Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
What is IBD?
IBD is a disease that causes inflammation in any part of the digestive tract (stomach and/or intestines and/or colon i.e. large bowel). Some breeds of dog, such as Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers have a genetic predisposition to this disease.
In other breeds of dogs and cats it can be triggered by a parasite or food intolerance. More commonly no specific underlying cause is found and the disease is thought to be caused by over-activity of the body’s immune system (which normally fights off infection) to ‘foreign’ proteins (such as food) that are eaten, resulting in inflammation.
What are the signs of IBD?
- Weight loss
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Blood or mucus in the faeces
How is IBD diagnosed?
IBD is diagnosed by a combination of tests, as several other diseases can cause similar signs. Blood tests are often performed to rule out other underlying diseases such as liver or kidney disease, and faecal examination is performed to look for any parasites. Dogs and cats with IBD can have low vitamin levels (folate or vitamin B12), as these are absorbed in specific regions of the intestine, therefore these are checked in suspected cases of IBD.
As foreign body obstructions, or sometimes tumours, can cause weight loss and vomiting, X-rays or ultrasound scans are usually performed to rule out these problems.
A flexible endoscope camera in use on a patient
Finally, the ultimate diagnosis of IBD is made by taking biopsies from the stomach, intestine or colon. Usually this is performed under a general anaesthetic using a flexible endoscope camera, of which we have several different sizes to suit different sizes of patient. This is not an invasive procedure and most pets recover very quickly and will go home within 24 hours.
Endoscopic image of a dog's duodenum (part of the small intestine)
How is IBD treated?
Some dogs and cats will improve following a dietary trial. Often this involves prescribing a new diet that is hypoallergenic (i.e. unlikely to cause a reaction) or contains a protein source that your pet has not eaten before (such as venison or salmon). This is fed for 1 to 2 months and it is very important that no other food, treats or tit-bits are given. Some pets won’t respond to one diet but will respond to an alternative diet.
Pets that don’t respond to diet alone may be prescribed certain antibiotics.
Dogs and cats that are severely affected or that don’t respond to the treatments mentioned above will be prescribed steroids. A higher dose is prescribed initially and this is decreased every few weeks for several months. Sometimes in pets that don’t tolerate steroids or don’t respond to steroids alone, other drugs which suppress the immune system are prescribed.
What is the long term outlook? (prognosis)?
IBD has a broad spectrum of severity, ranging from mild vomiting and diarrhoea to severe weight loss and fluid build-up in the abdomen. It is not generally a life-threatening disease but can be in severely affected patients. It is not a curable disease, therefore the aim of treatment is to minimise the frequency of vomiting and diarrhoea: it is rare to be able to stop the clinical signs altogether. Keeping a diary of how often the signs are happening can be helpful to us in establishing the success of treatment. Most dogs and cats are able to live a good quality of life following a diagnosis of IBD.
If you have any queries or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.