What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

IBD is a painful and chronic condition in which a dog’s gastrointestinal system is inflamed and irritated. Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) are the most common cause of chronic vomiting and diarrhea. Dogs with IBD have difficulty in absorbing nutrients and energy from food.

Inflammatory bowel disease is an interesting disease. The body essentially sends white blood cells to infiltrate the gut lining. White blood cells aren’t usually a bad thing, but when they hang around for too long, they mess up the function of the gut, resulting in vomiting and/or diarrhoea.

The severity of disease depends on how many white blood cells are hanging around. The clinical signs you see also depend on where they’re hanging out, that is, your dog is more likely to get vomiting if the white blood cells are in the stomach lining.

The tricky thing? While we know that some are genetically predisposed to IBD, there are additional triggers that can make IBD a lot worse. White blood cells hang around when the body has sensed something it wants to fight off. Unfortunately for some dogs and cats, these triggers can include food proteins or bacterial proteins.

What are the signs of IBD?
IBD signs may include some or all of the following:

  • Intermittent Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite

In more severe cases, signs may include the following:

  • Blood in stools
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss

What causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?
The exact cause of IBD is unknown, however there are some factors believed to be associated with IBD:

  • Breed genetics
  • Immune system
  • Environmental factors: stress and diet
  • Microbial factors

What breeds are predisposed to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?
Although any breed can have IBD, there are some breeds known to be genetically predisposed:

  • French Bulldog
  • English Bulldog
  • Boxer
  • German Shepherd
  • Basenji
  • Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier

How do you diagnose Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?
Your vet may discuss IBD with you if your furbaby vomits or has diarrhoea on-and-off. It’s easy to dismiss your furbaby as “just really sensitive” but, if we can control IBD and minimise the number of times your furbaby gets sick, we’re more likely to manage your furbaby’s gut health better in the long-term.

IBD is a diagnosis of exclusion, so it’s important to rule out everything else that can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. That means keeping your furbaby up-to-date with prevention (to make sure it’s not worms causing all this trouble!).

Diagnostic tests may include the following:

  • Blood test: check for infection, blood count, vitamin B12 levels and kidney and liver function
  • Faecal test: check for parasites eg. Intestinal worms, Giardia, Cryptosporidum
  • Allergy food trial: check for food allergy
  • Abdominal ultrasound: check the structure of stomach and intestines
  • Endoscopy and/or colonoscopy

Definitive diagnosis of IBD requires an endoscopy/colonoscopy. This is a specialist procedure where a camera is passed through the mouth into the intestine under a general anaesthetic, then obtained a biopsy of the stomach and intestinal tissues. The tissues are analysed for an increased number of inflammatory cells, which is diagnostic of IBD.

What are the types of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in dogs?

  1. Lymphocytic-plasmacytic enterocolitis. This is the most common type of IBD. There are excessive numbers of lymphocytes and plasma cells (types of white blood cells) on the colon wall or small intestine.
  2. Eosinophilic enterocolitis: This challenging type of IBD is identified by the presence of eosinophils (white blood cells that control allergic and inflammatory responses) present in a dog’s colon, small intestine or stomach.
  3. Granulomatous enteritis: A biopsy is needed to identify this type of IBD and rule out other possible medical conditions. This type is characterized by inflammation that triggers a narrowing of the small bowel. This type of IBD is seen commonly in Boxers and French Bulldogs. Often they display signs of diarrhea, blood in stool and/or weight loss.

How do you treat Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?
It depends on the results from all the aforementioned tests. If we catch it early enough, we can manage IBD easily enough with a special hydrolysed diet, which minimises the amount of different food proteins that can set the gut off. If Vitamin B12 levels are low, we can start supplementation. Some furbabies need immunosuppressive drugs to calm the gut down, while other furbabies need antibiotics to clear out the bacteria (and then probiotics to make sure their gut is filled with good bacteria).

Diet responsive IBD
Dietary management is absolutely essential to manage IBD. A food trial with hydrolysed protein or novel protein to improve symptoms and reduce gastrointestinal flare ups. For example, Royal Canin Anallergenic is a hydrolysed diet, where the protein is not recognised by the immune system. Alternatively, a novel protein is a new protein your cat has never eaten before, for example Prime 100 Crocodile and Tapioca Rolls

Antibiotic responsive IBD
Medication may be required to control signs of IBD. For example, you may be recommended an antibiotic to help rebalance the good and bad bacteria in the gut. Eg. Tylosin or Metronidazole

Steroid responsive IBD
In more severe cases which do not respond to diet change and antibiotics, an immunosuppressive drug, e.g. Salazopyrin or Prednisolone may be recommended.

That’s why all the tests are so important. We never want to treat a disease with pure guesswork because it can compromise the health of your furbaby. These tests also allow us to personalise your furbaby’s care, so your furbaby gets what is most important!

What is the prognosis?
Sounds like your furbaby? Talk to your vet! It can feel like an ongoing battle and and here at My vet, we will always make sure you and your furbaby stay supported.

IBD cannot be cured however it can be successfully managed with diet and medication. However, if your dog has hypoalbuminaemia on blood test (low protein level), it may be more difficult to manage.

Diagnosing IBD does involve a number of tests and time, but once the diagnosis is reached, it is possible for your dog to lead a healthy life. It is important to work closely with your veterinarian to help minimise the effects of the disease and keep a good quality of life. At My Vet, our team is committed to high quality care and offers all the testing and treatment required for diagnosing and managing IBD. We encourage regular communication with our clients to help you provide the best possible care for their furbaby.

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