Are Stomach Ulcers in Dogs a Cause for Concern?

What are stomach ulcers in dogs?

Stomach ulcers, also known as gastric ulcers, are sores that develop in the lining of a dog’s stomach or upper small intestine (duodenum). These ulcers occur when the mucus layer protecting the stomach lining is disrupted, allowing digestive juices to damage the underlying tissue (Source).

The most common type of stomach ulcer seen in dogs is gastric ulceration. These ulcers form in the stomach itself, often along the greater curvature near the junction with the esophagus. Less commonly, ulcers may develop in the upper small intestine (duodenal ulcers). Stomach ulcers in dogs are typically caused by one of three factors:

  • Increased gastric acid secretion
  • Damage to the stomach lining protective barriers
  • Presence of ulcerogenic drugs or diseases

Excess stomach acid production, infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, chronic vomiting, and use of anti-inflammatory drugs are common causes of canine stomach ulcers. Stress and other diseases like kidney failure can also increase ulcer risk by damaging the mucus layer in the stomach (Source).

Symptoms of stomach ulcers in dogs

The most common symptoms of stomach ulcers in dogs include:

Vomiting – Vomiting is often one of the first signs of a stomach ulcer. The vomit may contain blood, appearing dark brown or have a coffee-grounds texture. Vomiting may occur occasionally or frequently.

Loss of appetite – Dogs with stomach ulcers often lose interest in food and eat less than normal. This may lead to weight loss over time.

Weight loss – The loss of appetite and chronic vomiting can cause dogs with stomach ulcers to lose weight. Weight loss may be gradual or rapid depending on the severity of the ulcers.

Pain – Stomach ulcers can be very painful. Dogs may cry out, whine, or act restless, especially after eating. They may constantly lick their abdomen. Pain may cause changes in behavior.

Other possible symptoms include bleeding from the mouth, tarry black stools, nausea, increased thirst, lethargy and abdominal distension or bloating. Symptoms vary based on the location and severity of the ulcers. It’s important to take dogs with these signs to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosing stomach ulcers in dogs

Diagnosing stomach ulcers in dogs often starts with a thorough physical examination by the veterinarian. They will look for signs of pain or discomfort in the dog’s abdomen. The vet may also feel the abdomen to check for any tenderness, stiffness, or masses that could indicate an ulcer. Bloodwork will likely be recommended, as this can help identify anemia and elevated white blood cell count, which can point to bleeding ulcers.

The most definitive way to diagnose stomach ulcers in dogs is via endoscopy. This procedure allows the vet to use an endoscope (a thin tube with a camera) to directly visualize the stomach lining. They can see any irritation, inflammation, erosions or ulcers. Endoscopy also enables the vet to take small biopsy samples of tissue that can be analyzed to determine if there is an H. pylori infection or cancer present. https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/digestive/c_dg_gastroduodenal_ulcer_disease

In some cases, the vet may recommend an upper GI series x-ray using barium contrast dye. This allows them to see the outline of the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine. Ulcers may appear as filling defects or irregularities in the stomach lining on the x-ray images.

Treatment for stomach ulcers in dogs

Treatment for stomach ulcers in dogs usually involves a combination of dietary changes, medications, and sometimes surgery. The main goals are to reduce stomach acid production, protect the stomach lining to allow healing, and address any underlying causes.

Dietary changes

Vets often recommend switching to a bland, low-fat diet for dogs with stomach ulcers. This may involve feeding the dog boiled chicken or lean hamburger mixed with rice or pasta. Avoiding fatty foods, spicy foods, and bones can help reduce irritation of the stomach lining. Some vets also recommend specific veterinary ulcer diets that are highly digestible. Feeding multiple small meals per day rather than one large meal may also help reduce risk of irritation.

Medications

Common medications used for canine stomach ulcers include:

  • Antacids like famotidine (Pepcid) to neutralize stomach acid
  • H2 blockers like ranitidine (Zantac) to reduce acid production
  • a dog receiving an endoscopy exam

  • Proton pump inhibitors like omeprazole to inhibit acid secretion
  • Prostaglandins like misoprostol to increase mucus production and blood flow
  • Antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection contributing to the ulcers

These medications aim to reduce acidity in the stomach and allow the lining to heal. They are often prescribed for 4-8 weeks. Medication to treat H. pylori may also be used if this bacterial infection is present.

Surgery

In severe or persistent cases, surgery may be required. Some common surgical procedures for canine stomach ulcers include:

  • Resection and anastomosis to remove the ulcer and reconnect the stomach
  • Partial gastrectomy to remove part of the stomach with severe ulceration
  • Pyloroplasty to widen the opening from the stomach to the intestine

Surgery aims to remove damaged areas of the stomach and/or reshape the stomach to promote healing. It carries risks like leakage, infection, and recurrence of ulcers, so is generally reserved for cases not responding to more conservative treatment.

Dietary changes for dogs with stomach ulcers

Making dietary changes is often recommended for dogs with stomach ulcers. The goal is to reduce stomach irritation and allow the ulcer to heal. Common dietary recommendations include:

– Low-fat diet: Fatty foods require more stomach acid for digestion, which can aggravate ulcers. A low-fat, highly digestible diet is often prescribed. Veterinary formulas like Purina EN, Royal Canin GI, and Hill’s i/d are good options.

a dog eating bland food from a bowl

– Small, frequent meals: Feeding smaller portions more often reduces the workload on the stomach. This allows ulcers to heal with less irritation.

– Avoid irritants: Hard foods, spicy foods, and fatty foods can further irritate the stomach lining. Sticking to a bland, wet food diet is recommended.

Work closely with your vet to develop the right ulcer diet for your dog. Feeding a prescription food formulated for stomach issues can promote healing while providing balanced nutrition.

Medications for stomach ulcers in dogs

Veterinarians will often prescribe medications to help treat stomach ulcers in dogs and reduce stomach acid. The main types of medications used are:

Antacids

Antacids are used to neutralize stomach acid and provide quick relief of ulcer pain. Common antacids prescribed include sucralfate, famotidine, and omeprazole. Antacids coat the lining of the stomach and help protect it from further damage by stomach acid. They provide fast relief but the effects wear off quickly.

H2-blockers

a dog taking medication
H2-blockers reduce the production of stomach acid. They provide longer-lasting relief than antacids. Common H2-blockers used for dogs include famotidine, ranitidine, and cimetidine. H2-blockers allow the stomach lining to heal while limiting further acid damage.

Proton pump inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors completely shut off stomach acid production by blocking the enzyme responsible for acid secretion. Omeprazole and pantoprazole are commonly prescribed proton pump inhibitors for dogs. These medications promote healing of stomach ulcers and prevent recurrence. The effects last longer than antacids or H2-blockers.

Surgical options for stomach ulcers in dogs

In severe cases of stomach ulcers in dogs that do not respond to medication, surgery may be required. Some surgical procedures used to treat stomach ulcers in dogs include:

Gastropexy – This procedure involves suturing the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting. This helps prevent recurring ulcers by stabilizing the stomach.[1]

Partial gastrectomy – This surgery removes the section of the stomach with the ulcer. It is used for large or recurring ulcers that do not respond to other treatments. The remaining sections of the stomach are then reconnected. This helps remove the source of the ulcer while allowing the dog to still digest food normally.[2]

Surgery carries risks including bleeding, infection, and leakage from stomach connections. It is considered a last resort when medication and dietary changes fail to heal ulcers. But it can successfully remove ulcers and prevent recurrence in severe cases.

a dog recovering from surgery

Prognosis and complications

With prompt diagnosis and proper treatment, the prognosis for dogs with stomach ulcers is often good. According to PetMD, most ulcers will heal within 2-6 weeks when treated with medications like antacids, H2 blockers, proton pump inhibitors, and coating agents1. Dietary changes may also help relieve symptoms and allow the ulcer to heal.

However, without treatment stomach ulcers can worsen and lead to potentially serious complications. These may include2:

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Perforation of the stomach wall
  • Gastric outlet obstruction from swelling and scarring
  • Peritonitis from leakage of stomach contents into the abdominal cavity

In severe cases, dogs may need surgery to treat complications or repair a perforated ulcer. Quick intervention is important, as perforation can become life-threatening without emergency care.

Prevention of stomach ulcers in dogs

There are several steps dog owners can take to help prevent their dogs from developing stomach ulcers:

Giving preventative medications prescribed by a veterinarian can help reduce stomach acid production. Commonly prescribed medications include H2 receptor antagonists like famotidine or ranitidine which block histamine receptors, and proton pump inhibitors like omeprazole which reduce acid secretion.

Making dietary changes is also important. Feeding multiple small meals per day rather than one large meal puts less strain on the stomach. Providing a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates and protein can also help. Avoiding spicy, heavily processed, or acidic foods reduces irritation of the stomach lining. Adding supplements like probiotics or digestive enzymes may also be beneficial.

Other preventative steps include avoiding foods that may contain toxins or pathogens, managing stress levels, providing adequate exercise, and maintaining a healthy body weight. With proactive care, stomach ulcers can often be avoided in susceptible dogs.

When to see a vet

If your dog is exhibiting severe symptoms of stomach ulcers, it’s important to take them to the veterinarian right away. According to PetMD, you should call your vet as soon as possible if you think your dog may have an ulcer.

Some symptoms that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Ongoing vomiting
  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain

Your vet can run diagnostic tests like blood work, ultrasound, and endoscopy to officially diagnose stomach ulcers. They may also prescribe medications or recommend dietary changes to help treat your dog’s condition.

Even if you’ve been caring for your dog’s ulcers at home, it’s important to take them to the vet if symptoms persist or worsen. As noted by Kingsdale Veterinary Hospital, stomach ulcers can lead to anemia, dehydration, perforation of the stomach lining, and other complications if left untreated. So if your dog’s condition is not improving with home care, seeking veterinary attention is highly recommended.

Scroll to Top