What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a syndrome that occurs when the gastrointestinal tract becomes chronically inflamed. The cause of the inflammation can be related to the presence of intestinal parasites, a reaction to a component of the food (most often the protein source of the diet) or for unknown reasons. The inflammation brings white blood cells into the wall of the intestine or stomach, which interferes with its proper functioning. This results in any combination of the following symptoms: vomiting, diarrhea and/or weight loss.

How does our veterinary clinic diagnose IBD?

There are many diseases that can share the symptoms of IBD. Therefore, the diagnosis of this syndrome begins with blood testing, stool examinations for parasites, radiographs (x-rays) and abdominal ultrasound. These tests are run to rule out many of the other diseases that can mimic IBD such as intestinal foreign bodies, intestinal cancer, disease of the kidneys, liver or pancreas etc. Unfortunately, these tests cannot prove or fully disprove the presence of IBD. In order to fully define the problem (and this is necessary to initiate appropriate treatment), we must get biopsies of the gastrointestinal tract. This can be accomplished through the use of endoscopy (a long flexible fiber optic camera system with a port to allow biopsies to be taken) or through an exploratory surgery. Each method has its pros and cons and your veterinarian can discuss these options with you should the need arise. The biopsies are sent to a laboratory where pathologists can define the problem and characterize the nature of the inflammation to help in the choice of treatment.

How does our veterinary team treat IBD?

IBD is generally treated with drug therapy and modification of the diet. Our veterinarian team uses drugs to suppress the immune response in the intestines. As such, they can depress the immune system as a whole and so must be monitored closely by your doctor. The drugs used most commonly are prednisone (a derivative of cortisone), metronidazole (an antibiotic that also has anti-inflammatory effects) and azathiaprine (an anti-inflammatory anti-cancer drug).

Researchers believe that some form of food hypersensitivity is the cause of IBD in many cases. Most of the time, the protein source of the diet is the source of the inflammation. There are several types of diets that may be tried to help your pet. Most of them will contain novel proteins (one that your pet has not been exposed to previously) such as venison, rabbit, turkey etc. A new and novel approach to dietary modification is found in Hill’s Prescription diet Z/D ultra. The components of this diet have been partially pre-digested so that when your pet eats them, the size of the protein particles that are left after digestion are so small (less than a molecular weight of 10,000 daltons) that the immune system tends to ignore them which leads to less inflammation..

What is the prognosis for IBD?

The prognosis for IBD is very variable. In general, this is a syndrome that can be controlled but not always cured. This means that your pet will probably have to be on a very strict diet and possibly drugs for the rest of his/her life. Our veterinarians try to slowly taper off the dose of drugs over the course of a number of months, but generally stick with a diet that works continuously. We judge the success of therapy based on corrections of the symptoms. That is to say, reduction in the frequency of vomiting, diarrhea and weight gain. Some pathologists believe that IBD may develop into intestinal cancer over time. If standard therapeutic regimens fail to bring about remission of symptoms, repeat biopsies may be indicated.