IBD in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & How to Manage it

by | Dec 8, 2022 | Gut Health, Health Conditions

When I had my holistic animal hospital, I saw many, many cases of inflammatory bowel disease. Dogs would come in with major digestive issues, and we would have get down to the root cause. Many times – that cause was IBD.

Thankfully, successful management of IBD in dogs is very possible. Of the hundreds of cases of inflammatory bowel disease I’ve worked with over 30 years, many have been symptom-free for their lifetime. 

And with those that may have had symptoms return, we have been able to navigate their management to provide an incredible quality of life and proactively derail future episodes.

But first, let’s talk about exactly what is it, and what is causing this condition in the first place? 

What is IBD in Dogs?

Just as with humans, IBD in dogs is a syndrome rather than a disease. It is a group of disorders that result in symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting (the two most common), which are actually a reaction to chronic irritation in the gut. In addition to causing vomiting and diarrhea, this inflammation can traumatize the mucosal lining of your dog’s gut and can interfere with your animal’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients. This then turns into a myriad of nutrient disorders and diseases. 

Remember: the gut microbiome is the community of healthy and less healthy microorganisms (also known as friendly and unfriendly bacteria) in the gut. 

Animals can have a poor microbiome from birth if the mother has a comprised or unhealthy microbiome herself, or if she has a low diversity of bacteria.  

If an animal lacks this bacteria when they’re born, this often sets them up for leaky gut and chronic systemic inflammation at a really early age. 

Then, diet, genetics, drugs, toxins, and stress all play their part. Some animals will go down the road of IBD, some will get allergies, some will get early arthritis, and the list goes on, all depending on their environment, their personality, and genetics.

The next would be chronic insult from poor diet or toxic and/or parasitic insults. 

Two big ones – ones that are often overlooked – are stress and boredom. 

How to Manage IBD

My main way of working with IBD in dogs is targeting the gut and the integrity of the mucosal lining and looking at supporting all the related systems of the body, including the liver, pancreas, kidneys, immune system, emotional stress, and more.

In addition to decreasing inflammation and repopulating the correct bacteria, a unique way in which I managed these cases at my clinic was to try and reduce the thickening and scaring we see with IBD and in leaky gut, not only to address the acute symptomatology of the chronic inflammation but also as it starts to heal or as the stretched mucosal junctions start to regain their integrity. This scarring can continue to cause major health issues, including malabsorption of food, etc. I did this using specific homeopathic remedies like those found in our Gut Seal. 

As far as diet, a species-appropriate raw diet is always what I ideally would like to see all dogs on, but I have seen many animals that cannot tolerate raw food in the beginning, depending on how long their illness has been present, how much suppression they have had (how long and how many drugs they have been given), and how old they are. In these cases, I started with lightly seared or cooked food, and then very, very slowly switched to raw. Some older animals had to stay on slightly cooked indefinitely, and still thrived and lived out their lives relatively symptom free.

A huge part of this healing journey and managing IBD is keeping a journal to see triggers and EARLY signs. These can include licking their feet, gulping, stretching, arching their backs, not wanting to eat or being ravenous, hiding, lethargic or just not as energetic, not pooping for a day or just ever so slightly soft stool and cats over-grooming and pulling out their hair. This way you can get ahead of the big blow ups with homeopathics like aconite, arnica, arsenicum, iris, phosphorus, and nux vomica. In addition, if they get into something you know will cause a flare-up, then you can start these remedies ahead of time to try and derail it. More often than not it at least makes the symptoms much less severe. 

What Supplements are Helpful for Dogs with IBD?

Prebiotics with a LOW sugar index, and ones that have an affinity for immune modulation (like larch, turkey tail, and chlorella) are so important!!! Why? Because they are not just there to feed the bacteria but they have functional values to support healing, inflammation and immune modulation – which is vital when addressing IBD! 

Probiotics: find the most diverse strains of probiotics you can. Look for these characteristics:

  • ones with science-backed studies that show they can survive in the acidity of a dog’s GI (which is very different to humans) 
  • that they can defend and inhibit dangerous pathogenic bacteria from over-taking the gut 
  • they support immune modulation (species-oriented like Fido’s Flora and The Wolf ). This can help to decrease inflammation and support healthy junctions.

Natural anti-inflammatories for the mucosal lining (part of the bowel which becomes chronically inflamed with IBD) including: 

  • NAG (N-acetyl Glucosamine)! Like glucosamine for joints – it works its magic on smooth muscle and the mucosal lining 
  • Aloe (for dogs, not kitties)
  • Slippery elm to increase healthy mucus 
  • Marshmallow root to soothe 
  • Licorice root to increase lubrication – the smoother the better 

**Our Gut Soothe contains all of these ingredients. 

Phytoplankton for functional whole food nutrition is ideal. Its cell is smaller than a red blood cell and easy to digest. This is important because malabsorption is a huge part of the merry-go-round of IBD in dogs and phytoplankton is cell-to-cell nutrition – it’s completely bioavailable – which means it doesn’t need to be digested and absorbed by the GI tract. It also contains the king of antioxidants, superoxide dismutase. (Antioxidants fight free radicals that create oxidative stress on cells)  

Digestive Enzymes. Go slow with enzymes. IBD is different than straight leaky gut, and enzymes can be too powerful until the body has started to come back into homeostasis (when symptoms have improved by at least 50%). Once they have 50% improvement, start by only giving 1/4 of the recommended dose. Then, as symptoms improve, around the 75% mark, go to half the recommended dose and work up to the full dose at 100%.

IBD can be scary to deal with, but it’s something that responds extremely well to an integrative approach. If your pup has recently been diagnosed with IBD, or even if you just suspect it, there is a huge chance that your pup can live symptom free for life if the disease is caught early. If your dog has had years of IBD symptoms, and been on drugs for a long time, there are still many things that you can do to to help him him live a thriving life and derail symptoms before they rear their ugly head. You can help your dog live a long, healthy, happy life. Never ever forget, there is always hope! <3 

Julie Anne Lee, DCH RCSHom

Julie Anne Lee, DCH, RcsHOM, has been the owner and practitioner of some of the busiest and long standing holistic veterinary hospitals and clinics in North America. This includes founding the first licensed strictly holistic veterinary clinic in Canada. She developed and taught a three year post-graduate program for veterinarians at the College of Animal Homeopathic Medicine. She also presented lectures for the American Homeopathic Veterinary Association on homeopathy and functional pathology, the British Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons Association on treating chronic disease, the Canadian Society of Homeopaths on clinical comparisons of the treatment of human to animals, P.E.I Veterinary University on the gut microbiome, and many more over the last 20 years.

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