QUESTION: Our three-year-old Labrador, Rupert, has recently been diagnosed with colitis, and we've been told that it could recur. Can you suggest any holistic solutions?
G.L., via email
ANSWER: Colitis is inflammation of the colon that reduces its ability to absorb water and store feces. It's a very common cause of diarrhea in dogs and cats, and is often a recurring problem.
Colitis can be caused by an infection (from bacteria, for example) or it can be dietary. If your dog is allergic to the protein in his food or has eaten some sort of abrasive material or foreign body like bones, colitis can occur.
Boxers are prone to a type of colitis called histiocytic ulcerative colitis, which usually develops by the time the dog is two years old. Colitis can also be a symptom of chronic pancreatitis in cats and dogs.
Besides diarrhea, colitis can cause vomiting, increased bowel movements and straining while defecating. Dogs tend to have chronic diarrhea with mucus and blood, while cats will have solid but blood-stained feces.
Checking if your dog has the typical symptoms and a history of scavenging or eating things he shouldn't is usually enough for your vet to arrive at a colitis diagnosis. However, they will have to differentiate between colitis and the possibility of cancers with similar symptoms, like lymphoma and adenocarcinoma.
Your vet will also check for polyps in the colon and intussusceptions, the inversion of one part of the intestine into another. Other tests, such as blood tests, stool tests, biopsies, ultrasound and X-rays, might be needed depending on the symptoms and the suspected cause.
Pets with mild colitis are usually treated as outpatients, but if your pet has passed a lot of blood or become dehydrated, he may be admitted for blood tests and fluid therapy.
Antimicrobial therapy may be needed if tests confirm giardia, salmonella, histoplasma or campylobacter infection.
If your vet thinks the colitis is of inflammatory origin or immune mediated, anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids may be prescribed. Motility modifiers may be added to stop the diarrhea and help the formation of normal feces.
Surgery is only needed in cases of cancer, foreign bodies or intussusception.
Holistic vets believe that it is possible to control colitis by strengthening the immune system, gut, liver and pancreas. Here are some natural solutions to try.
A hypoallergenic diet
Addressing the diet is an important first step, as sensitivity to certain foods is a common cause of colitis.
If Rupert has mild colitis, fasting for 24-48 hours may be enough. But to help prevent the problem from happening again, you can also try a hypoallergenic prescription diet containing a novel protein that your pet has not been exposed to. Ask your vet for the best options.
Alternatively, consider a homemade diet low in fat and oils, consisting of meat like chicken or turkey and grains like brown rice or millet. There are also lots of high-quality hypoallergenic commercial diets made with natural ingredients now available, from brands such as Applaws, Castor & Pollux, Natural Planet, Darwin's Natural and Lily's Kitchen, that are ideal for dogs with food intolerances.
Also make sure you monitor Rupert carefully to ensure he's not eating anything he shouldn't.
You can supplement Rupert's fiber intake by adding some bran or psyllium to his diet. This can help bulk up the feces. Flax is another good option. See page 55 for a recipe for flaxseed, chamomile and honey biscuits, which you can feed as treats.
Feeding Rupert 1-3 teaspoons of natural, organic live-culture yogurt every day can help to replenish beneficial bacteria in the gut. Or try adding a probiotic paste (like Pro-Kolin or Pro-Pectalin) or powder supplement (like Dr Mercola's Complete Probiotics for Cats and Dogs) to his food.
Adding digestive enzymes to Rupert's diet will help to decrease the workload of the pancreas, allowing it to be more efficient. Try Paw-gest Digestive Enzymes by Glacier Peak Holistics, which is suitable for both cats and dogs.
Supplements of this amino acid can help rebuild the lining of the large intestine, which may be damaged in colitis.
Suggested dosage: 500 mg twice daily
Bentonite, zeolite or montmorillonite clay can absorb harmful toxins in the gut and stop the vomiting and diarrhea associated with colitis. These crystals form naturally when volcanic rocks and ash layers react with alkaline ground water. As the micronized form is negatively charged, the clay acts like a magnet in the blood stream and attracts positively charged heavy metals and other pollutants. It is 100 percent nontoxic.
Gastrex and Cholacol II are two products that contain bentonite clay. Or try Clinoptilolite from Glacier Peak Holistics; it detoxifies, removes heavy metals, stimulates the immune system and enhances food conversion to aid digestion. It's best given once daily, mixed with water or broth. Note that this product mustn't be given within two hours of any medication as it can flush it out with the toxins.
Suggested dosage: Gastrex or Cholacol II: for dogs under 20 lb (9 kg), give half a capsule twice daily; for those 20-50 lb (9-23 kg), 1 capsule twice daily; over 50 lb (23 kg), 2-3 capsules twice daily. Clinoptilolite: for dogs under 24 lb (10 kg), just a sprinkle; 24-50 lb (10-23 kg), give ¼ tsp; over 50 lb (23 kg), ½ tsp
According to homeopath Dr Francis Hunter, Nux vomica 6c given 1-3 times daily is an excellent remedy for colitis and can treat the condition just by itself. You can mix 20 drops of it in 1 oz (30 mL) of spring water and give your pet half a dropperful.
This ancient Chinese technique can be beneficial for dogs with colitis, and it's something you can learn to do yourself. The point ST 36, located just below the knee on the outside of the hind limbs, is the master point for gastrointestinal upset, and pressing this point gently for 30 seconds once a day can relieve discomfort and stimulate the gut. See my book You Can Heal Your Pet for detailed instructions on how to give acupressure to your pet.
A variety of herbs can be helpful for colitis, including:
Echinacea and goldenseal, which can boost the immune system. Try Nature's Answer for pet-friendly formulas.
Suggested dosage: Follow the label instructions Peak Immune from Glacier Peak Holistics is another good immunity-boosting option. It's a proprietary blend of 100 percent organic herbs including astragalus root, oatstraw green tops, Echinacea angustifolia root, eleuthero root and alfalfa herb that's available as a tincture or powder.
Suggested dosage: Use four times a year as a preventative or as a 10-day course when symptoms strike. Follow the dosing instructions on the label
Milk thistle can help strengthen the liver. Pet-friendly formulas are available online from companies like Dorwest, or ask your vet.
Suggested dosage: Follow the label instructions
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) is a Western herb that is cooling and soothing to the intestinal mucosa. The powder can be mixed with a small amount of food. If mixed in water, it should be given immediately, or it can get too sticky with time. Give 20 minutes before meals and at bedtime for best results.
Suggested dosage: Cats and small dogs: ¼ tsp three times daily; medium dogs: ½ to ¾ tsp three times daily; large dogs: ¾ to 1 tsp three times daily
If your pet has painful spasmodic colitis, using a nebulizer with a mix of essential oils like basil, chamomile, thyme and peppermint can be beneficial. Simply let your pet breathe in the fragrance.
The color red is thought to stabilize the immune system, so using red-colored bedding or lighting may help your pet with colitis.
Chamomile & honey biscuits
4 Tbsp cold chamomile tea (steep two chamomile teabags in a cup of boiling water, then cool)
1 cup milled flaxseed (linseed) meal
1 cup self-rising flour
1 free-range egg
2 Tbsp chamomile-infused honey (add a bundle of chamomile flowers to honey and leave to infuse for a week before removing the bundle)
1 Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C.
2 Grease an 8×11 inch (20×29 cm) baking sheet.
3 Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl to form a soft dough.
4 Spread mixture a half-inch (1 cm) deep on the baking tray.
5 Bake for 25-30 minutes until just firm.
6 Remove from the oven and let cool, then cut into bite-sized squares.
7 Keep in an airtight, labeled container in the fridge for up to five days or freeze for up to one
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com