IBD in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment 

ibd in dogs

As a pet owner, watching your dog experience discomfort in any form can be difficult to endure and foster a feeling of helplessness. One way to combat this sense of helplessness is to become knowledgeable about various conditions your dog may experience so that if they arise, you are prepared, understand what is happening, and can get him the help he needs as soon as possible. One issue to be aware of is inflammatory bowel disease in dogs.

Inflammatory bowel disease is a type of gastrointestinal disease that some dogs may experience during their lifetime. IBD in dogs is not something you need to be afraid of, but it is a medical condition that it is important to understand so that immediate treatment can be sought, and your dog can continue to live a happy and healthy life. To better understand inflammatory bowel disease, use this guide to learn what inflammatory bowel disease is, the causes of inflammatory bowel disease, common symptoms, and potential treatment options.

An Overview of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

ibd in dogs

Inflammatory bowel disease is a type of gastrointestinal disease in dogs that arises when the stomach and/or intestine of a dog becomes inflamed. This means that a much higher than normal number of inflammatory cells are present in the stomach or intestines. Because of the presence of these inflammatory cells, the lining of the digestive tract begins to change. The changes to the lining of the digestive tract result in the food being unable to travel normally through the digestive process and inhibits normal absorption that occurs during the digestive process.

Inflammatory bowel disease can sometimes be difficult to detect as a pet owner since the symptoms have a considerable amount of overlap with a number of other health conditions. It is important to take your dog to a licensed veterinarian as soon as symptoms begin to arise in order for them to receive the diagnosis and treatment they need. With this overall understanding of inflammatory bowel disease in mind, it is important to delve into the causes, symptoms, and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs.

Causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

Inflammatory bowel disease is not a health condition that veterinarians and researchers have been able to pinpoint a single cause for. Despite being analyzed, it has been challenging for veterinarians to identify what causes inflammatory bowel disease in dogs to occur. Some veterinarians believe that inflammatory bowel disease may not be a disease at all, but rather a defensive response exhibited by the body in reaction to other conditions or outside variables. Many veterinarians have come to the conclusion that inflammatory bowel disease can stem from a number of different potential causes.

These potential causes include food allergies, genetics, parasites, bacteria, or the presence of an abnormally functioning immune system. The most common causes are thought to be a hypersensitivity to bacteria and food allergies. For food allergies, the most common allergens believed to play a role in inflammatory bowel disease include wheat (gluten), milk proteins, food additives, meat proteins, preservatives, and artificial coloring. Because these potential causes vary significantly, veterinarians take an individualized analysis approach to determining the most likely cause of inflammatory bowel disease in each dog they see. This helps to ensure that treatment is as accurate as possible. With these potential causes in mind, it is important to examine the most common symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease as these can help alert you quickly to the need to seek immediate veterinary care for your dog.

Common Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Because inflammatory bowel disease is a condition that affects the gastrointestinal system within a dog’s body, many of the most common symptoms indicate an issue within the digestive system. One of the most common symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease is chronic vomiting, which demonstrates that something is affecting the stomach and/or upper intestine of the dog. In addition to chronic vomiting, another common symptom is long-term diarrhea. In some cases, this diarrhea may include mucus or blood because of inflammation in the colon. It is important to note that while it may be normal for your dog’s bowel to be inconsistent or for them to have diarrhea occasionally, if it is persistent diarrhea it is likely an indication that there is an underlying issue that need to be examined by a licensed veterinarian.

Some dogs may experience rumbling or gurgling abdominal sounds or abdominal pain when affected by inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, it is common to experience flatulence due to inflammatory bowel disease. While many of the most common symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease are physical manifestations of a gastrointestinal tract that is experiencing an issue, many other symptoms are behavioral. Dogs affected by inflammatory bowel disease may display fatigue, depression, and an unwillingness or lack of interest in eating. In addition to the above symptoms, other symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease include fever, weight loss, and developing a distressed hair coat. If your dog begins to experience any of the symptoms listed above, it is important to seek the care and guidance of a licensed veterinarian.

Diagnosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

ibd in dogs


To obtain the proper diagnosis for your dog, the first step is to take your dog to an appointment with a licensed veterinarian. Once at your appointment, your veterinarian will likely request a detailed history of your dog and his health, he will take his weight, and do an initial physical examination. Part of obtaining the detailed history of your dog and his health will include discussing how long your dog has been displaying symptoms, what those symptoms have been, and the severity of the symptoms. Once your veterinarian has obtained the information he needs, he will begin to conduct a complete physical examination of your dog.

After the physical examination is complete, the veterinarian will analyze the information they have gathered up until this point to determine what further tests they will need. Often, veterinarians rely on a laboratory test, such as a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. It is not uncommon for the results of these tests to come back as normal, even if a dog is experiencing symptoms since they are not specifically tailored to detect a certain disease or condition. However, in some dogs, these tests may reveal an elevated white blood cell count, which can indicate the presence of an infection or may show that the dog is anemic. If a dog is experiencing inflammatory bowel disease, laboratory tests they undergo may display abnormal levels of liver enzymes or proteins. If the veterinarian believes that the inflammatory bowel disease may be caused by a parasite, they will likely request a fecal sample to verify the presence of a parasitic infection.

Each veterinarian will take a different approach to diagnosing the cause of your dog’s symptoms based on his medical history, age, overall health, and duration and severity of symptoms. If the veterinarian believes that the function of the small intestine may be impacted, then he will likely test to determine the cobalamin and folate levels in the blood. If the veterinarian suspects a gastrointestinal disease due to symptoms, like many of those associated with inflammatory bowel disease, they will often not request routine X-Rays because these often do not offer any insights and return normal results. However, the veterinarian may request a Barium Contrast Study to gain a more detailed insight into what is happening in the dog’s body.

Barium Contrast Studies utilize Barium to enhance the visibility of the organs. The Barium is often given orally to the dog, and once it has had time to move throughout the body, the veterinarian will take a series of X-Rays to capture detailed images of the gastrointestinal tract. Barium Contrast Studies that are focused on the gastrointestinal tract of a dog can reveal a number of different things, such as intestine wall abnormalities (like increased thickness). Some veterinarians may also use an ultrasound to detect changes in the intestine wall. If the veterinarian believes that the cause of the inflammatory bowel disease may be a food allergen, they will likely do specific testing to determine if one specific food allergen may be the cause. This can include taking a small tissue sample from the dog’s intestine through surgery to confirm the diagnosis. The method of diagnosis and tests required will vary from dog to dog as the underlying cause may be different. The veterinarian will use their best judgment to determine the right method of diagnosis based on your dog’s individual symptoms and from there they will work to develop the right treatment plan for your dog.

Treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

If you believe your dog may be suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, it is likely that your chief concern is finding a way to treat and cure him. Unfortunately, inflammatory bowel disease cannot be cured in most dogs. With inflammatory bowel disease, the best path of treatment is to find a way to successfully control the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. Some dogs are able to completely recover from inflammatory bowel disease, but relapses of symptoms and the need for further treatment is common. The mechanism by which veterinarians attempt to control the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease changes depending on what they believe it is stemming from, as well as how the dog reacts to various types of treatments. There is an element of trial and error that often occurs when trying to treat inflammatory bowel disease since determining the underlying cause can be difficult and each dog will react differently based on a myriad of different genetic and environmental factors.

ibd in dogs

There are three main goals of treatment that are often worked towards when treating inflammatory bowel disease in dogs. The first is to lessen the severity and appearance of gastrointestinal symptoms. These gastrointestinal symptoms can lessen the quality of life for your dog, and it is important to find a way to control them for the dog to be able to return to living a happy, healthy, and calm life. The second goal of treatment is to reduce the response from the dog’s immune system. As mentioned earlier, inflammatory bowel disease is often caused by a high number of inflammatory cells, which are an immune response. By successfully controlling the immune response, the symptoms that stem from the high number of inflammatory cells can be reduced and even disappear entirely.

The third goal of treating inflammatory bowel disease is to stabilize the body weight of the dog. Many dogs stop eating due to a loss of appetite and the stress other gastrointestinal symptoms have inflicted on their body. Though not all dogs lose weight due to inflammatory bowel disease, it is fairly common, and when weight loss does occur it is important to find a way to correct so that the dog does not become malnourished. The types of treatments veterinarians will employ can range and are dependent on their judgment of what will work best based on an analysis of the dog’s medical history and symptoms.

One of the key components of treating and controlling inflammatory bowel disease is through the use of antibiotics and immunosuppressive drugs. Antibiotics can help to treat an underlying condition that has caused the inflammatory bowel disease to occur, and they can also help to reduce the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in some dogs. Immunosuppressive drugs help to decrease the immune system’s response that is causing the high number of inflammatory cells in the gastrointestinal tract.

For dogs that are suffering from inflammatory bowel disease as a result of a food allergy or sensitivity, veterinarians will often recommend placing the dog on a hypoallergenic diet to reduce symptoms. It is usually evident within two weeks from switching the diet whether or not the dog will respond to this type of treatment. If a dog has become dehydrated due to inflammatory bowel disease, veterinarians will often use fluid replacement therapy to get them back to a healthy hydration level. Seeking the help of a licensed veterinarian to treat inflammatory bowel disease is a vital step to getting your dog healthy and happy once more.

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