Canine Inflammatory Bowel Disease

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Vomiting and diarrhea are common reasons for dog owners to bring their pets into the veterinarian, and it's no wonder why. The mess can be difficult to deal with, and affected dogs are obviously suffering. Gastrointestinal upset is a symptom of many diseases, but if vomiting and/or diarrhea have persisted for some time, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) will be towards the top of the list of underlying conditions that might be to blame.

What Causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The underlying cause of IBD is not known. Scientists believe that the immune system in the gastrointestinal tract overreacts to the presence of certain foods, bacteria or other substances, but the reason for this is unclear. Whatever the underlying cause, inflammatory cells are drawn to the walls of the intestinal tract, and their presence disrupts the normal function of the gut. This can occur in the stomach, small intestine, large intestine or some combination of the three.

"A veterinarian might suspect that your dog has inflammatory bowel disease based on his history and physical examination findings, but a definitive diagnosis is not possible without a thorough work-up."

IBD is usually diagnosed in middle aged to older dogs, but younger animals are also at risk. Genetics seems to play a role in some cases of IBD, particularly in certain breeds, including Boxers and German Shepherd Dogs.

The Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The symptoms of IBD depend on where in the gastrointestinal tract the disease is located. Inflammation of the stomach will cause vomiting. If the small intestine is affected, vomiting and diarrhea are possible. Inflammation of the large intestine typically causes a dog to have frequent episodes of small amounts of diarrhea that may contain mucus and blood.

Other possible clinical signs include:

  • Weight loss
  • Changes in appetite (a poor or ravenous appetite are possible)
  • Lethargy
  • Noisy gut sounds
  • Flatulence

Veterinary and Home Care

A veterinarian might suspect that your dog has inflammatory bowel disease based on his history and physical examination findings, but a definitive diagnosis is not possible without a thorough work-up. Many other diseases have symptoms that are similar to IBD. To rule these out your veterinarian may need to perform some or all of the following:

  • Blood work
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal examinations
  • Abdominal x-rays
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Tests for pancreatic function
  • Dietary changes

If none of these tests point to another reason for your dog's symptoms, biopsies, which are small tissue samples taken from your dog's gastrointestinal tract, will be necessary. The biopsies can be collected either by using an endoscope, a flexible tube inserted through the mouth or anus, or via surgery. Both procedures have benefits and drawbacks; your veterinarian should be able to help you decide which is best for your dog.

Once the diagnosis of IBD has been reached, your veterinarian will recommend treatment based on the location and severity of disease. Common therapies include:

  • Feeding a hypoallergenic diet (e.g., one made from novel protein and carbohydrate sources like duck and potato)
  • Immunosuppressive pet meds like prednisone, cyclosporine or azathioprine
  • Antibiotics like metronidazole or sulfasalazine to decrease bacterial numbers and reduce inflammation
  • Nutritional supplements to promote normal gut function

Most cases of IBD in dogs can be managed successfully with some combination of the above. Some dogs may be able to be weaned off some or all of their drugs while others require relatively aggressive treatment for the rest of their lives.

The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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