Yes, dogs can suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, just like we can. Learning your dog has an incurable lifelong disease like IBD might leave you feeling especially overwhelmed. The good news is that dogs with IBD can live completely normal, long lives with the right treatment. As a veterinary nurse, I've spent years helping pet parents manage their dog's IBD, and I've compiled a list of eight things I wish every dog owner knew about inflammatory bowel disease in dogs.
Caring for a Dog Who Has IBD
One of the most frustrating things about IBD in dogs is the fact that there's not always a straightforward cause behind it. Inflammatory bowel disease can be genetic or triggered by parasites, bacteria overgrowth, or even food allergies.
Because it can be challenging to identify the cause, treatment isn't always straightforward either. You might need to go through a few food trials and try out a couple of different medications before you find what works for your dog. Before you throw in the towel, know it'll absolutely be worth it. Once you find the right approach for your pup, you can keep their IBD under control long-term.
1. Be Prepared for Messes
No matter how well-trained your dog is, there's a chance they might make a mess in the house. I mean, when you gotta go, you gotta go, right? Inflammatory bowel disease can make dogs defecate more frequently and with a sense of urgency. Plus, it often causes diarrhea during flare-ups and the initial trial-and-error period.
If your dog doesn't make it outside, don't scold them. They can't help themselves. Get a disinfecting and stain-removing pet cleaning solution for any messes in your home, and have a dog washing station handy to clean up your dog's bottom.
Place a potty pad by the door in case your dog can't hold it while you're out.
2. Stress Can Exacerbate Dog IBD Symptoms
A lot of people get an upset stomach when they're stressed out, and the same is true for dogs. Stress can worsen or even trigger IBD symptoms. Some stressful situations are unavoidable, like going to the vet or having a bath, but do your best to minimize your dog's stress level day-to-day with exercise and enrichment.
3. Table Scraps Are a Big "No"
It's going to be tough to resist those puppy-dog eyes, but dogs with IBD shouldn't get any table scraps. No, that doesn't mean just a bite or only "healthy" table scraps. Depending on the severity of your dog's IBD, it probably means none at all. Anything out of the ordinary or "reactive" (like a protein they're allergic to) could easily cause a flare-up and lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and/or belly pain. That's no fun for anyone.
You'll need to find treats that are compliant with your dog's diet (either manufactured treats or fresh foods like veggies) for training and to use as rewards. Make sure everyone in your household is on board, including pet sitters and doggy daycare.
4. Finding the Right Diet Is Key
Most cases of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs can be treated long term with a special diet. Unfortunately, there's no "one size fits all" IBD diet out there. Every dog will respond differently depending on their specific triggers. Some options include a low-fat, high-fiber, hydrolyzed, or "novel" protein diet that only includes fish, duck, venison, or some other uncommon protein source. Follow your veterinarian's recommendations to find a diet that works for you and your dog's sensitive gut.
Be patient! It usually takes several weeks of having your dog on an inflammatory bowel disease diet to know if it's working.
5. IBD Flare-Ups Can (and Probably Will) Happen
With the right combinations of inflammatory bowel disease treatments, things will most likely be smooth sailing. But occasional flare-ups can happen. Let your vet know as soon as your dog shows any signs of vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, belly pain, or not wanting to eat, so they can make appropriate recommendations. It's possible they'll prescribe a short course of oral antibiotics or steroids to get the inflammation under control.
A flare-up does not mean you've failed or that the treatment plan isn't working! Relapses happen and can be triggered by any number of things. The most important thing you can do is notice the early signs of an IBD flare-up and get in touch with your vet.
6. Monitor Your Dog's Weight
Frequent weigh-ins are important to make sure your pup is maintaining their weight. If you have a small dog, you can buy a scale meant for human babies or just weigh yourself with and without the dog in your arms, then subtract to find the difference. It's a bit trickier with large dogs because you'll need to purchase a floor scale or swing by your vet's office and hop them onto the scale. Whatever method you choose, aim to weigh your dog at least monthly.
7. Supplements Could Help
A lot of dogs with inflammatory bowel disease are deficient in nutrients like vitamins K, B12, and antioxidants. It can be helpful to supplement them with a multivitamin. There's also some evidence that prebiotics and probiotics can help reduce the inflammation in their intestines. Talk to your vet first, then find dog-specific supplements to try.
8. Regular Vet Check-Ups Are Critical
Your vet might want to see your dog every six months for blood work or an ultrasound to see how they're responding to treatment. Keep these appointments, even if your dog seems to be doing well. There could be hidden changes happening inside that you don't see or that haven't affected their behavior yet.
Dogs With IBD Live Long, Happy Lives
Bonus No. 9: the life expectancy of a dog with inflammatory bowel disease is the same as any other dog, and even though IBD is a lifelong disease, it can be well-managed with the right treatment plan. The best thing you can do for your dog is to stay on top of their diet and any medication they are prescribed. Notify your vet at the first signs of a flare-up, and, of course, give your special pup a ton of belly rubs while they heal their belly.