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Inflammatory Bowel (IBD)

Note: We do not currently have a health liaison for this disorder.  If you would like to volunteer, please contact Pam Barbe  and she will be happy to answer any of your questions.  For a description of the position, please click on disorder health information liaison.

 Thank you to Joan Martin for putting together this article for SCARF.



Broadly defined, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) refers to a diverse group of intestinal disorders involving chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, stomach, small intestine (duodenum, jejunum, ileum) and/or large intestine (colon).  More narrowly defined, IBD is a chronic condition of the gut involving inflammatory cell infiltrates that cannot be attributed solely to cancer, allergies, bacterial or parasitic infections.

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Signs and Symptoms

General symptoms of IBD include diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss, all of which may occur intermittently. Common signs depend on the location and severity of the inflammation:

  • Stomach and upper small intestine - chronic vomiting and weight loss;

  • Jejunum, ileum and colon - chronic diarrhea, weight loss and infrequent vomiting; 

  • Small bowel - diarrhea and large volume of feces;  

  • Large bowel - diarrhea, straining, some blood and mucous in small volume feces accompanied by frequent attempts to defecate.


IBD is a sensitization of the GI tract and overreaction of the immune system to a factor that would not normally cause such an extreme response.  The cause is unknown but possible factors include food allergy, food intolerances, parasites, allergies, chronic intestinal infections with bacteria, fungi, or protozoa, and intestinal bacteria overgrowth.  In the Shar-pei IBD is thought to result from food allergy coupled with an immunoglobulin A insufficiency.

Risk Factors

Some breeds are more at risk (e.g. Shar-peis, Basenjis).  Samoyeds are not a breed at high risk.  IBD usually affects younger to middle aged dogs (mean age 6.3 yr), either gender.  In Basenjis  lymphocytic plasmacytic IBD is inherited by an unknown mechanism.

Diagnostic Tests

IBD diagnosis is one of exclusion.  Systemic diseases, diseases of other organs, chronic parasitism (e.g. giardia), food allergies, infectious diseases and alimentary lymphosarcoma/lymphoma (cancer) need to be ruled out, because treatments used for IBD can mask other problems, such as cancer.  Blood tests, urinalysis and fecal examination can be done as a first step.  Food allergies, parasites and bacterial infections/overgrowth can each be addressed and eliminated by dietary therapy, broad spectrum deworming and antibiotics, respectively.
Abdominal ultrasound can be used to assess thickening, architectural disruption and infiltration of the mucosal lining and enlargement of lymph nodes, giving an indication of the severity and extent of IBD. Ultrasound interpretation requires a veterinary specialist and is non-invasive.  While not definitive, a blood test for several IBD markers can be useful. 
The only definitive test for IBD is a biopsy of the gut lining.  This procedure requires a veterinary specialist to do an endoscopy, colonoscopy or surgery.  It is expensive and invasive. Calculation of a canine disease activity index (CDAI) from analysis of biopsied tissues (using measures of architectural distortion, glandular necrosis or loss/hyperplasia, ulceration, villus atrophy and fibrosis of lamina propria in the mucosal lining of the gut) has been proposed to identify IBD and classify it as mild, moderate or severe.  In addition biopsy can distinguish IBD from Intestinal Lymphangiectasia, a disorder in which the lymph vessels supplying the lining of the small intestine become enlarged and obstructed.  Endoscopic exfoliation cytology (examination of cells brushed/scraped from the inner surface of the intestine) in conjunction with biopsy may be useful.

Treatment Guidelines

Note: Treatment of animals should only be performed by a licensed veterinarian. Veterinarians should consult the current literature and current pharmacological formularies before initiating any treatment protocol.

IBD is controlled, not cured.  Anti-inflammatory therapy/immunosuppressive drugs in conjunction with dietary therapy may be successful for control. Unfortunately, the drugs used can have serious side effects.  Additional treatments to consider are the use of agents that protect the lining of the gut and/or that reduce intestinal motility.


Keeping a log of  signs and symptoms is useful both for the owner and the vet. Dietary therapy involves the dietary history of the dog and considerations are a consistent diet, a novel (new to that dog) carbohydrate and a novel single highly digestible protein source. Alteration of fiber content and increasing the ratio of enriched n3/n6 polyunsaturated fats may be of benefit as may hypoallergenic diets. Controlled diet tests require 6-8 weeks to assess results.  Dietary and pharmacologic therapy may be required throughout life in severe cases.


Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs,  an excellent, concise summary at   two bones rating


Inflammatory Bowel Disease  from  This article includes a picture of mucosal histology/pathology. two bones rating


Protein-Losing Enteropathy in Dogs  at     two bones rating


Inflammatory Bowel Disease in the Dog  an inclusive description from one bone rating

Jergens, AE.  Inflammatory Bowel Disease in the Dog and Cat. Proceedings of 2002 WSAVA conference.  two bones rating

Tams TR.  Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs.  Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference 2001.  This article includes
 drug protocols, dietary management and side effects. two bones rating

Support Groups

This group requires a biopsy-confirmed diagnosis of IBD to join:

Suggested Links

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Your Dog at
 A good article for laypersons one bone rating


Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs and Cats at
 A holistic approach, much advertising on site one bone rating


Inflammatory Bowel Disease,  a more technical summary from the Merck Veterinary Manual  four bones rating

Current Research

"Living with a Disorder" Journal Entries


Notable Quotations

"The average dog has one request to all mankind; Love me." ~  Helen Exley



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