Does Your Dog Have IBD? What is it, how to diagnose it and how can diet help?
By Lew Olson, PhD Natural Health
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When a dog has ongoing symptoms of diarrhea, gas, and occasional vomiting, this is often diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). The best description of this is that the lining of the intestinal tract has become inflamed. This causes the food to shoot through the digestive tract, which in turn, forces the food to pass without being digested properly. The diagnosis will occur when symptoms of diarrhea, upset stomach and weight loss have continued for several weeks or months and other causes have been ruled out. Other causes of long-term diarrhea may include the following:
- Internal parasites, such as whipworm, hook worm, giardia or coccidia
- Bacteria overgrowth, including helicobacter or SIBO (small intestinal bacteria overgrowth)
- Addison’s disease, an adrenal disorder due to low cortisol
It is recommended that you take a stool sample to your vet and have a complete wellness checkup done on your dog. If the cause is not diet related, it could be a variety of things, which can include parasites, bacteria and/or inflammation of the intestinal lining.
Parasites can be a common cause of diarrhea so it is important to rule these out first with your veterinarian. Parasites that can cause diarrhea are roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, coccidia and giardia, just to name a few. Once parasites are identified, proper treatment usually clears up the diarrhea.
Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO)
Small Intestinal Bacteria Overgrowth (SIBO) is caused by a bacteria overgrowth. This is becoming more common in dogs. This problem creates large, gassy stools, weight loss and often appetite loss.
Other causes of diarrhea to rule out include:
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
EPI is a condition where the pancreas does not secrete the proper enzymes to digest foods. This is common in German Shepherd Dogs, but is seen in other breeds as well. Testing is needed to determine and confirm the disorder and prescription enzyme medications are needed for treatment. Like SIBO, EPI has large stools with odor.
Symptoms of EPI include INCREASED appetite, fluffy, very smelly, greasy, gray colored stools, loss of weight, gas, loud stomach noises, etc. The dog’s pancreas does not produce enough digestive enzymes to break the food down and therefore no matter how much they eat, they cannot digest their food. Untreated, weight loss happens quickly and can lead to starvation and death.
Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE)
With HGE there is bloody diarrhea, which is often red and clotted in appearance. Vomiting and lethargy can develop later. A high packed cell volume (PCV) in a blood panel will confirm the diagnosis. Toy breeds are more at risk, but HGE has good recovery outcomes.
When all the above are ruled out, your veterinarian will oftentimes refer you to a specialist who will recommend a series of tests. These can include using an endoscope or doing exploratory surgery to obtain a biopsy. The results will determine which part of the intestinal tract is involved and what degree of inflammation is present. At this point, several medications are usually recommended. These include steroids, immunosuppressant drugs, antibiotics and flagyl (metronidazole), or other drugs to slow motility (lomotil)
These drugs tend to mask the symptoms and do not address or treat the problem. Steroids will bring back the appetite and help control inflammation, but long term use of prednisone and other steroid drugs have numerous negative side effects that include frequent urination, diarrhea, GI disturbance, ulcers, pancreatitis, renal and liver problems, diabetes, Cushing’s Disease, thinning hair, pancreatitis, muscle wasting, bone thinning and changes in behavior.
Immunosuppressant drugs can cause bone marrow loss, anemia and a permanent loss of tears in the eye, causing dry eye.
Metronidazole is an antibiotic with some anti-inflammatory side effects. However, this drug is processed through the liver. Long-term use can cause neurological disorders and it destroys the natural flora and fauna in the system. Tylan is another antibiotic used that also has anti-inflammatory effects, but again, using antibiotics long term can destroy the good bacteria in the digestive system and it can lead to antibiotic resistance.
Diet recommendations often include prescription dry diets of the hydrolyzed protein type, which claims to be more easily digested.
I find it amazing that when a dog’s digestive tract is inflamed and the dog is in a weakened condition, the treatment is to offer harsh drugs that reduce the immune system and have a myriad of harsh side effects. On top of that, a poor food source that is heavily processed and high in fiber is included. Besides offering poor nutrition, high fiber diets continue to irritate and keep a dog’s digestive tract inflamed. Dogs are carnivores and therefore it is easier to digest animal protein and fats. Food spends more time in a dog’s stomach and then speeds through their short and simple digestive tract. Humans on the other hand, have a longer digestive tract, designed for longer transit time. Dogs labor tremendously trying to digest diets high in fiber. While high fiber will remove moisture in the large intestine and produce firmer stools, the intestinal tract remains inflamed and continues to cause spasms and creates poor digestion.
Rather than feeding a high-fiber diet and using immunosuppressant drugs and high power antibiotics that strip the digestive tract of good flora and fauna bacteria and cause further damage to the digestive tract, ideally, a diet change would be the first treatment of choice!
This diet would never be a dry food diet such as kibble, which is more irritating to a dog’s digestive tract. Instead, this diet would be a moist diet, high in good quality animal proteins and fats. A small amount of carbohydrates would be useful in a cooked diet for a fiber source. In a raw diet, the bones act as the fiber, which keeps stools firm.
Keeping stools consistently firm is not the main part of the ‘healing’ process, but it makes the human owners more secure when they see their dog’s stool look more like their own. Canines in the wild often have loose stools. This is not a sign of being unhealthy or having an illness, as long as they are digesting and utilizing the food consumed. Diarrhea now and then is not a big problem; it is projectile or liquid diarrhea for more than a day that can cause dehydration. The idea is to reduce the inflammation in the intestinal tract, which puts the digestive tract back into good health and allows for the proper digestion of food. My best advice is to look at the overall health of your dog. What is the condition of the skin and coat? Are they at a healthy weight? Are their stools consistent? Pay less attention to the stool and pay more attention to their coat, skin and weight for signs of recovery and good health.
If you prefer a cooked diet, I recommend the low fat, low glycemic diet. This diet is 75% animal protein and 25% low glycemic (low sugar) carbohydrates. I would use a variety of proteins, such as beef, chicken, turkey and pork. Remove the chicken skin and trim extra fat from the other meat choices. You may also use low or nonfat yogurt and cottage cheese and egg whites, as they are also low fat. Low glycemic vegetables include broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, green beans and dark leafy greens. For more recipes, see my newsletters on Low-Glycemic Diets:
You can also get information that is much more detailed in my book, “Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs.”
In raw diets, I suggest using a menu that consists of 50% raw meaty bones and 50% muscle and organ meat. For raw meaty bone meal, I suggest skinless chicken necks, turkey necks and pork neck bones. For the muscle/organ mix meal, I would use leaner meats such as low fat hamburger, white chicken meat chicken (no skin), and wild game such as venison and elk, with a small amount (5% of the meal) organ meat (liver or kidney), and nonfat yogurt or cottage cheese. More fat can be introduced to the diet later, but while the digestive tract is healing, higher fat diets should be avoided.
For both home cooked or raw diets, it may be best to start with three or four smaller meals per day for the first few weeks. Additionally, adding the supplements below will help during the transition of the diet and help heal the digestive tract.
I recommend three main supplements for dogs with IBD and gastric problems. These include:
L-Glutamine is an amino acid that is helpful in healing the lining of the digestive tract. This supplement helps maintain muscle mass and helps healing after surgery or an injury. The recommend dose is 500 mg per 20 pounds of body weight daily.
Berte’s Ultra Probiotics are a blend of beneficial bacteria, which are typically found in the digestive tract. These probiotics contain the good bacteria the digestive tract needs for proper digestion. During times of stress or illness, this natural bacterium can be depleted. Adding these probiotics to the diet, twice daily with meals, is helpful in restoring the flora and fauna needed for proper digestion and maintaining a strong immune system.
Animal-based enzymes include pancreatin and pancrealipase. They help predigest fats in the stomach so that when food is released into the small intestine, less strain is put on the liver and pancreas. The fat is better digested for easier passage through the small intestine. This leads to better formed stools.
This supplement offers all three of the above suggested supplements, L-Glutamine, Probiotics and Animal Enzymes, as well as GAGs to help heal the gut, and ginger to help prevent nausea.
Yucca is a natural steroidal herb that helps control inflammation. It MUST be given with food and at no more than 1 drop per ten pounds of body weight.
Dimethylglycine is an amino acid recommended to help support proper immune response and glucose metabolism. For dogs with allergy problems, this supplement has been found to be beneficial in helping the immune system. This supplement also helps support skin and heart health, as well as proper nerve and brain functions.