What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) In Dogs?

By Anton Hout, author of The Guide to Aussie Training & Care

IBD in dogs actually refers to a group of gastrointestinal diseases that result in inflammation of the intestines and chronic gastrointestinal symptoms.

The exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease is not known but there are recognized abnormalities in the response of the immune system, likely caused by bacteria that normally reside in the intestines. The result can be some uncomfortable symptoms that may be distressing for you and your dog.

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As with humans, dogs have a number of bacteria in their intestines at all times, some of which are actually necessary to ensure the proper function of the digestive system.

Occasionally a hypersensitivity to these bacteria will develop, usually caused by food allergies, and this can result in inflammatory bowel disease in dogs. Some of the most common food allergens include meat proteins, food additives, preservatives, artificial colorings, milk proteins, and gluten.

Blue merle Australian Shepherd.

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While IBD in dogs can affect any age, size or breed, it is most common in middle-aged and older dogs. Some breeds are more susceptible, including Basenjis, French Bulldogs, and Irish Setters, though it is possible for any breed to develop digestive issues. Even normally active and energetic breeds like the Australian Shepherd may be slowed down by a sudden bout of IBD.

Symptoms Of IBD In Dogs

There are a number of common symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs, many of which may also be common to other conditions, so it is important to get a proper diagnosis to be sure of exactly what you are dealing with.

Some of the prominent symptoms of IBD include diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, depression, chronic intermittent vomiting, gas, abdominal pain, rumbling or gurgling abdominal sounds, bright red blood in the stool and distressed coat hair.

After taking a detailed history, your veterinarian can run a range of tests in order to obtain a firm diagnosis of IBD in dogs. Urinalysis, blood testing, and fecal examination can all provide important details as can a barium assisted x-ray of the digestive system.

In some cases of IBD, anemia or a high white blood cell count may also be present, as can abnormal levels of proteins and liver enzymes. All of these can help your vet to make a more definitive diagnosis.

Treatment Of Inflammatory Bowel Disease In Dogs

Though inflammatory bowel disease in dogs cannot be cured, it is possible to control the symptoms and improve your dog's overall health. Even with preventative measures, however, it is likely that your dog will experience one or more relapses.

Since controlling immune system function is the key to prevention, immunosuppressive drugs and antibiotics are an important part of the treatment process. In cases where there is severe diarrhea or vomiting, you'll want to administer extra fluids to avoid dehydration.

Aside from these medications, the most important step in treating IBD in dogs is dietary management. Your vet will likely recommend giving your dog a hypoallergenic diet for at least a week or two and seeing how he responds. Depending on his initial response, you and your vet can make any necessary changes. The end goal is to determine a regular diet that will promote good digestive system function and avoid further problems.

Though the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs can be distressing, there is no reason why your dog can't live a happy and healthy life with proper diagnosis and treatment. Sticking to the recommend dietary changes is key, as are regular vet visits.

With the proper management, your pet can overcome the challenges of IBD and put those uncomfortable symptoms in the past.

For more information about Aussie health issues see the Australian Shepherd Health & Genetics Institute (ASHGI).

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