Like people, our four-legged friends can also suffer from diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. Being able to recognize that your beloved furry companion is suffering from a condition like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is paramount in getting them the treatment they need to make a full recovery.
In this article, we'll cover everything you should know about IBD in dogs, including clinical signs, potential causes, and available treatment options. Luckily, there are several all-natural ways to not only alleviate IBD in dogs, but also help prevent it from developing in the first place. Let's get started!
What is IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
Interestingly enough, IBD is not one disease but rather a collection of gastrointestinal diseases. These diseases result in the inflammation of cells in the gastrointestinal tract, especially in the stomach and intestines. When such a degree of inflammation occurs, the cells cause a change within the lining of the digestive tract, thus inhibiting proper food absorption and digestion. Furthermore, IBD also causes a slew of unpleasant side effects that you'll want to relieve your pup of as soon as possible.
What Are Inflamed Intestines
Let's first cover the concept of inflammation. Many people may not realize the magnitude of trouble that inflammation causes. Yet many diseases in people and our pets have one major thing in common: they start with inflammation. Inflammation is responsible for many health conditions, ranging from mild allergies to aggressive cancer.
IBD is no different, and more often than not begins with intestinal inflammation. The inflammation of the cells lining the intestines is typically a result of either injury or infection.
This inflammation weakens the intestinal lining, causing it to become increasingly permeable. A permeable intestinal lining (think of it as little holes throughout the lining) allows toxins to leak from the gut into the bloodstream, leading to a number of serious issues.
Intestinal Diseases in Dogs
There are many intestinal diseases found in both people and dogs, two of the most common being irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and IBD. Some people may use the two terms interchangeably. However, it is important to realize that IBS and IBD are two different conditions, although their symptoms are often quite similar. IBS is commonly diagnosed in people, but rarely in dogs. IBD, on the other hand, is commonly diagnosed in people and in dogs. The main difference between IBD and IBS is that IBD, as its name suggests, involves inflammation and IBS does not.
Colitis in Dogs
Colitis in dogs is a commonly diagnosed form of IBD. The condition develops from inflammation of the large intestine, also known as the colon. A frequent urge to defecate, straining while defecating, and the presence of loose or semi-formed stools are the most prevalent symptoms of the disease.
Gastritis in Dogs
Gastritis is another type of IBD. It is caused by long-term, chronic inflammation of the stomach. The most prevalent symptoms of canine gastritis are acute vomiting, decreased appetite, and in some cases, weight loss.
Again, the central feature of all forms of IBD is inflammation.
Causes of IBD in Dogs
The exact cause of IBD in dogs has yet to be pinpointed, even with extensive research on the topic. However, many experts believe that IBD results from the body's defense response to protect the immune system from potential harm.
Additionally, there is speculation that the following factors may also cause IBD in dogs.
- Food allergies*
- Chronic stress
- Immune system abnormalities
- Bacterial or parasitic infections
* Experts have linked the following food sources as those most often resulting in IBD:
- Milk proteins
- Meat proteins
- Wheat (gluten)
- Artificial coloring
Dog Breeds at Higher Risk of IBD
Interestingly enough, certain dog breeds have a higher risk of developing IBD. These breeds include:
- Irish setters
- French bulldog
Additionally, veterinarians diagnose IBD more frequently in middle-aged and older dogs than younger dogs. With that being said, IBD can develop in dogs of any breed and of any age.
The number one way to ensure your dog receives a proper diagnosis and treatment for IBD is to recognize the telltale signs of its development.
Symptoms of canine IBD include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Poor-quality coat
- Bright red blood in stool
- Chronic, intermittent vomiting
- Audible, gurgling abdominal sounds
- Abdominal pain, often sensitive to the touch
These symptoms are also found in a number of other gastrointestinal diseases in dogs. As we previously mentioned, colitis will cause diarrhea and abdominal sensitivities.
Inflammation of the small intestine (enteritis) often results in vomiting, weight loss, and lethargy. Again, these conditions fall under the IBD "umbrella," largely because inflammation is heavily involved.
Diagnosing IBD in Dogs
To accurately diagnose IBD in your dog, your veterinarian will have to perform several tests, including a complete blood count and a fecal examination. The presence of intestinal parasites (e.g., roundworms), along with the potential for bacterial infections, may warrant more testing.
Finally, a procedure called an endoscopic biopsy may be necessary to make a final diagnosis. The endoscopic biopsy involves using a small tube with a camera and small forceps to visualize and take samples of gastrointestinal (GI) tract tissue. The camera allows the veterinarian to see where the inflammation is located, and the biopsy helps the veterinarian analyze the inflamed tissue more closely.
Treating IBD in Dogs
To start off, IBD in dogs is not curable. However, it can be managed. Conventional treatment for IBD in dogs will often begin with an antiparasitic drug like fenbendazole to kill intestinal parasites. Other medications, including those listed below, will be given next.
- Antispasmodic drugs
- Antidiarrheal medications
- Antibiotics (e.g., metronidazole)
- Corticosteroids (e.g., prednisone)
- Immunosuppressive agents (e.g., azathioprine)
Additionally, if chronic diarrhea and vomiting have led to a significant fluid loss, intravenous fluids may be necessary to restore adequate hydration and stabilize the dog's system.
Warning About Conventional IBD Medications
As always, we want our readers to have a full understanding of what is at stake when it comes to treating their beloved four-legged friends. For IBD treatment, many conventional medications provide relief. However, all conventional medications come with a risk of potential adverse side effects. It is imperative that pet owners understand the associated side effects of certain medications before administering them to their dogs. In some cases, the side effects may be significantly worse than the disease they are treating.
Natural Treatment for IBD in Dogs
Thankfully, there are all-natural treatment options available for dogs suffering from IBD. Some of these treatments may need to be given long-term to prevent IBD from returning.
Diet Diet Diet!
Countless experts agree that the most effective way to treat IBD is through diet. In many cases, IBD is thought to develop due to a food sensitivity. Therefore, pinpointing what is causing the sensitivity and then eliminating it is the most effective way to not only alleviate intestinal inflammation, but also prevent it from recurring.
If your veterinarian determines that your dog has IBD, they may recommend a hypoallergenic food source. For example, if your dog has a gluten sensitivity, a gluten-free diet would be a good choice. Making the necessary dietary changes may be all that a pet parents has to do to relieve their dog's IBD symptoms.
Furthermore, many dogs have sensitivities to certain proteins. Let's say that your dog is sensitive to beef. Over time, constantly feeding them beef-based meals can inflame the GI tract and lead to IBD. In this case, it would be good to switch your dog to a diet with an alternative high-quality protein, such as chicken (or even kangaroo!).
Diarrhea and vomiting should never be considered "normal." It is important for pet owners to recognize when something isn't right with their dog and actively work to address it. Although diarrhea here and there may not seem like a big deal, it can very well be a sign of a food allergy that needs to be resolved.
Veterinarians may also recommend feeding your dog two smaller meals a day instead of one big meal, at least until the inflammation subsides.
If your dog has IBD, talk to your veterinarian regarding a dietary change that may help.
Your veterinarian may also recommend a probiotic supplement that can help maintain a healthy bacterial environment in your dog’s gut. Countless ailments, like IBD, can be alleviated and prevented with something as simple as a healthy gut. In fact, your dog's digestive tract health can affect just about every other process in the body, in one way or another. Adding a probiotic supplement to your dog’s diet may help improve digestion and allow your dog's body to effectively absorb necessary nutrients.
Spirulina (Blue-Green Algae)
Next, you may want to consider adding a veterinary spirulina supplement to your dog's diet. Spirulina is a powerful, all-natural anti-inflammatory supplement that helps alleviate and prevent inflammation in dogs and people. Studies show that spirulina can help your four-legged friend in the following ways:
- Fight infections
- Alleviate allergies
- Heal eye infections
- Attack free radicals
- Boost the immune system
- Stimulate antibody growth
- Promote skin and coat health
- Provide a great source of protein
- Improve kidney and liver function
- Reduce and prevent inflammation
- Support a healthy digestive system
- Detoxify the body from environmental toxins
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids can benefit a dog with IBD. Found in supplements like fish oil, the anti-inflammatory effects of fatty acids are often recommended. We recommend talking to your veterinarian about whether an omega-3 supplement may be able to help your dog, or if a different anti-inflammatory supplement is preferable.
The anti-inflammatory effects of boswellia are also known to help dogs with IBD. The herb is also used as a natural pain reliever for many medical conditions. Pet parents can combine boswellia with turmeric. This combination can provide even more relief from IBD-associated symptoms and is useful for dogs experiencing arthritis-related pain.
Turmeric for Dogs
Speaking of which, one of our favorite natural anti-inflammatory supplements is none other than turmeric for dogs. You may be familiar with the yellow-orange-colored spice, as it is used in many recipes. However, you may not be aware of all of its associated health benefits. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory and has been used for hundreds of years as a medicinal treatment. However, only recently have pet parents realized the incredible ways that it can benefit Fido.
The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin. Funny enough, one study at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas nicknamed curcumin "cure-cumin" after seeing all of the ways that it can help with different health issues. Curcumin has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anticancer properties that make it an excellent way to relieve and prevent ailments.
Preventing IBD in Dogs
We believe that prevention truly is the best medicine. When it comes to IBD in dogs, in many cases, prevention can be difficult because the underlying cause can be impossible to pinpoint. With that being said, dog owners can do certain things to help reduce the chances of the condition developing. Furthermore, once the inflammation is resolved, it is imperative that pet owners do all they can to make sure it doesn't return.
The Importance of an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
An anti-inflammatory diet can truly make a huge difference in your dog's life. Again, inflammation is often overlooked and not seen for the incredibly dangerous condition that it is.
If you feed your dog a homemade diet, it can be easy to inadvertently feed them a meal that is chock full of ingredients that cause inflammation. For example, processed meats, many kinds of cheese, and refined grains are all major culprits of inflammation. Pet parents need to balance these foods with anti-inflammatory foods, supplements, and herbs to reduce the possibility of IBD.
In cases in which a dog already has IBD, specific dietary changes are even more important and necessary. IBD is a condition that can be managed effectively, but only with the necessary adjustments to your dog's diet and lifestyle.
Prognosis for IBD in Dogs
It is important for dog owners to understand that IBD cannot be cured. However, with the appropriate necessary steps and changes, IBD symptoms can be completely managed. Keeping that in mind, the prognosis of canine IBD is usually very good. However, in severe and untreated cases of IBD can make dogs very ill, thus making an accurate diagnosis and treatment paramount.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs: A Final Thought
At the end of the day, we know that you want the very best for your furry companion. Trust us, we get it. Here at Honest Paws, we are all dog owners and know how awful it feels seeing your dog suffer. One of the most important things that you can do for a dog with IBD is to be sensitive to their fragile state (and tummy). IBD, even with appropriate treatment, won't simply resolve overnight. Try not to get frustrated. Once a probable cause of IBD is decided upon, pet parents can take the necessary steps to resolve it and get their dog back on their feet.
The last important fact that we want to note is that, although IBD is generally not life-threatening and can be managed, it must be managed appropriately. IBD inhibits the body from fully absorbing nutrients from food, which can lead to many health issues if the disease progresses.
There is not a simple cure or a magic pill for IBD. However, making the necessary dietary changes and implementing nutritional supplements can help ensure that IBD doesn’t negatively affect a dog’s quality of life. Again, if you feel that your dog may be suffering from IBD, talk to your vet and get your pup the help they need.
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer in Atlanta, GA. After earning her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, she pursued a non-traditional career path as a veterinarian.
JoAnna completed a 2-year postdoctoral research fellowship in neuroscience at Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, then became a medical writer. As founder and owner of JPen Communications, a medical communications company, JoAnna is passionate about educating pet parents about pet care and responsible pet ownership.
Although she does not currently have any pets to call her own, she loves living vicariously through other pet parents and watching Nat Geo!