Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs

Having a sick pet is never fun. When you see your dog in pain or suffering from an illness, all you can think about is how to help them feel better. You can be the best owner to your dog. You feed them a nutritious dog food, take them for their daily walks, and give them lots of love and yet they can still get sick. Unfortunately, dogs can’t tell us how they’re feeling, so diagnosing the problem can be difficult.

For a preliminary at-home assessment, the two symptoms of IBD in dogs that clue you into their ailment are what’s coming out of them and where. Vomit signals problems with the stomach while diarrhea signals problems with the small and large intestine. Inflammatory bowel disease (or IBD) can come with one or both of these symptoms. If either of these symptoms is chronic or persist beyond 48 hours, talk to your local veterinarian.

What is IBD?

Despite its name, inflammatory bowel disease in dogs is not technically a disease. IBD is considered a reaction to an underlying cause, making it a symptom rather than a disease itself. Unlike a viral infection like the stomach flu where the immune system can target and fight a specific virus, IBD is a reaction to irritation in the digestive tract.

If this irritation occurs in the stomach, IBD will present as vomiting. If the irritation moves beyond the gut, IBD will present as canine diarrhea .

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Dogs Symptoms

As pet parents, we can usually tell when our dogs are not themselves or feeling under the weather. There’s usually something off about the way they act or behave. Maybe they’re more sluggish than usual. Or maybe they’re reluctant to eat. These are signs that something may be off. It is critical to note when you first observed the change and behavior and then monitor how long it continues.

However, when it comes to IBD, not all dogs present visible signals. Though internally they are suffering, their excited and happy nature disguises this until the IBD shows up as chronic vomiting and diarrhea.

Here is a full list of possible symptoms of IBD in dogs:

  • Chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Constant flatulence or gas
  • Blood in the stool
  • Persistent rumbling sound in the stomach
  • Weight loss
  • Clumps of shedding

How Does IBD Occur?

There isn’t a single cause of inflammatory bowel disease, at least not one that doctors can physically point to. It’s one of the reasons IBD isn’t considered a disease unto itself. The factors at play are genetics, diet and food allergies, immune system abnormalities, bacteria, and parasites.

Narrowing down the cause depends on which treatments work. It’s a trial and error technique that unfortunately leaves some dogs with few viable solutions.


Genetics might play a key role in the development of IBD in the GI tract. There are serious illnesses—autoimmune, cancer, etc.—which depend on groups of individual genes that can “turn on or off” based on environmental, dietary, and developmental factors. Medical scientists have discovered links between genetics and IBD in humans, but the same research hasn’t been replicated in dogs.

One study published results of canine breeds that were more susceptible to IBD based on previous veterinarian records. The breeds listed as having a significantly higher risk were:

  • Weimaraner
  • Rottweiler
  • German shepherd
  • Border collie
  • Boxer

While this does suggest genetics do play a role, the direct link remains inconclusive.

Diet and Food Allergies

As alluded above, knowing the underlying cause of IBD depends on whether or not a treatment works. If changing to a diet with few select ingredients cures the dog of these symptoms, then diet may be the underlying cause.

However, IBD is pernicious. Because it is a natural bodily response, it should be noted that you can’t technically “cure” IBD, only to manager or contain it. “Curing” IBD involves eliminating the thing that is causing the irritation. In most cases, this involves changing diets and removing allergens.

Problems with Changing Diets

While changing your dog’s diet might be necessary, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Here are some problems to keep in mind when attempting a diet change for canines.

  • Changing diets too quickly – Kibble was invented as a way to pack together all the necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients a dog needs and to offer consistency and predictability within their diet. If you feed a dog the same meal twice a day at the same time, you know you’ll be picking up after dog poops with similar regularity or frequency. Dog’s digestive tracts become used to this and changing a diet too quickly can cause the GI tract to go into Chronic diarrhea and vomiting can be a result of sudden changes to a diet.
  • Gradual transition process – There is a suggested adjustment period of 6-12 weeks before determining whether a new diet is better for the animal. If your dog is suffering from IBD, this can be as much as 6-12 weeks of back and forth with your vet to see if progress is being made.
  • Controlling external factors – When switching diets, you must control external factors. You won’t know whether a new diet is working if every night they’re also being fed treats or human table scraps. Similarly, if your dog has free access to a large backyard, they could be consuming on other things. If you plan on changing your pup’s diet, it’s crucial to take into account outside factors that may be influencing your dog’s health.
  • Developing Food Sensitivities – Dogs, much like humans, can develop food allergies and food intolerances at any point in their life. Which means, despite feeding them the same kibble for five years, it could still be their diet that’s the problem. When dealing with IBD in dogs, try switching to a super premium, quality food for a healthy life even if your dog never had issues with their diet before.

Food for Sensitive Stomachs

When your dog is suffering from chronic vomiting and diarrhea, it’s important that they’re still fed all the necessary nutrients while eliminating various allergens. For this, there are dog foods for sensitive stomachs with fewer ingredients.

Lucy Pet Food Products provides limited ingredient product options that provide all the nutrients dogs need for a full life without risking an upset stomach.

Common Allergens

Although actual food allergies are less common, there are several potential allergens. It might be helpful to keep a list of these to and eliminate the possibilities one at a time. These allergens include:

  • Wheat
  • Dairy
  • Chicken
  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Soy
  • Eggs
  • Rabbit

It’s important to note that sometimes sensitivities can be reactions to various factors, such as environment, household cleaning products, dust/mites/pollen, as well as food and treats. If your dog is allergic to certain soaps or scents, this could cause additional food allergies despite the underlying allergen not being from food.

Immune System Abnormalities

A healthy immune system will attack pathogens and bacterial infections and memorize the code to prevent future pathogens from causing damage. When the immune system recognizes a normal healthy cell as a pathogen, this is known as an autoimmune disease.

Both dogs and humans suffer from these diseases, and certain breeds are known to be more susceptible than others. Those breeds include:

  • Poodle
  • German shepherd
  • Beagle
  • Irish setter
  • Sheltie
  • Sheepdog
  • Afghan hound

When the immune system responds to irritation in the gut or small intestine, this could result in a permanent condition of inflammation.

Bacteria and Parasites

Bacteria and parasites found in raw meat, stagnant water, and random pickings throughout a backyard can irritate the stomach and cause your dog to vomit. While a dog’s digestive system  may be able to handle som