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Crohn's Disease in Dogs

| Updated September 26, 2017

The canine equivalent of Crohn's disease in people is known as inflammatory bowel disease. Dogs receive some of the same treatments as humans to manage the condition. It can take some time for you and your vet to find the right dietary and medical combination to help your dog. Once you find what works, it's likely your pet will require that diet and possibly those drugs for the rest of his life.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The intestinal lining of a dog with inflammatory bowel disease becomes chronically inflamed, resulting in a lack of proper nutrient digestion and absorption. The constant irritation causes thickening of the bowel wall, which affects the ability to move food. Inflammatory bowel disease may occur because of an allergic reaction, but the majority of cases are idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Symptoms

Symptoms of IBD include vomiting, weight loss, lethargy and fever, but the most obvious signs revolve around fecal output. Affected dogs experience diarrhea, and eliminate more often than normal. The loose stools come from the small bowel, rather than the large bowel. Other than the diarrhea, your dog may appear fine. Inflammatory bowel disease symptoms most often occur in middle-aged dogs. While any dog can develop IBD, the disease is more common in German shepherds, Rottweilers, cocker spaniels, boxers, Shar-Peis and Yorkshire terriers.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease Diagnosis

Since the symptoms of IBD mimic those of many other diseases and conditions, your vet must rule out other possibilities -- such as parasites -- before determining that IBD is the culprit. Definitive diagnosis requires an intestinal tissue biopsy, so it's prudent to use less invasive diagnostic tools in a process of elimination. Your vet likely will test blood and urine samples, and conduct X-rays to see if there are tumors in the bowels. Before conducting the biopsy, she might give your dog medication used in treating IBD and watch the results. That's generally metronidazole, an antibiotic marketed under the brand name Flagyl, or metoclopramide, marketed under the brand name Reglan, which increases gut motility.

Medication for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

In addition to metoclopramide and metronidazole, your vet might prescribe corticosteroids to control inflammation. Prednisone is commonly used, given in higher doses initially and lowered when symptoms appear under control. Corticosteroids can have substantial side effects, including frequent drinking and urination. Your dog's response to the medication depends on how long he must take the drug. Some dogs require lifetime administration, while others need it only if symptoms flare up.

Dietary Treatment

Some dogs might respond to dietary changes and not require much, if anything, in the way of medication for IBD. Your vet can help design a diet for your dog's needs, but there might be some initial trial and error involved. One thing these diets have in common is a lack of preservatives and additives found in many commercial dog foods. Because of the allergic component of IBD, your vet might recommend a single source protein diet, containing venison, duck or other less common meats. Improvement doesn't happen overnight -- expect to wait a few months to see if the diet is working. There's no one-size-fits-all food for IBD dietary therapy. High fiber foods work for some dogs, while others improve on low fiber meals.