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Vomiting and diarrhea: these two ailments, together or separately are representative of probably the most common physical ailment we see in dogs, gastroenteritis. Very few dogs go through their entire life without at least one bout of an upset stomach or intestinal tract. The most common causes are what we call "dietary indiscretion," viral or bacterial infections, parasites, or autoimmune diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

Of these major categories, dietary indiscretion is the most common, especially in Labrador Retrievers. As most of you know, a Labrador has never met anything too smelly, rotten or gross to at least TRY to ingest it. Things that we probably wouldn't even want to touch, many dogs would fight each other over. They don't realize at the time that this could make them ill; their instinct says "eat first, worry about the side effects later." Luckily, most of these dogs have very strong constitutions, and the majority of vomiting/diarrhea episodes are short lived and non life threatening. A day or two off their regular diet and on to a bland intestinal diet combined with medication to soothe the intestinal tract is often enough to get them back to normal. However, severe inflammation, infections, blockages and death can occur from dietary indiscretions.

Serious viral and parasitic infections usually affect the young and old more severely. Vaccinations and monthly deworming medications can keep these ailments to a minimum. IBD is a disease that can cause chronic, intermittent vomiting and diarrhea. It is often caused by an overreaction by the lining of the intestinal tract to bacteria, food products and other contents of ingested materials. If clinical signs of gastroenteritis continue despite good treatment from your veterinarian and control of what the dog is eating, your dog may have IBD. This is a treatable disease, but may require a more aggressive diagnostic work-up by your veterinarian including endoscopy to look for the cause.

The first thing to do when your dog has an episode of vomiting or diarrhea is to assess how severe it is. If your dog has repeated, uncontrollable episodes, with or without blood, or seems lethargic or depressed, you should seek veterinary care immediately. If it's less severe, simply withhold food and water for up to 8-12 hours and watch for further signs. As mentioned before, when you reintroduce food, you should consider using a bland diet designed at first specifically designed for gastroenteritis. Your local vet can help you choose a diet that will help you dog get back to being healthy as fast as possible.