Diet for German Shepherds with Perianal Fistula

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Perianal fistula is a painful condition that can affect German Shepherd dogs. It causes abnormal passages to form around the anus, leading to drainage of pus and blood. As a German Shepherd owner, you’ll want to do everything possible to help your dog manage this condition. An important part of treatment and prevention is feeding your German Shepherd the right diet.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about perianal fistula in German Shepherds. Let’s start by understanding more about perianal fistula.

What is Perianal Fistula in German Shepherds?

Perianal fistula, sometimes called “anal furunculosis”, involves abnormal passages forming between organs or vessels that don’t normally connect. In the case of perianal fistula, these passages tunnel between the intestinal tract and the skin around your dog’s anus.

German Shepherds are especially prone to developing perianal fistula. Experts aren’t sure exactly why, but German Shepherds account for around 63% of perianal fistula cases.

These passages allow liquid fecal matter to leak through the tunnels onto the skin. This results in painful sores that won’t heal as long as the fistula is draining. It also allows bacteria into places it doesn’t belong, which can cause infection.

Your German Shepherd may constantly lick the area trying to relieve their discomfort. But this will only worm to further irritate the sensitive skin.

What Causes Perianal Fistula in German Shepherds?

Veterinarians aren’t entirely sure what causes perianal fistula in German Shepherds. However, these contributing factors are suspected:

  • Infection – Bacteria from an infected anal gland may spread into nearby tissues.
  • Food allergies – Allergies to common proteins like beef, dairy, and chicken can cause inflammation.
  • Autoimmune disease – Autoimmune conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may play a role.
  • Genetics – German Shepherds may have an inherited tendency for this condition.
  • Foreign bodies – Plant material, bones, or hair around the anal area could lead to abscesses.
  • Worms – Intestinal worms may move into the anal area and cause infections.
  • Trauma – Prior trauma to the rectal or anal areas could contribute.

Any combination of these factors could potentially be involved in the formation of fistula tunnels. Identifying and managing underlying causes is an important part of treatment.

Symptoms of Perianal Fistula in German Shepherds

Signs your German Shepherd may have a perianal fistula include:

  • Constant licking and irritation around the anus – This is often one of the first signs noticed.
  • Painful defecation – Your dog may cry or whine when trying to poop.
  • Bloody discharge – You may see blood or mucus near the anus or in the stool.
  • Changes in bowel habits – Constipation or diarrhea are common.
  • Loss of appetite – Dogs often lose their appetite as the condition worsens.
  • Lethargy – The chronic discomfort and infection eventually take their toll.
  • Draining tracts and openings around the anus – Holes that leak pus and liquid stool develop.

If you notice any of these signs, get your German Shepherd examined by a veterinarian. Perianal fistula won’t improve without treatment. And waiting too long can allow it to worsen.

Medical Treatments for Perianal Fistula

Your vet will start by doing a physical exam of your German Shepherd’s rear end. They’ll look for any openings, discharge, or swelling that could indicate a fistula.

Your dog’s history and symptoms will also provide clues. Based on their findings, your vet may recommend:

  • Antibiotics – These treat infection from bacteria entering through the fistula.
  • Anti-inflammatories – Drugs like prednisone help control inflammation.
  • Pain medication – To help your dog feel comfortable during bowel movements.
  • Stool softeners – These make passing stool less painful.
  • Topical ointments – Ointments with antibiotics and steroids are applied directly to fistula openings.
  • Immunosuppressants – If autoimmune disease is the cause, these drugs dampen the overactive immune response.
  • Surgery – For severe or persistent cases, surgery may be done to remove affected tissue. However, fistulas often recur after surgery.

Your vet will determine the best medications and treatments to help your German Shepherd based on their specific condition. But one of the most important aspects of treatment is dietary modification.

Why Diet Matters for Perianal Fistula

Diet plays a huge role in both treating active fistulas and preventing recurrences. There are two main reasons why:

1. Avoid food allergies.

Food allergies are a major potential cause of perianal fistula. The chronic inflammation triggered by food allergens contributes to tissue changes around the rectum and anus.

Feeding a hypoallergenic diet free of problematic ingredients can help reduce this inflammation. This gives fistulas a chance to heal and stops new ones from forming.

2. Improve gastrointestinal health.

Perianal fistulas are often linked to gastrointestinal issues like inflammatory bowel disease. Diets that improve overall GI health help manage these underlying problems.

For example, diets with more easily digestible ingredients reduce GI inflammation. Added prebiotics and probiotics support healthy gut flora.

Making smart dietary choices provides enormous benefits for German Shepherds prone to perianal fistulas. Work closely with your veterinarian to find an optimal diet.

Therapeutic Diets for German Shepherds with Perianal Fistula

There are two main types of diets recommended for perianal fistula – novel protein and hydrolyzed protein.

Novel Protein Diets

Novel protein diets feature proteins your German Shepherd hasn’t eaten before. Examples include venison, duck, rabbit, kangaroo, or fish.

The logic is your dog won’t have had a chance to develop an allergy to something they’ve never eaten. This avoids triggering inflammatory reactions.

However, it’s possible for dogs to develop new allergies over time. So novel protein diets must be carefully managed long-term. Rotating proteins can help prevent sensitization.

Hydrolyzed Protein Diets

Hydrolyzed protein diets break down proteins into tiny fragments rather than whole proteins. This process essentially “pre-digests” the proteins.

The fragments are too small for the immune system to recognize and react to. This makes it extremely unlikely your dog will have an allergic response.

Of the two approaches, hydrolyzed protein diets are considered the only truly hypoallergenic options. Hydrolyzed protein diets also support gut health through:

  • High digestibility
  • Added prebiotics/probiotics
  • Anti-inflammatory omega oils

Examples include prescription brands like Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Low Fat LF or Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets HA Hydrolyzed.

What About Homemade and Commercial Raw Diets?

Home cooked or commercial raw diets are often touted as good options for dogs with allergies. However, these diets carry some risks:

  • May still contain ingredients your dog is allergic to
  • Higher risk of nutritional imbalances
  • Increased exposure to bacteria like salmonella

This makes it harder to manage conditions like perianal fistula. Stick with cooked therapeutic diet options your vet recommends for best results.

Transitioning Your German Shepherd to a New Diet

Switching foods always needs to be done gradually. Abrupt changes can lead to GI upset, diarrhea, and lack of appetite.

Here are some tips for transitioning your German Shepherd to a therapeutic diet:

  • Mix new and old food. Over 7-10 days, gradually increase the amount of new food and decrease old food.
  • Take it slow. Go more gradually if needed based on stool quality and appetite.
  • Stick to schedule. Feed the same amounts at fixed times each day.
  • Avoid other foods/treats. Don’t give extra treats, table scraps, or rawhide while transitioning.
  • Watch stool. Look for changes in stool consistency, volume, and color.
  • Note appetite changes. If your dog refuses the new food, you may need to transition more slowly.

Be patient and allow your German Shepherd time to adjust. This gives the new diet the best chance of success.

Lifestyle Changes to Support Your German Shepherd

In addition to diet, there are some other changes you can make to improve your dog’s quality of life:

  • Keep the area clean. Gently wipe the area after bowel movements using mild soap and water. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Avoid trauma. Use a harness instead of a collar leash to prevent irritation around the neck. Don’t allow rough play with other pets.
  • Manage weight. Overweight dogs have more issues with incontinence and cleaning themselves. Aim to keep your dog lean.
  • Limit stress. Anxiety and stress can worsen GI and skin problems. Create a predictable routine with regular exercise.
  • Check for worms. Have regular fecal tests done to check for intestinal parasites. Deworm as needed.
  • Correct any gland issues. Have a vet check the anal glands and express them if clogged.

With the right combination of diet, medication, and care, many dogs with perianal fistula can live happy lives. Be patient and work closely with your veterinarian.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have some questions about managing perianal fistula in your German Shepherd? Here are answers to some common questions German Shepherd owners have.

How much does treating perianal fistula cost?

Between diagnostics, medications, therapeutic food, and potential surgery, treating perianal fistula can cost $2,000 or more. Severe cases often exceed $5,000. Get pet insurance and talk to your vet about payment plans.

What is the prognosis for dogs with perianal fistula?

With aggressive treatment, around 50% of mild cases will eventually heal. However, recurrence rates are high, especially if underlying causes like allergies go unaddressed. Severe cases have a poorer long-term outlook.

Should my German Shepherd have surgery for perianal fistula?

Surgery may be an option for severe cases not responding to medications and diet. However, fistulas often return after surgery. Given the risks and complications, surgery should be viewed as a last resort option when others have failed.

How can I make my German Shepherd comfortable with perianal fistula?

Keep the area clean. Gently wipe away any discharge after bowel movements using mild soap and water. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry. Apply any prescribed ointments. Ensure your dog has soft bedding. Discuss pain medications with your vet.

How often should my German Shepherd’s perianal fistula be rechecked?

Expect to bring your German Shepherd in for rechecks every 2-3 weeks while the condition is active. Your vet will examine progress and decide if any medication changes are needed. Once healed, examinations every 4-6 months are a good idea to catch any potential recurrence early.

What should I feed my German Shepherd for perianal fistula?

Work with your vet to choose a prescription therapeutic diet made with hydrolyzed protein or novel protein. Avoid foods with fillers or additives. Homemade diets are risky due to the potential for nutritional imbalance or unidentified allergens. Your vet can help formulate a homemade diet if warranted.

Final Thought

Coping with perianal fistula can be challenging and emotional for both you and your German Shepherd. But with an effective treatment plan, most dogs can still lead happy, fulfilling lives.

Work closely with your veterinarian to find the right combination of medications, diet, and care. Be vigilant for any signs of recurrence, and make dietary and lifestyle management an ongoing priority.

With your help, support, and loving care, your German Shepherd can continue to be your loyal companion for years to come. Stay positive, be patient, and focus on each small improvement.

By Andrew Garf

Andrew Garf has loved dogs, especially German Shepherds, since he was 10 years old. Though he also loves burgers, training dogs is his real passion. That's why he created the website TrainYourGSD.com - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.