Inflammatory Bowel Disease, IBD, is a health condition that is very common and continues to raise the most questions on the K9Nutrition Facebook page and in private consults. I have written about this topic before – more than once – and yet it continues to be a plaguing disease among the canine community. IBD generally starts with the dog having diarrhea. Then it occurs more frequently and sometimes with urgency. Occasionally vomiting occurs and eventually weight loss accompanies IBD.
It is often puzzling and frustrating for dog owners as this disease can be difficult to diagnose. This is because there are numerous other health conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Some of these include parasites (hook and whip worms), certain medications, ingesting a toy or other non-food item, cancer, over-feeding, or feeding too much fat or fiber in the diet. Since dogs can’t talk, they can’t tell us what hurts or what might have caused these symptoms. Veterinarians are left to search for clues and run tests to try to find the cause.
Often an endoscopy is done. This consists of putting a scope into the dog’s intestines to look for damage or inflammation. When inflammation is present, without evidence of tumors or cancer, IBD is diagnosed. Often at this point, veterinarians prescribe antibiotics and steroids, and advise feeding prescription dog food.
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While these things work – at least temporarily – they only mask the problem. The steroid medication takes down some inflammation for a time and the high-fiber prescription food works by removing excess moisture from the stools. However, the steroids cause other side effects if used long term, and the high-fiber diet continues to irritate the digestive tract lining, which continues to cause inflammation and discomfort.
Veterinarians will often speak of food intolerances and ask owners to feed a single protein. I do not agree with this perspective. Some improvement may be seen with just a food change, but if it is a dry food, the irritation will continue. Additionally, when dogs are fed only one protein source, they can develop allergies and/or nutritional deficiencies on such a restricted diet when fed long term.
In my opinion, several things can lead to Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Oftentimes, IBD is seen in dogs that are anxious or stressed easily, have a lot of energy, are more reactive, and they have been fed a dry commercial dog food throughout their life. When you combine this type of temperament with dry food, the dog may secrete more gastric juices causing additional irritation to the intestinal lining. When this continued irritation occurs over time, it leads to thickening and inflammation of the intestinal lining.
So what is the best answer? The first thing I suggest is to only feed a moist diet. Moisture in food helps with digestion and is less irritating. I would also suggest a fresh food diet – either home cooked or raw. A raw diet can be carbohydrate free, which offers less fiber to irritate the small intestine. Dogs are NOTdesigned to ferment food or handle fiber. I suggest a low-glycemic, low-fat cooked diet to start OR, a lower fat raw diet. You can lower the fat content by removing all the skin from (remove all skin from chicken, use low fat meats and low or non-fat yogurt and cottage cheese). You can find more information on these diets in these newsletters:
Carbohydrates and Low Glycemic Diets Part I
Carbohydrates and Low Glycemic Diets Part II
Secondly, and very important, I suggest feeding three to four smaller meals daily to start rather than one or two large meals. Smaller meals are easier to digest and allow the digestive tract some time to heal.
Lastly, it is important to add supplements that help heal the intestinal lining and form better stools. These include:
L-Glutamine is an amino acid that, when given in the right amounts, helps heal the digestive tract lining.
Animal Based Digestive Enzymes help break down and predigest fats in the stomach making them easier to pass through the small intestine.
Probiotics, which contain the good bacteria, help heal the digestive system and replace the ‘good’ bacteria that gets lost with prolonged diarrhea.
You can find all of these supplements in the Berte’s Digestion Blend. I designed this blend specifically for Buddy, a dog I had years ago that had IBD. Prior to changing his diet and adding Berte’s Digestion Blend, I could hardly get him to a show, due to his severe stress and diarrhea. When I changed his diet and added the Digestion Blend, he became well after 6 weeks and never suffered another incident of IBD again for the rest of his life. After he was healthy, he obtained his CD (Companion Dog, or obedience title) and his AKC Championship! I also suggest giving Berte’s Immune Blend at full dose for several months, or until you know your dog is completely healed. I also recommend feeding your dog four smaller meals daily and dividing the dosage evenly between each of the four meals.
The healing process takes time and patience. This disease oftentimes gets better, then it takes a step back. It then gets better again, then gets slightly worse, and then gets progressively better. Depending on the severity of the IBD in each dog, healing can take from two to six weeks on average. Once the intestinal lining has healed, more fat can be added to your dog’s diet. If you are feeding a home cooked diet, I suggest the Low-Glycemic, Regular Fat diet. If you are feeding a raw diet, you can also add more fat. Once healing has occurred, you can also move from four meals daily to three, and eventually back to two meals a day!
Should your dog start exhibiting any of the symptoms again, restart them on the Berte’s Digestion Blendand go back to feeding three to four meals per day. In some anxious dogs, stress can cause a relapse. Some stress situations can include boarding, traveling and surgery with anesthesia. However, oftentimes, if you are feeding a raw or home-cooked diet, once the dog has healed, relapses are rare. Should you have any questions, please feel free to email me.