Spring is here and with the warmer temperatures we also start to see many dogs that either are vomiting, have diarrhea or both. A few years ago I think I figured out why we seem to see this epidemic of GI problems in the spring. My theory is that all the birds, mice, chipmunks and anything else that has died over the winter in addition to various other animal feces that had been frozen for the winter is now thawed.

For many dogs this is just a treat they can’t resist! Many times these tasty little treats are badly decomposed and contain many different forms of pathogenic bacteria. Also, all of the ponds and lakes thaw and dogs start drinking out of them again. Finally, there are several diseases that affect puppies and are more easily transmitted between dogs in the spring when they are outside and mingling with other dogs more

Most of the time the first thing that you will notice is vomiting, diarrhea or both. This usually occurs within 6-24 hours of ingestion of the contaminated material. Sometimes the dog just vomits the material up and that is the end of it. Unfortunately, what usually happens is the dog vomits at first and then begins to have runny, watery and sometimes bloody diarrhea. At this point it is a good idea to get your four- legged friend to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

When a dog is vomiting he isn’t able to keep anything like water or food down long enough for it to be absorbed. When he is simultaneously having diarrhea, he can become severely dehydrated very quickly. Puppies can even be more quickly and severely affected as they have little reserves of fat to call on when they can’t eat. Dehydration can lead to kidney failure and death very quickly if left untreated.

Diarrhea in dogs can be caused by many different types of bacteria, several different types of parasites and several types of viruses, some of which can be fatal. Besides eating putrefied remains and feces, dogs drinking from puddles, ponds and streams can get organisms that can cause diarrhea.

One of the parasites that commonly causes diarrhea is call Giardia. It is also known as “beaver fever” and is the reason that you are told not to drink the water from lakes and rivers when you are camping. While not all dogs that drink from these sources will get sick, some may and occasionally it can lead to severe and even life-threatening diarrhea and vomiting. There was a vaccine for the prevention of Giardia but in my experience it didn’t work very well and has been taken off the market.

Giardia can be prevented by commercial filters used for camping or drinking only bottled or tap water. With some dogs though, it is impossible to prevent ingestion as they are swimming dogs and will be ingesting the water no matter what. In these cases I recommend just monitoring your dog. As I said, most dogs will not have any problems.

In puppies there is a virus called Parvovirus that can cause severe diarrhea, vomiting and even death very quickly. Fortunately, Parvo is a very preventable disease and is one of the core vaccines that all puppies should get every 3-4 weeks beginning at about 6-8 weeks of age and continuing until they are 16-20 weeks old. Regardless of the pups vaccine status, if your puppy begins having any of these symptoms, get him to your veterinarian immediately. As I said, puppies have very little reserves and can get very sick, very fast.

Treatment for any of these diseases will depend on what your veterinarian finds when they examine your dog and as well as examining a fecal sample. Many times all that is needed is antibiotics or an anti-parasitic for mild to moderate cases. In more severe cases where there is dehydration and severe vomiting and diarrhea, the dog may need to be hospitalized and given intravenous fluids, injections of antibiotics and anti-nausea medications.

Prevention of these infections can be as simple as a vaccine for Parvovirus but can be more problematic in some dogs that insist on eating anything they find on the ground or drinking out of every puddle or pond they come across. I have several patients that, unfortunately, need to wear a basket muzzle every time they go outdoors because they will eat anything they find and become sick almost every time. One owner tells me that whenever her dog is in the woods he comes back with the basket muzzle packed with dirt and leaves!

Cats can also have most of these same problems but fortunately cats seem to have them less often. I think it is because its true what they say about cats being finicky eaters.

While not every dog is going to get sick every time it eats something off the ground, many will and when it’s diarrhea and vomiting it is no fun for the dog and no fun for the cleaning crew! If your dog is showing these symptoms it is VERY important to get them to your veterinarian as soon as possible and you can speed the diagnosis and become one of your vet’s favorite clients if you bring a fresh fecal sample along with you.