How to Treat a Stomach Virus in a Dog

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Dogs can get stomach bugs or stomach flu just like humans and other animals. Vets usually recommend trying to treat dog stomach flu by offering bland, soft food until the dog is feeling better and always providing a full bowl of clean water. It's important, though, to know whether your dog's symptoms stem from "something going around" or if it is caused by a more serious illness.

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Dogs can get stomach bugs or stomach flu just like humans and other animals.
Image Credit: Mikhail Kniazev/iStock/GettyImages

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Knowing symptoms of dog stomach flu

Dogs with stomach flu or a dog stomach bug, as it is sometimes called, will exhibit signs of gastroenteritis, which is inflammation of the stomach and intestines. This inflammation usually causes lots of diarrhea multiple times a day, which may include blood, and is often accompanied by vomiting or alternates with vomiting. If their stomach is empty, dogs may dry heave or vomit foamy, yellowish bile. Gastroenteritis may make their stomachs and abdomens tender and sore, and dogs might not want to be picked up or even touched in that area.

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Dog stomach flu often comes with a low fever, though not always. Dogs are usually lethargic, or lacking energy, and don't want to play or do the activities they typically enjoy. The nausea makes them lose their appetite for food, and especially if they cannot keep water down, they may become dehydrated.

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A stomach bug doesn't usually last more than 24 hours. If it does or if your dog seems dehydrated, call your vet for advice. He will probably want to see the dog to check for other illnesses and to conduct bloodwork and possibly other tests.

Ruling out more serious illness

These symptoms are very similar to other more serious illnesses. Dogs may ingest toxic chemicals from cleaning solutions, for example, or they could have an intestinal blockage, pancreatitis, a tumor, or other physical abnormality.

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Infectious gastroenteritis can be caused by worms; bacteria, such as E. coli or Salmonella; viruses, like parvovirus or canine distemper; or fungi, such as Aspergillus, which are 150 or so molds that cause Aspergillosis in some dogs, particularly those with weakened immune systems.

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At a visit to your veterinarian for dog stomach flu, she will examine the dog for abnormal swelling, dehydration, and bloating, which can indicate bloat, a serious condition. She will draw blood for a complete blood cell count, which can detect infection and dehydration, and will examine the urine for infection, kidney disease, diabetes, and other illnesses. She may also conduct abdominal x-rays or an ultrasound to look for abnormalities.

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Treating a dog stomach bug

If it is determined that a dog has infectious gastroenteritis, treatment will depend on its cause. It might include antibiotics for the infection, corticosteroids, fluid and electrolyte therapy for dehydration, or specific medication for parasites. Obstructions and tumors may require surgery.

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Common dog stomach bugs will usually go away on their own within a few days. Still, vets may prescribe medication to soothe the stomach and intestines after so much vomiting and diarrhea. Letting the stomach and intestines rest by not giving the dog food for 24 hours is often advised. After that, provide a bland diet for three to seven days, offering unseasoned, shredded chicken with white rice, for example, and 1 tablespoon of canned pumpkin. As the dog's appetite and energy return, slowly reintroduce regular food.

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When dog stomach flu recurs often and serious illnesses have been ruled out, vets begin to look into possible allergies to something in the dog's food and may prescribe a specific diet. Some vets also recommend giving probiotics to restore beneficial intestinal microflora.

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