Canine Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Canine inflammatory bowel disease is a rather common dog health issue and is one of the most common causes of gastrointestinal problems in dogs. It is an autoimmune disease and the classic symptoms are chronic diarrhea and/or vomiting. This page looks at the symptoms, treatment and how natural remedies can be used to help.

Canine IBD IBD is the result of the infiltration of inflammatory cells into the mucous lining of the intestines. The cause of canine inflammatory bowel disease is unclear.

For some dogs, it may be because of their diet - some unidentified dietary protein may cause an immune response in the gastrointestinal tract.

Other factors, such as genetics, chronic stress or anxiety, overuse of antibiotics, bacterial or fungal infections, food allergies, and abnormalities of the immune system, may be responsible. Most commonly in dogs, IBD is "idiopathic" (cause unknown).

Irritably Confusing

Note that inflammatory bowel disease is NOT the same as irritable bowel syndrome (although the two are often incorrectly referred to as one and the same). Irritable bowel syndrome is extremely rare in pets but very common in humans.

The immune response causes the dog's immune system to literally invade and attack its own digestive organs. Specifically, certain inflammatory cells (e.g. Lymphocytes and Plasmacytes) and various chemicals accumulate, infiltrate, and damage the stomach, small intestine, and/or large intestine. This results in chronic diarrhea and/or vomiting.

Older dogs (those 8 years of age or older) are more susceptible to canine IBD, although younger dogs can develop this problem as well.

Symptoms of IBD in Dogs

Symptoms of this condition depend on the location of the GI system that is responding to the immune attacks. When the stomach and small intestines are involved, vomiting is more common.

When the colon is involved, the dog will have painful bowel movements and diarrhea. The stools sometimes contain blood and may or may not contain mucus.

In severe cases, some dogs with IBD may also suffer from:

Diagnosis and Treatment of IBD in Dogs


In addition to a complete physical examination, blood and fecal tests are conducted to rule out other possible causes that can result in similar symptoms (e.g. giardia, poisoning, bacterial infections, worms).

If other possible causes are ruled out, an endoscopic biopsy can be done to determine if the dog indeed has IBD. In this procedure, a sedative or light anesthetic is given to the dog. An endoscope is then inserted into the pet's gastrointestinal tract and tiny pieces of tissue are removed for a microscopic examination.


Canine inflammatory bowel disease is usually treated with medications (e.g. corticosteroids such as prednisone; antibiotics such as Metronidazole; immunosuppressive agents such as Azathioprine). Antidiarrheal drugs and/or antispasmodic drugs are also sometimes used to suppress diarrhea and/or vomiting.

In addition, dietary change is very often part of the treatment. This is done in two ways.

First, the dog is given a food that contains a protein source that the dog has never had before. If that is not effective, a high-fiber diet is tried.

Multiple diets may have to be tried before the dog's condition improves. This means a lot of time and patience on the part of the owner is required.

Natural Remedies for Canine Inflammatory Bowel Disease

If diagnosed at its early stage, canine inflammatory bowel disease can be treated by using natural remedies such as supplements and herbs. Even in severe cases, natural remedies can still be used in conjunction with conventional medications.

The natural remedies can speed up recovery, enabling lower dosage of harsh medications to be used, thus limiting the seriousness of side-effects.


The following natural supplements are effective in supporting digestion and moderating immune system activities:

  • Digestive Enzymes: Inflammatory bowel disease results in improper food digestion and nutrient absorption. Digestive enzymes are essential for dogs with IBD and should be added to the dog's diet to help the digestive system work more properly.
  • Probiotics: The normal acid balance in the GI tracts of dogs with inflammatory bowel disease is upset - the "friendly" bacteria are often not present due to intestinal cell damage and overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Use of conventional medication such as antibiotics to treat IBD also kills off the "good guys" in the dog's digestive system.

    Adding probiotics to the dog's diet can help replenish the friendly bacteria and help the GI tract to heal.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 FAs have anti-inflammatory properties. A good source of Omega-3 FAs is salmon oil.
  • Glutamine: IBD causes intestinal cell damage resulting in scarring. Glutamine, which is an amino acid, can help rebuild the intestinal lining so that it functions better.

    Recommended dosages for pets are 250 to 3000 mg daily, depending on the size and condition of the pet.

  • Honey: Honey has powerful antibacterial properties and is beneficial for dogs with gastrointestinal problems such as IBD.

Herbal Remedies

Herbs can be used to reduce inflammation and alleviate the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Anti-inflammatory and demulcent herbs (herbs that soothe the mucous membranes) are especially effective. For example:

  • Licorice
  • Slippery elm
  • Plantain
  • Marshmallow

Herbs that can strengthen the immune system are also helpful, such as:

  • Echinacea
  • Goldenseal


Dogs suffering from IBD often have painful intestinal cramps and spasms. Essential oils that have antispasmodic properties such as chamomile and peppermint can be used in a diffuser. Let the dog breathe in the scent for 30 minutes or so, a few times a day, to relieve his discomfort caused by spasms.

Natural Products for Canine IBD

(Click on the links to find out more)

Animal Essentials Colon Rescue Phytomucil Blend

This herbal formula contains anti-inflammatory and demulcent herbs marshmallow root, licorice root, plantain, and slippery elm, and is very effective in alleviating IBD symptoms.

This formula contains a lot of good herbs such as licorice root, slippery elm, and alfalfa, as well as supplements such as L-glutamine, Quercetin Chalcone, probiotics, and enzymes. It is excellent for dogs (and cats) suffering from chronic or recurrent GI problems, such as poor digestion, stomach ulcers, food allergies, or IBD.