Pet insurance companies call it a pre-existing condition. I call it inflammatory bowel disease.

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Canine Inflammatory Bowel Disease


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a disease where inflammatory cells invade the lining of the digestive tract (stomach, intestines). The lining thickens and blocks food from passing from the body.

A dog with IBD will have periods of vomiting and/or diarrhea with weight loss, and have periods of seemingly normal health.


In most cases, the cause is idiopathic (unknown). There are several possible causes, including:

  • Poor diet
  • Food allergies
  • Bacteria
  • Parasites
  • Genetics
  • Abnormal immune system


Signs typically come and go, and they depend on which part of the digestive tract is inflamed. 

  • Stomach, upper small intestine: vomiting
  • Lower small intestine: watery diarrhea
  • Large intestine: diarrhea with blood or mucus

In some cases, the entire tract is involved.

Other signs may include:

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Fever


Your veterinarian will perform the following tests to rule out other conditions as the cause of the inflammation:

  • Fecal exam
  • Blood tests
  • Urinalysis
  • X-rays, ultrasound

If all the above tests do not show any other conditions, your dog will need biopsies of the digestive tract to diagnose IBD.


There is no cure for IBD, but you can manage it by diet control and sometimes by medication:

  • Diet: high fiber, low residue
  • Medication: anti-inflammatory or immunosuppressive drugs. You may only need to give the medicine during a flare-up


The most effective way to prevent IBD is to feed your dog a diet that is high in fiber and low residue.


The prognosis is generally good once a good diet or medication is implemented. If there is no positive change to diet modification or drugs, the prognosis is more guarded.

Some dogs remain on medication for life, while in other cases you may gradually be able to decrease dosage.

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