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IBD/IBS in Dogs and Cats

Photo of a Tabby cat laying down on the bed with their tummy up to illustrate an article about Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats and Dogs.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBS in dogs and cats, is considered one of the most common causes of chronic vomiting and diarrhea in both species. IBD is characterized by inflammation of the digestive tract walls, leading to a variety of clinical signs and symptoms, especially affecting your pet’s gastrointestinal tract. Diagnosis typically involves ruling out other potential causes of gastrointestinal issues through blood tests, imaging, and sometimes biopsies. Treatment may include dietary changes as well as medication and natural supplements to help reduce inflammation and manage symptoms. Working closely with a veterinarian is essential to develop a suitable management plan for IBD/IBS in dogs and cats. Knowing what signs to look for can make a world of difference in supporting your little one as soon as possible.

What are the Clinical Signs of IBD/IBS?

Clinical signs of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in dogs and cats include:

Chronic or Recurrent Vomiting

    • Frequency and Timing: IBD-related vomiting is often chronic, meaning it occurs persistently over an extended period. It may not be limited to specific times or meals.
    • Appearance of Vomit: The vomited material may contain partially digested food, bile, or mucus. Blood in vomit (hematemesis) can occur in more severe cases, indicating potential damage to the gastrointestinal tract.


    • Consistency and Frequency: IBD-related diarrhea is typically chronic and may vary in consistency. It can range from soft stools to more watery diarrhea. The frequency of bowel movements may increase.
    • Presence of Blood: Fresh blood with mucus or digested blood (dark blackish color) in the stool (hematochezia or melena) can indicate inflammation or damage to the intestinal lining.

Weight Loss

    • Gradual Nature: Weight loss in IBD/IBS is often gradual rather than sudden. The chronic inflammation and malabsorption of nutrients contribute to a gradual decline in body weight.
    • Body Condition Scoring: Veterinarians may use body condition scoring to assess the pet’s weight loss objectively. Monitoring changes in body condition helps guide the management plan.


    • Decreased Activity Levels: Pets with IBD may show decreased energy levels and overall activity. Lethargy can result from the body diverting energy resources to combat inflammation and repair tissues.
    • Reluctance to Play or Exercise: Due to discomfort and fatigue, pets may be less inclined to engage in physical activities they once enjoyed.

Changes in Appetite

    • Decreased or Increased Appetite: IBD can affect appetite differently in individual pets. Some may experience a decrease in appetite due to nausea or discomfort, while others may have an increased appetite as the body tries to compensate for nutrient loss.
    • Selective Eating or Avoidance: Pets with IBD may become selective eaters, avoiding certain types of food or treats. This behavior can be an instinctual response to discomfort associated with specific dietary triggers.

Signs of Abdominal Pain or Discomfort

    • Behavioral Changes: Pets may exhibit behaviors indicative of abdominal pain, such as hunching over, restlessness, or reluctance to be touched around the abdomen. Vocalization: Some pets may vocalize or exhibit discomfort when the veterinarian palpates their abdomen during a physical examination.
    • Changes in Posture: A tucked-up abdomen or a “praying” posture (front end down, hindquarters elevated) can be signs of abdominal discomfort.

Understanding and recognizing these clinical signs is crucial for early detection and prompt veterinary intervention. If a pet exhibits any of these signs, it’s essential to consult a veterinarian for a comprehensive examination and diagnostic workup. Early diagnosis and management can significantly improve the prognosis for pets with IBD.

What Causes IBD/IBS in Dogs and Cats?

The exact cause is often unknown, but it’s thought to involve a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and immunologic factors.

Genetic Predisposition

Certain breeds may have a higher predisposition to IBD. Breeds like German Shepherds, Boxers, and Siamese cats, for example, are reported to be more commonly affected. Understanding breed-specific tendencies can help in early detection and proactive management.

Immune System Dysfunction

The immune system’s role in IBD involves an abnormal response where the immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract mistakenly attack normal gut bacteria, leading to inflammation. This dysregulation may be influenced by genetic factors or environmental triggers.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as exposure to certain toxins, pollutants, or infectious agents can contribute to developing or exacerbating IBD. Identifying and minimizing these factors can be an integral part of managing the condition.

Dietary Sensitivities

Identifying specific dietary triggers is crucial in managing IBD. Veterinary-prescribed hypoallergenic or novel protein diets can help alleviate symptoms by reducing the pet’s exposure to potential allergens. Monitoring the pet’s response to different diets is essential for finding the most suitable nutritional plan.

Microbial Imbalances in the Gut

The balance of microorganisms in the gut, known as the microbiome, plays a vital role in digestive health. Imbalances in this microbiome can contribute to the development of IBD. Probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria, and antibiotics, in some cases, can be used to restore a healthy balance.


What are the Diagnostic Tests?

Diagnosing IBD involves ruling out other potential causes of gastrointestinal issues. Common diagnostic tests include:

Blood tests

Blood tests play a pivotal role in diagnosing IBD, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease in dogs and cats. Markers like C-reactive protein and Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate reveal systemic inflammation associated with IBD, while a Complete Blood Count assesses elevated white blood cell counts indicative of chronic inflammation. The Blood Chemistry Panel examines albumin, total protein, and liver enzymes, offering insights into malabsorption, protein loss, and potential liver involvement. Nutritional markers such as Vitamin B12 and folate levels help identify malabsorption issues. Blood tests also aid in excluding other gastrointestinal conditions and serve as crucial tools in monitoring the pet’s response to treatment, guiding veterinarians in tailoring effective therapeutic strategies for managing IBD.

Diagnostic Imaging (X-rays or Ultrasounds)

Diagnostic imaging helps veterinarians visualize the structure of the gastrointestinal tract, identifying any abnormalities or signs of inflammation. This is crucial for a comprehensive diagnosis and to determine the extent of the disease.

Endoscopy and Biopsies

Endoscopy involves using a flexible tube with a camera to examine the gastrointestinal tract. Biopsies taken during endoscopy provide valuable information about the severity and type of inflammation. This detailed insight guides the veterinarian in tailoring an effective treatment plan.

What are the Treatment Options for IBD?

Photo of a small white dog with tongue sticking out, laying down on their parent's lap as a hand gives them a belly rub, to illustrate an article about Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats and Dogs.

Treatment aims to control inflammation and manage symptoms. Options include:

Dietary changes

Dietary changes, like hypoallergenic or novel protein diets, are vital in managing Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in dogs and cats. These diets pinpoint and eliminate potential allergens, minimizing allergic reactions contributing to gut inflammation. Novel proteins prevent new allergies, offering a restorative effect on the digestive system. Easy digestibility and limited ingredient formulas reduce the digestive workload. These diets are carefully balanced to meet nutritional needs, and veterinary guidance ensures proper diagnosis, suitable diet selection, and ongoing monitoring for effective IBD/IBS management.


Medications such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and antibiotics are integral in managing Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in dogs and cats. Corticosteroids provide potent anti-inflammatory effects, controlling symptoms like chronic diarrhea and vomiting.

Immunosuppressants modulate the immune system for long-term management, maintaining remission. Antibiotics address microbial imbalances and secondary infections in the gut. Treatment plans are individualized, with regular check-ups to assess the pet’s response and adjust medications as needed. Collaborating closely with veterinarians ensures optimal symptom control and enhances the pet’s overall quality of life.

Probiotics & Prebiotics

In managing Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in dogs and cats, the combination of probiotics and prebiotics proves beneficial by restoring the disrupted gut microbiome balance. Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria that aid in controlling inflammation, supporting digestion, and improving overall gut health. Prebiotics, non-digestible fibers, serve as fuel for these beneficial bacteria, promoting their growth and enhancing their effectiveness. The synergistic use of probiotics and prebiotics offers a comprehensive approach to IBD management, addressing symptoms such as chronic vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. This tailored combination, often individualized by veterinarians, improves stool consistency and helps modulate the immune system, contributing to the overall well-being of pets with IBD/IBS.

Medication Adjustments

In some cases, pets may need adjustments to their medications as the disease progresses or responds to treatment. corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and other medications may be modified to achieve optimal control of inflammation while minimizing side effects. Fluid Therapy for Dehydration: Severe vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration. In cases of dehydration, fluid therapy may be necessary to restore hydration levels and support the pet’s overall well-being.