Acute colitis is a very common occurrence in our patients at St. Francis. It is defined as a sudden onset of colonic inflammation, manifesting with diarrhea that is typically mild, of small volume, and contains mucus and/or fresh blood. Other signs of illness are usually not seen with this condition. The dog or cat may be seen straining and are usually younger in age. If an owner has not seen it before with their animal or in the past with another pet, it usually SCARES THE HECK out of them. But as I will inform you, it is usually NOT a big deal.
There are risk factors for this condition. Age is one of them, it usually occurs in younger animals but in my experience, it can be seen in pets of any age. Dietary indiscretion (initiated by the pet OR the owner) may play a factor in this disorder, a dog’s GI tract may react to unusual food, one that is not usually fed as a part of its normal diet. Certain gastrointestinal parasites can cause colitis, such as whipworms, or protozoal organisms like Giardia and Tritrichomonas. Also, certain kinds of bacteria are known to cause colonic inflammation, such as E.coli, and Salmonella spp., which can be passed to humans.
Typically when we see the patient, be it a dog or cat, the owner will tell us that their animal is having bloody stool and they are straining to have a BM. They may be having accidents in the house and they are going with increased frequency. They are otherwise healthy, and the cause of the problem is unknown to the owner. The cause of colitis even after we diagnose and treat the animal is often never known, which is OK because it is: A) very treatable, B) not a systemic illness, and C) usually does not occur often in an average pet’s lifetime. Chronic colitis is a separate issue and is a lot less common, I will have an additional article about this soon.
Although we often do not know the cause of colitis, sometimes we do find a reason the animal is experiencing this condition. We always try to perform a fecal exam to find intestinal parasites as a cause. Finding worms or protozoa is a nice thing because they are very treatable, and there are effective medications to treat these organisms. The problem is that many times there is not enough of a practical sample for us to test. In my experience, bacterium as a cause of colitis has been very rare, although often an antibiotic is used to treat the patient. If there is a dietary cause, and there is a history of dietary indiscretion, the solution is to not feed that type of food to that animal. Dietary solutions to acute colitis also can be a bland diet fed in small meals more frequently during the day. Fiber can be added to food as well, the amount depending on the animal’s weight.
To recap, colitis is a very commonly seen condition at our practice, and we usually see excellent results in the patients that we see. It may take only take about 24 hours for this to resolve, although it can be up to 2-3 days. One thing to note is that a cat or dog (it is usually a dog) that has had this condition may take up to 1-3 days to have a normal stool after being treated. This is because their intestinal tracts can be emptied out due to the disease and it may take up to 2-3 days to form the stool to have a bowel movement. We often have clients call us up 2 days after we treat their dog and have questions about when their animal is going to poop! Don’t worry! They will go when they are ready! If you think your pet is having bloody, mucus-filled stool, don’t freak out! Give us a call, and let us know. We will be able to help your 4-legged friend, and we will make them feel better soon.
Dr. Jaime Kozelka
St. Francis Hospital for Animals