Your neighbor tells you her dog has had long episodes of vomiting and diarrhea for the last two years. She is convinced that it is some sort of reaction to the ingredients in the food. She just hasn’t found the right food that will stop the symptoms and recover the lost weight. You tell her that those symptoms may be a sign of something more serious and she should take her dog to the vet. Instead she says she is going to the pet store and find out which food the 18-year old dog food expert behind the counter recommends for her sick dog. You’re right. This dog needs a trip to the vet, not the pet store. The dog could be suffering from inflammatory bowel disease or IBD. With proper treatment and diet, her dog could enjoy a quality, symptom free, longer life.
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
We don’t know the cause of inflammatory bowel disease. For some unknown reason the infection fighting, white cells of the body turn on the cells lining the stomach and/or intestines. This autoimmune response acts as if the lining cells are foreign bacteria or viruses and fight an infection that doesn’t exist. The lining becomes red, swollen and irritated. This inflammation interferes with normal digestion and causes:
-Vomiting (inflammation in the stomach and upper small intestines)
-Diarrhea (inflammation in the lower small intestines, large intestines and colon)
-Vomiting and diarrhea (inflammation the entire length of the digestive tract, like our dog above)
Dogs with IBD of the stomach and upper intestines may also experience liver problems. The inflammation can spread up the bile duct to the liver and cause an autoimmune hepatitis. Hepatitis can increase vomiting. I have a patient who was incorrectly diagnosed with a chronic hepatitis until its IBD was brought under control and the liver returned to normal.
Dogs with lower intestinal IBD lose lots of weight before their condition is diagnosed. Inflammation interferes with the digestion and absorption of food in dogs so vital nutrients pass out of the body, undigested with the stool.
Dogs and humans rely on intestinal bacteria for vitamin B-12. IBD reduces bacterial growth and B-12 production. Without B-12 dogs become anemic, are reluctant to eat and lose more weight. This “failure to thrive” is a tell-tale sign of vitamin B-12 deficiency caused by IBD.
What is the Treatment for Inflammatory Bowel Disease?
Because we don’t know the cause of IBD, we can only treat the symptoms. Treatment is usually with drugs to suppress the immune system. Severe cases may require stronger chemotherapy drugs to control the disease. IBD patients often need vitamin B-12 injections. Diet plays a major role in the management of IBD.
What to Feed Dogs With Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Because IBD is an inflammatory disease like allergies, novel proteins and carbohydrates in the diet are best. Novel ingredients are meats and carbs that are not in commercial dog food. Although more novel ingredients are presently incorporated in commercial dog food, these meats are still considered novel:
Novel carbohydrates include:
Low Fat - Digestion is disrupted in the colon of IBD patients, so fat is slowly absorbed. The fat becomes rancid and causes further inflammation. IBD diets need to be low in fat. If the inflammation is so severe to cause permanent fat malabsorption, the diet must be ultra-low fat, with just enough fat to supply the essential fatty acids for normal body and immune function.
Fish Oil – The DHA and EPA in fish oil reduces inflammation and swelling and improves digestion.
Antioxidants - Antioxidants like vitamin C and E and minerals like copper, zinc, iron and selenium reduce cell damage which also reduces intestinal swelling.
Homemade dog food recipes are the best way of meeting the needs of dogs with IBD. Because these are lifelong diets, proper recipe formulation and vitamin/mineral supplementation is essential to avoid malnutrition. Hearthstone Homemade can provide recipes and supplements to better manage dogs with inflammatory bowel disease.
Check out one of our IBD patients!
Here’s more information about IBD and homemade diets:
Dr. Ken Tudor,
THE DOG DIETITIAN