When a dog suffers from gastrointestinal issues it can lead to uncomfortable symptoms and affect their quality of life. Here, our Madison vets discuss inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs, including the signs, causes and how veterinary internal medicine can help.

What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs?

IBD or Inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic inflammation of your dog's gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) characterized by the presence of inflammatory cells that are not related to another underlying health problem.

When these inflammatory cells reach your dog's stomach and GI tract they change the tract's lining and impair the normal absorption and passing of food.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have similar symptoms, however, these conditions have very different causes. Irritable bowel syndrome in dogs is most often due to psychological stress, whereas inflammatory bowel disease stems from a physical abnormality.

What are the causes of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs?

The cause of IBD in dogs is not well understood. Whether this condition is a disease or a defensive response to other conditions is yet to be settled. Factors that may contribute to IBD include genetics, food allergies, an abnormal immune system, bacteria, and parasites.

It is often challenging for veterinarians to diagnose the underlying cause of IBD in a specific pet, meaning that treatment can be a case of trial and error as your vet monitors your pet's responses to various treatments.

Any dog breed can suffer from IBD, however, several breeds seem especially susceptible including Norwegian Lundehunds, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, Boxers, Irish Setters, Rottweilers, Shar Peis, German Shepherds, Basenjis and English Bulldogs.

What are some of the symptoms of IBD in dogs?

If your dog is experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be a sign that your pup is suffering from inflammatory bowel disease:

  • Chronic vomiting 
  • Bloody or Chronic diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Picky eating
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

Dog owners should note that symptoms of IBD can come and go, and vary in severity. If your pooch is experiencing symptoms of IBD, contact your vet to book an appointment for your pet. While these symptoms can point to IBD they can also be associated with some other serious health conditions in dogs.

How is IBD diagnosed in dogs?

If your dog is experiencing symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, your veterinarian might recommend diagnostic testing to help determine the underlying cause of your pup's symptoms. Ultrasound, complete blood cell count, radiographs (x-rays), serum chemistry screen and fecal exam are some of the most common tests used in diagnosing IBD in dogs. If your veterinarian concludes that IBD is the most likely cause of your dog's symptoms a biopsy may be performed to provide a definitive diagnosis.

A biopsy will typically only be performed after other conditions that could be causing your dog’s symptoms (such as organ diseases or parasites), have been ruled out. Results from your pup's biopsy will establish the type and quantity of inflammatory cells in your dog's intestinal wall and help your vet determine the best treatment for your pet.

What can be done to treat or manage my dog's IBD?

There is no cure for IBD in dogs however,  your veterinarian can prescribe medications and dietary modifications that may help to control your pup's condition.

That said, pet parents need to be aware that IBD treatment is often a process of trial and error. It is a tricky condition to diagnose and treat, as such it can take time to find the right combination of medications and diet to address your pet's symptoms. 

Once the condition is being effectively managed, many dogs can stop taking medicine daily and may need it only when symptoms flare up. Below are some of the treatments most commonly used to control inflammatory bowel disease in dogs.

Preventive Care

Parasites and bacterial infections can often lead to inflammatory bowel disease in dogs, and fecal exams can sometimes miss the presence of these issues in your dog's GI tract. Deworming may be an effective way to reduce your dog's IBD symptoms.

B12 Injections

B12 is an essential vitamin for dogs and people. If your dog's GI tract isn't absorbing nutrients as it should, your pooch could suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency. B12 injections can help to keep your canine companion feeling happy and energetic. 


Many dogs can be successfully treated through diet alone, but in more severe cases medications will likely be required. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to help treat IBD in dogs. Antibiotics can help to reduce inflammation and restore the normal balance of the microbiome in your dog's GI tract. In some dogs, steroids can also prove helpful in fighting inflammation.

Change in Diet

Symptoms of IBD in dogs can often be effectively managed by nurturing and maintaining the microbiome in your dog's GI Tract (the billions of bacteria that live in the intestines). Your dog's microbiome can be improved through supplements such as prebiotic fibers or postbiotic end products and good nutrition.

What foods might your dog's IBD benefit from?

Many dogs suffering from IBD respond well to dietary changes. Although there is no specific food that’s ideal for every case of inflammatory bowel disease, your vet may recommend one of the following diets for your pooch:

Easily Digestible Foods

  • In dogs and people alike, some foods are more easily digested than others particularly if your dog’s GI tract is inflamed. Fiber and fat can be more difficult for dogs with IBD to digest. Whereas foods that are high in moisture (canned foods) may be easier for your pooch to digest.

Diet With Low Additives

  • Feeding your furry friend a diet with simple ingredients and minimal additives may help to reduce your dog's IBD symptoms. In some dogs, additives have been found to cause an immune reaction so these should be avoided wherever possible.

Novel (New or Never Tried) Proteins

  • Proteins in dairy, chicken, wheat and beef can sometimes lead to an immune system reaction in dogs. Part of the approach to treating your dog's inflammatory bowel disease may be choosing foods without common food allergens that could aggravate the condition. The logic is that when a dog eats a protein they have never had before, the immune system won’t be triggered to respond.

The Prognosis for Dogs with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

With a modified diet and treatment, the prognosis for dogs with inflammatory bowel disease is generally good. Your dog may need to remain on a modified diet for life, but once their IBD symptoms are being managed successfully you may be able to reduce your pet's medications (with veterinary supervision), or only use meds when symptoms flare up.

Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist Referrals in Madison

At Gluckstadt Animal Hospital, your dog's health is always our highest priority. If your dog needs a procedure or expertise that we do not offer, we will refer you to an internal medicine veterinarian near Madison.

Our team will work closely with the canine internal medicine specialist to ensure that your dog receives the best possible care.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your dog showing signs of gastrointestinal issues or IBD? Contact our vets in Madison to book an examination.