Q. My 11-month-old Chihuahua has been sick for two weeks. He’s only gone poop once in two weeks. He vomits, and can’t hold down anything but water. Six hundred dollars later, I still have no diagnosis. The blood work was fine, the X-rays were fine. No fever, low activity level. He has lost over 5 pounds. Does this sound like IBS to you? My vet said that the next step would be ultrasound. I ran out of money and don’t know what to do. Can you tell me what you think the next step should be? They put him on several medications, but nothing is working.
A. I get very concerned when I hear that an 11-month-old Chihuahua has lost 5 pounds. This has got to be close to a weight loss of 50 percent! Anytime a dog loses more than 10 percent of their weight over a short period of time, there is serious cause for concern.
I have a short list of possibilities, based on what you have said:
1. Gastric foreign body. Your dog may have eaten some object — like a piece of clothing — that is “living” in his stomach, causing irritation to the stomach wall and vomiting. Repeat X-rays, possibly with barium, may help detect this.
2. Pancreatitis or pancreatic insufficiency. When the pancreas gets inflamed, it starts secreting digestive enzymes in abundance which digest parts of the pancreas itself! This causes severe inflammation of the entire intestinal system, and will lead to persistent vomiting. An ultrasound and a canine-specific blood test of pancreatic function are required.
Sometimes the pancreas is unable to properly digest food because there is a genetic defect preventing it from producing the necessary enzymes. This results in a large amount of food passing through the intestinal system undigested. There is a specific blood test to evaluate the presence of pancreatic enzymes, and when they are deficient, they can be supplemented in the diet.
3. Severe inflammatory bowel disease or neoplasia (cancer). Either of these possibilities could explain the weight loss, but they are both quite unlikely in such a young dog.
Unfortunately, you may have to pay for more testing to figure things out. Sometimes exploratory surgery is the quickest way to discover the source of the problem, but in cases of pancreatitis, it can make things worse. An ultrasound of the abdomen might be the most beneficial test of all, if I had to pick one.
In any event, your dog is in a life-threatening situation with severe weight loss. You should try to find a way to pay for the additional tests and subsequent treatment. Your dog’s life probably depends on it.