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What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Dogs?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in dogs is a condition where the intestinal muscles don’t function normally, and it causes diarrhea and constipation. True IBS is not common in dogs. Irritable bowel syndrome is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that there is no cause that can be found for a dog’s diarrhea through testing.

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Dogs

Irritable bowel syndrome in dogs causes two main symptoms: diarrhea and constipation. Typically, the diarrhea is very watery with some form to no form. The diarrhea or constipation can be chronic, or it can resolve with repeated episodes. Each episode can come on quickly, and the dog can have a painful abdomen, gas, and borborygmi, which is a “gas bubble” sound in their stomach.

Causes of IBS in Dogs

Irritable bowel syndrome in dogs is a primary motility disorder. This means that the muscles of the intestines do not contract in a normal manner.

Normal intestine muscle moves in a rhythmic pattern called peristalsis that moves food from the mouth to the anus. In irritable bowel syndrome, the muscles don’t contract in unison, or they move too fast or too slow.

The root of the abnormal motility seen in IBS can be food intolerance or stress-related. 

How Vets Diagnose IBS in Dogs

Unfortunately, the symptoms of IBS in dogs are also the symptoms of hundreds of other diseases. IBS is considered a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that your veterinarian has to rule out many other diseases before being able to say that your dog has IBS. 

Typically, this starts with bloodwork to look for abnormal blood cell counts or abnormal levels of liver and kidney enzymes. Tests might also include:

  • Imaging of the abdomen, with x-rays or an ultrasound, to check for tumors, abnormal structure of the intestines, blockages, severe constipation, and abnormal movement of the intestines

  • Blood tests to look at pancreas functions

  • A biopsy of the intestines  

  • A culture of the feces to check for bacterial infection

  • PCR testing for viruses  

A final important part of diagnosing IBS in dogs is starting a diet trial and seeing what response your dog has to the diet.

Treatment for IBS in Dogs

Once your veterinarian has determined that your dog has IBS, it can be managed through medication and food. When your dog is having an episode of IBS, the use of antidiarrheal medication and probiotics helps to stop diarrhea and balance the gut microbiota.

Your veterinarian may recommend a diet change. Feeding a diet that is highly digestible and has a higher fiber content helps to alleviate inflammation in the gut and stop diarrhea. Diets such as Royal Canin Gastrointestinal High Fiber or Hill’s Prescription Diet w/d are highly digestible and have fiber to help make intestinal movement normal and prevent diarrhea and constipation.

Recovery and Management of IBS in Dogs

Irritable bowel syndrome in dogs is commonly triggered by a stressful event. Avoiding stress, or preparing a pet for stress with the use of medications can help prevent or lessen the severity of episodes.

Many dogs will recover from IBS episodes within one week with treatment. Some dogs will continue to have problems with IBS and even with treatment; these dogs will require a prescription diet for life to help prevent future episodes.

IBS in Dogs FAQs

What is the best food for dogs with IBS?

Dogs with IBS should be fed a highly digestible diet with a high soluble fiber content. Generally, this will be a prescription diet such as Royal Canin Gastrointestinal High Fiber or Hill’s Prescription Diet w/d

What is the difference between IBS and IBD in dogs?

IBS causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, or constipation. It has no cause that can be found—there is no bacteria or viral agent present, and biopsies of the intestine show no inflammation or cancer present. IBS is often caused by stressful events and mostly affects the large intestine.

IBD, on the other hand, affects the large and small intestine, and on biopsy, there are inflammatory cells present. IBD causes vomiting and diarrhea. IBS can occur in episodes, while IBD is a chronic disease that requires lifelong therapy.    

How common is IBS in dogs?

True IBS is rare in dogs. The symptoms of IBS—diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain—are common with many other diseases, so it is important to have your dog evaluated if they have these symptoms to determine the appropriate treatment.

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