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Helicobacter Infections in Dogs

Diagnostic Tests for Dogs

Helicobacter infections in dogs are caused by pesky bacteria that reside within the mucous lining of a dog's stomach. As in humans, transmission of helicobacter bacteria in dogs is transmitted by the fecal-oral route, meaning that, in order for your dog to develop this condition, he will have to be exposed to infected feces and ingest them. Infection can also occur though from exposure to infected saliva. Affected dogs typically develop mild, yet, frequent digestive upset with intermittent vomiting.

dog helicobacter

Knowing the Enemy

Helicobacter bacteria are mobile bacteria featuring a distinctive spiral shape (spirochetes). They are gram negative bacteria, meaning that they can be resistant to certain antibiotics and have the capability of evolving to become resistant to many drugs.

There are several species of helicobacter bacteria in dogs and the most common include H. felis, H. pylori, H Heilmannii, H. Salomonis, and H. bizzozeronii. In humans, the most common type of helicobacter bacteria found to be causing gastritis are Helicobacter pylori, while in dogs the most common culprit is Helicobacter heilmannii.

While Helicobacter bacteria have been known for infesting dogs and cats for more than a century, there is renewed interest in learning more about the helicobacter pylori strain. Lately, it has has been noticed that more and more dogs nowadays are becoming infected with helicobacter pylori as well.

So yes, in case you were wondering, helicobacter pylori can be zoonotic, meaning that dogs can get infected by helicobacter pylori from humans, and that humans can get it from dogs, explains Critical Care Vet.

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Did you know? Helicobacter is able to thrive in the dog's acid stomach courtesy of the large quantities of the enzyme urease they produce. This enzyme neutralizes the stomach acid by raising the pH to a more compatible range.

Awww.. so cute!

Problems to Digestive Tract

Helicobacter bacteria are often found in the stomachs of healthy dogs and not always does their presence cause clinical signs. Studies have reported that when tested, 100 percent of healthy dogs test positive for Helicobacter infections.

When helicobacter does cause symptoms, it generally leads to mild gastritis, the inflammation of the stomach. When dogs develop gastritis this can result in nausea, lack of appetite and chronic, intermittent vomiting. Interestingly, while helicobacter bacteria can play a role in the development of stomach ulcers, unlike in people, peptic ulceration is very rare in dogs, according to Merck Veterinary Manual. 

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If you dog has developed nausea, lack of appetite and vomiting, it's best to see your vet so to rule out medical conditions. There are chances your dog is dealing with something different, other than an infection caused by helicobacter bacteria. There are many different conditions that can cause vomiting in dogs.

At the Vet's Office

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The vet will discuss the symptoms you have noticed in your dog and will perform a physical exam. He may palpate several areas of your dog's abdomen and check for signs of pain.

When a dog presents with digestive problems, there are many tests that can be performed so to rule out other potential problems. Your vet may therefore decide to run a complete blood count, blood chemistry panel, and he many suggests x-rays of the abdomen, an abdominal ultrasound and a fecal test. If food is suspected to be a culprit, the vet may suggest an elimination diet using novel proteins.

Diagnosing the presence of helicobacter often requires a stomach biopsy and rapid urease test which is done on a section of the dog's stomach while the dog is undergoing an endoscopic procedure, but this requires putting the dog under anesthesia. Another more economical option is gastric brush cytology done as well while the dog is under anesthesia undergoing endoscopy. Because these diagnostic tools are invasive and often costly, many vets prefer to simply put the dog on trial medications as if to treat a bacterial infection. If the dog gets better, then it's likely indicative of helicobacter infection.

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In order to treat gastritis caused by helicobacter bacteria in dogs, antibiotics must be used. Often, the treatment of choice is a combination of amoxicillin, metronidazole and Pepto Bismol tablets. This drug combination is sometimes referred to as "triple therapy" and is given for about 14 days. Sometimes dogs are treated with quadruple therapy which includes famotidine, points out Dr. Michael S. Leib, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in internal medicine. Other treatment combinations include omeprazole and azithromycin.

Treating the dog for suspected Helicobacter is less risky and less expensive than putting a dog under anesthesia to perform several diagnostic tests, it's therefore often a logical choice for vets to decide to treat the dog for Helicobacter treatment and evaluate if the dog gets better. If the dog gets better, then the game is over, and if not, then further testing is considered, explains veterinarian Dr. Bob. 

References:

  • Merck Veterinary Manual, Helicobacter Infection in Small Animals
  • DVM360, Helicobacter gastritis in dogs and cats (Proceedings)

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