Signs & symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

Updated February 21, 2017

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or colitis in dogs is fairly common. The cause for most cases of chronic IBD are not well understood. The signs and symptoms of IBD can be confused with several other conditions, such as parasites or food allergies. Once a correct diagnosis is made, inflammatory bowel disease is usually easy to manage.


Inflammatory Bowel Disease means inflammation of the mucous membranes of the gastrointestinal tract. If the inflammation occurs in the stomach or upper parts of the intestines, the dog will vomit. Inflammation of the lower intestine or bowel causes diarrhoea.

Symptoms of IBD

While isolated incidents of diarrhoea or vomiting are usually nothing to worry about if the dog otherwise appears normal, repeated incidents warrant examination by a veterinarian. In more severe cases, the dog is nauseated and in pain, and may stop eating or appear depressed and lethargic.

Chronic vomiting and diarrhoea can be debilitating and dehydrating. It can be fatal to puppies because they become chronically dehydrated which can quickly lead to organ failure.

Check for dehydration by gently pinching the dog's skin between the shoulder blades. The skin should snap back immediately. Also feel his gums: if they feel sticky and dry instead of coated with saliva, he's probably dehydrated and should go to the vet right away.


Whenever a dog is having diarrhoea or obvious stomach upset, take a fresh (no more than eight hours old) fecal sample to the vet. She will test it for parasites and bacterial overgrowth. These are the most common causes for diarrhoea and vomiting. Even if the fecal sample seems OK, some organisms are not always apparent so she will likely prescribe a wormer and antibiotic just in case.

She may also do blood tests to check for glandular illnesses such as Addisons and Cushings disease, which have similar symptoms to IBD.

If the dog doesn't respond to the basic treatment and no other cause can be found, assume he has inflammatory bowel disease. In this case your vet may suggest a prescription dog food.


It's speculated that many dogs who show symptoms of chronic IBD may be intolerant to the high proportion of cooked grains in commercial dog food. These dogs will not do well even on prescription dry dog food, since most are grain-based.

Consider switching to a raw or home-cooked diet, or one of the kibbles formulated with no grains. These have a high meat content and use potatoes instead of grains for filler. They are available in most pet stores.

Dogs who have an intolerance or allergy to grains will improve almost immediately in this is the case. A simple change of food for a week will let you know if the IBD is related to grain-based diets.


Probiotics and digestive enzymes may help if you can't find another cause. They can be purchased in formulas specific to dogs; but most human formulas work just as well. Ask your vet about these supplements.

Probiotics are "good" bacteria that normalise a healthy gastrointestinal tract. If a dog has been on antibiotics, the good bacteria are often depleted and probiotics replenish them.

Some dogs have insufficient digestive enzymes to properly digest and absorb food. Adding these enzymes to his meals can prevent diarrhoea and vomiting.

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About the Author

Stevie Donald has been an online writer since 2004, producing articles for numerous websites and magazines. Her writing chops include three books on dog care and training, one of which won a prestigious national award in 2003. Donald has also been a painting contractor since 1979, painting interiors and exteriors.