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How Does a Lab’s Digestive System Work
Before we go into the different digestive diseases that can affect your Labrador retriever, let’s take a brief look at how the digestive system in dogs works.
The mouth starts the digestive tract by taking in food. While in the mouth, food is chewed up and lubricated by saliva which begins the digestive process.
After your Lab swallows, the food is pushed down the esophagus by muscles. At the bottom of the esophagus is the stomach.
In the stomach, the food is broken down even further so the nutrients can pass into the bloodstream later. Food can stay in your dog’s stomach for up to 12 hours!
When the food leaves the stomach, it enters the small intestines. This is where digestive enzymes from the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder get added to break the food down into nutrients. Nutrients are also absorbed into the bloodstream here.
The last phase of the digestive tract is the colon. Water is absorbed from the food into the bloodstream, and the waste is expelled as feces.
What Are Some Digestive Disorders in Labradors
Different digestive problems may have different signs and symptoms. Join me as we take a look at the types of gastrointestinal and digestive disorders that could affect your Lab, how to spot them, and how they are usually treated.
Gastric Dilatation Volvulus
This disease is more commonly known as GDV or Bloat. When this digestive disorder happens, the stomach begins to twist in on itself pulling the intestines up into the chest cavity. Pockets of gas form and blood circulation are cut off to parts of the stomach and intestines.
Unfortunately, Labrador retrievers are more likely to get this disease, and this is the disease my Lab mix died from. It is important to know the signs and get your dog to the vet immediately if they are sick.
When a Lab has GDV or Bloat, they will have a loss of appetite. As the disease progresses, they may start retching without vomiting, or vomiting up blood clots. Their breathing will become labored, and it may appear they are breathing with their stomach.
The only remedy is surgery, so it is important you take your dog to the vet at the start of symptoms. Death can occur in as little as 12 hours.
Another digestive disorder that is more common in Labs and Lab mixes is Liver Disease. Unfortunately, my other Lab mix died from this.
Symptoms of liver disease are loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, fatigue, and pain. Another sure sign of liver disease is jaundice. This is where you will see yellowing of the skin and eyes.
For my dog, we were unaware there was a problem until he started having unexplained bruising and swelling caused by internal bleeding. This happens when liver disease causes a blood clotting disorder.
Treatment includes prescription medications, surgery, and special diets.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD is a syndrome that causes chronic inflammation of your Lab’s intestines. It can lead to malnutrition and poor appetite.
IBD is caused by an allergic response in the intestines. This can keep nutrients from being absorbed properly, and cause vomiting and diarrhea, weight loss, and pain.
Your Lab’s veterinarian can help you pinpoint what foods are causing the flair-ups so you can avoid them. Diet changes and medication are the usual treatments.
Diabetes originates in the pancreas. If your Labrador has diabetes, it means that their pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin. Insulin is used to regulate sugar in the blood.
Common signs of diabetes in your Lab are increased thirst, weight loss, increased appetite, and frequent urination. The lack of insulin keeps glucose from being used properly. Your friend will keep losing weight although they are eating more and more.
Treatment can be oral medication or insulin injections. Weight loss may be recommended depending on the type of diabetes your Lab has.
Just like people, your dog can get acid reflux. Acid reflux is the build-up of acid in your Lab’s stomach. The acid can then flow back into the esophagus and mouth.
The symptoms of acid reflux in Labradors are licking of the lips or air, vomiting bile, constant swallowing, retching and gagging, eating dirt, coughing, and bad breath.
Treatments include dietary changes and medication. Your vet will also determine if there is an underlying issue in your dog’s digestive tract like stomach ulcers or growths to treat those as well.
One of the most common dog digestive problems is parasites. Your Labrador gets exposed to worms and microscopic organisms from the soil, water, and other animals.
Signs of a parasitic infection are diarrhea, swollen stomach, vomiting, weight loss, dull coat, and decreased activity. You may also notice your Lab scooting their butt on the floor.
Parasite infections of your Lab’s digestive tract are treated by oral or topical medication.
Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining. It can be caused by eating trash, table food, and plants. It can also be caused by infections of the stomach by bacteria or parasites.
Gastritis symptoms in your lab include vomiting, loose stools with or without blood, pain, lethargy, and increased thirst. This is the basic digestive upset in dogs. They just won’t feel good
Treatment includes withholding food until vomiting stops and giving anti nausea medication. If the gastritis is caused by infection, antibiotics and antifungals will be given.
Another serious digestive problem in Labs is pancreatitis. This is an inflammation of the pancreas that can cause permanent damage to the pancreas and surrounding organs. It can result in death.
It can be caused by a high-fat diet, diabetes, obesity, or injury. It can also be triggered by indiscriminate eating habits (eating non-food items) and thyroid troubles.
Pancreatitis can cause the pancreas to start digesting itself and cause great pain. Some other signs of this disease are hunched back, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness, and fever.
Treatment includes medication, rest, and diet changes.
If you notice signs of intestinal blockages in your Labrador, it is important to get them to the vet as soon as possible. Blockages can lead to other serious conditions like GDV and even death.
Blockages can be caused by non-food items your dog eats like toys, shoes, or plastic. They can also be caused by prolonged constipation or tumors.
Common signs of an intestinal blockage in your Lab are bloating, whining, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weakness. If your dog is straining to poop, or unable to poop, that is also a sign their intestines are blocked.
Depending on the cause, your vet may wait for the blockage to pass on its own. They may prescribe laxatives to help it pass. Surgery will be required if it has been too long or the blockage is too large.
How to Prevent Digestive Problems in Labrador Dogs
- Fortunately, there are ways that you can prevent digestive problems in dogs. By following the tips below, you can keep your Lab’s digestive health in top shape.
- Instead of one large meal, feed your Lab two or three smaller meals a day.
- Help your Labrador maintain a healthy weight with smaller meals and exercise.
- Follow all worming and vaccination schedules recommended by your vet.
- Only feed your Lab high-quality dog food - no table scraps and human food.
- Keep trash away from your dog.
- Bring your dog in for regular checkups as scheduled by their veterinarian.
About THE AUTHOR
Mark is the founder of Everything Labradors and a husband and father of 3. He enjoys spending time with his family, including his dog Molly, a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix. He’s a big fan of the outdoors and loves to travel to new places.Read more about Mark Brunson