Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can affect a portion of the entire gastrointestinal tract of your dog. Additionally, it can be difficult to diagnose. Today, our Rochester veterinarians discuss some of the signs and symptoms of canine inflammatory bowel disease, as well as foods that may help your pup feel better.

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs?

Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) of your dog that is characterized by the presence of inflammatory cells that cannot be attributed to other possible health problems.

When these inflammatory cells reach your dog's stomach and intestinal tract, they alter the lining of the digestive tract, impairing normal food absorption and passage.

While the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are similar, their underlying causes are quite different. Irritable bowel syndrome is frequently caused by psychological stress, while inflammatory bowel disease is caused by a physiological abnormality.

What causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs?

The cause of IBD in dogs is unknown, as it is unclear whether the condition should be classified as a disease or a defensive response to other conditions. Food allergies, an abnormal immune system, bacteria, parasites, and genetics are all possible causes of IBD.

Because determining the underlying cause of IBD in a specific animal can be challenging, future care may be determined by how your pup responds to various treatments.

While any breed of dog can be diagnosed with IBD, certain breeds appear to be more susceptible than others, including Boxers, Norwegian Lundehunds, English Bulldogs, Irish Setters, Rottweilers, Shar Peis, German Shepherds, Basenjis, and Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers.

What are the symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs?

If you notice that your dog is experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be an indication that your pup is suffering from IBD:

  • Bloody or Ongoing diarrhea
  • Chronic vomiting 
  • Constipation
  • Lack of appetite
  • Picky eating
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

Pet parents must keep in mind that these symptoms may come and go. If your dog is exhibiting signs of IBD, contact your veterinarian to schedule an examination. While these symptoms may be indicative of IBD, they could also be indicative of a variety of other serious health problems in dogs.

How is IBD in dogs diagnosed?

If your dog exhibits symptoms consistent with IBD, your veterinarian may recommend diagnostic testing to ascertain the cause of your dog's symptoms. Ultrasound, complete blood cell count, radiographs (x-rays), serum chemistry screen, and fecal exam may be recommended as diagnostic tests. If your veterinarian believes that IBD is the most likely cause of your dog's symptoms, he or she may perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

Generally, a biopsy will be performed only after other possible causes of your dog's symptoms, such as organ disease or parasites, have been ruled out. The biopsy results will reveal the type and quantity of inflammatory cells in your pet's intestinal wall, assisting your veterinarian in determining the best course of treatment for your pup's IBD.

How to Treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

While there is no cure for IBD at the moment, your veterinarian can prescribe medications and dietary changes to help control it. Because treating IBD is not an exact science, you should anticipate a period of trial and error when treating your dog's IBD. Because each dog is unique, finding the optimal combination of food and medication to manage the disease takes some time.

If you stick with the treatment during the trial run, life expectancy for dogs with inflammatory bowel disease can be quite good.

Your veterinarian will work closely with you to ensure that any changes to your dog's routine are done safely and effectively. Once the condition is effectively managed, many dogs are eventually able to discontinue daily medication and may require it only when symptoms flare up.

What should I feed my dog with IBD?

Numerous dogs with IBD respond well to dietary changes as a form of therapy. While no single food is ideal for every case of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs, your veterinarian may recommend one that is. These may be effective as natural treatments for dogs with inflammatory bowel disease but always consult your veterinarian first.

Highly Digestible

  • Certain foods are more easily digested by dogs (as they are by humans). This is particularly true if your dog's gastrointestinal tract is inflamed. Fiber and fat can be more difficult to digest in many dogs with IBD. Foods high in moisture (canned foods) may be easier to digest for dogs diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease.

Contains Minimal Additives

  • Feeding your pup a diet that is low in additives and high in natural ingredients may help to alleviate your pet's IBD symptoms. Because some additives have been shown to cause an immune reaction in some dogs, they should be avoided whenever possible.

A Novel Protein Based Diet

  • Proteins found in dairy, chicken, wheat, and beef frequently trigger an immune response in dogs. A logical approach to treating canine inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) includes avoiding common food allergens that aggravate the disease. This is because when a dog consumes a protein he has never encountered before, his immune system is not activated.

The prognosis for dogs with IBD is generally favorable with a modified diet and treatment. While your dog may require a modified diet for the rest of his life, once the condition is successfully managed, you may be able to taper off medications (under veterinary supervision) or use them only when symptoms flare.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your dog is showing signs of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, contact our Rochester vets today to book an examination for your dog.