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IBD: Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

IBD symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment in dogs.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in dogs is a condition during which the body reacts to inflammation occurring in the gastrointestinal tract. Over time, chronic inflammation and the body's reaction to it causes thickening of the lining of the intestinal tract and decreased ability to absorb nutrients.

Causes of IBD in Dogs

The exact mechanisms that result in IBD in dogs aren't well-understood by researchers yet, but the lining of the intestinal tract is overrun by inflammatory cells, which triggers an overreaction of the body's immune system (an allergic reaction).

Some known triggers to the IBD reaction in dogs include intestinal parasites, a bacterial infection of the GI tract, and response to proteins in the dog's food.

Signs of Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome in Dogs

A dog with IBD often (but not always) has waxing and waning signs. That means the signs come and go. Another way to describe that type of condition is to say that the signs are chronic and intermittent. That means the condition is ongoing over a long period, but the signs are not always present.

Also, signs for each dog depend on which part of the GI tract is affected. Dogs that have mostly stomach involvement usually show vomiting. Those that have more involvement of the tissues in the intestines have watery diarrhea.

Some dogs have both stomach and intestinal involvement, so they exhibit both vomiting and diarrhea.

Note: Inflammatory Bowel Disease is not the same as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and is not caused by stress or anxiety like IBS.

Weight loss and decreased appetite usually occur during bouts with the condition. Symptoms may last days, weeks, or longer at a time.

Diagnosis of Canine IBD

Diagnosis of inflammatory bowel syndrome in dogs can be complicated and take a while. Some of that is because it takes time to determine the pattern of illness and see that it's a chronic condition. Another reason is that the signs common to IBD can occur during a wide variety of other conditions as well, including exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, pancreatitis, liver disease, and cancer.

A veterinarian may conduct many tests over time on a dog with chronic, intermittent vomiting and/or diarrhea to arrive at a diagnosis of IBD. Those tests can include:

IBD is conclusively diagnosed through examination of intestinal tissue. That needs to be collected during an exploratory surgery of the abdomen under general anesthesia. Note: If the symptoms are strictly related to the stomach or colon, samples may be collected through endoscopy rather than exploratory surgery.

The tissue samples are sent to a specialized lab, where a trained veterinary pathologist examines them. The diagnosis of IBD can be made based on those results.

Treatment of IBD in Dogs

IBD in dogs is a condition that has no known cure. Therapy focuses on the management and reduction of signs. Each individual may need different management strategies, and it can take some time to find the one that best helps your dog. The pathology results, which will tell your vet the types of cells involved in your dog's inflammation, along with the signs your dog exhibits will help the doctor make a tailored plan.

Treatments can include:

  • Diet change to a hypoallergenic, low residue, or high fiber diet. The new diet must be fed exclusively for two to three months to determine whether it will be helpful.
  • Medications. Medications that may help IBD dogs include:
  • Metronidazole, which is an antibiotic with anti-inflammatory effects on the intestines
  • Probiotics
  • Deworming medications
  • B12 supplements
  • Corticosteroids

Most dogs with IBD can do well once they're diagnosed and effective treatment is arrived upon. Some dogs with IBD progress to developing intestinal cancer later in life.

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