Inflammatory Bowel Disease IBD

A look at Inflammatory Bowel Disease in pets

Alison Laurie-Chalmers, Senior Consultant, Crown Vets Inverness

This is a disease that causes inflammation in any part of the digestive tract (the stomach and small and large intestines). Some breeds of dog, such as Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers do have a genetic predisposition to this disease. In other breeds of dogs, and cats, it can be triggered by certain gut bacteria, by parasites or by food intolerance. More commonly though no specific underlying cause is found and the disease is thought to be caused by an over-activity of the patient’s own immune system reacting to what it sees as ‘foreign’ proteins, such as certain foods, resulting in gut inflammation.

What are the signs of IBD?

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Blood or mucus in the faeces
  • Painful abdomen

IBD is diagnosed by a combination of tests, as several other disease processes can cause similar symptoms and signs. Blood tests can be performed to rule out other underlying diseases such as Liver or Kidney disease, and a faecal examination is often performed to look for any unusual bacteria or parasites. Some patients with IBD can have low vitamin B12 levels therefore this is also measured.

X-rays and Ultrasound scans are often done as foreign body obstructions or tumours, can also cause weight loss and vomiting.

A definitive diagnosis of IBD is usually made by Endoscopy: taking small tissue biopsies from the stomach and intestines for diagnosis. This is performed under a general anaesthetic using a flexible Endoscope camera. This is a relatively non- invasive procedure and most pets recover very quickly and will go home within 24 hours.  In some cases surgery is required to obtain gut tissue samples.

How is IBD treated? Many dogs and cats will improve following an advised dietary trial. Often this involves prescribing a new diet that is hypoallergenic. This a diet unlikely to cause a reaction and containing a protein source that your pet has not eaten before e.g. venison or salmon. This is fed for about 2 months and it is very important that no other food type is given alongside this diet. Often this is trial and error, as some pets won’t respond to one diet but will respond well to another. It is important though to allow the advised time required on these diets alone to assess whether there is any improvement.

Pets that don’t respond to diet alone may be prescribed certain gut protectant treatments and healthy flora supplements and possibly certain antibiotics that control the gut flora and also act as an anti-inflammatory treatment for the gut.

Dogs and cats that are severely affected or that don’t respond to the treatments mentioned above alone may also be prescribed steroid treatment. A high dose is prescribed initially and this is then carefully decreased every few weeks for several months to the lowest effective dosage.

Some pets don’t tolerate steroids or don’t respond to steroids alone; in these cases other drugs which can suppress the immune system are prescribed.

What is the long term outlook?  IBD has a broad spectrum of severity, ranging from a mild occasional vomiting and diarrhoea to severe weight loss and fluid build-up in the abdomen.

It is not generally a life-threatening disease, but sadly it can be in severely affected patients. IBD is not a curable disease, therefore the aim of treatment is to try to manage the bowel inflammation and so minimise the frequency of vomiting and diarrhoea. it is rare to be able to stop the clinical signs altogether. Thankfully, most patients are able to live a good quality of life following a diagnosis of IBD and advised treatments.

Do contact us if you are concerned about any of these symptoms in your pet.