Editor’s Note: NaturalPetsHQ.com is supported by readers and may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Recommendations are based on personal experience and criteria outlined in the article.
The prognosis and survival rate for dogs with mild to moderate pancreatitis is good. Dogs with severe pancreatitis have somewhere around a 33% death rate within 30 days of being admitted to a referral hospital...
I’ve seen my fair share of pancreatitis in dogs over the last 20 years. There’s one memory that stands out from the others.
Two sweet blonde cocker spaniels came into our vet clinic the day after Thanksgiving one year. They had both started vomiting the day before. Now, neither dog had any appetite at all.
The man who brought them in was concerned but assumed it was just a little tummy upset after eating some turkey from the holiday table.
I’ll never forget those two dogs because it was shocking how sick they both were. In addition to vomiting, they had abdominal pain, major changes on blood tests and one had pancreatic swelling visible on x-ray films. These dogs were in big trouble with severe acute pancreatitis.
Their guardian was in disbelief, “We only gave them a little turkey! How can they be so sick? Will my dog survive pancreatitis?” We immediately hospitalized the sickest dog and started him on IV fluids, anti-nausea meds, and pain meds. The other dog was treated as an outpatient.
Acute pancreatitis is a common diagnosis in dogs. What causes this painful condition and how is it treated?
What Is Pancreatitis in Dogs?
The pancreas is a glandular organ in the abdomen that secretes enzymes to help break down food. The other function of the pancreas is to produce insulin to help glucose from food enter the body’s cells.
Pancreatitis is the term used when a dog has an inflamed pancreas. The inflamed pancreas can leak digestive enzymes onto the tissues nearby. Severe pain ensues when a dog’s own tissues are partially digested by pancreatic enzymes. In the worst cases of pancreatitis in dogs, a snowball effect occurs. Inflammation spreads from the pancreas to the lungs, kidneys, and all throughout the entire body.
Acute pancreatitis in dogs happens when symptoms come on suddenly, rather than being present for many days or weeks. The spectrum of severity of the disease varies from a couple of days of vomiting to illness so severe it can lead to death.
Acute pancreatitis is more likely to occur in obese dogs over the age of five years. Certain breeds like miniature Schnauzers are predisposed due to their tendency to have abnormal fat metabolism.
What Causes Pancreatitis in Dogs?
In most cases, no cause is identified. However, it’s not uncommon to find out that dogs with acute pancreatitis have recently consumed a large, high-fat meal. Dogs who are unaccustomed to eating rich foods are the worst victims. The common thread in many cases is dietary fat and abnormal fat metabolism.
Certain drugs and diseases may trigger pancreatitis…
Standing in “prayer position” with bottom up in the air and chest on the floor
Severe cases: weakness, rapid breathing, bruised skin, very pale gums, unresponsiveness
Diagnosis of Pancreatitis in Dogs
Physical examination by a veterinarian
Basic blood panel (CBC/chemistry)
Pancreatitis blood test (canine pancreas-specific lipase, or cPL) most sensitive test
Dog Pancreatitis Recovery Time
Most dogs with mild to moderate pancreatitis recover with appropriate treatment. These dogs usually recover within a few days.
Dogs with severe acute pancreatitis may get over their symptoms within a week or two with appropriate treatment. Keep in mind that even when the symptoms are gone, changes to the pancreas are usually permanent. If significant scarring has occurred, the dog may become a diabetic.
Will My Dog Survive Pancreatitis?
Pancreatitis is a common disease in dogs seen in veterinary clinical practice. Most dogs have a mild to moderate case of pancreatitis. The prognosis for full recovery in these cases is good.
A minority of dogs will develop severe pancreatitis. Those more at risk include miniature Schnauzers and dogs with diabetes. Once a dog is diagnosed with severe pancreatitis, the outcome depends on the treatment, severity of inflammation related to the disease, and whether the dog has other diseases.
One study of 136 dogs admitted to a hospital with acute pancreatitis showed that 33% of them died within 30 days (Fabres, 2016). Keep in mind that these were likely dogs with severe pancreatitis presenting at a referral veterinary hospital. The mortality rate for dogs with mild to moderate pancreatitis is expected to be much lower.
Another study showed that a low blood sodium and high blood creatinine in dogs with pancreatitis were associated with a higher risk of death (Marchetti, 2017). Low platelets, high white blood cell count, low body temperature, decreased urine production and jaundice are all associated with severe pancreatitis and worse expected outcome.
Dog Pancreatitis Treatment
Mild cases of pancreatitis are treated by fasting the affected dog for 24–48 hours. If vomiting is not severe, the dog should be encouraged to take small sips of water frequently.
Dogs who are reluctant to drink benefit from the administration of fluids subcutaneously to offset continuing losses. Veterinarians may give your dog anti-nausea and/or antacid medications. These are available in pill and injectable form.
Medications include maropitant, ondansetron, and famotidine. Maropitant has an anti-nausea effect but may also have anti-inflammatory on the pancreas (Tsukamoto, 2018).
Experts in veterinary internal medicine recommend that care is used in giving antibiotics for pancreatitis in dogs. The disease is not caused by bacteria, but dogs with severe cases may develop secondary infections. Antibiotic therapy is reserved for use in specific cases.
Once vomiting has stopped for 24 hours, bland food is introduced in small, frequent meals. Bland food for dogs consists of cooked, lean meats and overcooked (mushy) rice. Your vet may sell prescription-only foods that work well for dogs recovering from GI upset.
In severe cases of pancreatitis in dogs, they will be hospitalized for IV fluids, pain control medications, anti-nausea meds, antibiotics and frequent monitoring. Your veterinarian will base this decision on the physical exam, abdominal x-rays, and blood tests.
Things can change quickly in dogs with acute pancreatitis, and hospitalization allows the doctor and technical staff to intervene when new problems arise. It’s tough to leave your buddy in a hospital while you wait and worry, but it could literally save your dog’s life.
Dog Pancreatitis Treatment Cost
Cost of treatment will depend on the severity of the disease and whether the dog has concurrent health issues. Cases of mild pancreatitis may be treated on an outpatient basis with anti-nausea and pain control medications. The low end of costs for treating mild pancreatitis is about $200.
When a dog has moderate to severe pancreatitis, hospitalization becomes necessary to save his life. A realistic ballpark idea of costs for treating a moderate case of pancreatitis is $1,500 to $3,500. Prolonged hospitalization and the occurrence of secondary problems will add significantly to this figure.
I practice in a large city with a moderate cost of living. In our local emergency pet hospitals, one day of hospitalization with a medium level of care runs about $1000 per day. You can see how the bill can grow quite large in less than a week’s time!
Alternative/Holistic/Home Treatments for Mild Pancreatitis
In mild cases, alternative treatments alone may be able to control symptoms. The approach to treating a dog with a mild case of acute pancreatitis is similar to the treatment for a simple case of vomiting. All these treatments may be used in addition to conventional treatments listed above.
Withhold Food for 12–24 Hours
Withhold food and let your dog’s GI tract rest for at least 12 hours. There is no need to restrict access to water, but don’t let him drink a lot all at once since that can cause reflexive vomiting.
Gently stroke the lower abdomen from the back of the rib cage to the front of the pelvis 10 or so times 3 or 4 times a day. You may also lightly rub in a clockwise, circular motion.
Acupressure at Pericardium 6 for Pancreatitis
Use your finger or thumb to gently, but firmly massage this spot in a circular motion for about a minute several times a day. It’s found on the inside of the front leg, about 1/4 of the way between the wrist and elbow, over the prominent tendons in that area. This is a well-known anti-nausea point.
There are many that might be useful, but an easy way to start is to use a combination product made especially for animals such as AnimalEO’s GI Joe blend. You can learn more about essential oils on the AnimalEO website.
I’ve seen animals experience significant relief through the judicious use of essential oils. Remember to always dilute essential oils and use less than you think you should! Just because you can’t smell it doesn’t mean your dog can’t.
Buy fresh ginger root and slice it into quarter-inch-thick pieces. Boil a cup of purified water then steep a couple slices of ginger in it for about 5 minutes.
Remove the ginger slices from the water and allow the tea to cool to a lukewarm temperature. Give 1–3 teaspoons of the liquid by mouth 2 or 3 times a day for nausea.
Slippery elm is an herbal compound made from the inner bark of a specific type of elm tree. When the powder is mixed with liquid, it forms a sort of gelatinous goo. Hydrated slippery elm powder has a coating effect on the tissues it contacts.
The coating effect of slippery elm can be very soothing to the irritated stomachs and intestines of dogs with pancreatitis. It has a wide margin of safety when taken orally by dogs.
This herb comes in capsule, tablet, powder, and liquid form. My patients do well when their owners give them 1/4 teaspoon of slippery elm powder per 10 pounds of body weight. Using capsules, a 400 mg capsule is the right amount to give a medium-sized dog of about 40 pounds.
It’s OK to mix the powder in food, but best giving it on an empty stomach will allow more contact with tissue. Slippery elm is given three times a day to soothe the GI tract.
What Should a Dog with Pancreatitis Eat?
There is no hard evidence that any one food is better than another for dogs prone to pancreatitis. Experts usually recommend a food that is lower in fat than average.
So, what should your dog with pancreatitis eat? It depends on what the dog was eating at the time he got sick. Aim for a food that has a lower fat content than the food he was eating before he developed pancreatitis.
Best Food for a Dog with Pancreatitis
To evaluate two or more foods, you need to do a quick calculation to get the caloric basis value of the fat content. You can’t accurately compare fat levels from different foods based on the guaranteed analysis label.
Don’t worry, no math is required this time! You can usethis helpful calculator and plug in the numbers from the guaranteed analysis label on the dog food container. If there is no ash content on your food label, use 3% for canned food and 6% for dry food.
This calculator works for dry food, raw food, wet food, canned food, etc. Use the fat percentage you get from the calculator to compare two or more foods.
If you want to pick a new food altogether, a food with a caloric basis fat content of 20% or less is a good starting place. The lowest fat foods available come in at around 7%. Don’t forget to use the calculator to convert the guaranteed analysis numbers from the label to a caloric basis.
If you’re not sure if your dog needs to lose weight, ask your vet for her opinion. Losing excess weight is the number one thing that will help your dog avoid future bouts of pancreatitis.
There are different approaches to weight loss diets for dogs and you’ll have to do some research to see what will work for you. In the meantime, cut food rations by 25% and cut treat rations by 50%. When your dog is feeling up to it, start walking him every day. If he’s out of shape, start with five minutes a day and work up to 45 minutes a day over a couple of months.
The pancreas is closely related to the gastrointestinal tract. We know that there are many bacteria and yeast that inhabit a normal dog’s gut. Pancreatitis can cause major changes in the gastrointestinal environment. When this happens, the population of beneficial bacteria becomes overwhelmed by harmful bacteria.
Probiotic supplements are aimed at re-populating a dog’s GI tract with beneficial/normal bacteria. A high-quality probiotic supplement can be given daily to dogs recovering from pancreatitis. The goal would be to discontinue the supplement after a few months, but it’s also OK to give a probiotic supplement to dogs long-term.
For help choosing a good product, check out my article on probiotics. Just to make a general suggestion here, I always recommend either (click to view on Amazon.com) Proviable DC or Vetri Mega Probiotic. Both are readily available, not too expensive and meet the criteria for a good probiotic.
Omega–3 fatty acids (OFAs) can help normalize fat homeostasis in the body. For this reason, some veterinarians believe OFAs may help prevent pancreatitis in dogs. If your dog has had significant bouts of pancreatitis, consult your vet before giving this supplement to your dog.
For cases of mild pancreatitis in dogs, a daily dose of 13 mg per pound of bodyweight of the EPA fraction of OFA (check the label). If you want the simple answer, I recommend people use (click to view on Amazon.com) Nordic Naturals Omega–3 for Pets and give it according to the label dose. To learn more about fish oil and omega–3 fatty acids, read the article I wrote on the topic.
Since intestinal parasites are rampant in some areas of the country, dogs with recurrent gastrointestinal troubles should be dewormed. This is true even if fecal tests come back negative. Fecal tests can miss some worms, especially whipworms. The presence of parasites may not cause pancreatitis, but they certainly don’t aid in fast recovery.
You can ask your vet for a prescription of a broad-spectrum dewormer like Panacur/fenbendazole. It works very well against most canine intestinal parasites and has been used safely in dogs for many years.
Food Trials (Hypoallergenic Food, Homemade Diet)
Some vets suspect that food sensitivities may be correlated to pancreatitis in dogs. It may be worthwhile to try a hypoallergenic diet for a few months. Your vet can recommend a prescription hypoallergenic dog food.
Another option is to make the food yourself using ingredients from the grocery store. If you take the homemade option, you must get help making sure it’s complete and balanced for long-term use. Most of the time, you’ll need to add vitamin and mineral supplements to the recipe. Ask your vet for help or visit BalanceIT.com to consult with a veterinary nutritionist.
Pancreatitis in dogs is common but not normal.
No research has determined a single cause of acute pancreatitis in dogs.
Acute pancreatitis can be mild, moderate or severe with variable symptoms but vomiting and abdominal pain are common.
Mild cases may be treated on an outpatient basis with dietary modification, fluids, and home remedies. Severe cases require hospitalization for supportive care and pain management.
Holistically healthy dogs with strong digestive organs should be able to handle a variety of natural foods, including fattier selections, without developing pancreatitis. Read my articles on whole foods, probiotics, and digestive enzymes for more information.
Click to View References
Fabres, V. (2016). Identification of Factors Associated with Short-Term Mortality in Canine Acute Pancreatitis, 6th ECVIM-CA Congress, 2016, Goteburg, Sweden. Gothenburg, Sweden: ECVIM.
Marchetti, V., Gori, E., Lippi, I., Luchetti, E., Manca, M., & Pierini, A. (2017). Elevated serum creatinine and hyponatraemia as prognostic factors in canine acute pancreatitis. Australian Veterinary Journal,95(11), 444–447.
Tsukamoto, A., Ohgoda, M., Haruki, N., Hori, M., & Inomata, T. (2018). The anti-inflammatory action of maropitant in a mouse model of acute pancreatitis. Journal of Veterinary Medical Science,80(3), 492–498.
Editor’s Note: NaturalPetsHQ.com is supported by readers and may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Recommendations are based on personal experience and criteria outlined in the article.
Cats have an amazing system for conserving water. Their kidneys are able to keep the moisture needed by the body even when drinking water is scarce. That’s why cats have a low thirst level compared with some other animals.
Constipation in cats is caused directly or indirectly by dehydration. The first order of business to get things moving is to rehydrate your cat. In mild cases, feeding her canned cat food with a side of chicken broth may be enough to resolve the problem.
What Causes Constipation in Cats? Dehydration.
Now it’s time for some borderline gross discussion of a cat’s physiological pooping mechanism.
After your kitty swallows his food it is digested in the stomach. Then it moves to the first part of the small intestine where it’s broken down even more by bile and pancreatic enzymes. The next part of the small intestine absorbs nutrients from the food which now looks something like gravy.
Once the remains of the food reach the large intestine, there’s not much left besides indigestible fiber and water. The large intestine absorbs water from the food waste according to messages from the body based on how much water is needed at the time.
The last part of the large intestine is the rectum. That’s where the dried food waste collects until the cat has poops to get rid of it.
Constipation happens when too much water is taken out of the food waste product. Why would this happen? The large intestine is just doing what it’s told to by the body: removing water from food waste so it can be used for metabolism.
When the body isn’t getting enough water or is losing too much water it will need to conserve all it can by removing it from food waste, i.e. feces. When feces become dry, they’re much more difficult to push out of the body. The stuck fecal matter essentially creates an intestinal blockage.
Another way feces become too dry is when they’re retained in the rectum for too long. This could happen when your kitty can’t get to the litter tray due to anxiety, competition from other cats or even pain. A less frequent cause of fecal dehydration is abnormal contraction of the colon or the presence of a mass blocking the colon or rectum.
The colon and rectum continue to absorb water as long as the feces are present. The fecal matter just gets drier and drier as time goes on until it’s rock-hard and painful to pass.
Symptoms of Cat Constipation
Most cats have at least a few of these symptoms, but not always. It can be hard to tell the difference between bladder trouble and constipation. Any of these symptoms are a good cause for concern and a visit to the animal clinic.
Defecating less frequently (especially if the animal is eating normally)
Straining in the litter box (can also be a bladder problem)
Vocalizing in the litter box (can also be a bladder problem)
More frequent visits to the litter box (can also be a bladder problem)
Licking tail and bottom more than usual (can also be a bladder problem)
Anus protruding more than normal sometimes with poop visible
Blood on the poop that is passed
Dry, hard stools, either larger or smaller than normal
Pooping outside litter box
Constipation is pretty common in the modern house cat. A middle-aged to older cat is more likely to have difficulty pooping. Cat breeds that are overrepresented in the disease include Siamese and Manx.
In a 2019 study, researchers found that obese, older cats and those with chronic kidney disease or previous episodes of constipation were more likely to present to the emergency department (1).
Diseases That Can Lead to Constipation
Now that we’ve established cat constipation is a secondary problem caused by dehydration, let’s talk about primary diseases that can lead to low body water and trouble pooping.
How It Causes Constipation
The kidneys don’t retain water normally, causing generalized dehydration.
Excess glucose in the blood causes increased water loss through the kidneys.
Cats with hyperthyroidism often have deteriorating kidney function which leads to dehydration.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammation in the intestines may cause decreased water resorption. Inflamed tissue also tends to have abnormal intestinal contractions.
Tumors in the intestine or other abdominal organs or the muscles and bones of the pelvis can interfere with normal bowel movements.
Cats can be born with abnormal pelvic nerves (like in Manx cats) or acquire a problem secondary to trauma, cancer, etc.
Pain can come from musculoskeletal problems like arthritis or spinal changes (2). Soft tissue problems like rectal strictures and anals sac inflammation can also cause pain during defecation.
Cats who ingest very large amounts of hair from self-grooming or otherwise are at risk for constipation. Hairballs are more likely to occur in long-haired cats. Eating a large amount of bone can also cause dry, hard feces.
Anti-diarrheal drugs can slow intestinal contractions and dry out the intestinal contents. Diuretics like Lasix can also lead to dehydration.
Lack of body movement due to injury or confinement can cause decreased intestinal contractions.
Physical difficulty getting to the litter box may decrease the frequency of defecation, leading to retention of hard, dry poop in the rectum.
Can decrease intestinal contractions. Also, if a cat is too nervous to visit the litter box often enough, fecal waste can become dry and difficult to pass.
How Long Can a Cat Safely Go Without Pooping?
Healthy cats pass stool once or twice a day. Decreased food intake will lead to decreased production of feces. It could be more an issue of not eating than not pooping.
Another way you can be fooled is that cats sometimes resort to “stealth pooping” in strange places like closets and under beds. Take a good look around if you don’t see cat poop in the litter box.
If you’re sure your kitty hasn’t pooped in 24 hours, you could be dealing with a constipated cat. Try some of the remedies below if your pet feels fine other than not pooping. If 36-48 hours pass with no stool produced, it’s time to see the veterinarian.
Megacolon is kind of a fun-sounding word used to describe an awful disease. Serious, chronic constipation (obstipation) can damage the tissue of the colon so the muscles no longer contract normally. The tube of the colon becomes stretched out and flaccid so the animal can’t push the waste out no matter how hard they try.
Megacolon is all too common in cats (especially Manx and Siamese breeds) and is usually the result of chronic constipation. So you can see it’s really important to intervene and treat the problem as soon as you recognize it.
Once megacolon occurs, treatment options are limited and poor quality of life ensues without aggressive intervention.
Can Constipation Kill a Cat?
Prolonged, extreme constipation could be deadly to your cat in a couple of ways.
As I outlined above impacted feces put excessive pressure on the colon and rectal tissue and can cause irreversible damage. The smooth muscles eventually stop working so that feces cannot be pushed out. If a kitty can’t poop, he’ll stop eating and get progressively sicker until he dies.
The other deadly factor is that retained fecal material retained may contain toxins that are reabsorbed into the body. These toxins can make a cat feel sick and not want to eat. You might also see weakness, poor appetite and vomiting.
How to Make a Cat Poop When Constipated
First, understand you could be getting into dangerous territory attempting to treat a bad case of constipation at home. I strongly urge you to get help from your veterinarian if your pet hasn’t passed stool in 36 or more hours.
For those who are still eating and acting normal but haven’t pooped in 12-24 hours, you can try some simple home remedies safely.
Increase Water Intake
You can do this by feeding canned/moist food, preferably in place of dry food. I realize there are many cats who hate canned food, so you’ll have to experiment to see if you can convince your buddy that it’s good.
Try sprinkling some grated parmesan cheese on top, warming it to body temperature, mixing in a little water/broth/tuna water. You might also try spoon-feeding or placing the food on a saucer rather than a bowl.
Some of these picky kitties will take Gerber chicken baby food (use baby food with no onion or garlic in it). Try warming it up to body temperature first.
Other ways to increase water intake include offering warmed broth or the water from a tuna can straight. Some people find their cats drink more when provided a flowing water source like the fountain shown below, but it may be more of a long-term solution rather than a quick fix for hardened stool.
There are many different kinds of laxatives that work in different ways. Some cause water to be drawn into the colon, some irritate the colon and others have a softening effect on the surface of feces. Not all of these remedies work for all cats and some can cause worse problems when used chronically.
If you give a laxative and your kitty still hasn’t had a pooped after 24 hours, don’t keep repeating the treatment. Get your buddy to the animal hospital!
Here’s a list of common laxatives from most to least preferred:
My favorite cat laxative is Miralax® powder. You can buy it over the counter, the flavor of the plain version is neutral and it is well-tolerated when used as directed here. Miralax causes water to be pulled into the colon so stools get softer. It might take ⅛-¼ teaspoon two to three times a day mixed with moist food or broth to improve trouble pooping.
Psyllium is a form of fiber used for the prevention of constipation in humans. Fiber has a bulking and moistening effect on intestinal waste. This works for some but can make constipation worse in others so proceed cautiously.
The dosing range for this psyllium is 1-4 teaspoons mixed with food one to two times per day. Psyllium is better used as prevention rather than treatment of acute constipation.
Canned pumpkin is a popular home remedy for bowel problems. Pumpkin has fiber in it that can bulk up stools. Some cats willingly eat it on their own others refuse.
If you could get your cat to eat ¼ cup of pumpkin per day, she’d be getting about 1.8 grams of fiber. That’s not much compared to the 3 grams of fiber in just one teaspoon of Metamucil. Bottom line: if your kitty likes it, try it because it could help long-term but don’t count on it to clear up an acute bowel stoppage.
Some vets recommend bisacodyl 5 mg by mouth once a day as a sort of last resort for feline constipation. This medication increases contraction in the colon. It might work for mild to moderate constipation but could cause undue pain and injury for animals with severe constipation. Please consult your vet before using this kind of medicine.
White Petrolatum/Cat Lax®
Cat Lax might work as a maintenance treatment for cats that have occasional hard stool, but it’s unlikely to help a more serious case. The product is messy and it can be difficult to get enough into your kitty to be therapeutic.
Magnesium Hydroxide/Milk of Magnesia®
Magnesium draws water into the large intestine, softening the stool. This remedy is relatively safe, but it can be challenging to get a feline to take it since many are minty liquids. It’s also easy to over-do it and cause diarrhea. Don’t give more than ½ to 1 teaspoon by mouth per day without consulting your vet.
Docusate sodium comes as a capsule to be taken orally. In the large intestine, it acts as a stool softener by allowing more water to penetrate it. This medication may be less effective than Miralax®. But docusate is relatively safe when given 50 mg orally once a day, but should not be used as a sole long-term solution.
Senna/sennoside is a natural bowel remedy derived from a plant. Taken orally, it has a stimulatory effect on the colon. Senna is generally not recommended for use in cats as it can cause cramping, vomiting, and loose stool.
Oral Mineral Oil
This is more of an old-fashioned remedy that is no longer recommended. The problem is that mineral oil is too easy for cats to breathe into their lungs. If that happens, severe pneumonia could cause a much bigger problem than a sluggish bowel.
An enema involves introducing water, mineral oil, glycerin, etc. into the rectum. This has the effect of stool softener and also stimulates the smooth muscles to contract. Suppositories are similar in that they’re capsules introduced via the anus to deliver stool softeners.
I don’t recommend giving cats enemas or suppositories at home. It can be difficult for pet owners to do, it can cause cats pain if done improperly. It’s not unusual for cats to become distressed after an enema and in some cases, the procedure could be deadly.
I’ve known of cats who died after well-meaning owners administered a phosphate-containing Fleet® enema (4). Never use those for cats!
Please leave enema and suppository administration to your vet!
Can I Give My Cat Olive Oil?
Giving a cat any kind of oil by mouth for acute bowel trouble can be tricky. As I mentioned above, mineral oil can be aspirated into the lungs and the same possibility exists for olive oil.
While small doses of olive oil added to food probably won’t hurt your pet, large doses of dietary fat can wreak havoc on a cat’s digestion since it makes the pancreas go into overdrive. If you give enough olive oil to soften stuck poo, your kitty could end up with a worse problem like diarrhea or pancreatitis.
Regularly adding olive oil to your cat’s food will add a lot of calories which leads to weight gain. Obese cats have worse problems with sluggish bowels than those of a healthy weight.
We have safer and more effective treatment options for cat constipation than olive oil, so just skip this one.
Vet Diagnosis & Treatment
Feline constipation isn’t always obvious. You might see your cat straining in the litter box, but is it because of bladder pain or bowel trouble? A urinary tract infection can cause very similar signs.
And sometimes cats strain when they have intestinal cramps from diarrhea but pass very little feces so it seems like they’re constipated.
If you do end up at the vet clinic to treat your cat’s symptoms, here’s what you can expect…
Physical Exam: The vet will look at, listen to and feel all over your cat’s body. They might be able to feel hard feces in the colon.
Radiographs (X-rays) & Ultrasound: Abdominal radiographs are pretty good at showing large amounts of poop in the colon and rectum. Megacolon can also show up on x-rays. Some abdominal tumors show up on x-rays but ultrasound is better at finding soft tissue tumors. Ultrasound can also evaluate intestinal contraction.
Blood Tests: These check for kidney problems, diabetes and hyperthyroidism which are often associated with constipation.
Enema: Your vet will likely administer an enema to your cat as a first line of treatment. We often like to keep the cat in the clinic for a few hours of observation after the procedure.
Sedation for Manual Fecal Extraction: If an enema doesn’t produce a bowel movement, the vet might use sedation so they can manually remove some of the impaction. In many cases, there is one large piece blocking everything behind it.
Sedation and pain medication prevent your cat from feeling the discomfort often associated with the procedure.
IV or Subcutaneous Fluids: I almost always give constipated cats fluids under their skin (or IV if they’re hospitalized) to help rehydrate them. This gets them on the road to healing and helps prevent the recurrence of stuck stool in the next few days.
Prescription Medications: You will probably go home with at least one medication or supplement. Lactulose is a liquid laxative that works pretty well in the short-term but many cats can be switched over to Miralax® which is easier to administer.
Cisapride, a drug that helps the colon contract, is prescribed for cats with chronic problems. Pilocarpine is a less common medication that also stimulates the colon when a tiny amount is given orally.
Cost of Treatment
The cost of veterinary treatment could cost as little as $200 for a mild case that just needs a quick enema. For severe cases with underlying problems, you could be looking at $800 to $1500 or more.
5 Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Constipation
Here comes some good news: you can improve your cat’s bowel regularity without drugs or invasive treatments. Next, I’m going to outline five lifestyle optimizations you can start on today.
1. Decrease Stress
I know, everyone is always telling you to decrease stress not only for yourself but also for your pets. You might ask, “What does that fuzzball have to be stressed about? He doesn’t have to go to work and he sleeps like 20 hours a day!”
Well, boredom is a form of stress for cats. Like prisoners in a jail cell, they have nothing to stimulate their natural instincts, nothing to hunt, no new places to explore.
Cats who live their entire lives indoors don’t get much stimulation, so you need to go out of your way to change that. Here are some suggestions:
Make or buy a window seat or better yet, an outdoor cat enclosure/catio. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Obesity is rampant among indoor cats. The reasons are multifactorial, but eating dry food and not moving much contribute to the problem.
Ask your vet what your cat should weigh–just so you know, the healthy weight of an average cat is about 10 pounds. Animals with a larger or smaller frame will have different healthy weights.
How can you get your kitty to lose weight? Well, there’s not just one answer. Just like humans, some cats do better on a low-carb diet while others achieve optimum body condition by eating high-fiber weight-loss food.
Ask your vet for a recommendation or choose a weight loss diet and try it for a couple of months to gauge the response.
3. Increase Exercise
Movement is natural for cats. Laying around most of the day is not. More exercise will improve your cat’s hormone profile as well as his mental state. Of course, it can help with weight loss but the main thing to concentrate on here is your cat’s diet.
You can get your kitty more exercise by taking him for walks or letting him have time outside in a safe enclosure, as I mentioned earlier.
Interactive toys are great for days when you can’t get outside. But keep in mind you will need to join in and encourage your kitty to play more. Placing his food in several small dishes around the house will also help get him moving more.
4. Increase Water Intake
I’ve covered this already, but I want to mention it again because it’s extremely important. Work on getting your buddy to enjoy eating wet diets. Dr. Pierson has some great tips on how to switch stubborn cats to canned food.
Adding broth to dry food is a decent option, too. Why not try a cat water fountain while you’re at it?
5. Food Trials
Aside from trying a weight loss diet, you should also consider trying some different food formulations to see if they agree with your cat’s digestive tract better than her current ration. Cats with more severe constipation often have some improvement with a hypoallergenic or intestinal prescription food like Hill’s z/d® food or Royal Canin Gastrointestinal®. (Links go to Amazon.com)
Some cats with mild to moderate symptoms do best with a higher fiber diet found in “Indoor Cat” formulas or a prescription version like Purina Pro Plan OM feline® (Amazon link but available elsewhere by prescription).
Others do well with homemade food and some thrive on raw food (make sure you buy a safe one, though–check out Nature’s Variety Instinct® frozen raw food).
Change food gradually over a period of at least a week. If you notice worsening bowel symptoms, go more slowly. Once you’ve completely transitioned to the new food, feed it for at least a couple of months before you draw any conclusions about whether or not it helps.
Best Food for Constipated Cats
I will write about the best food for your cat’s constipation in another article since it’s such a broad topic. In general, a high moisture diet, i.e. canned or wet food is recommended for all cats.
Depending on the details of your pet’s situation, high fiber or low fiber food may work better. There is really no way of knowing except by trying various foods for at least a couple of months.
Probiotics are generally safe and, in my opinion, worth a try for cats with sluggish bowels. While we don’t have a lot of clinical research to support the use of probiotics in cats, a 2015 study found that cats given a high-potency probiotic had an improvement in symptoms as well as cellular markers of inflammation (3).
Check out my article on probiotics (the article focuses on the dog but the same recommendations apply to cats). Proviable DC® is my top pick for cats, but Fortiflora® is also good because it’s flavored and cats love it! (Links go to Amazon.com)
What If Your Cat Is Not Pooping But Is Acting Normal?
If your kitty hasn’t pooped in 24 hours but is acting normal otherwise, i.e. still eating and drinking and moving around normally, you can try some home remedies.
The first thing to try is feeding wet food if you usually feed mostly or all dry food. You can add some broth, tuna water or pumpkin if she will take it.
Miralax® is pretty safe to try at home. I advise my clients to give ⅛-¼ teaspoon of the powder mixed with moist food or broth two to three times a day until a bowel movement occurs.
It’s very important to consider what you can do to prevent the problem from happening again. Read the article and implement some of my suggestions.
If your cat still hasn’t pooped after 48 hours, you need to get her to the animal clinic!
The last topic I want to touch on is the constipated kitten. They get sluggish bowels for somewhat different reasons than adults.
GI parasites like roundworms and hookworms can really mess up a kitten’s bathroom habits. We often see diarrhea, but constipation can also occur. Other parasites like giardia and coccidia may be the cause, too. Take a fecal sample to the veterinarian to find out which medication will work best for your kitten.
Decreased defecation in bottle-fed orphan kittens seems to happen when the formula is too rich. I advise foster kitten raisers to add 25-50% more water for a couple of feedings to see if that helps.
A less common issue is congenital abnormalities. I’ve seen kittens that actually had no anal opening, but others might have nerve problems that prevent normal pooping. You’ll need your veterinarian’s help to identify and treat this sort of problem.
I’ve seen some articles and videos on the internet that advise aggressive massage to get a kitten to poop. I don’t recommend you try this at home. You’d be surprised how easy it is to cause serious trauma to a tiny kitten’s rear end! Get your veterinarian to help you because there’s usually more of an issue than just needing a massage.
Rossi, G., Jergens, A., Cerquetella, M., Berardi, S., Pengo, G., & Suchodolski, J.. THE EFFECT OF THE PROBIOTIC SIVOYTM ON CLINICAL AND HISTOPATHOLOGICAL PARAMETERS IN CATS WITH CHRONIC IDIOPATHIC CONSTIPATION AND MEGACOLON. In American College of Veterinary Internal medicine (ACVIM) Forum 2015: Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, 3-6 June 2015. Lakewood, CO: American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Retrieved February 04, 2021.
Editor’s Note: NaturalPetsHQ.com is supported by readers and may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Recommendations are based on personal experience and criteria outlined in the article.
A recent question from a reader:
“My 5-year-old little Yorkie has always coughed some when she gets excited. Last month she started coughing a lot more. Now the vet says she has a collapsed trachea. How do you decide when to euthanize a dog with tracheal collapse? I don’t want her to suffer or be in pain!”
The vast majority of the dogs I’ve cared for with tracheal collapse have mild to moderate symptoms. They do well with symptomatic treatment and lifestyle adjustments. Owners of these dogs rarely have to think about their quality of life.
If your dog has severe tracheal collapse, I recommend you go through a good Quality of Life questionnaire before deciding to euthanize her. I like the HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale which gives you a more concrete evaluation than some others.
Quality of life questions focus on whether the animal can eat and drink, whether their pain can be treated, and how much they can participate in daily activities.
Answer the questions as objectively as possible. Get a trusted family member or friend to give their opinion, too. Take a day or two to weigh your choices carefully.
When to Say Goodbye
Your dog has a poor quality of life if she is constantly coughing and can’t get enough oxygen to participate in normal activities on most days. If you’ve tried various treatments, consulted your veterinarian and you still can’t improve the situation, euthanasia is a viable option.
I’m happy to report that even dogs with severely collapsed trachea can benefit from symptomatic treatment and lifestyle adjustments. And surgical intervention can be considered for dogs who don’t respond to medical treatment.
If you haven’t explored these options, discuss them with your veterinarian or ask for a referral to a specialist before you decide to euthanize your pup.
Causes of Collapsing Trachea in Dogs
Collapsed trachea is almost always a disease of small dog breeds, but we don’t know if it is an inherited trait or not. Some of the breeds notorious for having collapsed trachea are Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Toy Poodles, Shih Tzus and Maltese.
Some scientists think an abnormality in the cells that produce cartilage or a deficiency in the building blocks of cartilage are responsible for collapsed trachea in dogs.
The disease usually starts in dogs over the age of 2.6 years (9) and gets worse as they get older. Only about 25% of affected dogs show symptoms as puppies before six months of age. (4)
Weak Cartilage and Excessive Tissue
The trachea is simply a tube that leads from the mouth and nose to the lungs. That’s why it’s called the windpipe or airway. It can bend as your dog moves because it’s made of soft tissue propped open with a series of stiff cartilage rings.
Tracheal collapse happens when the rings aren’t stiff enough to hold the inside of the trachea open. The rings are C-shaped and go about 80% of the way around the trachea, but the top side is not supported by them. This soft portion is called the tracheal membrane and when the cartilage is not stiff enough, it sags into the windpipe.
The other cause of a collapsed trachea is excessive tracheal membrane tissue sagging into the tracheal lumen. This can happen even if the cartilage is performing normally. Some dogs have both weak cartilage and excessive membrane.
The trachea can collapse (cervical or extrathoracic trachea) in the neck or inside the chest. Breathing in collapses the cervical trachea and breathing out is more likely to collapse the trachea in the chest.
Symptoms of Tracheal Collapse
When cartilage rings bend too much, the inside of the dog’s windpipe rubs together setting off a cough reflex. The sound may be like hacking, a honking cough or a milder throat-clearing sound depending on the severity of the tracheal collapse.
Excitement and pulling on a leash are some of the most common exacerbators. Barking, allergies, and poor air quality can all add to airway irritation, too.
In advanced tracheal collapse, the inside hollow part, or tracheal lumen, stays nearly closed much of the time. When the dog barks or becomes active, the irritation leads to coughing which puts more pressure on the trachea.
Respiratory Distress and Fainting
Another one of the clinical signs of severe collapsing trachea is respiratory distress. Dogs who are obese and/or have heart disease are more likely to suffer from distress and labored breathing. The inability to take in enough oxygen for normal body function causes a type of pain.
Some dogs even collapse or “faint” from a lack of oxygen. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate a fainting episode from a seizure.
If you think your buddy is getting into a situation where he can’t breathe, stay calm and move to a cool dry area as soon as possible. If you don’t notice improvement within ten minutes, make arrangements to take him to your vet’s clinic or an emergency vet clinic.
Life-saving treatment for severe respiratory compromise may include oxygen, steroids, cough suppressants and sedatives. Many dogs improve significantly over the course of hours with the right kind of care.
Other Diseases with Similar Symptoms
There are many diseases that can cause coughing that sounds exactly like tracheal collapse. That’s why vets need to take x-rays and do other tests before making a diagnosis. Some of the common diseases that cause respiratory signs are:
Enlarged heart with mainstem bronchus compression. Even if a dog doesn’t have congestive heart failure, the heart can become enlarged and press on the area where the trachea joins the bronchi, causing a cough. This is similar to, but not the same as a collapsing trachea.
Congestive heart failure. When the heart can’t pump blood efficiently due to disease, fluid starts to leak into the lungs causing a cough. To complicate matters, about one-third of dogs affected with collapsing trachea also had a heart murmur which is an early sign of heart problems (Cohn) so your coughing dog might have both diseases.
Primary respiratory disease. These include bronchitis, aspiration pneumonia, respiratory infection including kennel cough, and even cancer of the lungs or trachea.
Tracheal hypoplasia. This is a congenital disease where a puppy is born with a trachea that is too small.
Keep in mind that it’s not unusual for a dog to have more than one disease that affects their breathing.
How Long Can a Dog Really Live With Collapsing Trachea?
The vast majority of dogs with collapsed trachea fall into the mild to moderate category. Many never require any treatment for the disease and live a normal lifespan. Others need to take medications like cough suppressants to improve their quality of life.
A small percentage of dogs are severely affected by collapsed trachea. These dogs not only cough but have trouble getting enough oxygen to stay healthy.
Their lives are severely limited by their breathing trouble. Once a dog has developed severe tracheal collapse symptoms, many dog owners choose humane euthanasia after a period of weeks to months.
Home Treatment for Dogs With Collapsed Trachea
The number one way to help your dog with tracheal collapse is to help them stay slim.
Obese dogs have more fat inside their bellies and chests. This puts pressure on the windpipe. When the dog breathes, the increased pressure leads to a collapsed trachea, making coughing worse.
When I say slim, I mean you can feel the dog’s ribs and see the waist from the side and from above. Many of my clients are so used to seeing overweight dogs, they panic a little when they see their pet at a normal weight.
It’s OK to be able to feel the ribs and pelvis with a light layer of fat over them!
Just like children with asthma, dogs with respiratory problems benefit from breathing clean air and avoiding temperature extremes. Consider the following:
Buy an inexpensive hygrometer to monitor indoor humidity. Make sure humidity in your house is between 30% and 50%.
Clean your home regularly to minimize dust.
NO SMOKING indoors!
Avoid taking your pup outdoors when pollen or pollution is high.
Avoid cold dry air.
Use great caution to prevent your pup from getting overheated. Dogs who pant hard are more likely to have trouble with a collapsing trachea.
Use a Good Harness
Exercise is important to prevent your dog from becoming obese and for general health. Avoid using a standard neck collar if your pup has airway trouble.
I recommend you use a harness that doesn’t put pressure over the neck or thoracic inlet (the area where the neck joins the chest). Look for a soft, “vest” style harness. Here’s an example of a good harness you can buy from Amazon.com:
Dogs with collapsing tracheas tend to cough more when they bark or breathe hard from excitement. Manage your household routine to prevent your buddy from getting overworked by visitors, etc.
Also, boarding is not a great idea for dogs with respiratory challenges like this. Being around a lot of other dogs increases the risk of catching a respiratory infection. And boarding causes many dogs to bark a LOT, irritating the trachea further.
Please think about recruiting an in-home pet sitter next time you go away and have to leave your buddy behind.
Why Is Collapsed Trachea Worse At Night?
Dogs are like humans in that they can suffer from acid reflux at night (gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD). Acid rising into the back of the throat can contribute to coughing.
Ask your veterinarian about treatment for GERD which may include antacids, promotility drugs and special food.
Don’t Be Afraid to Use Medications to Calm Coughing
Coughing is irritating and creates a snowball effect. The more your dog coughs, the more likely he is to keep coughing due to inflammation and increased tracheal secretions from irritation. It’s better to use medications early before it becomes severe and requires stronger meds.
Your vet might prescribe corticosteroids for short or long term use. These are very helpful to decrease the secondary airway inflammation that happens with this disease. Inhaled steroids like fluticasone can help dogs who can’t tolerate the effects of oral steroids.
Cough suppressants are another invaluable medication I often prescribe. In some cases, antibiotics might be needed since dogs with airway abnormalities are more susceptible to infection.
The use of bronchodilating drugs is controversial, but seems to help some dogs. It could be because these dogs also have weakness in the tissue supporting their bronchi.
Remember, it’s OK to use medication to control a cough. Don’t make your dog tough it out, hoping the condition will go away on his own!
More Home Remedies
Keep your pet quiet and calm for a few days if she has a flare-up until medications can restore respiratory tissue to a more normal state. During this time, you should avoid exercise walks or vigorous play, avoid barking, etc.
There are many herbal remedies from Chinese, Ayurvedic and Western medicine that are made to treat respiratory illness. Many plants have been shown to have antitussive and expectorant qualities for humans (7).
I’ve recommended some of these for dogs under my care in the past with mixed results. They definitely don’t seem to be as effective as prescription medications like steroids and antibiotics.
One combination herbal product you can buy without a prescription is Breathe Well by Safe-Bay. It contains a mixture of herbs traditionally used to treat respiratory issues in humans. There is no clinical evidence to support its use in dogs, but online testimonials indicate the product may help some animals.
Check with your veterinarian before starting any herbal remedy especially if your dog is taking any prescription medications.
Beyond prescription medication, you might be able to calm your dog’s cough with over-the-counter and natural remedies. These can help with calming, coughing and overall health but they’re not meant to take the place of prescriptions.
Here are some of the home remedies you may have heard about to help with collapsing trachea.
Dog-Appeasing Pheromone (DAP)
Clinical trials support the use of DAP to treat anxiety in dogs (11). Use a diffuser, spray or collar to calm your dog since a calm dog is less likely to cough.
This antihistamine may help if allergies are contributing to respiratory trouble.
A 2018 study on coughing children found honey worked better than no treatment to relieve symptoms (12). There are no studies on dogs, but it’s reasonable to think honey could have a positive effect on them, too.
Aromatherapy may be beneficial in calming anxiety in humans (10). We don’t have studies on dogs. Be very careful if you try essential oils because they can irritate respiratory tissues and make things worse. Get a veterinarian who is well-versed in using essential oils to help you.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
The idea is that this supplement could strengthen tracheal ring cartilage. There is no proof of this but glucosamine is generally safe and may help with arthritis.
Cannabinoids have been found to have a cough suppressing effect on anesthetized cats (8). We need more studies on whether non-psychoactive CBD can help dogs with respiratory signs. Anecdotal reports claim CBD has a calming effect, so it could help prevent coughing by reducing anxiety.
S-Adenosyl L-Methionine (SAMe)
Many dogs with chronic airway obstruction develop liver abnormalities due to lack of oxygen (1). SAMe is a nutritional supplement that may aid healing in the liver (13). I recommend Denamarin which contains SAMe and a few other liver helpers.
Surgical intervention is more of a last resort done for dogs with severe symptoms of tracheal collapse. If medical treatment fails to alleviate severe symptoms, surgery can be considered.
The two types of surgery to open a dog’s sagging windpipe are the placement of external rings and insertion of a supportive tube (stent) inside the trachea. Placement of stents is currently a more common procedure.
Stent placement requires special skills and equipment including a fluoroscope which is kind of like a live-action x-ray. Placement of supportive stents is done under anesthesia but is minimally invasive. These procedures are usually done by specialists and often at veterinary colleges.
Stents look like a mesh tube made from nickel and titanium or stainless steel. Before surgery, the tubes are compressed very small within another straw-like tube that can easily fit in the airway.
Once the apparatus is centered in the right spot inside the trachea, the straw-like outer tube is pulled back, allowing the stent to expand to fit the inside of the windpipe. The mesh tube stays in place long-term to keep the airway propped open.
Here’s a cool video from Animal Medical Center in NY showing a tracheal stent being placed with the help of fluoroscopy:
Prognosis for Stents
One study of 18 dogs that had tracheal stents placed found 11.1% mortality (death) within 60 days and half the animals had some sort of post-surgical complication. But overall, they had a “fair to good outcome.” (5)
A 2019 study of 75 dogs who underwent tracheal stent placement showed a median survival time of 2.75 years. Remember that means some dogs lived longer and some did not live as long as the median time. In that study, younger dogs and male dogs tended to survive longer. (14)
Complications of tracheal surgery include infections, acute respiratory failure, laryngeal paralysis and implant or stent migration.
It’s also important to note that surgery is not usually a complete cure. Most animals still have some symptoms that need medical management. (3)
My professional opinion? If your dog has advanced tracheal collapse and you’ve tried all the interventions listed above, it’s worth it to try surgery.
Cost of Tracheal Stent Surgery
The cost of simple tracheal stent placement is around $3000 for otherwise stable dogs. Of course, costs will vary by geographic location.
For pets needing hospitalization for respiratory or other problems, the cost could be significantly more.
If your pet is relatively healthy aside from airway problems, surgery could allow a big improvement in their quality of life. Your veterinarian can help you decide if surgery is a good idea for your buddy.
Ing SM, Lascelles BDX, Baines SJ, et al: Surgical Management Options for Tracheal Collapse–A Preliminary Retrospective Study of 14 Cases and Evaluation of Post-Surgical Outcome. British Small Animal Veterinary Congress 2008.
Editor’s Note: NaturalPetsHQ.com is supported by readers and may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Recommendations are based on personal experience and criteria outlined in the article.
I’ve listened to people touting the health benefits of turmeric for human ailments for years, but is it good for dogs? We’d all love to find a natural supplement to help our dogs with joint pain and body inflammation.
Turmeric does seem to have health benefits for dogs based on anecdotal reports. And my clients report noticeable improvements in inflammation and joint pain when they give it to their dogs.But we have limited scientific studies on its benefits in dogs and the few that are available show conflicting results.
The biggest problem is that it’s very poorly absorbed in the body. If it can’t be absorbed, it can’t impart its healing properties. Researchers use fractional compounds refined from turmeric powder and combined with other ingredients to increase absorption.
Curcumin is the concentrated active ingredient of turmeric. I recommend using a curcumin supplement with good absorbability instead of the hard-to-absorb whole root form.
The two main health benefits of this golden root are its ability to act as an anti inflammatory and its anti oxidant effects.
This golden powder comes from the root of the turmeric plant, Curcuma longa, which is related to ginger. The root is dried and ground to a powder that is widely used as a spice in cooking (think curry).
The dried, powdered root has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine mainly to quell acute and chronic inflammation.
Scientists tend to focus on the natural anti inflammatory properties of turmeric. Most studies use the curcumin fraction which fights inflammation by decreasing biological compounds like tumor necrosis factor and cyclo-oxygenase.
Stomach and Bowel Healing
Traditional medicine practitioners use Curcuma longa for healing stomach and bowel inflammation. Scientific research has found both anti-ulcer and ulcer-promoting effects, so the effect on the GI tract is unclear.
Researchers continue to study the use of turmeric to treat ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel disease in humans. When curcumin was used in conjunction with corticosteroids and sulfasalazine, patients were able to decrease their dosage of the conventional medications.
There is little information on its use for dogs with GI problems including irritable bowel disease. However, it seems reasonable to expect dogs would experience the same benefits as seen in humans.
On the other hand, this natural supplement can cause GI upset in dogs, especially when it’s used at high therapeutic doses. The potential for harm must be weighed against the potential for benefit.
Improving the absorption of the active ingredients in the powder could allow smaller doses to be effective, thereby avoiding GI upset.
Arthritis and Joint Pain
Poor joint health is the number one problem I’ve seen benefit from a turmeric supplement. My clients report good results when they give it to dogs experiencing arthritis and joint pain.
Studies on arthritis have found benefits from supplementation. One study found that Type II collagen was increased in cells exposed to curcumin in addition to other anti-inflammatory benefits. But that study was done on human cell cultures, not on actual humans or dogs (12).
There are few scientific studies involving turmeric for dogs, but those we have do look favorable.
A small study of 12 dogs with arthritis showed decreased inflammatory gene expression (3). This is promising, but what’s true in the laboratory does not always play out in live dogs.
To confuse things, another study showed little effect on peak vertical force, an indirect measurement of pain, in dogs with osteoarthritis (6).
That means that while turmeric reduces inflammation in a laboratory cell culture, it might not help live dogs with arthritis and joint pain as much as we’d like. It could be because the active compounds are not absorbed in a dog’s body very well.
Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common cause of pain and neurological deficits in dogs. Miniature Dachshunds are one of the commonly affected breeds, but any dog can experience IVDD.
A 2018 study looked at the use of therapeutic turmeric in 15 dogs with paresis or paralysis from IVDD. The researchers used a dose of 1g/10kg of body weight per day and saw improvements at 20-30 days of therapy (5). While the study was small, it shines a light on the possibility of using a natural anti-inflammatory to help dogs with IVDD.
Dog Skin Benefits
Traditional medicine practitioners use turmeric to treat skin allergies and eczema in humans. Studies on mice have shown that it decreases skin allergy symptoms by stopping the infiltration of inflammatory cells in the skin (13).
While we don’t have any studies looking at the compound for skin allergies in dogs, it’s possible it could help. In fact, its anti-inflammatory effects could help multiple issues in the same dog.
Antifungal, Antibacteria and Insect Repelling Properties
The antifungal properties of turmeric have been documented in multiple studies. One found that a combination of herbal extracts including turmeric was used successfully to treat dermatophytosis (ringworm infection) in dogs.
Turmeric also has antibacterial properties. It has been used traditionally to treat skin infections. Now scientists are using curcuminoids to enhance the activity of other antibiotics against resistant bacteria (1). So, it makes sense to use turmeric topically to treat a dog’s wounds.
Another interesting use of turmeric is in controlling tick infestation. A 2018 study compared topical orange oil to turmeric oil and found the latter was significantly more effective at preventing ticks from attaching to dogs (6).
Can Turmeric Get Rid of Skin Cysts in Dogs?
Epithelial cysts, sebaceous gland adenomas and other benign skin growths are common in dogs. It seems like some dog owners get worried about them and want to get rid of them without having to resort to surgery.
There is no scientific evidence that turmeric can get rid of any kind of cyst on a dog. It’s possible that topical application could decrease inflammation of a traumatized or infected cyst.
However, I will report that I once treated a dog with a chronic, inflamed red cyst-like growth on his leg with Jing Tang Herbal’s Golden Yellow Salve (based on Ru Yi Jin Huang San) applied daily. This herbal salve has turmeric as one of its main ingredients. The cyst gradually became smaller over a period of weeks until it finally just disappeared!
Anti-Oxidant Effects for Dogs with Cancer
Scientists have searched for evidence that turmeric is beneficial in the fight against cancer and degenerative diseases. We don’t have strong support for using it to treat cancer and chronic disease but there are a few studies with hopeful results.
Curcumin has antioxidant effects which is a benefit in its use against cancer. Too much oxidation by free radicals causes aging, destruction of cells and even cancerous mutations.
One study showed a reduction in oxidized proteins in amyloid pathology in Alzheimer’s transgenic mice. However, other research suggests it can also have oxidative effects on cells.
Scientists developed an injectable form of curcumin for intravenous use in research settings. In a 2018 study on canine cancer, this injectable form had a positive effect stopping the growth of cancer cells in the lab. Unfortunately, the effects were not as positive when used in live dogs. (16).
Another way curcumin can help dogs with cancer is by making cancer cells more susceptible to the effects of chemotherapy (11).
If your dog has cancer curcumin might help in multiple ways. But be sure to consult with your vet before starting any new supplements.
Potential Side Effects
When it is used in cooking, the amount is small and is very unlikely to cause any bad side effects in dogs. Turmeric is generally regarded as safe when taken orally or used topically.
The amount of powdered spice needed to reach a therapeutic level in the body of a dog is much higher than what is used in cooking. It’s when people give dogs therapeutic amounts that we start to see problems.
Diarrhea is the most common side effect of therapeutic doses. But some dogs have no problem with it. Higher doses of the dried root may be more likely to cause loose stools than moderate doses of curcumin supplements.
This supplement can cause gastrointestinal ulcers at high dosages. Please don’t try it if your dog has a history of ulcers or stomach hyperacidity. I would also be very hesitant to use it even if your dog has a “sensitive stomach.”
Kidney and Bladder Trouble
Humans taking turmeric supplements sometimes develop high oxalate levels. This can lead to the formation of bladder and kidney stones. We don’t have information that the same applies to dogs, but if you have a dog who is at risk for forming stones, be extra cautious.
Abnormal Blood Clotting
Blood clotting abnormalities have been documented in mice (9). Turmeric’s anti-coagulant properties could theoretically be helpful in certain diseases, but for most animals, increases in bleeding time are not helpful.
In reality, absorption is so poor that it’s unlikely you’ll see clotting abnormalities in a dog taking recommended dosages.
However, if your dog needs to have any kind of surgery, it’s a good idea to inform your vet about any supplements your dog is taking.
Although rare, allergic reactions have been reported. Allergic reactions can happen when it is taken orally or applied to the skin.
If you notice redness or inflammation in areas of your dog’s skin where you’ve applied it, stop using it and have your vet take a look. Allergic reactions from taking the supplement orally could cause GI upset or could be more severe causing collapse and shock.
How to Give Turmeric to Your Dog
There are many ways to get turmeric into your dog. The simplest is to add the dried powder to her food. Some people prefer to make a paste with coconut oil and pepper to increase absorption.
As I mentioned earlier, I recommend using a supplement that has the refined fraction combined with ingredients to make it more absorbable.
You will find tablets, capsules and soft chews for dogs. There is something to suit just about every dogs’ preference.
Correct Dosage for Dogs
You may mix the powdered spice in your dog’s food in its whole form. Look for organic turmeric from a trusted source like this one from Starwest Botanicals.
I’m going to give you a dosing range recommended by veterinary herbalists.
It’s always a good idea to start with less than the recommended amount and work your way up.
Watch your dog’s stool and appetite and if you notice any changes, stop giving her the supplement immediately. Consult your vet if diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours or you notice more serious symptoms.
The recommended amount has a wide range, but 300 mg (about a teaspoon) per 10 pounds of body weight is a good starting place.
Researchers have used much larger amounts. But I seriously doubt any dog would be willing to eat that much mixed into his food. If he did, I bet he’d get a bad case of diarrhea!
Turmeric Dosage Chart for Dogs
Size/Weight of Dog in Pounds
Dose of Turmeric Powder per Day*
Small Dog 2-10 lb.
Medium Dog 11-40 lb.
1-2 1/2 teaspoons
Large Dog 41-70 lb.
2 1/2-4 teaspoons
Extra Large Dog 71-100+ lb.
*Start with less than recommended and build up to full dose gradually.
Give your dog’s daily dose with a fresh grind or two of black pepper and make sure to combine it with fat-containing food (regular dog food is fine) for better absorption.
Start with a tiny amount and build up to the full dose over time so your dog doesn’t get turned off by the odor and flavor. This will also allow you to gauge your dog’s GI tolerance for the supplement.
I’ve used turmeric powder as part of my dog’s diet for years. They seem to really like it, but then they’re used to eating lots of different things so your mileage may vary.
If your dog is picky, start with a very small amount and work your way up. You could also try putting the powder into gelatin capsules to hide the flavor.
My advice? If your dog stops eating because of something you’re giving as an experiment, it’s simply not worth it. Eating nutritious food regularly is more important to your dog’s health than any supplement.
Is Turmeric Paste Any Good?
Golden Turmeric Paste is a popular internet recipe for dogs made from coconut oil, black pepper and turmeric. Although it sounds rather delicious, the amount of biologically active compounds contained in an average oral dose of “golden paste” is probably too small to really benefit your dog.
I also worry about giving a big bite of coconut oil since so many dogs are sensitive to dietary fat.
I’d rather have you mix the dried powder with black pepper and normal dog food. The fat already present in the food will help increase absorption without adding coconut oil.
However, using Golden Turmeric Paste topically on inflamed skin lesions, ruptured cysts and tumors could help speed healing. You just need to make sure your dog doesn’t lick the paste off, so use an e-collar if necessary!
If you’re able to get Jing Tang Herbal’s Golden Yellow Salve, I would recommend that over Golden Paste for topical treatment of skin wounds, inflamed cysts and tumors. Contact a veterinarian who uses Chinese herbs and ask if they can order it for you.
Better Absorption Through Science
Turmeric has tremendous potential as a therapeutic agent. The problem is that it’s unstable and very poorly absorbed in the body (10). That makes it hard to reach the concentrations in live animals needed to get the same benefits seen in laboratory cell cultures.
The best level of bioavailability is found when using an IV injection of liposomal curcumin. But studies using an injectable form found it still failed to reach a therapeutic concentration in living tissues.
Scientists are still working to figure out a way to harness the power of this traditional medicine. They want to find a way to make it more stable and more absorbable.
Combining curcumin with oils and piperine (or BioPerine) from black pepper increases absorption. Over the counter supplements often have a combination of these ingredients.
Another method to make it more absorbable is to combine it with phosphatidylcholine, a natural substance that occurs in cell membranes. The trade name for the curcumin and phosphatidyl combination is Meriva®.
Are Curcumin Supplements Better?
I recommend using a curcumin supplement instead of the whole root form. For one thing, the active ingredient is more concentrated so it may be less likely to cause diarrhea.
Another advantage is that most curcumin supplements are combined with ingredients to make them more bioavailable, as mentioned earlier.
High-quality supplements are well-standardized so you know how much of the active compound your dog is getting. I’ve heard reports from other veterinarians that some sources of dried turmeric root include other substances or don’t have the potency claimed on the label.
The drawback to using a refined supplement is that your dog may miss out on potential positive effects from other natural substances present in the whole root form.
Vet Recommended Turmeric/Curcumin Supplements for Dogs
I recommend using supplements made specifically for dogs. That way you won’t have to try to calculate dosage and if you have trouble with the product, you can consult the manufacturer. All of these supplements can be found on Amazon.com by clicking the links below.
RxVitaminsCurcuWIN comes as a chewable tablet. It doesn’t contain other anti-inflammatories and it is much more absorbable than regular spice powder.
Is Turmeric Good for Dogs? The Bottom Line
Turmeric has potential benefits for dogs. It has been used for eons in traditional medicine to treat inflammatory conditions. We now have scientific evidence that provides support for its use in humans and animals.
Its low absorbability is the biggest challenge to realizing therapeutic effects. Using more absorbable forms like curcumin with BioPerine will increase the health benefits for your dog.
Editor’s Note: NaturalPetsHQ.com is supported by readers and may receive commissions for purchases made through links in this post. Recommendations are based on personal experience and criteria outlined in the article.
Digestive tract upsets are one of the most common reasons dogs visit veterinary clinics. I frequently prescribe probiotic supplements to help dogs recover.
My clients often say, “Can I give my dog human probiotics? I already have some for myself.” My answer is: Yes! You can give dogs probiotic supplements made for humans. The organisms used in most formulations for people are similar to those in veterinary-specific products. However, supplements made for humans might not be the best choice.
I recommend Culturelle (click for link to Amazon) as a good human-grade probiotic that is safe to use for dogs. It’s the most extensively tested product for humans. Culturelle has been recommended by veterinary internal medicine specialists for many years.
Probiotics for Dogs are Live Bacteria
Probiotics are live microbial food ingredients designed to improve the dog’s healthy gut bacteria balance. They do this by increasing the good bacteria and decreasing the bad/pathogenic bacteria.
The microbes used in probiotic supplements are healthy bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Enterococcus and Saccharomyces.
A dog’s gut naturally has these organisms in varying numbers. It’s unknown exactly how a probiotic bacterium benefits health, but some theories are that
Beneficial bacteria help crowd out pathogenic harmful bacteria.
Good bacteria reduce bacterial translocation (bad bacteria moving outside of the gastrointestinal tract to other parts of the body).
Probiotics produce beneficial antimicrobial products that limit the growth of bad bacteria.
Probiotics Benefit Many Dog Health Issues
There is little information to prove the efficacy of probiotics for most diseases. Researchers believe the following conditions may benefit:
Atopic dermatitis (skin allergy) (9)
Mastitis in cows (12)
Dental disease (8)
Inflammatory bowel disease (5)
Listeriosis in mice (3)
Salmonellosis in pigs (2)
Urinary tract infections (13)
Vaginal infections (4)
Probiotics may have a positive influence on clearing any disease that involves inflammation. Beneficial bacteria influence the immune system and decrease inflammatory chemicals in the body.
A dog’s gut is home to the largest part of his immune system and that’s where probiotics work!
These studies used different strains of bacteria to treat different diseases in various species. It’s hard to say which bacterial and fungal organisms work best to treat dermatitis vs. which is best to treat colitis, etc. All we know is that in these studies, the formula used had a good effect on the disease.
This is important to remember whether you give your dog human probiotics or a dog probiotic. If one formula doesn’t work, a different one still might. Products made specifically for dogs have been tested on dogs, and have proven safe and effective in treating disease.
What Makes a Good Probiotic for Dogs?
There are a few preliminary studies on the normal flora present in pet species and a few other studies showing that probiotics are beneficial to the treatment of several diseases in dogs.
However, at the time of publishing, no one knows the exact dosage or perfect dog probiotic combination.
Number of CFU’s
Researchers believe that a dog must ingest a high enough dose (measured in colony-forming units of live bacteria, or CFU’s) of beneficial bacteria that some will survive long enough to colonize the dog’s gut.
A larger number of CFU’s in a probiotic is usually better than a smaller number, but it may depend on the disease you’re treating. Younger animals may need a higher number of CFU’s to benefit.
Most products contain between 100 million to 100 billion CFU’s per dose.
Multiple Bacterial Strains
The inclusion of multiple bacterial species may be better since there is more chance that at least one will be able to colonize the gut. However, there is some concern that using too many species may antagonize each other.
Prebiotic substances may increase the efficacy of probiotics. These non-digestible food ingredients, usually plant fiber, promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.
In short, natural substances like act as food for beneficial bacteria and may help them survive longer in the GI tract.
Time and Temperature Stability
Some products are sold from refrigerators and others are just sold at room temperature. Refrigerated products are more fragile and more likely to breakdown before they are used.
The organisms in non-refrigerated products are alive but are in a dormant state until they’re administered to the animal. These shelf-stable products should still be handled with care, avoiding exposure to high temperatures or prolonged storage (look for an expiration date on the package).
Probiotic supplements are not classified as drugs and so there is very little regulation of the product.
Just because the label says it contains 15 strains of bacteria with a dosage of 40 billion CFU’s, it ain’t necessarily so. Independent testing has shown many don’t contain what the label claims.
The products I discuss here are made by companies that have a history of good, documented quality control.
Best Human-Grade Probiotics for Dogs
For people asking, “Can I give my dog human probiotics?” the answer is: yes, you can. If you’re planning on giving your dog a supplement made for humans, use the criteria listed above to evaluate them.
Here are the products made for people that I recommend for dogs:
Culturelle® is one of the most widely studied and recommended probiotics for humans but has also been used extensively for pets. The company has several different formulations but this article covers only the Adult Digestive Health Daily capsules.
Culturelle® is probably the most recognized, trusted brand for humans that can be used for dogs. The other great thing is that it’s sold in most grocery stores and pharmacies.
VSL #3® is a high-potency supplement that has been tested on animals. The manufacturer has come under scrutiny in recent years for having an altered formulation from the original one that was tested extensively.
1/2 capsule once a day for 10 lb. and under, 1 capsule once a day for over 10 lb.
1/2 capsule per 10 lbs. of body weight per day.
Readily available in stores and online, low price, extensive research for use in humans and dogs.
High-potency, extensive research for use in humans and some in dogs.
Contains only one bacterial strain.
Higher price than other options, the high-potency product should be given with veterinary supervision.
Best Veterinary Probiotics for Dogs
There are many pet probiotic supplements on the market. They may be fine, but without the support of clinical trials and quality assurance, you don’t know what you’re getting. Here are two of the best products for dogs I use and recommend to my clients:
Proviable® is a veterinary-specific supplement. Testing in dogs and cats shows it is effective in treating diarrhea. You can buy Proviable®-DC capsules in a 30 or 80 capsule package, which makes it ideal for long-term treatment of chronic health issues.
This is the product I recommend most often for my patients. It’s readily available, affordable, easy to administer, contains a moderate number of multiple bacterial species, and includes prebiotics.
For firming up loose stool fast, I recommend the Proviable® KP Kit with a kaolin-containing paste plus 10 capsules. It comes with a tube of paste you give orally two to three times a day for a day or two to quickly firm up loose stools.
You can give the capsules to your dog whole or sprinkle the powder onto their food. The capsules are tiny and the powder inside seems to be flavorless so they’re super easy to give to dogs.
Another reason I love these products is that Proviable’s manufacturer, Nutramax, has a track record of good quality control.
Purina® Pro Plan® FortiFlora®
FortiFlora® is another widely used veterinary-specific supplement. It has been tested in animals and proven to help with certain types of diarrhea.
The best thing about it is that dogs seem to LOVE the flavor of it. I’ve actually recommended it as a food topper to get finicky dogs to eat!
Since it only contains a relatively small amount of one species of bacteria, it might not be as useful for treating other conditions besides gastrointestinal problems.
Multiple bacterial strains, some clinical research to support efficacy, supported byclinical trials and recommended by veterinary internal medicine specialists, affordable price.
Dogs love the flavor (don’t believe the internet hype that says “animal digest is toxic”), clinical trials show positive effects for GI issues, FortiFlora.
Not flavored, fewer CFU’s than high-potency products.
Only 100 million CFU’s per dose, only one bacterium strain, higher-priced than alternatives.
Does Your Dog Need Probiotics?
As a veterinarian, I prescribe probiotics most often to dogs with gastrointestinal problems. I’ve also recommended it for dogs with chronic skin, ear and vaginal infections.
I’ve seen the best results when using these beneficial bacteria for GI problems. Other issues have responded less impressively in my experience.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to give a trial of supplements to your dog. If you haven’t seen much improvement after a month or two, it’s not likely to work even if you give it longer.
I don’t recommend the routine use of probiotics for my healthy dog patients.
Can I Feed My Dog Yogurt, Kefir or Fermented Foods?
While fermented foods are not necessarily toxic to dogs, it is hard to feed them enough to treat an acute GI upset with beneficial bacteria.
Fermented foods are natural sources of beneficial bacteria. These include yogurt, kefir, Yakult, Kim Chi, and Sauerkraut.
The number of bacteria that occur naturally in fermented foods is relatively low compared to probiotic supplements. Since digestive enzymes destroy many of these bacteria before they reach the intestine, a lower starting number is not favorable.
Studies suggest that humans need 10 billion CFUs per serving of yogurt in order to see a benefit for GI problems (11). Yogurt usually contains about 1 billion CFUs per serving. So you’d need to eat 10 servings of yogurt to get a good dose of healthy bacteria. That amount of yogurt would be way too much for most dogs!
The other thing is that fermented foods can cause problems for dogs on their own. Dairy can cause diarrhea for many dogs, especially if you feed them a lot. Kim Chi and Sauerkraut have strong flavors many dogs don’t like. Plus they have a lot of fiber that can cause GI upset for some dogs.
Dog food manufacturers have started adding probiotics to dog food. It’s hard to say if your dog will experience any benefits from eating one of these foods since we don’t have good studies showing efficacy.
I’m doubtful that adding 600 million CFUs of Bacillus coagulans per pound would be enough to help an acute digestive problem. It’s possible that long-term feeding of this sort of food would strengthen a dog’s immune system, but we don’t have clinical proof of that.
If you want to treat a problem with probiotics, I would recommend a supplement rather than relying on one of these foods.
How to Give Probiotic Supplements to Your Dog
I find most dogs will take the small amount of powder from a capsule just fine when you sprinkle it over their food. The powder is generally flavorless so it’s barely noticed.
If you have an extremely picky dog, you could try hiding a capsule in peanut butter or a small amount of meat or cheese. Some people swear by Pill Pockets for administering medicattions to their pets.
For dogs who refuse both these techniques, look for a flavored powder like FortiFlora to sprinkle on his food. Proviable also comes in a chewable pill so your dog will think it’s a treat instead of medication.
Be sure to follow youor vet’s directions if they’ve prescribed it or follow the directions on the package if you’ve bought the product on your own. Usually the product is given once a day for one to two weeks.
Can Dogs Take Probiotics With Antibiotics?
It’s OK to give your dog probiotics while he is also taking antibiotics. There is some risk that some of the beneficial organisms could be killed by the antibiotic medication.
To avoid this, give the supplement about 4 hours apart from when you give the antibiotic. Probiotics are not known to have interactions with other medications.
How Long Should You Give Your Dog Probiotics?
Purchase a fresh product and store it as directed on the label. Make sure to check the product’s expiration date and discard it after that. In most cases, I recommend these supplements be used for a minimum of 2 weeks.
Most dogs with chronic health issues like skin allergies, urinary tract inflammation, and chronic loose stools benefit from taking the supplement for 30-90 days. Dogs with acute diarrhea probably only need to take probiotics for 7 to 10 days.
How Long Does It Take Probiotics to Work in Dogs?
Acute diarrhea is one of the most common problems vets recommend probiotics to treat. In most mild to moderate cases, you should see improvement within a day or two.
Other chronic diseases such as skin allergies and inflammatory bowel disease are expected to take longer to respond to probiotics. One study found dogs with kidney disease had improved kidney function after two months of taking VSL #3® supplement (9).
Side Effects of Probiotics in Dogs
Probiotics rarely cause side effects in dogs. Dogs with serious illness and immune-system abnormalities may be more at risk. Side effects could include:
Whole-body infection (theoretical, never documented in dogs)
Can a Dog Overdose on Probiotics?
If your dog gets in to the whole supply of probiotics and has a feast he might get an upset stomach and runny poops for a few days. Call your vet if he stops eating or has severe symptoms.
This is something to consider if you’re using chewable tablets or flavored powder. Your dog might not realize it’s medicine and think it’s a treat! Keep all medications locked away where mischievous pups can’t steal them.
Probiotic supplements contain live microbial food ingredients designed to improve a dog’s intestinal microbial balance.
Probiotics may improve many health conditions, but we need more research to know how best to use them.
Higher numbers of CFU’s, multiple strains of healthy bacteria, presence of prebiotics, and good quality control are criteria to remember when evaluation probiotic supplements.
Serious side effects from probiotic supplements are uncommon when used in relatively healthy dogs. Use caution and get guidance from your vet before giving probiotics to seriously ill dogs or those with immune system abnormalities.
You can give your dog probiotics made for people but use caution when choosing a product. Ask your vet for guidance, especially if your dog is very young, old or suffering from a serious illness.
NaturalPetsHQ.com is written and run by me, TB Thompson DVM, a licensed veterinarian. My goal is to provide options for people who love their pets as much as I love mine.
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