Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs (IBD) causes repeated bouts of digestive symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhoea. It’s most common in middle-aged dogs and some breeds are at higher risk. This is a debilitating condition that requires lifelong management.

IBD is a complicated condition and we still have much to learn about it, but it seems to be caused by a combination of factors. Several types can be recognised during testing, but treatment is similar. This usually involves diet changes, digestive support and sometimes ongoing medication to manage the immune response. Symptoms may be mild initially, but managing the condition is important to lessen its impact on health and prevent worsening.



What is inflammatory bowel disease in dogs?

Inflammatory bowel disease is the name given to a group of conditions.

  • Inflammation in the gut wall disrupts the gut defences
  • This exposes the immune system to more triggers, which worsens inflammation
  • This also disrupts normal digestion

Several factors contribute to the development of these conditions, such as:

  • Immune response
  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Infections

Inflammatory bowel disease is different from a food allergy, where the immune system is reacting to one or a few specific foods. It is also different from irritable bowel syndrome, where the nervous system plays an important role.



Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

Symptoms can be ongoing or intermittent:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Gas or rumbly tummy
  • Tummy pain
  • Dark stools
  • Swollen abdomen



What dogs are at a higher risk of inflammatory bowel disease?

IBD can affect any dog, but some breeds seem to be at higher risk:

  • Weimaraner
  • Rottweiler
  • German shepherd
  • Boxer
  • Border Collie
  • French bulldog
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Mastiff
  • Alaskan malamute

Some sub-types of IBD are specific to a breed, such as the Basenji or Soft-coated Wheaten terrier.



Diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

Diagnosing IBD requires several steps:

  • Ruling out parasites and infections with stool tests and preventive treatments
  • Ultrasound or x-rays to rule out foreign bodies, this also allows checking for masses or other signs of cancer
  • Diet trial with hydrolysed or novel protein diet to rule out a food allergy
  • Fully confirming the diagnosis requires intestinal biopsies
  • Blood tests are also important to check for potentially serious consequences of IBD, such as vitamin B12 deficiency or low blood protein levels
  • A course of antibiotic treatment may be recommended in select cases when an imbalance in gut microbes (dysbiosis) is suspected


Vet treatment

Vet treatment of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

  • A hydrolysed or hypoallergenic diet is helpful in most cases of IBD (up to 65%). In milder cases, it may be enough to control or resolve the symptoms on its own
  • Correcting vitamin B12 deficiency is important, as this is common and can contribute to worsening of the symptoms. This can done with daily supplements or weekly injections
  • Regular use of antiparasitic (de-worming) treatments is important to prevent further causes of inflammation
  • Cases with symptoms of colitis, such as mucus or blood in the stool, may benefit from extra fibre in their diet
  • Probiotic use is unproven but may be beneficial
  • Cases that don’t respond well enough to the treatments above will need medication to control the inflammation and prevent worsening. This will depend on the case:
    • Steroids are commonly used and usually effective. As the symptoms respond, it may be possible to reduce to a low maintenance dose
    • Cyclosporine or Chlorambucil may be used in cases that do not respond to steroids
    • Cases affecting mostly the large intestine can sometimes be managed with locally effective anti-inflammatories, such as Sulfasalazine
  • In the future, faecal transplants may become a treatment option in some cases, but this is currently under investigation


Home treatment

Home treatment of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

  • Diet is a crucial part of managing IBD in dogs. It’s important to work with your vet to find out what the best dietary plan is for your dog and what they can or cannot eat.
  • In difficult cases, accidents in the house may happen now and again; it may be necessary to adjust for this.
  • Scavenging (eating things they find during their walks) may be a contributing problem in some dogs, and lead-only or muzzle use during walks may be needed.



Prevention of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

There is still a lot to be understood about IBD in dogs and no specific prevention methods are known. As ever, a balanced diet with good quality ingredients is important for health.

IBD is not known to be contagious between dogs or to other animals.

Will my dog be able to live with inflammatory bowel disease?

  • Some cases may resolve completely after several months on a special diet
  • Many dogs will have normal lives as long as their diet is carefully managed
  • Dogs that require anti-inflammatory medication will often do well initially but not so well over the years, either due to the disease becoming more severe or due to side effects of the medication
  • Dogs whose disease is causing low blood protein levels also tend to do less well in the long term
  • Unfortunately, some dogs have severe disease that does not respond to medication


When to worry

When to worry about inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

Take your dog to see a vet immediately if they have:

  • Constant vomiting, especially if blood is present or it has a ground-coffee appearance
  • Diarrhoea with a lot of blood
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Very painful and hard tummy
  • Pale gums
  • Weakness or lack of response when you interact with them

Speak to a Joii vet as soon as possible if your dog:

  • Has a small amount of blood in their vomit
  • Continues to vomit even on an empty stomach
  • Loses interest in food
  • Seems to be in pain in their tummy
  • Is quiet or lethargic
  • Passes some blood in their diarrhoea

It’s also important to discuss with your vet if the symptoms are returning after being well managed for a while, or if your dog is losing weight.

The vets of Joii are always available to give you advice and answer any questions.

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