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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Malabsorption Syndrome




Condition Overview

Malabsorption is not a specific disease, but occurs as a consequence of some underlying disorder of the small bowel or the pancreas. In malabsorption syndrome, the dog either does not digest food or does not absorb the products of digestion from the small intestine.


Dogs suffering from malabsorption are underweight and malnourished despite a voracious appetite. Diarrhea occurs 3 - 4 times a day. The stools are typically large, rancid smelling, and contain a great deal of fat. The hair around the anus may also be oily or greasy.


Predisposing causes of malabsorption include endocrine pancreatic insufficiency, permanent damage to the intestinal mucosa following infectious enteritis, inflammatory bowel disease, with inflamed or destroyed intestinal mucosa, surgical removal of a major portion of the small bowel, and primary diseases of the small intestine. Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers may suffer from a protein- losing enteropathy, where they don't properly digest and absorb protein.

Idiopathic villous atrophy is one of the primary diseases of the small intestine. Villi are microscopic hairlike structures that make up the absorptive surface of the small bowel. In a dog with villous atrophy, these structures are blunted and poorly developed. Idiopathic villous atrophy occurs most often in German Shepherds. A similar hereditary disease is a wheat sensitive or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, described in Irish Setters.

Small intestine bacterial overgrowth has been identified as another important cause of malabsorption. German Shepherds, Basenjis, Chinese Shar-pei, have an increased incidence. affected dogs develop an abundant and abnormal bacterial flora in the small intestine, which causes foul-smelling diarrhea. Some cases have been associated with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, inflammatory bowel disease, or stagnant loops of bowel caused by intestinal surgery. In German Shepherds and Chinese Shar-pei, the condition may be related to a specific immune deficiency. In the majority of cases the cause of the bacterial overgrowth is unknown.


In many cases, the cause of malabsorption can be identified through special diagnostic tests, including stool analysis and intestinal biopsy.


Treatment is directed toward the specific disease. Dogs with villous atrophy are managed with gluten-free diets (almost all premium foods are gluten-free). Small intestinal bacteria overgrowth usually responds to one or more courses of an oral broad-spectrum antibiotic. The addition of probiotics and live culture yogurt products may help in treatment.


There is no prevention for this condition.


Please contact your veterinarian with questions regarding this condition.

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

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