mind. See where this is going? He worked on the outer coating of baked treat and then to the middle of the bone, which is fine, but not in excessive quantities.

Add that to the stress of fireworks pre-holiday and post fourth of July, and it was the perfect scenario for colitis to rear its ugly head in my dog.

With intestinal parasites ruled out, our vet prescribed metronidazole to treat the inflammation of the large intestine, sucralfate to coat the stomach, and a probiotic to sprinkle on the food to help get his gut back in order.

how to stop diarrhea in dogs

What To Feed A Dog With Diarrhea From Colitis

If your veterinarian has confirmed the diarrhea is from colitis, he or she will likely recommend an easy-on-the-gut diet for a period of time.

Drugs that suppress diarrhea don’t solve long-term problems, so it’s in your dog’s best interest to figure out what caused the problem.

Knowing what caused your dog’s colitis will help prevent it in the future, but if food is the culprit, an acute condition may become chronic. Think about a new car that you fill up with the wrong type of gasoline. Sooner or later, things will break down.

I fed Dexter boiled lean organic ground beef and gave it in small quantities several times a day with boiled white rice, again in small quantities.

As we eased back into regular food, I added Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health to his lean organic ground beef, which I continued to boil for a week. A lot of dogs develop a hypersensitivity to dog food, so I took great comfort in feeding Dexter his “normal food” as his gut healed.

Dogs who relapse after antibiotics stop may find themselves in a vicious cycle. I know because my first Cocker Spaniel succumbed to complications of IBD. If the colitis returns, your dog may need further testing like x-rays, a scan, or even a colonoscopy.

diet for dogs with colitis

In most cases, if you can determine what caused the colitis, you can stop it from recurring. In our case, better communication on bone dispensing is in order.

In the beginning, I fasted Dexter for 24 hours under veterinary supervision but I made certain my dog drank enough water.

I fed Dexter smaller meals and after two weeks, we got back into the groove of feeding Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health 1/3 cup mixed with 1/3 cup cooked lean organic ground meat (not boiled). He eats that for lunch and gets Dr. Harvey’s Veg-to-Bowl 1/3 cup for supper mixed with 1/3 cup cooked lean organic ground meat.

One of the supplements I had on hand and will never be without is Dr. Harvey’s Runs Be Done. I’m a mega-fan of the products, as you can tell. It’s nice to know they serve me well when called upon. It also felt good to tell the vet I feed my dog a whole foods meal and never wonder if something in the food caused his distress.

I am not a fan of commercially prescribed dog foods nor kibble in most cases, especially when a dog’s gut is under distress.

As far as supplements, toppers, and herbs for dogs with colitis, you’ll likely hear about increasing the fiber content for a period of time, adding a probiotic (which we did) since the gut is all out of whack, canned pumpkin (not the kind you use for pies), slippery elm, marshmallow, or calendula. All of these should be discussed with your vet as even “good supplements” can further stress an already overloaded canine gut.

dog with colitis poop
This is what Dexter’s poop looked like when he had colitis.

Is Canine Colitis Contagious?

While colitis itself cannot be spread from dog to dog or dog to person, whatever caused the colitis might be contagious.

For example, if your dog has kennel cough and is stressed out to the point he gets colitis, the kennel cough may be contagious. The same goes for dogs with worms. This is why it is always important to find out why it happened so you can protect other dogs in the household and prevent it from returning.

How Long Does Colitis In Dogs Last?

If overfeeding or an improper meal/garbage raiding is the culprit, it should not take more than a week in general for colitis to resolve under veterinary care. Dexter’s bowel movements, fecal consistency, and overall gut health took about a week to 10 days to get back to normal. However, I saw a difference in three days after starting medication.

Depending on the root cause of the condition, colitis could go on for weeks or indefinitely. Of course, a dog cannot survive with constant diarrhea, losing fluids, and having pain.

Ways To Preventing Your Dog From Getting Colitis

One thing I’ve used and recommend is the Nutriscan pet food intolerance and sensitivity test for dogs. If your dog has ongoing gut issues, itchiness, or any sort of suspected dietary sensitivity, famed veterinarian Dr. Jean Dodds patented this test.

You get a kit in the mail, easily take a sample of your dog’s saliva, mail it in and wait. Within a few weeks, you are notified of anything your dog should not be eating. If your dog struggles with colitis, IBD, or you have a healthy dog and are curious about what not to feed him, this test proved beneficial for us. Here’s an example page below of what the results look like. 

allergy testing for dogs

Knowing the causes of colitis will help you help your dog stay healthy and symptom-free. One thing I also advocate for is vaccine titers and not over-vaccinating your dog. Anything that puts added stress on the gut or immune system can lead to a variety of problems.

Feed a healthy diet that is species-appropriate and steer away from the lower quality dog food. Dr. Harvey’s has been a staple in our home and I firmly believe it helps my dog recover quicker when illness strikes.

happy dog after having colitis
Dexter is happy now that his colitis is gone!

Your Turn

Has your dog ever been affected by colitis? Let us know in the comments below.

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A dog lover of the highest order is how Gayle King introduced Carol Bryant, when she appeared with her Cocker Spaniel on Oprah Radio’s Gayle King show to dish dogs. Carol created and owns the trademark, My Heart Beats Dog® and lives that mantra. A 30-year veteran of the dog world, she is President of the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) and the 2020 DWAA winner for Best Dog Blog.


  1. Kathy says

    I honestly didn’t really know about this til now. I’m so glad you shared this with us. There is so much to be careful and watch out for with pets.

  2. Wren LaPorte says

    awwww this sounds so painful for the poor little pooch! Always good to know how to help them feel better! <3 I would not have known this was even a thing before reading this!

  3. Ladena says

    We’re thinking of getting a dog so this information is very helpful! Thanks for sharing! It’s a good reminder of some of the things we need to watch out for when we get a dog.

  4. Lucy says

    I just went through this almost exactly with Bob. He was prescribed the same medication. I suspect he found something he scarfed down. He turned around quickly.
    This was an exceptionally informative piece. Clear to understand good job. I’m happy to learn details about what I just dealt with

  5. petsfolio says

    Great post this post is full of information about dogs vet and treatments with colitis in dogs but I never heard these diseases in dogs very shocking and amazing knowledge.

  6. Pamela says

    I wished I seen this sooner. We had to put Bo down after 16years dilling with intestinal problems off and on.. If there’s a next pet I will know what to watch for. Thanks

  7. Maria Delwyn says

    Thanks for the info. The colon is a common disease of the dog. It usually comes from food that causes diarrhea for pets. I always focus on the daily food for my guys and girls every day.

  8. Dorothy "FiveSibesMom" says

    It is so good to know about Dr. Dodds’ test. I did not realize there was one. My late Husky Harley had IBS and bouts would pop up. One time so bad I thought she had HGE. Thankfully, it wasn’t…but still scary and still a rough bout of GE. As a result, we had to be very, very careful about medications. As aged, even pain meds would upset her tummy, so we always had to go the natural route. Thanks for a great post!

  9. Carol Garrison says

    Yes, my paralyzed rescue dog, is prone to colitis and it can come on at any time, it has lasted weeks at a time before, it’s especially hard when you have a dog with no bladder or bowel control. I have to keep him diapered all the time, the vet just doesn’t seem concerned,

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