Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is intestinal trouble on a chronic basis. It is not really known what causes IBD, but it is autoimmune related and some forms may be genetic. Any breed of dog or cat can get IBD. Frequent diarrhea is the big indicator of the disease, which is typically treated with careful management of the pet’s diet, drugs to suppress the immune system, and the occasional round of antibiotics to keep down the growth of unwanted bacteria in the digestive tract.


IBD is a relatively common chronic disease that affects the intestines of both dogs and cats. In this poorly understood disease (the cause of which is currently unknown), the lining of the intestines (particularly of the colon) becomes inflamed through a process mediated by the patient’s immune system.

Despite the prevalence of this disorder, its cause remains elusive. It is suspected that IBD is caused by chronic stimulation of the immune system from various factors, including dietary ingredients, parasites, or bacteria within the digestive tract. Genetics may also play a role. Regardless of the cause, the results tend to be same: inflammation occurs, intestinal bacterial overgrowth occurs, and the animal is unable to properly digest foods and absorb nutrients.

Symptoms and Identification

Clinical signs of IBD are primarily associated with intermittent bouts of diarrhea or soft stool, though some pets may also suffer bouts of vomiting and weight loss. For IBD, signs typically come and go, appearing to enter a spontaneous remission before returning with a vengeance.

The idea behind the diagnosis of IBD is that veterinarians attempt to exclude parasites, dietary sensitivity (in the form of a true food allergy or dietary intolerance), infectious diseases, digestive tract cancers, and other diseases that may cause similar clinical signs.

Food trials to determine whether true food allergies or dietary intolerance are at play are also deemed an acceptable way of excluding these alternative diagnoses. Alternatively, pets suspected of having IDB may be treated with medications to treat parasites and unwanted intestinal bacteria in an effort to help rule out these potential causes of illness.

Ideally, suspected cases of IBD should be confirmed via biopsy of the intestinal tissue. This can be done during abdominal surgery, endoscopy, and/or colonoscopy.

Affected Breeds

Dogs and cats of any breed can develop IBD. Middle-aged pets tend to be affected most commonly.


Treatment of IBD tends to involve several strategies:

1. Dietary management. Administering foods with a reduced ability to stimulate the immune system is a fundamental approach to helping manage IBD. However, performing a successful “diet trial” requires commitment. During the trial, it is important that the pet eats only the prescribed food and nothing else. All treats, edible chews (such as rawhide), and human foods must be discontinued, since feeding these items may expose the pet to undesirable components that then confuse the results of the dietary trial. Typically, the animal is on the diet trial for a minimum of 12 to 16 weeks. Administering dietary supplements in the form of specific fatty acids, prebiotics, and probiotics may also help some patients with IBD.

2. Immune system-affecting drugs. Drugs like corticosteroids and other immunomodulating drugs are often prescribed to help interfere with the immune system’s ability to cause inflammation.

3. Antibiotics. Reducing overgrowth of unwanted quantities of bacteria is typically required intermittently over the course of IBD treatment.


There is no known way to prevent IBD. Most pets with IBD may require a special diet and/or medication intermittently throughout life. Although IBD can’t always be cured, it can frequently be controlled. Pets with IBD may have occasional relapses.

This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.