Acute Gastritis (Severe Vomiting) in Dogs

Acute gastritis is an irritation of the lining of the stomach that comes on suddenly. The principal sign is severe and continuous vomiting. Keep in mind that persistent vomiting is also associated with life-threatening diseases such as intestinal obstruction and peritonitis. Seek professional consultation in all cases where the cause of persistent vomiting is not known.

Common stomach irritants include spoiled food and garbage, stools, grass, plastic wrappings, hair, and bones. Certain drugs (notably aspirin, virtually all NSAIDs, cortisone, butazolidine, and some antibiotics) produce gastric irritation. Common poisons that may cause vomiting are antifreeze, fertilizers, plant toxins, and crabgrass killers. If poisoning is suspected, contact your veterinarian.

A dog with acute gastritis vomits shortly after eating. Later the dog appears lethargic and sits with his head hanging over the water bowl. The dog's temperature remains normal unless he is suffering from acute infectious enteritis, a disease that also causes diarrhea.

Treatment: Acute nonspecific gastritis is self-limiting and usually resolves in 24 to 48 hours if the stomach is rested and protected from excess acid.

Chronic Gastritis

Dogs with chronic gastritis vomit from time to time over a period of days or weeks. These dogs appear lethargic, have a dull hair coat, and lose weight. The vomitus sometimes contains foreign material and food eaten the day before.

A common cause of chronic gastritis is a food allergy. Other causes are persistent grass eating; repeated consumption of drugs, chemicals, or toxins; and ingesting cellulose, plastic, paper, or rubber products. Also consider the possibility of hairballs. Hair is shed more heavily in the springtime and is swallowed as the dog licks and pulls it out. Hair and other foreign materials can be incorporated into a hard mass called a bezoar. Bezoars may grow to a size that makes it impossible for them to pass out of the stomach.Note that in many cases of chronic vomiting the cause is not known.

Hypertrophic gastropathyis a thickening of the mucous membranes of the lower half of the stomach, which can lead to gastric obstruction and food retention. Vomiting occurs three to four hours after eating. Hypertrophic gastropathy occurs most often in middle-aged dogs of the small breeds. It may also be seen as a congenital problem called pyloric stenosis in brachycephalic breeds such as Bulldogs and Boston Terriers. The cause is unknown in older dogs, but may be related to histamine release from mast cell tumors in some dogs.

Chronic atrophic gastritis involves a thinning of the stomach wall. This is primarily seen in Norwegian Buhunds, and may develop from an immune problem.

Eosinophilic gastritis is a chronic condition characterized by the accumulation of eosinophils (a type of white blood cell) in the mucous lining of the stomach, along with thickening and scarring of the stomach wall. The cause is unknown, although a food allergy or parasites have been proposed. Eosinophilic gastritis is more likely than other types of gastritis to be associated with ulcers and bleeding.

Stomach and duodenal ulcers also produce sporadic vomiting. Finally, if there is no obvious explanation for the sporadic vomiting, the dog may be suffering from a systemic disease, such as liver or kidney failure, which can be diagnosed by blood tests.

Treatment: Dogs with chronic vomiting should be seen by a veterinarian. Gastroscopy with a biopsy of the stomach wall is the quickest way to make a diagnosis of chronic gastritis.

Treatment involves switching to a bland, high-carbohydrate diet such as Hill's Prescription Diet i/d. Alternatively, you can feed a homemade diet of boiled rice and cottage cheese. Offer frequent small feedings and avoid large meals. As the dog recovers, gradually introduce a high-quality commercial premium dog food, or consult a veterinary nutritionist for a balanced homemade meal you can cook.

Histamine blocking agents, such as Tagamet (cimetidine), Pepcid (famotidine), and Zantac (ranitidine), may help in cases of hypertrophic gastropathy. While not approved for use in dogs, they can be used safely under the guidance of your veterinarian.

Eosinophilic gastritis responds well to a course of corticosteroids, but sometimes the dog needs other immunosuppressive drugs and a hypoallergenic diet prescribed by your veterinarian. Gastritis associated with gastric outflow obstruction is treated as described for Stomach and Duodenal Ulcers.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.