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Stress Colitis in Dogs

Anxious dog with stress colitis
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Overview

Severity: i Low - Medium
Life stage: All
  • Stress colitis in dogs is brought on by physical or mental stress and anxiety.
  • Symptoms include diarrhea, straining to defecate, blood or mucous in the stool, and increased need to defecate.
  • Treatment may include a bland diet, fluids, probiotics, or medications.
  • Managing anxiety, offering probiotics and calming supplements, and working with a behaviorist can help prevent this condition.

We have all felt the negative impacts of stress on our own bodies, ranging from head colds to headaches and weight gain. Stress can also have harmful effects for our dogs. 

Stress can weaken dogs’ immune systems, cause inflammation throughout their bodies, and can lead to overgrowth of harmful bacteria in their intestines, causing diarrhea or stress colitis. Continue reading to learn about stress colitis in dogs, its cause, symptoms, and treatment options. 

What Is Stress Colitis in Dogs? 

Colitis is inflammation of the colon, or large intestine. Colitis can be acute (short-lived) or chronic (long-lasting). Colitis that is caused by stress, or stress colitis, is a common cause of acute colitis in our canine companions. 

Abrupt dietary changes and infections with parasites are other common causes of acute colitis in dogs.   

What Causes Canine Stress Colitis? 

Any form of stress may cause stress colitis in dogs. Through research on the gut microbiome—the mixture of microorganisms including bacteria and other organisms that live inside the stomach and intestines—we have learned about the negative impact that stress can have. Stress will cause overgrowth of harmful gut bacteria and decreased amounts of beneficial bacteria, which in turn leads to symptoms of intestinal upset like diarrhea [1].  

Stressors that cause colitis can include anything that produces physical stress, such as undergoing surgery or intense exercise, as well as psychological stress, such as staying at a boarding facility, moving to a new home, or introducing a new baby or pet into the household. 

Dogs that are generally more high strung or anxious are likely more prone to developing stress colitis. This can occur in dogs of any age, but it is most commonly seen in younger dogs. No specific breed of dog is known to be at an increased risk of developing stress colitis. 

Symptoms of Stress Colitis in Dogs

Puppy outside going to the bathroom

When the colon becomes inflamed during periods of stress, it stops being able to absorb as much water, leading to diarrhea and a few other characteristic symptoms. 

Signs of stress colitis in dogs include: 

  • Straining to defecate.
  • Defecating more frequently. 
  • Increased urgency to defecate.
  • Mucous in the stool. 
  • Small amounts of fresh (bright red) blood in the stool. 
  • Soft or loose stool (diarrhea). 

Diagnosing Colitis Caused by Stress

There is no specific test for stress colitis in dogs. If your dog is experiencing signs of stress colitis, it is best to take him in to your veterinarian for a physical examination. Your veterinarian will use the history that you provide as well as the exam and fecal testing to help determine if stress colitis is likely. 

At minimum, your veterinarian will recommend performing a test of your dog’s stool to check for parasites. This generally involves fecal floatation, in which a stool sample is mixed with a solution, spun in a centrifuge machine, and allowed to sit for a few minutes. This will cause most parasite eggs, if present, to float to the top of the solution, which is then visualized under a microscope. 

Depending on your dog’s environment, your veterinarian may also recommend running a Giardia ELISA test, an immunological test which is a more sensitive test for giardia, a microscopic parasite. 

If no parasites are found on fecal tests, your dog has signs consistent with acute colitis, and he has a history of a recent stressful event, such as spending time in a boarding facility, your veterinarian will make the diagnosis of stress colitis.  

How To Treat Stress Colitis In Dogs 

Dog being evaluated by veterinarian

The good news is that stress colitis is thought to be a self-limiting disease, meaning it will resolve on its own without any treatment. However, there are diets, medications, and supplements that can help your dog to recover faster. Treatment for stress colitis usually depends on your dog’s symptoms. 

If your dog is mildly dehydrated, subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids may be administered by your veterinarian. Luckily, serious dehydration that requires intravenous fluids and hospitalization is generally not seen in cases of stress colitis. 

A prescription diet formulated for intestinal upset or a home cooked bland diet, such as chicken breast and white rice, may be recommended by your veterinarian. Pet parents will typically need to feed this diet for three to five days, or until symptoms resolve, and then gradually transition back to their dog’s regular diet. 

Probiotics may also be a helpful tool in shortening the duration of stress colitis. Probiotics contain one or more types of beneficial gut bacteria. It is unknown exactly how they work but they are thought to help restore the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Studies have shown that dogs undergoing stress from being kenneled had lower incidences of diarrhea when given probiotics than dogs that were not [2]. 

Since there are many different strains of probiotics and they are not regulated by the FDA, it is important to ask your veterinarian for advice on choosing a probiotic supplement that is backed by research. 

Prebiotics, compounds that help to encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, may also be recommended for the treatment of stress colitis. Most prescription intestinal diets now contain prebiotics or your veterinarian may recommend adding in a prebiotic fiber supplement to your pet’s diet to help with stress colitis. 

Antibiotics like metronidazole are still commonly prescribed for acute colitis including stress colitis. However, research to support their use is not conclusive and antibiotics may have harmful lasting effects on the gut microbiome. 

For dogs that have known stress colitis caused by certain situations, a prescription drug called Librax (chlordiazepoxide / clidinium) may be beneficial. This drug was developed to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in humans. Pet parents can start this medication just before stressful situations or at the first sign of intestinal upset. Use of this medication has not been studied in dogs so it should only be used for short periods of time and only under the supervision of a veterinarian. 

General Cost To Treat Colitis In Dogs

The cost to treat a short bout of colitis in your dog will vary depending on where you live, the size of your dog, and the type of veterinary clinic you go to. However, you can expect the following approximate costs: 

  • Physical examination: $45-$80
  • Fecal test (float/smear): $45-$65
  • Giardia test: $50-$60
  • Prescription diet (for up to a few weeks): $35-$85
  • Probiotics: $15-$30
  • Anti-diarrheal medication(s): $15-$25
  • Subcutaneous fluids: $45-$70

How To Prevent Stress Colitis In Dogs

Sick dog lying on floor

If your dog has a history of developing colitis under stressful circumstances, your veterinarian may recommend the following to prevent stress colitis: 

  • Feeding a prescription diet.
  • Giving a daily probiotic. 
  • Using a calming pheromone spray or diffuser.
  • Giving a calming supplement
  • Giving a prescription anxiety medication. 
  • Working with a veterinary behaviorist to manage anxiety.

Depending on the frequency and severity of your dog’s colitis and behavioral symptoms, the above may be recommended for only a short time—before and during stressful events—or as something that becomes part of your dog’s normal routine.   

Related Conditions

6 Digestive Aids and Calming Products For Dogs

All featured products were chosen at the discretion of the Great Pet Care editorial team and not directly recommended or endorsed by the author of this article. Great Pet Care may make a small affiliate commission if you click through and make a purchase.

Dogs with a history of stress colitis may benefit from ongoing, regular use of a product approved by your veterinarian. From probiotics to calming supplements, there are a number of options your veterinarian may suggest to help manage your pup’s condition. Check out our favorite five items that could help reduce stress colitis symptoms in dogs.

The Anxious Pet Organic Hemp Oil

Organic Hemp Oil from Anxious Pet

Highlights

  • Contains one of the highest concentrations of CBD for pets on the market
  • Formulated by a veterinarian so you can feel good giving The Anxious Pet to your dog
  • Can be placed on a tasty treat or piece of soft food to ensure your pet gets every drop
  • Available in 400 mg or 800 mg so you can choose the product that best suits your dog
  • Also designed to relieve pain and provide anti-inflammatory benefits
  • Third-party tested and made in the United States

Things to Consider

  • Product is best absorbed when given with a full meal containing some fat
  • Shake the bottle for 30 seconds prior to usage
  • Must be stored in a cool place away from sunlight

Sample buyer review: “I have recently purchased the 800 mg CBD oil for my dog, Oreo, for his anxiety. He has been on this product for a little over a month now, and he is doing absolutely great with it.” 

Open Farm Probiotic Supplement Chews for Dogs

A dog’s digestive system is unlike any other. Of all the mammals in the world, a dog’s digestive system has the shortest total processing time. Because a dog’s digestive process starts in the stomach, you can imagine how easily it can become upset. Open Farm’s Probiotic Supplement contains 2 billion CFUs per chew to promote healthy digestion and gut health. Open Farm’s seven active probiotics, pumpkin, and ginger, work in tandem to help balance a dog’s gut. 

Highlights

  • Contains seven active probiotics to support healthy digestion and gut health
  • Contains ginger, an anti-inflammatory that promotes healthy digestion
  • Contains pumpkin, a good source of fiber for digestive health
  • Veterinarian-recommended formula
  • Made with 100 percent traceable and functional ingredients
  • Generous 90 soft chews per container at 20 kcal ME/chew

Things to Consider

  • Product does not contain gluten, but it is not prepared in a gluten-free facility and may contain trace amounts.
  • Number of chews dispensed daily depends on the weight of your dog 

Sample buyer review: “My dog has always had an uneasy stomach and lately has been gnawing at his paws. Since he started taking this probiotic, his tummy doesn’t gurgle, and the paw chewing is happening less frequently. It’s been about a week since he’s been taking these probiotics. He eats them just like a treat, so it’s never a struggle to get it in him.”

Honest Paws Pre+ Probiotics Supplement for Dogs

Honest Paws prebiotics for dogs

When colitis strikes, your dog’s gut goes out of balance. Honest Paws knows a healthy gut leads to a healthy dog. Improve his immune system and digestive well-being with a product that combines probiotics and prebiotics to ward off harmful bacteria and stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. The easy-to-use powder formula is pre-packaged so you can blend it easily into your dog’s daily meals. The pre-measured packets make sure your dog gets the proper dosage every time. 

Highlights

  • Made in the United States for peace of mind
  • Contains no soy, corn, dairy, gluten, or xylitol 
  • Contains Solarplast, an extract of organic spinach that contains antioxidants and other enzymes beneficial to dogs
  • The custom formula is pre-measured and pre-packaged for easy administration
  • Helps support your dog’s immune system and overall gut health

Things to Consider

  • Chicken flavored 
  • Only available in powder format 

Sample buyer review: “I liked this probiotic. I mix it with wet food and my dog loves it. She is more active and feels better with the skin.”

Petbliss Calming and Behavior Supplement

Petbliss calming supplement for dogs

Anxiety can lead to stress-induced colitis, which is why products like soft chews from Vetnique may help your dog. Give your pup the chews at least 30 minutes before a stressful event. Your dog benefits without medication because the formula is veterinary-formulated with an all-natural calming blend. Best if given for situations that induce anxiety like thunderstorms, fireworks, or before car rides.

Highlights

  • Formulated with calming ingredients such as valerian root, theanine, chamomile, and lemon balm
  • Free of corn, wheat, soy, artificial ingredients, and preservatives
  • Passionflower ingredient may reduce hyperactivity and promote relaxation in dogs
  • Easy-to-dispense chewable format dogs love
  • Portable for travel in 30-count, 60-count, or 120-count bags
  • Made in the United States

Things to Consider

  • Follow feeding instructions on the bag, chews determined by your dog’s weight
  • Consult your veterinarian if ongoing use is being considered 

Sample buyer review: “These calming and behavior supplements really seem to be working. Our dogs love them. I’ve been giving them to both dogs every day and there is a noticeable difference in how they act.”

Adaptil Calming Spray for Dogs

Adaptil travel spray for dogs

Perhaps you have a big move coming up. Maybe the holidays are just around the corner, and your dog gets freaked out. If thunderstorms or fireworks make him nervous, plan in advance. Adaptil calming spray is veterinarian recommended and mimics a mother’s natural nursing pheromones. Each application lasts between four and five hours and can be sprayed on collars, shirts, bandanas, leashes, crates, and more. This drug-free solution helps dogs feel calmer, safer, and less anxious, which may help combat stress colitis.

Highlights

  • When used as directed, a 20 mL bottle lasts for 20 separate applications
  • Non-medicinal solution to ease anxiety, which may reduce stress colitis 
  • Ideal for travel and vacations/boarding/veterinarian visits 
  • Available in 20 mL or 60 mL size
  • It may help reduce shaking, crying, or pacing when traveling, which can lead to stress colitis

Things to Consider

  • Do not spray the product on your dog 
  • Wait 15 minutes after spray to allow alcohol in the spray to evaporate

Sample buyer review: “My dog had a procedure at the vet. He was so upset so I sprayed the seat cover and let it dry. He went from shaking to laying down and being quiet. It really did calm him down.”

Animal Essentials Colon Rescue Herbal GI

Animal Essentials Colon Rescue for dogs

Animal Essentials makes pet products using a combination of herbs to help various health issues. Their colon rescue herbal gastrointestinal formula promotes a healthy gut and supports inflammatory processes of a dog’s digestive tract. The soothing combination of certified organic marshmallow root, slippery elm inner bark, plantain, and licorice support a dog’s colon. The included dropper provides a stress-free way for pet parents to dose directly into a dog’s mouth, food, or water bowl. 

Highlights

  • Liquid formula makes dispensing the product easy 
  • Supports a dog’s colon and pets suffering from diarrhea or constipation when used as directed
  • Can be used for bowel issues due to changes in diet or environmental stressors
  • Can be used two to three times daily 
  • All herbs are certified organic 
  • Contains no preservatives and is glycerin based, made in the United States

Things to Consider

  • If your dog’s condition does not improve or worsens, discontinue use and consult your veterinarian
  • Product does not need to be refrigerated 

Sample buyer review: “Recommended by a reputable naturopathic vet. It’s helping my geriatric dog with stomach issues.”

*Code: GPC25
Offer: 25% off
Terms and Conditions: New customers only. Excludes supplement bars and gift cards. Cannot be combined with other offers.

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