When you have a pet you’re usually prepared for a little vomiting or diarrhea here and there. After all, cats groom themselves and get hairballs. Dogs eat all sorts of ridiculous things they aren’t supposed to. Still, many owners notice that their pets seem to have vomiting or diarrhea a bit more often than it seems they should.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a common physical disorder in cats and dogs in which the lining of the gastrointestinal tract becomes chronically inflamed and thickens over time. IBD is often confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or short term flare-ups of diarrhea that aren’t associated with chronic inflammation and caused by stress. Though the two conditions have similar symptoms, they have very different causes.
IBD can be diagnosed at any age or with any breed, but middle-aged and older animals, and certain breeds are unfortunately more susceptible to IBD (Siamese cats, German Shepherd dogs, Basenjis, Boxers, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, and Chinese Shar Peis).
Your veterinarian will usually run several tests on your cat or dog to rule out inflammation caused by parasites, cancer, any issues with the liver, pancreas, thyroid, or kidneys, and other conditions. If your pet’s test results come back negative, then your veterinarian may offer a provisional diagnosis of IBD. They may also perform biopsies of the stomach and intestinal lining to make an official diagnosis.
The primary goal of all treatments for IBD is to reduce gut inflammation. IBD causes serious problems for pets because an inflamed gut can’t properly digest food and absorb nutrients. Medications can control symptoms, but IBD treatment usually takes several months of addressing the source of inflammation.
Diet is the most common cause of IBD. Some ingredients can trigger food allergies or sensitivities, which may develop as your pet’s body changes with age. But the environment (chemicals, inhalant allergies, other animals, and stress) and imbalanced gut bacteria aka microbiome (missing important beneficial bacteria especially after a round of antibiotics) are other causes.
Your veterinarian may suggest a food trial of a hypoallergenic prescription diet, as more than 50% of animals with IBD have improved symptoms with dietary changes alone. This process rules out gut inflammation due to food sensitivities. Animals with chronic diarrhea or vomiting may also benefit from added fiber to the diet.
Chronic gut inflammation prevents the absorption of cobalamin (vitamin B12) and other nutrients. Your veterinarian may test for a B12 deficiency to determine if your pet needs B12 supplements or injections. Sometimes vets use B12 deficiency as a clue pointing to IBD.
Beyond diarrhea as an obvious symptom, chronic vomiting results if the IBD occurs in the stomach or higher areas of the small intestine. A watery diarrhea with weight loss results if it is in the lower small intestine. A mucous diarrhea with fresh blood results if it occurs in the large intestine. Of course, the entire tract from top to bottom may also be involved.
Some dogs and cats will continue to feel well other than when vomiting and/or diarrhea and will act normally and engage in their normal routine. Other pets will feel sick even in between episodes of vomiting/diarrhea. They may not eat well, are lethargic, and do not want to participate in their normal routine.
The cause(s) of IBD is not clearly understood. The most commonly held theory involves a breakdown of the immune function. The immune system is suppose to differentiate between friend and foe. Meaning it knows not to react to normal bacteria and food particles that traverse the intestinal tract vs harmful bacteria invading the body which needs to be attacked. In pets with IBD this ability to recognize friend and foe is lost or becomes fuzzy.
This abnormal immune response is initiated and creates inflammation within the layers of the intestine. The intestine is negatively affected and can no longer do its normal jobs.
If your vet has diagnosed your cat or dog with IBD, it’s time work on managing the condition. As mentioned, diet is a likely starting point.
Many vets will start by recommending a diet with hydrolyzed proteins, which are “predigested” so as to create protein segments that are too small to stimulate the immune system.
Another approach is the use of the novel protein diets. The idea here is that the pet can’t have an immunological reaction to a protein source it has never experienced. (It takes long time exposure to a protein before the immune system will respond against it so a new protein should be safe).
This means using an unusual protein such as rabbit, venison, duck, partridge, alligator, kangaroo, etc so long as your cat or dog has not been fed these proteins before can reduce the immune system reaction. Fetching Foods has a number of novel proteins that can be used. It takes about a month to expect a good response but there should be at least some response within the first 2 weeks of feeding the test diet.
In additional to the hydrolyzed diet, vets will typically prescribe an immunosuppressant, antacids, anti-nausea drugs, and corticosteroids. While this may stop the symptoms, it doesn’t address the root cause.
Feeding a high-quality natural raw diet can have a significant and positive result when trying to manage IBD. Removing carbs, bone, fillers, colors/dyes, synthetic vitamins, soy, flavor additives and all of the other things found in highly processed canned and dry foods, can avoid triggers in an overreactive immune system. Better quality ingredients means the food is easier food is to digest. Remember, you want to reduce the load on the digestive system as much as possible so quality and minimum ingredients packed with natural nutrients are what you’re after.
Feeding dogs and cats a high-quality fresh meat-and-organ-based diet, what their digestive systems are designed to metabolize, enables their system to return to a natural healthy balance in the gut, including the microbiome.
Fetching Foods Only Dog and Just Cat/Premium Cat has natural anti-inflammatories and prebiotics that help foster balanced healthy biome growth, which will result in long-term gut health. It’s worth noting that while trying to move your pet to a new diet all other food sources, including treats, flavored medications and table scraps should be eliminated. Otherwise you can’t tell if the new food you’re feeding is working.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for inflammatory bowel disease, but symptoms can often be controlled in order to keep your pet comfortable and healthy.
Even with proper management, this disease’s symptoms may flare up every so often. Managing this disease in your pet requires strict compliance with a natural diet and careful monitoring by your vet and you.
IBD is a large topic and difficult to distill into an article this length. It’s likely there will be follow up articles that build on this topic.
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