IBD in Dogs: How to Cure Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

IBD in Dogs - Inflammatory Bowel Disease in DogsIBD in dogs is not the same as IBS. The two are related but different conditions.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a broad term and a more serious health issue than a well-known, stress-induced Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Owners are often confused, since IBD shares many similar symptoms with and is sometimes bunched together with:

  • (Chronic) Colitis in dogs
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Spastic Bowel Syndrome
  • Lymphocytic-plasmacytic IBD
  • Granulomatous or Regional Enteritis in dogs
  • Different forms of intestinal parasites

All of these can fall under, and be classified as some form of IBD in dogs. They all require separate diagnosis and different type of treatment.

Research shows that inflammatory bowel disease in dogs (IBD) is the most common cause of recurring sickness and chronic diarrhea in dogs [1].

The condition is not life-threatening but can cause discomfort, inconvenience, and weight loss.

In this evidence-based article, we’ll take a look at the causes of IBD in dogs, what diet changes can help to deal with this condition, and whether there is any cure at all for inflammatory bowel disease in dogs.


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What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs (IBD) is an umbrella term used to describe a syndrome where the gut lining becomes thickened and inflamed [2].

When a dog develops IBD, an inflamed gut lining cannot do its job properly of digesting food, which causes the dog to vomit, have diarrhea, lose weight, and either lose appetite or be ravenously hungry [3, 4].

The precise cause of IBD in dogs is often never uncovered and treatment is a case of controlling the symptoms rather than permanently curing the condition [5].

Studies show that IBD in humans is different to IBD in dogs, and only a few treatment methods can be successfully translated to dogs [6, 78, 9, 10, 11].

Results from the above studies also demonstrated that IBD is far from completely understood, both in dogs and humans.

Bottom Line: IBD is a broad term for a multitude of gut inflammation related diseases. It’s not the same as IBD in humans, and more research is needed to better understand this condition.

What are the Signs of IBD in Dogs?

IBD in Dogs and What Are the Signs of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

Many dogs with IBD appear outwardly normal but they have regular stomach upsets [12].

The most common symptoms of IBD in dogs are [13, 14]:

  • Diarrhea
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Weight loss

The nature of their gastro-intestinal episodes varies depending on which part of the gut is affected.

For example, an inflamed stomach causes vomiting, whereas an inflamed small intestine results in loose stools or diarrhea in dogs, sometimes accompanied by the passage of blood or mucus [1].

Sufferers from canine inflammatory bowel disease often have a long history of intermittent vomiting, too. They may also have noisy tummies and be constantly flatulent.

IBD dogs often lose weight because their bowel isn’t absorbing the nutrition from dog food and/or because they lose appetite.

In extreme cases, severe protein loss means the dog leaks fluid into the abdomen resulting in a potbellied appearance [1, 15].

Bottom Line: Many symptoms of IBD in dogs are similar to other gut related diseases, such as diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss.

What Causes IBD in Dogs?

Causes of IBD in Dogs

IBD is a broad and complex inflammatory condition with many possible trigger factors [16].

There are many different theories on what causes inflammatory bowel disease in dogs, but currently there is no one definite answer.

Over stimulation of the dog’s immune system is one of the reasons behind the bowel inflammation. However, the deeper question is to ask what triggers this overreaction in the dog’s immune system.

Trigger factors are many and varied. Examples include dietary allergies, bacteria within the gut wall, and bowel parasites irritating the bowel, among others.

It is also thought that stress can play a part in inflammation.

The most likely cause of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs is bacteria and the subsequent loss of tolerance to antigens [14, 17, 18].

Infiltration of the gut wall with such bacteria, viruses, or parasites can trigger the inflammation linked to IBD in dogs as the canine’s body attempts to defend itself [19, 20].

When the gut is continuously unable to fight off the bacteria, the condition may become chronic [21, 22].

Interestingly enough, only specific dogs will develop the disease. This led researchers to believe that inflammatory bowel disease in dogs may be genetic.

Bottom Line: There are theories on what causes IBD in dogs, but currently, there is no definite answer. Bacteria and genes are the most likely suspects.

What Role Does Diet Play?

Diet for Dogs with IBDAs mentioned above, bacteria is likely to be primary cause of IBD in dogs.

However, while canine’s diet doesn’t cause IBD, dietary changes may either help or further complicate the condition.

When digested, food in the dog’s gut splits down into its constituent parts. It is usually protein pieces which trigger an allergic reaction which results in inflammation and thickening of the bowel wall [23].

Any protein source can potently trigger IBD in dogs that are sensitive to this disease. Even chicken, which has a reputation for being gentle on the gut and easy to digest, may cause problems for dogs.

Changes in the diet are part of the treatment of IBD in dogs, and we discuss those below.

Which Dogs are Most at Risk of IBD?

Dogs of any age or gender can be affected by IBD [A11]. However, middle-aged dogs have been found to be more likely to develop IBD.

In theory, the inquisitive nature of puppies and younger dogs means they are more likely to pick up infections than older dogs.

Your vet will first rule out parasites such as giardia or campylobacter – which do have a cure – before diagnosing your dog with IBD.

Although there is no definite answer which dogs are definitely more likely to develop inflammatory bowel disease, there is some scientific proof for certain breeds to be more predisposed to this condition.

Is IBD in Dogs Genetic?

There are hypotheses that the diseases is caused by genetics and enteric bacteria [24, 25].

It’s true to an extent. Some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to develop IBD, especially when exposed to such bacteria [5, 24, 26, 27].

Since IBD is very broad, different breeds are more likely to develop certain conditions of IBD [14, 28, 29].

In general, breeds that are predisposed to develop some form of IBD include:

  • German Shepherd
  • Shar Pei
  • Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier
  • Basenji
  • Border Collie
  • Yorkshire Terrier
  • Rottweiler
  • Weimaraner
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Boxer
  • Mastiff
  • French Bulldog
  • Alaskan Malamute

More studies found that dogs with IBD had a different bacteria in their small intestine when compared with healthy dogs [30, 31, 32].

This strengthens the idea that IBD in dogs may be caused by microflora, and particularly in dogs with gene mutations [33, 34, 35, 36].

However, not all dogs with gene mutations will necessary develop IBD.

Because IBD in dogs most likely isn’t caused by a gene mutation or bacteria alone. Environmental and other factors also play a role.

Overall, a combination of factors are likely the cause of canine inflammatory bowel disease, and this combination is currently unknown.

Bottom Line: Certain breeds may carry a genetic mutation that raises a chance of IBD, particularly when exposed to enteric bacteria. However, genes or bacteria alone do not cause IBD in dogs, and it’s likely a combination of several factors.

How is IBD in Dogs Diagnosed?

How to Diagnose IBD in Dogs

IBD can only be safely diagnosed by exclusion, meaning that we need to rule out all other causes of sickness and diarrhea [9].

Since IBD causes are still murky, it’s important to first rule out all other illnesses because if chronic enteritis causes are diagnosed incorrectly, and the dog will begin treatment for IBD, there will be no health improvements.

Your vet may want to run a raft of tests to identify conditions with a definitive treatment [37].

For example:

  • Fecal examples: Rule out parasites such as roundworms, tapeworms, and protozoal infections.
  • Screening blood tests: Test organ function. Problems with liver or kidney function can cause digestive upsets as a complication.
  • Bowel specific blood tests: Check the gut is producing the correct digestive enzymes, has the right bacterial balance, and is healthy.
  • Imaging: Such as an ultrasound scan, to search for signs of cancer or obstructions which could cause sickness or diarrhea.

Canine’s diet is another important factor to consider in order to confirm or exclude it from the list of causes for complications of IBD [10].

Biopsy for Diagnosis of IBD in Dogs

A more accurate diagnosis of IBD is made by analyzing the cell types in a piece of bowel harvested by biopsy [7, 38, 39, 40].

A sample of the dog’s gut is obtained either by laparotomy (surgically obtained) or endoscopically (using a fiber optic camera and grasper).

The sample is sent to a lab where the cell types are analyzed [41].

However, even then the results may not be completely accurate [9, 25, 42, 43, 44, 45].

There is a risk associated with bowel biopsy. Bowel biopsy can result in peritonitis, a serious infection in the abdomen, if the sutures give way in the gut wall. This can be life-threatening to dogs.

Therefore, before going ahead with a more invasive procedure, your vet may discuss a dietary trial first to see if the signs improve.

Sometimes, a more long-term diagnosis plan is needed to make sure that a dog definitely has this condition. In those cases, canine IBD activity index (CIBDAI) is used, but even then, no certainty in diagnosis of IBD can be guaranteed [2, 15, 46, 47, 48, 49].

This is a similar diagnosis method as used for Crohn’s disease in people [50].

Bottom Line: Biopsy is the most accurate way to diagnose IBD in dogs. However, other less intrusive methods can also be used before opting for biopsy.

What Treatments are Available?

Treatments for IBD in Dogs

IBD in dogs is a tricky condition, and owners can sometimes complicate it further [51].

Once the symptoms occur, many owners fail to identify IBD in dogs, and instead begin treatment for parasites using a broad spectrum of dewormers. Some owners try to employ the same treatment methods as they would for people [10, 48].

These are incorrect treatment protocols. Not only is this unhelpful in handling inflammatory bowel disease in dogs, but it may also cause further complications, or make future diagnosis more difficult.

Ultimately, therapeutic choice for canine inflammatory bowel disease treatment depends on how serious the condition is, as well as how well the dog responds to certain drugs.

However, the safest way to start with IBD treatment is a dietary change.

Dietary Changes for Dogs with IBD

The best chance of a drug-free solution is a successful dietary trial where a dog’s dietary allergy is identified [14].

Once the primary triggers have been found, dogs can then avoid eating the food to which they react negatively.

Studies have shown that IBD in dogs can be successfully treated with simple diet adjustments [37].

Drug Treatments for IBD in Dogs

Probiotics for IBD DogsDrug therapy and supplementation can suppress bowel inflammation in dogs, which may help to resolve the symptoms [37, 52, 53].

Prednisolone tablets are inexpensive and highly effective at reducing inflammation [54, 55].

There have been claims that administration of prednisolone may cause serious side effects such as gastric ulcers. Research found this to be untrue and this drug seems to be safe for dogs [56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62].

Antibiotics such as metronidazole can balance out the bacteria in the gut, kill protozoal invaders, and also has a beneficial anti-inflammatory effects [63].

Studies have shown that metronidazole may be particularly effective when combined with prednisolone [64].

Drug therapies also include immunosuppressive medications, antibiotics, anti-parasite treatments, antispasmodics, and probiotics.

Other drugs that can be used as alternatives or alongside steroids, depending on the condition are:

  • Cyclosporin
  • Chlorambucil
  • Azathioprine
  • 5-Aminosalicylates
  • Cyclophosphamide

Cyclosporine was shown as an effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease in dogs, particularly for canines that are unresponsive to steroid treatments [65].

Out of all the above, probiotics are possibly the safest supplement. Even if not the most effective, particularly for more serious cases, they have been shown to have some positive effects in treatment of IBD in dogs [51, 64, 66].

Probiotics given alongside electrolyte supplementation also help to regulate the dog’s gut bacteria and correct any imbalances post-treatment.

Bottom Line: Steroids is the most effective treatment for IBD in dogs. Other drugs and supplements can also be used instead or alongside steroid medications. Dietary changes can also help and are safer.

Can IBD in Dogs Be Cured?

IBD is still a relatively unknown condition that is being heavily studied.

Unfortunately, currently there are no guarantees with any IBD treatment, and it’s unlikely that this condition can be completely cured.

Although there is no cure for IBD in dogs, the symptoms can usually be controlled with the judicious use of drugs and dietary management [1].

Once you and your dog have adapted to a new diet, it’s usually easy to stick with it.

Occasional relapses are to be expected.

Bottom Line: There is no definite cure for IBD in dogs, but it can be managed long-term. Relapses are possible.

What Diet Changes Work for IBD Dogs?

Canine Diet Changes to Cure Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

There is a link between dietary allergy or food sensitivity and inflammatory bowel disease in dogs [23].

As mentioned above, a safe alternative to bowel biopsy is a dietary trial.

Studies found that these feeding trials with dogs can be very effective [67, 68].

A hypoallergenic dietary trial involves feeding the dog a protein and carbohydrate source which it hasn’t previously eaten.

Your vet will analyze the ingredients in your pet’s diet and suggest novel ingredients to which the bowel hasn’t previously been exposed.

How to Conduct a Hypoallergenic Dietary Trial?

This new hypoallergenic diet is fed for at least 8 – 12 weeks. If the dog’s symptoms resolve during this time, then dietary allergy may be driving the IBD.

The dog gets protein from a single novel source (such as venison, salmon, or lamb) and carbohydrate from a single novel source (such as potato or pea). This alone is fed for the duration of the dietary trial.

Dietary trial also excludes the use of vitamins and mineral dog supplements.

For most owners, there’s not only an inconvenience of preparing large quantities of a homemade dog food, but dietary trial also means that dogs will be vitamin and mineral deficient [69].

Over the short period of the dietary trial this is unlikely to have an impact, but is inadvisable in the long term.

If the dog responds and the symptoms clear up, the first addition to the diet should be a vitamin and mineral supplement. No other additions should be made for two weeks.

If the symptoms do not recur during this time, then the supplement is safe.

Approach a raw hypoallergenic diet in the same manner by feeding a single novel protein source and a single novel carbohydrate source.

However, be aware that raw dog food places extra demands on the dog’s digestive system, as cooked food has already started the process of being broken down and is therefore easier for dogs to digest.

What’s the Easiest Way to do a Dietary Trial?

Dietary Trials for IBD DogsThe easiest way for most owners to put a dog on a hypoallergenic diet is to purchase a prescription hydrolyzed canine diet such as Hills ZD or Purina HA from your vet [23, 68].

Commercial prescription dog foods are nutritionally balanced and are therefore safe for long term use.

If the results are to be accurate and reliable, similarly to elimination diet for dog’s gluten sensitivity, the dog must eat nothing other than their prescribed hypoallergenic diet, which means no dog treats or cheats as these could induce a relapse.

Foods that are gentler on the gut and reduce the chances of IBD flare up tend to be low in fat and highly digestible. Examples include chicken and rice but even these have the potential to trigger dietary allergies [2].

Bottom Line: Changing a dog’s diet can help to diagnose and treat IBD. Hypoallergenic commercial dog foods are the easiest way to do that.

Key Points on IBD in Dogs

Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs is a complicated gut inflammation condition that is yet to be understood completely in the veterinary medicine.

Gut bacteria is the most likely cause of IBD in dogs.

Certain dog breeds have a higher chance to develop IBD, but the cause is likely a combination of several factors rather than genetic predisposition alone.

There is no complete cure for IBD, but treatments include steroids and other drugs, as well as supplementation and dietary changes.

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