What is IBD?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an interesting disease. Your body sends white blood cells, which are usually sent to fight bad guys, to infiltrate the gut lining. This is because your body has detected some protein it doesn’t quite like. This may be bacterial. This may be food-related. This may be for no reason at all.
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 dysfunction also means your furbaby doesn’t absorb all the nutrients they need. When IBD really, really messes things up, ulceration results, which can lead to massive blood loss and sepsis (this is a very, very bad thing).
The severity of disease depends on how many white bloods cells are hanging around. The clinical signs you see also depend on where they’re hanging out, that is, you’re more likely to get vomiting if the white bloods 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. As mentioned, 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.
How do we diagnose 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!). It also means keeping your furbaby on a hydrolysed diet (like Hill’s z/d or Royal Canin Hypollergenic or Royal Canin Anallergenic) for at least 6 weeks. Next steps include a full blood test, a blood test for vitamin B12 levels, and/or an ultrasound.
The gold-standard of diagnosis? Taking a sample directly from the affected gut. If this comes back positive, we can more confidently proceed with treatment.
How do we treat IBD?
Why is it so important to know it’s IBD? Well, the treatment 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).
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. Would you really want to give immunosuppressive drugs if your furbaby needs to clear an infection? Would you really want to start antibiotics if you know that it may kill all the good bacteria and leave the gut worse off?
In short, these tests allow us to personalise your furbaby’s care, so your furbaby gets what is most important.
Sounds like your furbaby? Talk to your vet! It can feel like an ongoing battle and we want to make sure you and your furbaby stay supported.