Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) occurs when a dog’s stomach and/or intestine becomes home to an unusually high number of inflammatory cells. These cells cause changes in the lining of the digestive tract, which inhibit the normal absorption and passage of food.
It is important to note that although some of the symptoms may be similar, IBD is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome, which is caused by psychological stress rather than a physiological abnormality.
What Causes IBD?
The cause of inflammatory bowel disease is not well understood. In fact, veterinarians are not positive that IBD is even technically a disease-it might be the body’s defensive response to other conditions. Any number of variables may contribute to the development of IBD in dogs, including genetics, food allergies, parasites, bacteria or an abnormal immune system. It can often be difficult to determine the exact underlying cause of IBD in an individual animal, so a veterinarian may base future care on how a pet responds to different treatments.
What Are the General Symptoms of IBD?
Chronic vomiting is a common sign if the inflammation is affecting a dog’s stomach and/or upper intestine. Long-term diarrhea that may contain blood or mucus may be due to inflammation of the colon. Clinical signs may come and go, and sometimes the entire gastrointestinal tract is affected. A dog may also lose his appetite, seem melancholy, run a fever or lose weight.
How Is IBD Diagnosed?
Your veterinarian may suspect IBD after evaluating your dog’s symptoms, but the only definitive way to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease is through a biopsy. This is usually is performed only after other conditions that might be causing the dog’s symptoms, like parasites or organ diseases, are ruled out. The biopsy can reveal the quantity and type of inflammatory cells in the intestinal wall.
Blood work, radiographs, ultrasound and microscopic fecal examination are often recommended prior to performing a gastrointestinal biopsy.
Which Dogs Are Prone to IBD?
While any dog can have IBD, breeds that seem particularly prone are basenjis, soft-coated wheaten terriers, shar-peis and German shepherds.
How Is IBD Treated?
There is no cure for IBD-it can only be controlled through diet modification and medications prescribed by your veterinarian. Finding the right combination that works for each animal usually involves quite a bit of trial-and-error. It is important to be patient during this process and work closely with your veterinarian so that any necessary modifications in the treatment routine can be made. The good news is that some dogs are eventually able to stop taking medicine every day and might need it only during bad episodes.
When Is It Time to See the Vet?
Please see your veterinarian if your dog has chronic diarrhea or vomiting, or experiences weight loss, loss of appetite or unusual lethargy.