While the occasional incident of vomiting and diarrhea is not uncommon in our pets, a recurrence of gastrointestinal upset should not be dismissed. While there are many conditions that can contribute to these symptoms, one of the most common that our internal medicine service sees is inflammatory bowel disease.
What is IBD?
IBD is often triggered by a reaction within the intestinal tract. Common clinical signs of IBD are anorexia, chronic vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood), weight loss, flatulence, depression, fatigue, increased gut sounds, and poor hair coat. The condition is believed to be associated with dietary antigens or intestinal bacteria. When a patient’s immune system overreacts to these antigens, it often leads to inflammation in the stomach and intestines.
While many other gastrointestinal symptoms in dogs and cats have the potential to resolve on their own, inflammatory bowel disease will not. IBD is a chronic condition that may or may not resolve completely with dietary changes or medical management.
Making the Diagnosis of IBD
To start the diagnostic work-up of IBD, a thorough medical history is obtained and a series of tests are performed. Bloodwork and diagnostic imaging (radiographs, ultrasound) may be used to ensure that there is not a cause other than IBD causing your pet’s gastrointestinal symptoms.
After the initial workup is performed, a definitive diagnosis of IBD can be made by obtaining biopsies of the stomach and intestinal tract. These can be performed surgically (full thickness biopsies) or less invasively with an endoscope. Samples are evaluated microscopically to obtain the diagnosis.
How Common is IBD?
While an exact percentage is not known, IBD is not an uncommon disease. It’s especially common in middle-aged to older pets.
How is IBD Treated?
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, IBD can be treated by the use of anti-inflammatory medications, immunosuppressive medications, and a dietary change in terms of transitioning to either a hydrolyzed or novel protein diet.
It is important for owners to understand that it may take several weeks for their pet to respond to a change in diet. During this trial, no other food items or treats should be given, as it only takes a small amount of a food antigen to upset the intestinal tract if food happens to be involved in the inflammatory response.
Symptoms of IBD can wax and wane over a period of time. The veterinarian treating the pet may need to make adjustments to the medications based on your pet’s symptoms and follow-up bloodwork.
While some pets cannot be provided a complete cure for IBD, most can be managed and given a good quality of life.