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Irritable Bowel Disease in Pets

Updated: Feb 2

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or irritable bowel disease (IBD)

What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Pets

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or irritable bowel disease (IBD) is a term that is used to describe a cluster of symptoms related to digestive discomfort or disease. If your pet experiences chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea, he or she may have been diagnosed by your vet as having irritable bowel disease. IBS often involves a combination of the following symptoms: chronic or intermittent vomiting, chronic or intermittent diarrhea, gut pain, crouching behaviour, loud gurgling gut sounds, salivation and nausea, alternating constipation and diarrhea, flatulence, inappetence, dehydration, and fatigue. It can be a stressful thing to watch your pet struggle with and it can also be life-threatening. 

IBS can range from mild to severe. Sometimes, pets with IBS can become gravely ill and need to be hospitalized. In severe chronic cases, IBS may result in inflammation of the small intestine, liver, and pancreas (a more serious condition known as triaditis). This can produce elevated liver and pancreatic enzyme imbalance which can be serious. It can also cause severe dehydration and fatigue, which require IV fluid therapy and veterinary intervention. Steroids and/or antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce symptoms. 

What Causes IBS in Pets?

IBS is often caused by a slow and steady insult of species-inappropriate foods passing through the digestive tract that can cause inflammation leading to damage of the digestive lining. The symptoms of IBS can present as, or be mistaken as, a “food allergy” or “food intolerance.” Often IBS cases will be labelled as “idiopathic” which means the cause is unknown. However, integrative veterinarians and holistic animal nutritionists take a different approach and believe diet is largely involved in the development of IBS. 

Does My Pet Have an Allergy?

True food allergies are actually quite rare. Food intolerance is more common. Food intolerances can occur when the gut is damaged and inflamed. If you suspect a food allergy or intolerance, it’s important not to assume your pet has a meat allergy until you’ve eliminated all the other common allergen possibilities including: corn, wheat, soy, legumes, low quality meat by-products, and synthetic vitamin and mineral mixes. It’s often not the meat that pets are allergic to but rather the poor quality of the meat and/or filler ingredients which serve no nutritional purpose for dogs and cats and that cause inflammation and blood sugar instability. 

Lack of dietary moisture can also lead to GI inflammation and systemic dehydration, which is why dry food can be a real problem. Going back to the basics and using a good quality cooked ground meat can clear up the picture and help you determine which foods will work for your pet.

Microbiome Imbalance: Deficiency or Overgrowth. 

Most IBS cases involve a microbiome imbalance in the gut. This can be caused be an improper diet and also by antibiotic therapy. There are two ways the microbiome can be compromised. The first is lack of bacterial diversity in the bowel. When there is a less diverse population of bacteria in the bowel, imbalances that cause inflammation can occur. This requires probiotic supplementation with as many healthy bacterial strains as possible, specifically targeted to rebalance the microbiome of the bowel. 

The second type of imbalance is called SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). This is an overgrowth of specific bacteria that starts in the large intestine and then backlogs into the small intestine. This can cause inflammation of the upper and lower GI tract and can also involve the digestive organs (liver and pancreas).  

The tricky part is figuring out exactly which issue is occurring. Both issues can involve disturbances of B vitamins including folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12) and very similar clinical symptoms. It’s important to get expert advice to discover exactly what is happening. A veterinary internist and/or integrative veterinarian along with a holistic nutritionist are the best choices for pinpointing the issue and forming a treatment plan. 


How To Help Your Pet With IBS: A Process Of Elimination 

A Fresh Food Diet

Once dietary insults are removed and the GI tract is given the support it needs (via fresh food and supportive supplementation), the symptoms often are reduced or resolved. It can take time for the digestive lining to repair so it’s important to be patient. It can take years for issues to develop and therefore it can also take a long time to get your pet back to true health. Cooked food is often the best way to start out with IBS pets and then later shift to a raw diet when they have recovered. The amount of vegetables and fiber you feed your pet should be determined based on the exact cause of the IBS (the exact microbiome issue).

An elimination process is the best way to determine which individual foods work for your pet and which ones don’t. It’s best to start very simply and add only one new ingredient at a time in order to establish the best foods and supplements for your pet. 

Supportive Supplementation

Supportive supplementation can accelerate the healing process. There are a number of important things your pet will need access to in order to heal the gut including: omega 3 fatty acids, L-glutamine, B-vitamins, gut-soothing herbs, probiotics, N-acetyl glucosamine, and digestive enzymes. These should be chosen individually based on the exact issues your pet is experiencing. 

Professional Guidance

It is important to consider getting your veterinarian’s opinion first and, if you’re wanting to try a fresh diet approach, it’s important to have help from an experienced pet nutritionist.


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