Canine Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) occurs when sections of
a dog’s gastrointestinal system have an unusually high number
of inflammatory cells. The inflammation causes changes in the
lining of the digestive tract, which makes the body become less
efficient at absorbing vital nutrients and can inhibit the
normal passage of food through the bowel. This condition can
impact a dog’s overall health and wellness.
The exact cause of IBD is not known; it is thought that
genetics, diet, food allergies,
and immune system abnormalities each play a role in the
Note: IBD is not the same as Irritable Bowel
Syndrome (IBS), which is triggered by psychological factors
What Are the Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs?
The symptoms of canine IBD range in severity and vary depending
on the location of inflammation (stomach, large intestine,
small intestine, colon, or all of the above). Symptoms include:
What Dog Breeds Are Affected by IBD?
IBD affects dogs of all ages and breeds, but certain breeds and
ages seem more predisposed to the disease.
Basenjis, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, and
Shar-Peis seem particularly prone. IBD is more commonly
diagnosed in middle-aged and older dogs, possibly because early
signs are subtle and can go unnoticed.
How Is it Diagnosed?
Urinalysis and blood panel: These are often
used as part of a routine health screening to first rule out
problems in your dog’s kidneys
Parasite testing: Your vet will also rule
out any parasite infections through a stool sample. Several
types of parasites can affect the GI tract: the Giardia
parasite is commonly mistaken for an IBD condition. A broad
spectrum deworming might be recommended.
X-ray: An x-ray can help rule out tumors or
abnormal growths. Your vet may recommend using a barium
contrast to enhance the visibility of organs and intestinal
wall thicknesses during the x-ray. The barium can be given
Ultrasound: An ultrasound may help identify
any abnormalities in the intestinal tract.
Biopsy: A biopsy will be performed only
after ruling out other causes for the symptoms with
non-invasive procedures. The biopsy is the only way to
identify the type of inflammatory cells causing the IBD and
their frequency (usually graded as mild, moderate, or
severe). A biopsy can usually be done via endoscopy.
How Is IBD Treated?
Although IBD is usually treatable, it cannot be completely
cured. Your veterinarian will create a plan to get the symptoms
under control. Finding the right combination of treatments may
take some time, but will include both dietary modifications and
medications. Medications like corticosteroids, antibiotics with
anti-inflammatory properties (like Metronidazole for dogs), and
immune suppressants may be recommended based on the severity of
Many dogs with IBD respond well to a management plan and only
see occasional flare-ups.
Steps To Manage Inflammatory Bowel Disease In Cats
Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, refers to a group of
chronic gastrointestinal disorders. The disease prevents your
pet’s stomach and intestinal tract from functioning properly,
causing severe digestive problems. In some cases, IBD can even
lead to intestinal cancer or lymphosarcoma. Thankfully, this
painful condition can be managed. The key is to know the signs
of inflammatory bowel disease in cats, work with your vet to
reverse the inflammation, and get your cat back to feeling
What Causes IBD?
Veterinarians and researchers don’t really know what causes
this inflammation. However, they do have some well-grounded
theories about factors that affect a cat’s risk of IBD,
Age: Cats can
develop the disease at any point, but it seems most prevalent
in middle-aged and senior felines.
system: Problems with your cat’s immune system
may lead it to attack the “good” intestinal flora
(microorganisms), causing inflamed cells in the digestive
Diet: Hypersensitivity or
an allergy to certain foods may trigger IBD.
There’s also speculation that the modern diet of domesticated
cats puts them at risk for IBD, and that a high-protein,
low-carbohydrate diet (like that of wild felines) can protect
cats from the disease. However, there’s no definitive evidence
to support that theory.
What Are IBD Symptoms in Cats?
The buildup of inflammatory cells in the stomach and intestines
of felines interferes with normal absorption and the passage of
food through the digestive tract. This leads to a range of
problems. If your cat regularly suffers from one or more of the
following symptoms, talk to your veterinarian about whether the
cause is inflammatory bowel disease.
The signs of IBD are very similar to other gastrointestinal
conditions so your vet will need to rule out causes such
as parasites, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, and pancreatitis.
Another Possibility: IBS
IBD symptoms can also be similar to another inflammatory
condition, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is not
considered a gastrointestinal disease, though, and is most
likely caused by miscommunication between the brain and the
To definitively diagnose IBD, your vet will perform blood work,
a urinalysis, and a fecal examination. Biopsies of the GI tract
are also needed so your vet can identify the extent and type of
inflammation affecting your pet.
Treating Feline IBD
When treating IBD, the best you can usually hope for is to
control your cat’s symptoms. Once your cat has been diagnosed,
treatment usually follows a two-step approach:
Step 1: Change your cat’s
Since allergies and food sensitivities are common triggers,
your vet may recommend a food trial using a hypoallergenic
diet. During the trial, you’ll introduce a type of protein
(such as rabbit, duck, or venison) and carbohydrate that your
pet hasn’t eaten before while eliminating all foods not
specified by your veterinarian. You may then need to wait
several weeks to see if your cat improves with the new food. It
can take several attempts with different foods to find a
combination that works best for your cat.
If a hypoallergenic diet doesn’t help, your vet may switch your
kitty to a high-fiber, low-fat diet of easy-to-digest food.
Step 2: Use
Along with dietary changes, cats with IBD are usually put
on prednisolone or
another corticosteroid. This anti-inflammatory medication can
suppress an overactive immune system. There are potentially
dangerous side effects, including diabetes, but the usual
course is to have the cat’s dosage lessened over the course of
several weeks while under the close supervision of a vet who
can watch for signs of problems.
If corticosteroid and dietary changes don’t resolve your cat’s
digestive distress, antibiotics (such as Metronidazole for dogs and cats) may be
recommended as well.
Prognosis for Cats with IBD
With proper treatment, IBD symptoms should lessen or disappear.
However, ongoing vigilance is needed on the part of pet parents
to ensure that cats don’t suffer side effects from the
treatment and to ensure that, if symptoms flare up again, a
cat’s medication and treatment can be adjusted.
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