Included on these pages about different intestinal diseases are articles written by other vets, all of them experts in intestinal medicine.  Some of the articles were written to be used as client information handouts and come from the 2000 edition of "The Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine".  Thanks to the authors.

A large portion of cases that most vets see each day are due to one type of intestinal disease or another.  On this page I discuss how I approach a veterinary case where some sort of intestinal upset is suspected.

Also remember that this information is not intended to be a substitute for taking your loved pet to your veterinarian.  It takes experience and the right tools of the trade to determine whether a problem is likely to respond to simple treatment and a little love or require a full medical commitment to save the patient.

How we approach suspected intestinal cases at our hospital:
"What To Expect When You Go To The Vet"
Of Course, Your Vet May Do Things Differently

History:  This is where we hope to find out if your pet has had any exposure to poisons, garbage, extra rich or unusual snacks, to other pets, change of diet, and so forth. 

We need to know whether your pet is well vaccinated.  We need to know how long and how severe the problem has been. 

And we need a fairly accurate description of the obvious: diarrhea? constipation? appetite?  activity level?  normal diet?  pica?

Exam: This is where veterinary skill, experience, and judgement makes a huge difference...will this be an inexpensive simple case or are there clues that your pet is in real trouble and deserves an aggressive work up and treatment plan?

In addition to going over the whole body looking for additional problems, we will be especially concerned with looking for signs of dehydration, toxemia, fever, and abnormal gut sounds and distension. 

We can sometimes tell by how your pet walks and stands if there is significant abdominal pain.

We will carefully palpate for obstructions, torsions, gas, and pain. 

We know that certain breeds are prone to certain problems; for example, Schnauzers are prone to pancreatitis.  If the patient is a young dog we will be more suspcious of parasites and parvo

I will frequently insert a rectal probe and inspect for mucus and blood as a test for colon inflammation. 

What we'll recommend depends on the severity of the case and the initial findings.  Gut cases can change from minor to severe within a short time span, so be prepared for that possibility.

We will often recommend hosptialization, lab work, and/or radiographs...all depending on the symtoms and the severity.  Go to the section below that best describes your pet's symptoms for more information.

Typical Lab tests for various intestinal problems that we might recommend:

Microscopic Fecal Examination to look for parasite eggs, protozoa, coccidia, giardia, blood, mucus etc. 

An antigen Parvo test:  especially if a young unvaccinated dog or if there is blood in the feces or colon.

We now have a simple test for lipase ... a screening test for pancreatitis .  Pancreatitis can be quite serious and we frequently miss this disease when we don't test.

Heliobacter test: Not routinely done in most cases but appropriate if chronic vomiting is the problem or if evidence of GI bleeding.

CBC/Chemistry Blood Panel:  This important test is routine for any seriously sick patient.  Among the information gained: status of dehydration, anemia?, pancreatitis?, liver disease, kidney disease, Cushings disease, Addison's disease, Diabetes, Gall Bladder disease? Bacteremia?  GI symptoms of one type or another are often the first visible signs noticed in each of the above problems.

Thyroid testing:  Especially appropriate in older cats as hyperthyroid disease is often associated with GI problems.

Plain and/or contrast radiograph studies:  Very important aid for the detection of foreign bodies, intusseptions, masses, torsions, hernias, inflammation, and liver or spleen enlargement.

Your veterinarian may also offer or recommend referral for:



Fecal Cytology/Culture

Intestinal Biopsy

Treatment Approaches:

Treatment, of course, will depend on the type and severity of the problem.  Please go to the appropriate page for treatment discussion for the following:

    Parvo Virus Dysentery
    Garbagitis or bad indigestion
    Constipation, Hair Balls, and GI Obstructions
    Liver Disease
    Food Allergies
    Intestinal Problems Associated with Parasites

On This Page:


How I approach cases where intestinal disease is suspected:

"What To Expect When You Go To The Vet"

Directory to other pages about problems of the gastro-intestinal tract

Information about intestinal diseases
On Other Pages:

Parvo Virus Diarrhea
Problems with the Esophagus

Liver Disease
Food Allergies

Colitis: Inflammatory and chronic problems with the lower bowel

Bad indigestion or "Garbagitis": Acute intestinal upset due to overeating, eating treats, rancid food, and eating inappropriate objects, or eating too much hair.  But be careful... sometimes this is deadly serious.

Diseases people get from pets through worms

Our page about therapeutic diets used to treat diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, enteritis, flatulence, and other intestinal problems.

Intestinal Problems
Associated with Parasites:

Giardia & Cryptosporidia
Round Worms
Hook Worms
Whip Worms
Tape Worms

Intestinal Problems in Cats and Dogs
Directory to our pages
about different intestinal diseases

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Veterinary Pet Insurance

Disected colon full of tape worms
The arrow in the ultra sound image above is pointing at the pancreas which is large and inflamed .  Pancreatitis can be quite serious and is common in both cats and dogs.
The surgical picture above shows a tumor in the bowels of a cat suffering from lymphoma.  The first signs of this terrible disease are often common intestinal problems like diarrhea and just not feeling well.