Inflammatory Bowel Disease: When It's Not Just Diarrhea

Like humans, it is normal for dogs to experience the occasional upset stomach, or episode of diarrhea, but experiencing severe symptoms, such as bloody stools, may be a sign of something more serious.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) refers to a group of gastrointestinal diseases that result in the inflammation of the intestines. The exact cause of IBD in dogs is unknown, but bacteria and nutrients normally found in the intestine are thought to be the cause of the abnormal immune response that causes inflammation.

Dr. Jonathan Lidbury, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained IBD’s potential causes. “IBD is a syndrome that is characterized by chronic intestinal inflammation in dogs,” Lidbury said. “The cause of IBD in dogs is not fully known, but recent research has provided some important clues. Basically, there is a loss of tolerance in the dog’s intestinal immune system to the nutrients or bacteria that are normally found in the bowel. This leads to inflammation of the intestines.”
Common signs of IBD in dogs include excessive diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Dog owners may also notice rumbling sounds in the abdominal cavity, flatulence, and even bloody stools in dogs with IBD.

To diagnose the disease, your veterinarian may ask for a detailed history of your dog’s symptoms. “IBD in dogs is diagnosed by a combination of ruling out other causes of intestinal inflammation, such as infections or parasites,” Lidbury said. “They will also try to rule out metabolic disease, dietary intolerance or allergies, and an intestinal bacterial imbalance by treating with certain antibiotics. It is also important to document intestinal inflammation by performing an intestinal biopsy.”

If your veterinarian diagnoses your dog with IBD, it is important to note that the disease can be managed, but not cured. Through careful treatment, your dog’s IBD symptoms can be managed with anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids, such as prednisone. Providing appropriate nutrition will also help stabilize your dog’s body weight and prevent dehydration. Following your veterinarian’s suggested dietary plan and drug treatment and being patient with the results often leads to stabilized patients; however, check-ups with a veterinarian are necessary even in IBD patients whose symptoms are successfully managed.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. 

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