9 month old lab with sudden on off digestive/sickness/diarrhoea issues

I have a 9 month old black lab who was fed on Baker’s by his first owners then moved gradually onto Collard’s at 2 months. He did very well on it. Then at 8 months he got a nasty vomiting bug that had him admitted to the vets on IV antibiotics for 3 days with suspected pancreatitis. Test’s came back clear but just over a week later the sickness started again. So back to the vets and more antibiotics. Stool samples were taken and these came back fine. Over a week later and again he has been sick. He has had runny stools at times and a bit of blood and lots of wind.

I’m wondering if has suddenly become intolerant to his food set off by the tummy bug? He refused his dried food this morning but then would have the wet version of his food gladly. Not sure if I should try changing his food? Anyone got any ideas? Please help!!

Hello and welcome to the forum. It sounds as if your Lab is having a rough time of it right now. Has the vet given a diagnosis? It sounds rather like colitis. Is he still on Collards dry adult variety? If so, is it the turkey and rice or the salmon and potato? Wet food is smellier, tastier and perhaps easier for them to digest than dry food so it is understandable that he prefers this. Collards wet scores higher on the Dog Food Directory of this website - it has has more meat (first on the list of ingredients) and the carbohydrate is brown rice - preferable to some other types.

The problem here is that if your dog does have an intolerance it is a case of finding out what it is. You have two choices:

  • Discuss it with your vet and start a controlled elimination diet. This begins with a prescribed food from the vet which contains hydrolysed protein and other ingredients that the dog should not be intolerant to. Gradually different foods are added and the response noted. It takes a fair while to do this but if it is done properly the owner should have an idea what the problem is.

  • Try to establish the cause of the problem yourself by changing his diet. As a start, many people try a grain free approach because some dogs seem to be intolerant to one or other of them. If you check out the Collards turkey variety here you will see some items which might cause problems. It also has a lot of rice - presumably white since it is not labelled as brown. Rice intolerance can occur in dogs but it is difficult to say whether this has caused problems with your Labrador.

If you decide to go with the second option, it would be sensible to go completely grain free (no treats containing grain). Wet food might be preferable. If you look at the Dog Food Directory on this website you will see Filters (below Brands). Go down each one and place ticks in the boxes of your choice. I’ve just tried it using:
Type - wet complete.
Food properties - natural, hypoallergenic, grain free, clearly labelled.
Avoid ingredients - all red and cereal.

After clicking ‘go’ I have two pages of products. Look at the list of ingredients and find the simplest (i.e. fewest). The products that would (possibly) be easiest to obtain i.e. from a shop are:

Natures Menu Country Hunter Cans. I have heard good things about this as a friend’s dog has colitis and has been much improved on it.

However, have a look through yourself because I might be wrong.

One other option is to consider raw feeding. Many people swear by this for dogs with this sort of problem. Some vets don’t care for this method so if yours is one of them, he or she may be more amenable to one of the ready prepared complete meals. These come frozen so freezer space is essential. You may have to order them on line but some pet shops have them in stock. Three to consider are: Natures Menu, Natural Instinct and Nutriment. All have customer support helplines and if you are minded to try this, please contact them first.

Try to stick with one meat source for a few weeks so that you can be sure it suits. Fish is a good place to start. Remember not to give any treats - sea jerky should be OK. Please let us know how you get on.

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Thank you very much for your detailed reply! It is really helpful.

He is on the puppy version of collards Turkey and rice and having some wet Turkey and rice

  • I’m mixing them at the moment. The vet has not diagnosed anything but last time I spoke to him when we received the stool sample results he suggested trying a different diet if his issues continued - I think he said James wellbeloved???

He is wolfing his food down today but he is still struggling a bit with his bowels - his poo is pasty but sometimes he squats to go and nothing happens like he is constipated or a tiny drop comes out. I’ll look up colitis but if he is still struggling on Monday I will change his diet and see if that helps. Would you recommend a gradual change? Is it worth giving him some probiotics?

The vet did mention raw diets because he wondered if Baxter was already on RAW as his symptoms were like salmonella or other bacterial infections caused by eating raw meat. Isn’t it dangerous to feed a dog raw meat? I know their ancestors ate it but centuries of selective breeding and feeding them cooked meat may have left their stomachs as sensitive as ours to salmonella?

Thanks again for your advice - much appreciated. I will definitely let you know how he gets on!

Just reading the colitis feed on your forum reminded me I forgot to mention he frantically ate lots of grass yesterday when he was off his food just like the dog mentioned on the feed. This came out the other end with lots of gas and liquid undigested. Is it possible to manage colitis with a change of diet rather than all those medicines they have to give their dog?

Your Labrador’s symptoms are very similar to the ones I used to see in one of my dogs. Medication has a role to play in controlling it. The mainstay for mine was Metronidazole (antibiotic), Buscopan (anti spasmodic) and steroids when needed. I used to sometimes give Yeo Valley organic natural yoghurt. You can buy pre and probiotics for dogs online from companies like VetUK. It may be worth a try. I seem to remember one of mine being given Fortiflora by the vet so that is one that you may want to read up about. I’ve also used Protexin and the paste in the syringe combinations e.g. Pro Kolin.

I don’t think that JWB would be suitable because it is very similar to the Collards that you are already giving. As a starting point I think that grain free would be the most sensible thing to go for.

Regarding raw feeding, the theory is that a dog’s alimentary tract is much shorter than ours and it can handle bugs that we can’t (without getting ill). I am assuming that the stool sample that the vet sent off for analysis would have been subjected to culture and sensitivity and if there was salmonella present then it would (or should) have been picked up. With the quality control of the companies who sell prepared raw meals, perhaps the risk of infection to the dog and owner is very much reduced. Also there is no need to handle the food and it does not need to come into contact with work surfaces or utensils. It can be treated exactly like tinned dog food i.e. spooned out directly from the container into the dog’s bowl.

One other thing that might be worth considering is to give him a home cooked diet for a few weeks to see how he responds to that. There is a lot of information on the Internet about this so it is a case of looking for it. This thread has some information about home cooked food. Again, it might be best to stick with grain free if you are minded to try this. Also don’t vary it too much at first so that you can get a better idea of what suits the dog.

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Hello Mand, I’m sorry to hear about your Lab’s problems. I’d like to say that I think all Dottie’s suggestions are very sound, especially those of raw feeding or home cooking.

With reference to your vet’s comments, I’m afraid very many vets are sadly ignorant about nutrition in general (they are taught very little in vet college and the little information they do get is usually provided by kibble manufacturers) and about raw feeding in particular. Forgive me if I quote from an article by one very well informed vet, Dr Karen Becker, who has devoted herself to studying the subject:

The second most frequently asked question I get about raw meat diets is, 'What about salmonella?'

The most important thing to understand about salmonella or any other potentially pathogenic bacteria is that contamination absolutely does occur. It’s a fact of life.

Salmonella is the reason for most recalls of dry pet foods (and human foods as well). When a salmonella outbreak occurs, there has been contamination in the food chain.

The word Salmonella is used to describe over 1,800 serovars (species) of gram-negative bacteria. This bacteria lives in many species of mammals. The most common bacteria riding around in your dog or cat is Salmonella typhimurium.

I want to quote from an article titled Campylobacter and Salmonella-Associated Diarrhea in Dogs and Cats: When Do I Treat? It was written by Stanley L. Marks, BVSc, PhD, DACVIM (Internal Medicine, Oncology), DACVN, Davis, CA, for the Veterinary Information Network (VIN):

[i]"The clinical significance of bacteria such as clostridium and salmonella causing diarrhea or illness in dogs and cats is clouded by the existence of many of these organisms as normal constituents of the indigenous intestinal flora. The primary enteropathogenic bacteria most commonly incriminating in canine and feline diarrhea is Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium difficile, Campylobacter, and Salmonella.

Veterinarians are faced with a quandary when attempting to diagnose small animals with suspected bacterial-associated diarrhea because the isolation rates of these pathogenic bacteria are similar in diarrheic and non-diarrheic animals, and because the incidence of bacterial-associated diarrhea is extremely variable. Salmonella species are commonly isolated from both healthy and hospitalized dogs and cats."[/i]

What this is saying, in a nutshell, is dogs and cats naturally have some Salmonella in their GI tracts much of the time – it’s not some unknown foreign invader but rather one their bodies are familiar with.

In an article written by Rhea V. Morgan DVM, DACVIM, DACVO for the VIN, the doctor asserts the following about illness resulting from salmonella:

“Factors that increase the likelihood of clinical disease from Salmonella include the age of the animal, poor nutrition, the presence of cancer or neoplasia, and other concurrent diseases and stress, as well as the administration of antibiotics, chemotherapy or glucocorticoids [which are steroids].”

The bottom line is potentially harmful bacteria reside in your pet’s GI tract whether you feed raw foods or the processed stuff. In other words, your pet is already ‘contaminated’ with Salmonella.

Dogs and cats are built to handle bacterial loads from food that would cause significant illness in you or me. Your pet’s body is well equipped to deal with heavy doses of familiar and strange bacteria because nature built him to catch, kill and immediately consume his prey.

Your dog’s or cat’s stomach is highly acidic, with a pH range of 1-2.5. Nothing much can survive that acidic environment – it exists to keep your pet safe from potentially contaminated raw meat and other consumables.

In addition to the acid, dogs and cats also naturally produce a tremendous amount of bile. Bile is both anti-parasitic and anti-pathogenic. So if something potentially harmful isn’t entirely neutralized by stomach acid, the bile is a secondary defense. And your pet’s powerful pancreatic enzymes also help break down and digest food.

The quote is taken from here: http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2011/02/15/raw-meat-the-best-and-healthiest-diet-for-pet-cats-and-dogs.aspx

Thank you. It’s all very interesting! I suppose it’s like E. coli in humans - it lives naturally in our gut but can sometimes make us very poorly. In fact there are many other bacteria that reside naturally on and in our bodies that have the potential to cause us harm but rarely do if we are healthy.

Dottie - it is interesting that you say metronidazole was used to treat your dog with colitis - Baxter had 2 courses of that (and other antibiotics) and it did clear his symptoms up for a bit. That said, he has had so many antibiotics recently I wonder if it has caused these problems and his tummy just needs to settle down. For now I have wormed him (could be a bad idea, but I want to rule out as many things as possible and he is overdue because he was so poorly when he was due and the vet advised me to leave it until he was off the antibiotics).

I’m going to give him another couple of days as he is but get some probiotics (the link you sent me on the supplement looks good - I’m going to try that). We’ll see how he gets on. I just want him to be back to normal!

Thank you very much for all your advice! It has really helped and I now have some options if things don’t improve. I’ll keep you posted!!

That sounds more than likely to me. A healthy popuation of beneficial bacteria is an important part of the digestive process in both humans and dogs, and antibiotics kill ‘good’ bacteria just as efficiently as they do unwanted bacteria. A good probiotic is frequently needed to allow digestion to settle after even minor antibiotic treatment, in a case like this I would say it was essential.

My advice would be to feed a fairly bland diet for the next week or so- home-cooked fish & brown rice would be a good option - along with giving a probiotic, I would actually give a double dose of probiotic on the first day to ‘kick start’ the process. Then cautiously try the new food, whatever you decide on, continuing probiotics for at least a month after he is settled on the new diet.

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I would agree with the bland diet, but I would go grain free and avoid the rice too.

Cook white fish (dogs can be chicken intolerant so avoid for now) with sweet potato, butternut squash, carrots and peas, then blitz to a puree and feed a few small meals per day for a few days, hopefully that will settle things down. Add a pro-biotic such as pro-kolin or Osmond’s Gut-rite too.

Hopefully this will get things settled down and then you can gradually introduce a high quality high protein, low carb, grain free food, again maybe stick to a fish based variety to start with. hopefully everything will remain settled and then you can begin to try new ingredients, ideally one at a time, and hopefully pin down the source of the problem.

Good luck, and do let us know how you get on. feel free to ask any more questions too.

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Baxter has not had any acute episodes of sickness and diarohea for 3 weeks now - no sickness at all. His stools can still at times be sloppy, not runny and his wind is still bad at times but less frequently. I have decided to stick with his food for now as I don’t want to change things if it is a case of his tummy needing to settle. I have started a supplement to see if it helps. I’m just changing one thing at a time so I can validly decide what helps (or makes things worse…) It is called bionic biotic - the only one the pet store had. Will this be ok or do I need to get one off the internet? Thank you for all your advice - much appreciated!