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Matthew Sisk: Diarrhea first sign of many diseases
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I’m sure you have an idea of what this is, but I’m going to ask anyway. What does diarrhea mean?

An increase in volume or frequency of bowel movements is a commonly used definition.

But do you know what it means? Well, that’s sort of a messy matter.

You see, diarrhea is a common problem in dogs and cats. But it is a sign, not a distinct disease.

The gastrointestinal tract is very sensitive, and often is a first sign for various diseases. Knowing the root cause of the diarrhea is essential in treating it effectively.

For example, if you have a dog that raided the trash can immediately after a holiday meal, you might expect some level of intestinal irritation. The richness of human foods, especially the yummy stuff we eat around the holidays, can wreak havoc on the gut.

Inflammation by definition impairs function. A sprained ankle won’t let you run the way a healthy ankle will. Similarly, an inflamed colon won’t let you go about your business in a normal fashion.

But that same dietary indiscretion can give diarrhea via inflammation of the pancreas. Often vomiting is present as well, but not every time. In general, pancreatitis is more serious than just transient diet-induced colitis.

Then you have the various intestinal parasites and infections that can disrupt function and related carpet disasters. These are common in younger animals, but can occur at any age.

Stress is another source of impaired gut function. If a bad day at work has ever upset your belly, you understand. Typically, pets don’t act deathly sick, but you never know.

Some dogs with out-of-control diabetes will first have diarrhea. Some cats in end stage kidney failure will show their first sign as diarrhea.

So if your pet shows you this sign, don’t assume it will pass, but don’t assume the worst.

Instead, indulge your curiosity and concern. Get them checked out. It might be nothing, but it might be a chance to save a life.

Dehydration can kill regardless of cause.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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