A gastric ulcer is an erosion of the stomach mucosa that has the appearance of a circumscribed crater and can cause bleeding and irritation.
Symptoms of a gastric ulcer are variable and in the early stages are difficult to distinguish from other conditions of the digestive tract. Episodes of vomiting are common. Vomiting often occurs after meals and may contain traces of blood if the ulcer has reached a certain extent. The vomit may be the color of coffee and contain black or dark red specks. Once the ulcer has reached a certain size and penetrates into deeper layers of the stomach wall, palpation (touching) of the stomach causes pain. In addition, affected dogs usually show an unstable appetite and experience episodes of lethargy and pain. If bleeding from the lesion caused by the ulcer is strong, digested blood may also appear in the stool, which causes the stool to turn darker in color or even black. A serious complication of an ulcer is a perforation of the stomach. If the stomach is perforated, this causes a problematic situation where digested food leaks into the abdomen and causes peritonitis that can threaten the animal's life.
Ulcers often occur as a result of chronic bacterial infections of the stomach. Viruses, worms and allergies can also contribute to their formation. Also, if a foreign body becomes lodged inside the stomach it can injure the stomach mucosa and trigger an erosion. Stress also has to be taken into consideration, as it can negatively affect the stomach's natural protective barrier (the stomach mucosa) and cause irritation by exposing unprotected tissue to gastric acid.
Ulcers can be made visible during an exploration of the stomach with an endoscope, or through x-rays taken after administering a contrast medium to the animal. Therapy has to be aimed at the underlying cause if it can be identified. Feeding the animal a sensitivity diet in combination with anti-peptic drugs is usually necessary to limit further irritation and injury to the mucosa. Antibiotics show some effect if bacterial infection is involved in the development of the ulcer. Extensive erosions that have a high risk of perforation will have to be removed by an abdominal surgery.
Prognosis for full recovery is better the sooner the condition is diagnosed. If you are suspecting a gastric ulcer, consult your vet as soon as possible. After vomiting and gastric bleeding have been successfully treated, a diet low in carbohydrates should be fed. A mixture of rice and cooked chicken or turkey should help promote a quick recovery. Regular dog food should not be offered before the lesion is considered fully healed. All factors that enhance stomach ulceration, such as second hand cigarette smoke, unsuitable diet, treats, medication, should not be given to the animal.