IBD in dogs

IBD is a complicated condition that may have symptoms similar to other common canine bowel problems.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an uncomfortable condition that occurs in the intestines. It involves the infiltration of an abnormal number of cells from the immune system into the intestinal tissues. IBD is referred to as immune-mediated because some of these cells may control or mediate the disease process.

Normally, the intestines absorb water and nutrients slowly, but if they are irritated, as may be the case with IBD, the process speeds up. This may cause water and nutrients to be expelled in feces rather than absorbed by the intestines. This irritation in the dog’s bowel may be chronic, and may frequently prevent the efficient absorption of vital nutrients.

Inflammatory bowel disease in dogs is a complicated condition that may have symptoms similar to other common canine bowel problems. There might be several symptoms associated with this condition, including discomfort after eating that may result in reduced food intake; diarrhea that may contain a lot of mucous and sometimes blood; and small, frequent bowel movements. Dog IBD can also result in nutritional deficiencies, weight loss, reduced protein levels, and other problems related to reduced food/nutrient intake. It may cause nutrient malabsorption due to the decreased functionality of intestinal tract cells. Dog IBD can also cause intermittent vomiting. Symptoms can depend on where the inflammation is within the intestines. For example, inflammation in the upper portions of the intestine can result in more vomiting than inflammation in the lower intestine or colon.

The symptoms and severity of dog IBD may depend on the type of immune cells involved. These include lymphocytes and plasmacytes, eosinophils or neutrophils. The lining of the intestine may or may not become inflamed and scarred from the infiltration of immune cells. Neutrophils can be involved with bacterial infection and the veterinarian might choose to rule this out first. Lympocytic, plasmacytic IBD is the most common form of this condition, with eosinophilic IBD being the second most common. The latter can be more serious than the former.

A veterinarian will often choose to rule out all other possible causes of chronic symptoms similar to the ones found in dog IBD. A biopsy of cells from the intestinal lining might be necessary to positively confirm a diagnosis of it. The biopsy can reveal the quantity and type of immune cells in the intestinal lining. Treatment consists of several different components, such as dietary modifications.

The cause of IBD in dogs is still largely unknown. The overall outcome is an exuberant infiltration of cells of the immune system into the intestinal tissues. These cells release factors that cause painful inflammation. Dog IBD may encompass a wide variety of disease entities. Rather than trying to identify a single source or pathogen, scientists are targeting the cells involved in modulating the inflammatory process to provide a more universal and comprehensive treatment strategy.


Veterinarian Dr. Tracey Lowery is a small animal veterinary medical clinician with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Tuskegee University. Her areas of expertise are preventative and internal medicine. Her practice is located in Decatur, Alabama. In addition to private practice, Dr. Lowery’s medical experiences range from civilian contractor for the US Army Veterinary Services to emergency medicine.