Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the most common GI disease that results in chronic vomiting and diarrhea in pet animals – dogs and cats. 

As a term, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is used to cover a number of chronic enteropathies that are poorly understood and affect both people and pets.

Because of its complex etiology, inflammatory bowel disease in dogs requires a multimodal therapy strategy, including food changes, anti-inflammatories, steroids, antibiotics, and immune suppressants.

Recently, as the number of studies proving the probiotic products’ effect on GI health grows, more and more veterinarians include probiotics as part of the canine inflammatory bowel disease management plan. 

What is IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)

What is IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is often described as a chronic gastrointestinal inflammation whose progression is out of control. 

The hallmark of the condition is inflammation of the lining of the GI tract which impairs the ability to digest and absorb nutrients. 

There is a special form of immune-mediated inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) popularly called idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

The circumstances that lead to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are controlled by a specific interplay between the host and the gut bacteria.

There are four main contributing interactions and factors that lead to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

Genetics

Genetics play an important role in canine IBD. Because of a genetic mutation some individuals (humans, dogs, and cats) have increased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease.

Therefore, chronic enteropathies are particularly common in certain breeds, including Shepherd dogs, Yorkshire terriers, Basenjis, Boxers, and French bulldogs

In fact, every breed is at higher risk of a certain form of canine IBD or chronic enteropathy. 

For example Shepherd dogs usually develop lymphocytic-plasmacytic inflammation form of IBD while Yorkshire terriers develop the protein-losing enteropathy form.

The genetic component is demonstrated in cats too. Namely, Siamese cats and other oriental cat breeds are more likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) than other cat breeds. 

Mucosal Immune System

The occurrence of chronic inflammation of the GI tract depends greatly on the mucosal immune system. 

Namely, IgA dispersed in various locations in the intestinal mucosa serves as a barrier and prevents bacteria from trespassing.

When the barrier function is compromised GI pathogens can transposition which results in GI inflammatory conditions.

Environmental Factors

This group includes a number of components such as diet, stress, and exposure to different medications (primarily antibiotics).

In dogs and cats, these factors are not extensively reviewed. However, studies confirm that in cats, stress can result in inflammatory conditions.

Plus, many studies have shown that inflammatory bowel disease has a diet-responsive component. Dogs with IBD respond well to novel proteins their GI immune system is not familiar with.  

Microbial (Gut Bacteria) Factors

In dogs with IBD there is dysbiosis of the intestinal gut microbes.

Canine IBD manifests with gut bacteria imbalance in terms of decreased number of Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, and Clostridium strains, and an increased number of Enterobacteriaceae (Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas strains). 

The role of Escherichia coli in the development of IBD has been demonstrated in Boxers in which the most common IBD form is granulomatous colitis. 

Signs Your Dog has IBD

As a complex and specific enteropathy, IBD manifests with visible clinical signs and histological changes (mucosal cell infiltration). 

Clinical Signs and Symptoms 

A dog with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) will manifest the following signs and symptoms:

  • Chronic and intermittent vomiting 

  • Diarrhea

  • Appetite changes 

  • Picky eating habits

  • Weight loss 

  • Lip licking and drooling when offered food but refusal to eat 

  • Heartburn or acid reflux 

  • Nausea

  • Flatulence, burping, and tummy rumbling

  • Bloating

In dogs with chronic diarrhea (diarrhea that lasts over three weeks) and dogs with chronic yet intermittent vomiting (vomiting that lasts more than two months) IBD is a very likely diagnosis.  

When evaluating a dog with IBD, the vet will use a scoring system known as CIBDAI (canine IBD activity index). The CIBDAI scoring evaluates six different clinical signs including vomiting, appetite, attitude or activity, stool frequency, stool consistency, and weight loss.

Histological Changes 

In terms of histological changes, in tissue samples from dogs with IBD, there is significant inflammatory cell infiltration. Based on which cells account for most of the infiltrate and the, there are different forms of IBD in dogs and cats.   

In dogs with IBD, the two most common forms are lymphocytic-plasmacytic enteritis and eosinophilic enteritis. Lymphocytic-plasmacytic enteritis is the most common type of canine IBD enteropathy. 

Dog IBD Treatment Plans

Dog IBD Treatment Plans

Canine inflammatory bowel disease is a potentially life-threatening condition. Therefore, it is vital to talk to your trusted vet in terms of tailoring a therapy strategy for your dog.

IBD enteropathies are generally food, antibiotic and steroid responsive. However, if the IBD enteropathy is refractory even after an immunosuppressive therapy, it is classified as idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease (idiopathic IBD).

Dogs with IBD showing milder clinical signs are initially managed with food and antibiotic trials. If the antibiotics and the food trial are not efficient, the vet will recommend immunosuppressive therapy.

Food Trial

Food trial is the first choice when managing dogs with inflammatory bowel disease. The goal of the trial is to exclude the possibility of underlying food allergies.

During this phase, the dog needs to be fed commercially available diets made of hydrolyzed proteins or homemade diets including novel proteins. For example if your dog ate beef diets and has never eaten fish, the novel diet should use fish as the main protein source. 

One half of the dogs with chronic diarrhea respond positively to these food switches. However, they are time-consuming and pet owners often do not stick to the strict feeding regimens the vet recommends.

Antibiotics

Every dog with chronic diarrhea or some form of GI inflammation will eventually be put on an antibiotics treatment. They are supposed to reduce the inflammation and restore healthy gut microbes.

Vitamin B12 Injections

Chronic GI inflammations result in impaired vitamin B12 absorption. Considering this vitamin’s vital role in maintaining GI health, the vet will probably prescribe oral vitamin B12 supplementation.

Fiber Supplements

Fiber supplements (inulin, psyllium) containing soluble fiber sources can be beneficial in the treatment of canine IBD. This is because they can help restore the gut microbes and promote healthy intestinal motility and fecal density.

Probiotics

Probiotics are defined as live microorganisms that provide health benefits for the host. In simple words probiotics are the “good” GI bacteria. The goal of the probiotics is to keep the levels of “good” bacteria high and prevent the “bad” bacteria from overpopulating the GI.

The use of probiotics in dogs with IBD, GI inflammation issues and enteropathies is a hot topic at the moment. Many studies are exploring the effects of probiotics on the dog’s overall GI health. 

Steroids

When nothing else works, the vet will prescribe steroids as a form of immunosuppressive therapy. Steroids keep the immune system from producing an inflammatory response.

In dogs with IBD, the immune system overreacts. The steroids’ role is prevention of such exaggerated reactions. However, it should be noted that the use of steroids as a treatment is associated with many side effects, not just when treating canine IBD but in general.

Fecal Transplants

Fecal transplant is a fancy term for a simple treatment – poop from healthy dogs is given to dogs with GI conditions. The concept of the treatment is simple – reintroducing “good” bacteria in dogs with IBD. 

The fecal transplant comes in two forms, as an enema and oral capsule. Each option has its pros and cons, and which one is best for your dog is something you need to discuss with your trusted vet. 

How Can Probiotics Help Your Dog

How Can Probiotics Help Your Dog

Probiotics can help dogs with GI conditions, especially dogs with IBD by working on multiple levels. However, it is important to remember that probiotics are part of the treatment, they are not a treatment per se.  

Probiotic Studies 

The use of probiotics for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn's disease are well-studied. The results of those studies are promising in terms of implementing the same concepts and using probiotics for dogs and cats with IBD or other inflammatory GI conditions.

Although there are not many studies examining the effect of probiotics in dogs with IBD, the studies that are already conducted support the use of probiotics.

According to Jan Suchodolski, PhD, DACVM, professor at the A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in Texas, almost all GI conditions in dogs are associated with gut microbe alterations. 

Since probiotics can modulate the GI gut microbes and restore the balance necessary for GI health it can be extrapolated that they are beneficial for managing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and GI inflammatory conditions.

The lining of the GI tract is like a barrier that prevents pathogenic bacteria from penetrating and exerting their harmful effects. Some probiotics can increase the junction protein expression, which on cellular level, improves the GI tract lining’s barrier function. In simple words, probiotics promote proper barrier function and make it hard for pathogenic bacteria to cause damage and disease.

A recent pilot study showed that probiotics promote overall improvement in dogs with idiopathic IBD when combined with immunosuppressive treatment. Namely, the group of dogs receiving both immunosuppressive drugs and probiotics improved more than the group of dogs receiving conventional immunosuppressive drugs alone.

Studies also show that probiotics decrease the incidence of stress-related diarrhea in dogs and cats. They also show that prolonged use of probiotics is associated with better results and sometimes the clinical signs return upon discontinuation of the probiotics. 

Picking the Best Probiotics for Your Dog

With so many different probiotic products available on the market choosing the ideal product for your dog with IBD can be challenging.

Before adding probiotics to your dog’s IBD treatment plan, discuss the idea with your trusted vet – in terms of compatibility and best probiotic. 

CFUs (Number of colony forming units)

First you need to pay attention to the CFUs in a single serving. In general higher CFUs mean more powerful probiotics.

Bacteria strains diversity

It is not just the number of bacteria that matters but also the type of bacteria. You should always choose probiotic products containing several different bacteria types, preferably no less than five.

Potency guarantee and shelf stability

Probiotics contain live bacteria which is why you need them to be stable. If they start decaying and lose their potency, your dog will not benefit from the supplementation. It is also advisable to opt for probiotics made in the USA,

Transparent labeling

Probiotics are classified as nutraceuticals which means their production and labeling are not as strictly regulated as it is the case with pharmaceuticals. 

Our Final Thoughts

Young dog owner girl plays with french bulldog puppy

The benefits and effects of probiotics in human patients are an extensively studied subject. However, the use of probiotics in the veterinary practice field is still in its infant years – with the first interests rooting no more than two decades ago.

As life sciences bloom, recent studies show probiotics promote GI homeostasis, thus ensuring gut health. This feature can be helpful in the treatment of canine inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and the prevention of GI inflammatory conditions. 

Canine inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic inflammation of the GI, usually manifesting with persistent diarrhea and intermittent vomiting. 

The fact that probiotics are efficient in promoting GI health and readily available, and simple to use gives hope to many pet owners whose dogs and cats are diagnosed with IBD.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which probiotic is best for IBD?

When choosing the right probiotic you should always opt for a product that contains different gut bacteria strains. If in doubt, ask your vet to recommend a probiotic for your dog.

What can I feed my dog with inflammatory bowel disease?

Feeding a dog with IBD requires introducing a novel protein diet. For example, if your dog used to eat a chicken diet now you should try a fish diet. An elimination diet is necessary for finding the right protein for your dog.

Do probiotics help with inflammatory bowel disease?

Yes, a study shows that probiotics have beneficial effects for dogs with inflammatory bowel disease and GI inflammations in general. This is because probiotics promote mucosal homeostasis on GI level.

Can probiotics make IBD worse?

The only situation in which a probiotic can make IBD worse is if you expect the probiotic to be the cure and refuse other treatments. Probiotics are not therapy substitutes. Instead, they should be used in conjunction with other approaches. 

Is IBD the most common gastrointestinal disease in dogs and cats?

Inflammatory bowel disease as an enteropathy form is one of the most common chronic gastrointestinal diseases (chronic enteropathies) in dogs and cats, manifesting with clinical signs like diarrhea, vomiting, appetite changes, and weight loss.