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Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

In dogs, similar to humans, they can occasionally experience gastrointestinal disturbances such as vomiting and loose stools. While these issues may resolve on their own, if they persist daily or more than once a week, it could indicate a condition known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

IBD in dogs presents as a frequent cause of chronic vomiting and diarrhea and remains a significant challenge for veterinarians to manage effectively. Understanding the causes and symptoms of IBD in dogs, identifying which dogs are more susceptible, and knowing the treatment options are crucial for pet owners.

Here’s essential information regarding the causes and symptoms of IBD in dogs, the breeds most prone to it, and the available treatments.

Symptoms

Recognizing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs involves observing a combination of symptoms rather than just one. While occasional decreased appetite or selective eating might not raise immediate concerns, a cluster of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms could indicate IBD.

Clinical manifestations of IBD in dogs can range from weight loss and lethargy to vomiting and diarrhea, or a blend of these symptoms and others. The intensity of these signs also depends on the types of inflammatory cells involved and the location of the disease within the gastrointestinal tract.

Identifying IBD in dogs can be challenging since the symptoms overlap with those of other canine medical conditions like parasitic infections or liver disease. Pay attention to the severity and frequency of symptoms and communicate this information to your veterinarian during your dog’s evaluation.

Symptoms of dog IBD involving the small intestine:

Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting the small intestine in dogs include:

  • Persistent or recurrent vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea or loose stools
  • Decreased appetite

Symptoms of dog IBD involving the large intestine (chronic colitis):

Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) involving the large intestine (chronic colitis) in dogs include:

  • Diarrhea with or without blood and mucus
  • Weight loss
  • Straining during defecation
  • Increased urgency to defecate
  • Occasional vomiting

What Causes IBD in Dogs?

The cause of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs stems from gastrointestinal (GI) tract dysfunction. It’s important to differentiate IBD from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as they require distinct treatment approaches.

Dog IBD arises due to various factors, including:

  • Bacterial imbalance
  • Food intolerance to specific ingredients
  • Abnormal immune response triggered by the dog’s body

These immune system triggers lead to inflammation in different parts of the gastrointestinal tract such as the stomach lining, colon, large intestine, small intestine, or a combination thereof. As inflammation increases in the affected area, symptoms of IBD in dogs worsen.

High-Risk Dog Breeds

Although inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can affect dogs of any age or breed, certain breeds are more prone to developing this condition. The following breeds have a heightened risk of IBD:

  • Norwegian Lundehunds (particularly susceptible)
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Wheaten Terriers
  • Basenjis
  • Boxers
  • English Bulldogs
  • German Shepherds
  • Rottweilers
  • Shar-Peis

It’s important to note that being on the “high-risk list” doesn’t guarantee that a dog will develop IBD.

Diagnosis

In recent times, veterinarians have developed improved methods for diagnosing and managing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs. Although IBD cannot be diagnosed solely through a physical examination, a comprehensive medical history review, fecal analysis, and laboratory tests play crucial roles in excluding other potential causes of the symptoms, such as parasites, intestinal obstructions, kidney disease, metabolic disorders, and cancers.

Diagnostic Testing

Diagnostic testing for identifying inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs may entail a series of procedures, including:

  • Blood tests, comprising a complete blood cell count and serum chemistry screening.
  • Fecal analysis to check for the presence of parasites or harmful bacteria.
  • Abdominal ultrasound and x-rays.
  • Biopsy of the intestinal tract and/or stomach.

Blood work aids in assessing the severity of the condition and screening for other potential diseases. Dogs with advanced IBD often experience protein loss through their intestines, leading to low protein levels detected in blood tests. This evaluation helps both you and your veterinarian understand the prognosis better.

Additionally, specialized blood tests can investigate other potential causes of symptoms such as pancreatitis, hormonal imbalances, and vitamin B deficiencies.

Persistence of Symptoms

One consistent aspect of diagnosing IBD is the persistence of symptoms.

  • Have the symptoms endured for more than a few weeks?
  • Has your dog not shown improvement despite trying different diets or medications?

If your pet hasn’t responded to diet or medication trials, your veterinarian might suggest an intestinal tract and/or stomach biopsy.

Stomach Biopsy

During a stomach biopsy, your veterinarian will examine for signs of inflammation and collect small tissue samples.

These procedures necessitate anesthesia, but recovery is usually swift with minimal downtime. Subsequently, a pathologist will analyze the tissue samples to confirm the presence of IBD and assess the disease’s severity.

Treatment

Treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs aims to alleviate pain and discomfort for your pet and alleviate frustration for you. The treatment objectives include:

  • Decreasing inflammation in the intestinal tract
  • Alleviating clinical symptoms
  • Restoring normal intestinal bacteria balance

Adjusting Your Dog’s Diet

Modifying your dog’s diet is typically the initial step in treating IBD.

For instance, if your dog is currently on a chicken-based diet, your veterinarian might collaborate with you to introduce a novel protein source that your dog hasn’t previously consumed, such as bison or rabbit. Throughout this dietary transition, it’s important to monitor your pet’s clinical signs to evaluate for potential food intolerances. Avoid giving your dog any foods not prescribed at this stage, including treats and flavored medications.

Using Antibiotics and Supplements

Antibiotics are frequently employed in the treatment of dogs with IBD. Alongside antibiotics, your veterinarian might recommend probiotics and prebiotics to lower the overall bacterial count and restore balance to the gut’s bacterial population.

It’s crucial to understand that dogs have distinct gastrointestinal systems compared to humans, thus necessitating different dietary and treatment approaches. Ensure to acquire probiotics and prebiotics from your veterinarian.

Giving Prescribed Immunosuppressive Drugs

If your dog persists in displaying symptoms, your veterinarian might recommend administering medication to diminish inflammation and regulate their immune response. Occasionally, a combination of these immunosuppressive drugs is required.

It’s typical for the process of finding the appropriate combination of treatments for dogs with IBD to take weeks to months.

Living and Management

The objective is to minimize medications to the lowest effective dosage or stop them completely. This process usually occurs gradually over several weeks or months and should be supervised by a veterinarian.

IBD is an immune system disorder, so it’s seldom curable, but it can be effectively managed with dietary adjustments and medical intervention. For most dogs with IBD, their expected lifespan is unaffected, and they can lead a high-quality life.

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