Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

Inflammatory bowel disease can impact part or all of your dog's gastrointestinal tract. It can also be difficult to diagnose. In this post, our Charlotte vets offer insight on symptoms and treatment of IBD in dogs, as well as foods that may help. 


What is IBD in Dogs?

When an unusually high number of inflammatory cells end up in a dog’s stomach and/or intestine, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can become an issue.

These cells cause changing in the lining of your dog’s intestinal tract, which impair the normal absorption and passing of food.

IBD can be challenging to diagnose and dogs may have many of the same symptoms you'll see in other serious illnesses.

Though symptoms may appear similar, IBD is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome, which is caused by psychological stress as opposed to physiological abnormality.

Anemia in dogs

What causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease in dogs?

It’s unclear what causes IBD, as it’s not decided whether to classify it as a disease or a defensive response to other conditions in the body. Contributing factors may include an abnormal immune system, bacteria, parasites, genetics, or food allergies.

Vets can often have difficulty determining the disease’s underlying cause in a specific animal, so future care may be based on how your dog responds to different treatments.

While any dog can be diagnosed with IBD, breeds that seem especially susceptible include Norwegian Lundehunds, Boxers, English Bulldogs, Irish Setters, Rottweilers, Shar-Pais, German Shepherds, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers and Basenjis.

What are symptoms of IBD in dogs?

If you find your dog is suffering from the following symptoms, this may be an indication he’s suffering from IBD:

  • Bloody or long-term diarrhea, may contain mucus (due to colon inflammation)
  • Chronic vomiting (if inflammation is impacting the upper intestine or stomach)
  • Constipation
  • Lack of appetite or finicky appetite
  • Depressed or melancholy mood
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

Keep in mind that clinical symptoms may come and go, and part or all of the gastrointestinal tract can be impacted.

How is IBD in dogs diagnosed?

If your dog is displaying the symptoms above, book an appointment with your veterinarian. Because these symptoms can indicate many conditions or illnesses (including serious ones) it’s important to have your dog evaluated and tested.

These tests may include ultrasound, complete blood cell count, radiographs, serum chemistry screen and microscopic fecal examination. Following these, your vet will typically perform a biopsy (the definitive method of diagnosing inflammatory bowel disease).

Biopsies are usually performed only after other conditions that could be causing your dog’s symptoms such as organ diseases or parasites, are ruled out. After your vet performs the biopsy, he or she will know the type and quantity of inflammatory cells in the intestinal wall.

How is IBD in dogs treated?

There is no cure for IBD, but your vet can prescribe medications and changes in diet to control it. There may be a trial-and-error period involved in finding the right combination of food and medications to manage the disease.

You and your veterinarian will need to work closely so that any required changes in routine can be made safely. One bright spot is that some dogs are eventually able to stop taking medicine daily and may need it only when they have bad episodes.

What should I feed my dog with IBD?

Many dogs will respond well to dietary therapy. While there is no specific food that’s ideal for every case of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs, we recommend diets with:

Highly Digestible, Low-Residue Foods

Dogs more easily digest some food than others. Especially if your dog’s GI tract is inflamed fiber and fat will likely be more difficult to digest. Food that’s high in moisture will probably be easier to digest than a dry diet.

Minimal Additives

Food that’s very simple, without many additives, is likely best. Additives that can potentially cause an immune reaction should be avoided.

Novel Protein Diet

Proteins in dairy, chicken, wheat and beef have been found to be most likely to cause reaction in dogs with IBD, which may be an immune system reaction to food.

Part of the logical approach to treating IBD in dogs is choosing foods without common food allergens that will aggravate the disease. This is because when a dog eats a protein he’s never had before, the immune system won’t be triggered to react.

How long can dogs live with IBD?

For dogs that have a confirmed diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease that’s treated effectively, prognosis is generally good. Many dogs will remained on their prescribed medications or food for life, though it may be possible to reduce the dose of medications over time, with supervision from your vet.

Depending on your dog’s individual circumstances, he or she may be able to stop drug therapy. While most dogs do well for many years, others require changes in therapy or treatment every few months. Unfortunately, some dogs will not respond to treatment.

Because some severe forms of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs can eventually progress to intestinal cancer, it’s important to have IBD diagnosed, managed and closely monitored as soon - and as much - as possible.

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.

Have you noticed symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in your dog? Contact our Charlotte vets to book an appointment. Our experienced veterinarians can diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions, and offer both preventive and emergency care. 

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