Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

Inflammatory bowel disease can affect a portion or all of your dog's gastrointestinal tract. It can also be a challenge to diagnose. Our Lethbridge vets list symptoms and treatment options for IBD in dogs, along with foods that might help.

What is IBD in Dogs?

Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs (IBD) can become a problem if an abnormally high number of inflammatory cells are in a dog's intestine and/or stomach. 

These cells can trigger changes in the lining of your dog's intestinal tract and impair the ability to absorb and process food normally. 

IBD can be difficult for even seasoned vets to diagnose and dogs may show many of the same symptoms seen with other serious illnesses. 

Part of the answer to the question, 'What is inflammatory bowel disease in dogs?' lies in defining what it is not. While symptoms might appear similar, IBD is not synonymous with irritable bowel syndrome, which is triggered by psychological stress - not a physiological abnormality. 

Types of IBD in Dogs

Types of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs include:

  • Lymphoplasmacytic Enteritis - An excessive buildup of two types of white blood cells - plasma cells and lymphocytes - in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract causes the most common form of IBD.  If too much protein is lost from the blood stream into the intestines, this triggers very severe cases and is referred to as protein-losing enteropathy.
  • Eosinophilic Enteritis - An allergic reaction to a dietary protein can cause this type, which will necessitate a strict elimination diet paired with medical therapy to resolve symptoms. 
  • Antibiotic Responsive Diarrhea - An overgrowth of one or more bacterial species in the small intestine can trigger this type. Underlying intestinal disease, overuse of antibiotics or other medications or other unidentified reasons can cause the bacteria to be here. 
  • Lymphangiectasia - While primary lymphangiectasia is not an inflammatory disease, clinical signs may be similar. This obstructive disorder involves the lymphatic system of the intestinal tract. 
  • Other - Any illness that triggers infiltration, congestion, bleeding or inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract can cause symptoms similar to IBD. Examples may include advanced heart failure, infiltrative cancers and fungal disease. 

What causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease in dogs?

The cause of IBD in dogs is unclear, and whether it should be classified as a defensive response to other conditions in the body or a disease hasn't been determined. Bacteria, parasites, food allergies, an abnormal immune system and genetics can all contribute to the development of the disease. 

It's common for vets to have difficulty pinning down the disease's underlying cause in a specific animal, so your dog's response to different treatments may determine decisions about future care and treatment. 

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

What are symptoms of IBD in dogs?

Have you noticed your dog is suffering from any of these symptoms? If so, he may have IBD:

  • Depressed or melancholy mood
  • Constipation
  • Bloody or long-term diarrhea, may contain mucus (due to inflammation of the colon)
  • Chronic vomiting (if the upper intestine or stomach are affected by inflammation)
  • Fickle appetite or lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever

Remember that clinical symptoms may be intermittent (come and go), and part or all of the gastrointestinal tract can be affected). 

How is IBD in dogs diagnosed?

Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a physical examination if your dog is showing any of the symptoms above. Since these symptoms can indicate many illnesses or health conditions (including serious or severe ones), having your dog examined and tested is key to their long-term health and well-being. 

These tests can include ultrasound, complete blood cell count, radiographs, serum chemistry screen and microscopic fecal examination. The veterinarian will then perform a biopsy (the definitive testing method to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease). 

Typically, biopsies are performed only after other illnesses that may be causing your dog's symptoms - such as parasites or diseases of the organs - have been eliminated as potential triggers. After the biopsy results come back, your vet will be able to determine the type of inflammatory cells in the intestinal wall, and their quantity. 

How is IBD in dogs treated?

While IBD doesn't have a cure, medications and changes in diet may be prescribed to help you manage the disease. A trial and error period may be necessary so the right combination of food and medications to help control the condition can be discovered. 

Your veterinarian will work closely with you to implement any changes in routine so they can be made safely. One plus: some dogs are eventually able to sop taking medicine on a daily basis, and may only require it if a bad episode is occurring. 

What should I feed my dog with IBD?

Dietary therapy may be one way you can control your dog's IBD. While no specific food will be ideal for every case of inflammatory bowel disease, we recommend canine diets with:

Minimal Additives

Simple foods that do not contain many additives will likely work best. Avoid additives that can potentially cause an immune reaction.

Highly Digestible, Low-Residue Foods

Some food is more easily to digest than others. Especially if your dog's GI tract is inflamed, fat and fiber will probably be more difficult to digest. High-moisture food will likely be easier to digest than a dry diet. 

Novel Protein Diet 

Proteins in beef, wheat, dairy and chicken are most likely to cause a reaction in dogs with IBD. This may be an immune system reaction to food. 

When a dog eats a protein he hasn't had previously, the immune system will trigger a reaction. Part of the strategy in treating IBD in dogs should be choosing foods without common allergens that will aggravate the disease. 

How long can dogs live with IBD?

Prognosis is generally good for dogs with a confirmed diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease that's being treated effectively. While many dogs will need to stay on their prescribed food or medications for life, your vet might be able to reduce the dosage of medications prescribed over time.

Whether your dog is able to stop drug therapy will be determined by their individual circumstances. While most dogs will do well for many years, others may require changes to their diet, therapy or other elements of treatment every few months. Unfortunately, some dogs will not respond to treatment. 

Since some severe forms of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs can eventually progress to intestinal cancer, it's critical to have your vet diagnose, closely monitor and manage the disease 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.

Is your dog experiencing symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease? Contact our veterinary hospital right away to schedule an exam. Our vets can provide diagnosis and treatment for conditions in Lethbridge pets.

(403) 328-0028