What is inflammatory bowel disease in dogs?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs refers to a set of associated symptoms that result in gastrointestinal inflammation. In other words, it is a syndrome rather than a disease. IBD is characterized by the infiltration of inflammatory cells within the gastrointestinal tract, once all other causes of inflammation (such as infection or parasites) have been ruled out. It results in chronic irritation of the gastrointestinal tract, disrupting normal digestion and absorption of nutrients.
IBD is not to be confused with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which results in similar symptoms but is a different disease process usually caused by stress or diet changes that affect gut motility and is much more common in people than in dogs.
IBD can be further classified into three subtypes:
1) Food-responsive IBD – whereby the symptoms improve with dietary management alone.
2) Antibiotic-responsive IBD – whereby the symptoms improve once an imbalance of gut bacteria has been corrected, either through the use of probiotics and prebiotics or antibiotics.
3) Idiopathic IBD – dogs with true idiopathic IBD do not fit into either of the above categories and do not respond to the associated management.
What triggers IBD in dogs?
There is no single cause of IBD and indeed the syndrome is still poorly understood by veterinarians and scientists. The development of IBD is likely to be multifactorial and some of the possible triggers are listed below:
Milk proteins, food additives, artificial colorings, and gluten (found in wheat) have all been linked to IBD in dogs. That’s not to say that any of these food ingredients are ‘bad’ – the gut simply becomes oversensitive to one (or several) of these food ingredients and it’s not yet understood exactly why this happens. A food sensitivity may occur at any point in a dog’s lifetime, even if it has eaten that food without any problems for months or years previously.
The gut has a population of ‘good’ bacteria that play important roles in the digestion of food and the normal functioning of the gut. These bacteria are different from infectious bacteria that can result in infections and are sometimes referred to as the microbiome of the gut. IBD can result from a hypersensitivity reaction to one of these types of bacteria.
Genetics can also play a role as some breeds such as German Shepherds and Boxers are more prone to developing IBD. That being said, any breed can develop IBD and it is not yet possible to avoid the disease through selective breeding.
What are the symptoms of IBD disease in dogs?
Predominant signs of IBD include vomiting, diarrhea, inappetence, a noisy tummy, abdominal discomfort, flatulence, and weight loss. IBD is a chronic process, meaning that these signs will be present for over 3 weeks duration. The symptoms will often vary in severity from dog to dog and some dogs may experience only one or two of the symptoms whereas others might be affected by all of them. Some dogs will experience symptoms persistently whereas others might suffer from ‘flare-ups’ of signs.
Sometimes, dogs might also suffer from signs of allergic skin disease alongside gastrointestinal symptoms. This occurs more in dogs with a food sensitivity-related IBD. In severe cases of IBD, dogs can sometimes develop Protein Losing Enteropathy (PLE), whereby there is protein loss from the bloodstream into the gastrointestinal tract.
How is IBD in dogs diagnosed?
The diagnosis of IBD can be lengthy and involve several different tests. The aim is to rule out other causes of the dog’s symptoms which can involve blood tests, fecal sample analysis, imaging such as x-ray and/or ultrasound, and endoscopy which is where a small camera is passed down a dog’s throat and into his stomach and intestines.
Biopsies of the gut are needed to confirm the diagnosis and these can either be taken with an endoscope or may be taken surgically. As gut biopsies are a more invasive procedure, sometimes it is decided to try a treatment for IBD first. If the symptoms improve, then gut biopsies aren’t always necessary.
What is the treatment for IBD in dogs?
There is no cure for IBD but it can be successfully managed with several different treatments. Treatment of IBD in dogs depends on the type of IBD a dog has, the severity of the disease, and an owner’s personal preference. The first thing is usually to address a dog’s diet. Prebiotics and probiotics might also be used to try and maintain a healthy population of gut bacteria. In more severe cases, medications such as steroids might be used to suppress the inflammation in the gut. These will usually be used alongside dietary management.
What should I feed my dog with IBD?
Feeding a limited ingredient dog food might make it easier to eliminate any potential ingredients that might be contributing to your pet’s IBD. It might also help to feed a diet that is low in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are converted into glucose which, although important in a dog’s diet, in high levels can result in inflammation.
An improvement in symptoms will usually be seen after about 2 weeks of feeding a limited ingredient diet if the IBD is food-responsive.
What is the prognosis for dogs with IBD?
Many dogs respond well to treatment and can live relatively normal lives and often have a normal life expectancy. Dogs with more severe disease can be harder to treat and some do not respond as well to treatment. Some dogs may continue to deteriorate or develop PLE. If their quality of life is severely affected then euthanasia is sometimes the kindest option.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs?
Symptoms include vomiting diarrhea, reduced appetite, weight loss, a gurgling tummy, or abdominal discomfort. Symptoms are usually present for over 3 weeks (chronic) and can vary in severity from dog to dog.
What triggers inflammatory bowel disease in dogs?
Common triggers include sensitivity to dietary ingredients and an imbalance of bacteria within the gut. Genetics also play a part as some breeds are more susceptible to IBD than others.
How long can a dog live with IBD?
Many dogs can live a normal life expectancy with a good quality of life. Those that are severely affected or do not respond to treatment may require euthanasia.
How do you treat inflammatory bowel disease in dogs?
Treatment varies from dog to dog but usually involves feeding a limited ingredient diet and supplementing the diet with probiotics and prebiotics. Sometimes medications such as steroids are required to suppress the inflammation in the gut.