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Bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic disease of the intestinal tract, occasionally also involving the stomach. Most dogs affected by IBD will have a known history of recurrent or chronic vomiting and/or diarrhoea. During bouts of vomiting or diarrhoea the dog may lose weight but appear generally normal in other ways. As a rule, most affected dogs eat well, or even have an increased appetite, leading the owner to assume the vomiting is caused by unrelated factors.

The cause of IBD is poorly understood. There may be several causes. Whatever causes the disease, the end result is that the lining of the intestine is invaded by inflammatory cells. An allergic-type response is then triggered within the bowel lining, severely interfering with the dog’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients.

Diet and dietary components are thought to play a role in initiation of the disease in some dogs. In other cases bacterial proteins may be involved. In most instances, an underlying cause is never identified.

Clinical signs

Persistent and recurrent vomiting and/or diarrhoea

How is IBD diagnosed?

Blood tests are usually taken to establish if digestion is normal and whether the digested food is being absorbed correctly, or if there is an exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. Depending on the results, before moving to more invasive treatments, we may ask you to trial specific diets based on which part of the bowel appears to be most involved. These diets are specially designed for each patient and may include hypo-allergenic foods, low residue diets or high fibre foods.

If the blood tests reveal that bacterial overgrowth is present, we may also suggest drug trials involving controlled administration of specific drugs and gauging improvement.

Finally, it may be necessary to obtain biopsy samples from the bowel, either using a flexible endoscope or, in some cases, following an exploratory minimally invasive laparotomy surgery, where the bowel is examined for signs of disease and portions of the diseased tissue are secured for further tests.

Treatment protocols

Once a confirmed diagnosis of IBD is made the dog is placed on a hypoallergenic, low residue or high fibre diet for eight weeks or more. This helps identify the contribution of dietary components to the problem. Although this is not a common cause of the disease, it is easier to treat if an acceptable food is found. If the dietary trial does not offer any improvement, medication is used to control, but not cure, the problem. Since not all dogs respond to the same medication, a series of drugs may be necessary.

Once we have established the most effective and appropriate diet or drugs, many dogs with IBD are maintained on these for life, although drug dosages may eventually be decreased. Occasionally, a dog will be able to cease drug therapy.

Most dogs do well on these treatments for many years. Others require regular alterations in therapy. Unfortunately, a few dogs will ultimately become totally resistant to treatment. Some severe forms of canine inflammatory bowel disease will eventually progress to incurable intestinal cancer.