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Stomach Disorder (Loss of Motility) in Dogs

Gastric Motility Disorders in Dogs

The spontaneous rhythmic movements of the stomach muscles, known as peristalsis, play a crucial role in digestion by propelling food through the stomach and into the duodenum—the initial segment of the small intestine.

Excessive gastric motility, marked by overly frequent muscular contractions, can lead to discomfort, while reduced motility results in delayed gastric emptying, abnormal retention of gastric contents, bloating, and other associated symptoms. While symptoms can manifest at any age, they are less prevalent in young dogs compared to older ones.


Clinical manifestations differ based on the underlying cause of the gastric motility disorder. The following symptoms are frequently observed in affected dogs:

  • Persistent vomiting of food, particularly shortly after eating
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite (anorexia)
  • Belching
  • Compulsive consumption of non-food items (pica)
  • Weight loss


  • Idiopathic (cause unknown)
  • Resulting from other metabolic disorders, including:
    • Hypokalemia
    • Uremia
    • Hepatic encephalopathy
    • Hypothyroidism
  • Resulting from primary gastric conditions, such as:
    • Gastritis
    • Gastric ulcers
  • Following gastric surgery
  • After the administration of specific medications
  • Due to excessive pain, fear, or trauma


To diagnose the condition, a comprehensive blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis, aiming to identify the potential cause of altered gastric motility. Chronic vomiting often leads to dehydration, acid-base imbalances, and electrolyte abnormalities, which can be detected through an electrolyte profile.

Abdominal X-rays will aid in detecting excess gas, fluid, or food in the distended stomach. Barium sulfate can be administered to enhance visibility during abdominal radiography, providing clearer images of stomach movement. This contrast medium highlights the stomach’s interior for better X-ray imaging. Barium sulfate is mixed with a meal and given to the dog, followed by serial radiographs to assess gastric emptying time.

Ultrasound serves as another valuable diagnostic tool for evaluating stomach motility, while endoscopy allows real-time examination of various abdominal organs, including the stomach. An endoscope, equipped with a lighted camera and gathering tool, is inserted into the body, typically through the mouth, to visualize the internal structure of the stomach. This procedure helps detect masses, tumors, abnormal cells, blockages, etc., and enables the collection of tissue samples for biopsy.


Hospitalization is typically unnecessary for most dogs with this condition; after initial treatment, you can usually take your pet home. In cases of significant fluid loss (dehydration) or vomiting, fluid therapy is essential to replenish fluid deficit and correct electrolyte imbalances. Some patients with recurrent gastric motility issues may benefit from a special diet for proper management. Liquid or semi-liquid diets are often recommended to aid gastric emptying, along with frequent small-volume meals for affected dogs.

In many uncomplicated cases, dietary adjustments alone suffice for successful resolution of the problem. However, in some instances, medications to enhance gastric motility may also be prescribed. Dogs with gastric obstruction may require surgical intervention if the issue cannot be resolved through other means.

Living and Management

For most dogs with uncomplicated gastric motility issues, the initial treatment typically leads to successful resolution. If your dog does not respond to the initial therapy, additional diagnostic procedures may be necessary. The duration of treatment will vary depending on the resolution of the underlying disorder. Following surgery, it may take 10 to 14 days for normal gastric motility and function to be restored.

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