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IBD: A Real Pain in the Rear!

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the most common cause of gastrointestinal problems in dogs and cats. IBD, often incorrectly referred to as irritable bowel disease (which is extremely rare in pets but very common in people,) is often misdiagnosed and leads to chronic problems including vomiting, diarrhea, and/or weight loss. This article will discuss this very common pet problem and offer suggestions on natural therapies.


Clinical Signs
The exact cause of IBD is not known. What is known is that it is an immune disease in which the pet literally attacks its own digestive organs. White blood cells, antibodies, and various chemicals accumulate and damage the stomach, small intestine, and/or large intestine. Since an important part of therapy centers on finding an appropriate diet, it is speculated that at least for some pets, some often unidentified dietary antigen (foreign protein) causes an immune response in the gastrointestinal tract.

Inflammatory bowel disease can occur in pets of any age, but tends to affect pets in their middle to later years of life (8 years of age and older.) Clinical signs vary, depending upon the location of the immune response. Pets with disease of the stomach and upper intestinal tract (small intestines) typically have vomiting, whereas those with immune lesions in their lower intestinal tract (colon) usually have diarrhea. The diarrhea causes loose feces that may or may not contain mucus and variable amounts of bright red blood. Some pets with IBD manifest as chronic weight loss. It's important for owners to understand that pets can have any combination of vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss, or may only have 1 or 2 signs.

Early diagnosis is important so that the proper treatment can be given to the pet. Undiagnosed IBD is uncomfortable for the pet due to cramping. Without proper diagnosis and treatment. IBD can actually turn into gastrointestinal cancer (lymphoma,) especially in cats. Diseases that can be confused with IBD include parasites (usually easily diagnosed and treated) and “food allergy,” which is actually very rare in pets. Despite what some veterinarians say, no pet should simply be diagnosed with a “sensitive stomach.” I've seen too many pets suffer and die with IBD when owners were told that their breeds of pets had “sensitive stomachs” and were improperly treated.

Inflammatory bowel disease is easily diagnosed by endoscopic biopsy. In this procedure, a sedative or light anesthetic is given to the pet. The doctor introduces a tube called an endoscope into the pet's gastrointestinal tract and removes tiny pieces of tissue for a microscopic examination.


Conventional Treatment
Once correctly diagnosed, IBD is routinely treated with high doses of corticosteroids such as prednisone. After 2-4 weeks the amount of drug is slowly reduced to a dose which prevents clinical signs from returning. For pets that do not respond to prednisone, other more potent chemotherapy drugs such as Imuran may be needed. Doctors also often prescribe an antibiotic such as metronidazole or tylosin. Both of these drugs can help reduce inflammation but also treat secondary bacterial overgrowth which is quite common in pets with Inflammatory bowel disease.

Even in my integrative practice, I routinely use prednisone for my more severe cases so that I can quickly reduce all of the inflammation that is occurring in the pet's stomach or intestines. Once the pet has stabilized and shown improvement, the pet is carefully weaned off of the steroids and in most cases can do very well simply on an individual regimen of natural therapies.


Using a More Natural Approach
IBD is actually a disease which responds very nicely to natural therapies in most cases. In my practice, most pets do not need to take any medication and do well on the appropriate diet and supplements. For those pets which require drugs such as prednisone, I have been able to wean them to a very low dose (which will never cause side effects) given 1-2 times weekly.

Finding the proper diet is an important part of therapy for the pet with IBD. Initially, a diet with a novel protein which the pet has not eaten before (such as rabbit or venison) is used. Once the disease is stabilized, I prefer to wean the pet onto the best natural diet the pet's system can tolerate. Your holistic veterinarian can work with you to find the best diet for your pet.

Supplements are the mainstay of therapy for the pet with Inflammatory bowel disease. A number of supplements including herbs and homeopathics can be prescribed. Because each pet is unique, it may take some trial and error to find the best combinations that allow your pet to be weaned off of conventional medications.

In my practice, at a minimum I prescribe supplements containing the following ingredients.

Enzymes -
Because IBD results in improper digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, we must help the pet's damaged GI tract do its job. Adding extra enzymes to the diet is necessary in order for the stomach and intestines to properly process the pet's diet.

Probiotics -
Probiotics are normal bacteria and yeast that reside in a healthy GI tract. They are often not present in patients with IBD due to intestinal cell damage and overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Replacing the healthy bacteria and yeasts is critical in allowing the GI tract to heal.

Glutamine -
This is an amino acid which has a number of health benefits, one of which is to serve as food or fuel for the damaged intestinal cells. By feeding the intestinal cells we encourage healing and proper function.


Several helpful products to consider include Acetylator and Fast Balance-GI, (all are made by VetriScience.

IBD is an important and common gastrointestinal problem in dogs and cats. Proper and early diagnosis is very important in allowing the pet to heal. It responds very well to natural therapies; in most cases, chronic use of drug therapy is not needed.




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