Is there a trip to the vet in Monty's future?
August 23, 2009 9:32 AM   Subscribe

[Dogfilter] Our dog has periodic (sometimes as often as 2x/week) phases when his appetite vanishes and his belly makes gurgling noises, suggesting indigestion. Is this normal? What should we do? Further details and

I've had at least one dog at a time all my life, but these doggy losses of appetite happen far more frequently than I've ever seen before and so we're getting worried.

Monty is an 8 year old show-bred Westie that we've had since he was eight weeks old. He has been on Flint River Ranch kibble, a human-grade mail order food, since he was a year old. Twice a day, he is given some kibble topped with cheese or leftover meat. Monty is not what I would consider a finicky eater.

His weight is usually good; he's never scrawny but is rarely more than a pound over his ideal weight.

When he goes through his periods of "indigestion" and won't eat, he's still pretty active. Not as much as normal, but he doesn't become a couch potato either. When it clears up, usually after no more than a day, it's obvious that he is feeling better: he clamors for his meals and is more insistent about initiating a playtime.

We've never noticed any pattern to these periods, though. They don't seem to be linked to any specific food, volume of treats, amount or type of activity, etc.

A few other, potentially relevant facts: We have a fenced yard and he never comes into contact with other pets. He does, however, work as a therapy dog and visits patients at a VA medical center and nursing home every week. His health is excellent (no known genetic diseases, and he visits the vet regularly). The only meds he takes are his monthly (seasonal) heartworm chewable and a daily essential fatty acid capsule. Under even the best of circumstances, his stools tend to be soft.

So, MeFites, what do you suggest? Should we take this in stride and stop worrying? Should we change kibble? Stop giving him any treats? Consult the vet without delay?
posted by DrGail to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Try cutting out the cheese. He could be having difficulty digesting it.
posted by Solomon at 9:46 AM on August 23, 2009

How long has this been going on? A similar problem in our dog (a Cairn, incidentally, cousin to your Westie) was an indication of a parasite he had picked up from somewhere (hookworm, IIRC). Once spotted it was quickly and easily cured. I'd say a trip to the vet is in order just to be sure, but then again my dog loves our vet, as do I, and he's very cheap, so that's sort of the default option for us.
posted by The Bellman at 10:18 AM on August 23, 2009

It's probably worth your while to rule out an intestinal parasite. It shouldn't even require taking him to the vet. Just run a quick stool sample up to your vet and ask them for a fecal float test. You don't need to take much up there, just about the size of a penny or so. The fresher, the better, but no more than 24 hours old. Old pill containers make great transporters. If your vet isn't terribly busy, it shouldn't take more than about 15 minutes for them to run the test and look at the results under a microscope. You may want to call first to see how long of a wait there will be.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:47 AM on August 23, 2009

Once you've visited the vet, I'd recommend giving the pooch a spoon or two of yogurt each day. We've got a couple of bulldogs, which are known for thair gastronomic issues. One of them was having an issue with rotten egg burps, but the yogurt cleared that up. Just plain, plain, plain yogurt. (And no more cheese!)
posted by azpenguin at 11:29 AM on August 23, 2009

In general, Westies enter old age at about 7 years. At 8, you should get your little man a full physical with a blood panel / fecal analysis / urinalysis if he hasn't had one in the last year.

Checking for parasites is a great idea, but their presence is usually accompanied by diarrhea, which you haven't mentioned.

Bear in mind that when your dog is only 15-20lbs, a fluctuation of 1-2lbs is significant. As dogs age, they tend to be less active. Extra weight will cause a great deal of stress on the organs of an elderly dog.

You've been feeding Flint River Ranch since he was 8 weeks old, but he's a senior citizen now and his nutritional requirements and digestion has changed. Older Westies can get heart, liver or kidney disease. If Monty has or is developing any health issues, his diet should be changed to reflect that. He may need a lower protein food, or a low-salt food. Consult with your vet.

Also, I noticed that the second ingredient in FRR kibble is whole wheat flour. Many dogs do not digest wheat easily, and many have dietary allergies to wheat. Dogs are carnivores; wheat is not ideal.

Dog food analysis is a great website with information about the ingredients and nutritional content of different dog food brands. Most of the dog people I know feed Taste of the Wild, an excellent grain-free food. Many others feed their dogs Canidae, which has a senior Platinum formula.

Get Monty his checkup with bloodwork and go from there.
posted by Seppaku at 11:37 AM on August 23, 2009

My dog was like this - he was never a big eater, and would often go off his food for a few days from time to time. My vet told me not to worry about it unless he stopped drinking water and going to the bathroom, or if these episodes lasted longer than a week. In the wild, dogs would not eat every day - feeding them twice a day isn't really how their bodies are built, drops in appetite aren't a big deal unless there's an obvious sign that something else is wrong.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:45 AM on August 23, 2009

You have raised points we hadn't considered, and we're very grateful for any and all ideas!

The Bellman & Ufez Jones: This periodic indigestion has really been going on for a number of years (although it seems to have become more frequent lately, prompting our concern). Since Monty has annual fecal exams to keep his therapy dog certification current, I suspect that an undetected intestinal parasite is unlikely.

Solomon: Your suggestion about cheese seems promising, though, so we'll take Monty off all dairy products for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference.

Seppaku: I'm horrified to think of Monty as old! Middle-aged, perhaps? His weight really is pretty good, according to our vet. His ribs are palpable and have only very minimal padding on them, so I think we're fine there. The dog food issue looks worth pursuing to see if it makes a difference, especially since (now that I think about it) he usually turns down bread, crackers, and anything else with wheat in it.

I'm starting to get a sense from your comments that the dietary issues -- especially cheese and wheat-based kibble -- may be causing the loose stools and the periodic indigestion is just a more acute indicator of the same problem.
posted by DrGail at 11:50 AM on August 23, 2009

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