Free shipping on orders over R500.

IBD and IBS in Dogs

IBD and IBS in Dogs

Cecilie Hemsen Berg

Most of our dogs have experienced the discomfort of diarrhoea and vomiting, but when the problem becomes chronic, it’s a cause for concern. Chronic diarrhoea, cramps, vomiting, weight loss, and gas are unfortunately issues that dogs can also suffer from, indicating an imbalance in the digestive system that a veterinarian should investigate. Both IBD and IBS require a comprehensive strategy to achieve good results. In this blog, we explain the difference between IBD and IBS, symptoms, treatment, and supportive home care.

The Difference Between IBD and IBS

Though often used interchangeably, IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) are two different conditions. In order for your dog to get the right treatment, it is therefore crucial that a veterinarian makes an accurate diagnosis. While the symptoms are relatively similar, IBD is characterised by:

IBS does not cause physical changes to the digestive tract and mainly affects the large intestine. It can result from food intolerance or emotional stress.

Dog with IBD

When Should You Take Your Dog to the Vet?

A rule of thumb is that if your dog has had digestive problems with diarrhoea for over a week and seems lethargic, you should call the veterinarian. If you suspect your dog has ingested something toxic, a foreign object, or if there is blood in the stool, contact a veterinarian immediately. It’s better to be safe and not let it go too long since it is distressing for the dog and can be a sign of something serious.

It’s also wise to take your dog’s temperature; if it is below 38°C or above 39°C in combination with any of the symptoms above, contact a veterinarian.

Why Do Dogs Get IBD or IBS?

The exact causes of IBD and IBS in dogs are not always clear, but several factors may contribute to their development.

IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease):

  • Infections: Bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections (such as giardia, toxoplasma gondii, or salmonella) can trigger IBD by causing inflammation in the digestive tract.
  • Food Sensitivities: Reactions to specific proteins in the diet can lead to chronic inflammation. Identifying and eliminating these proteins can be part of managing the condition.
  • Genetic Predisposition: Some dog breeds, including French Bulldogs, Boxers, German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Yorkshire Terriers, are more susceptible to IBD, suggesting a genetic component.
  • Immune System Dysfunction: An overactive immune response to normal intestinal bacteria or dietary components can cause chronic inflammation, leading to IBD.
  • Gut Microbiome Imbalance: Dysbiosis, or an imbalance in the gut microbiome, can contribute to the development and exacerbation of IBD.

IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome):

IBS is considered to be relatively rare in dogs, and occurs as a result of the intestinal peristalsis/intestinal muscles not working normally. This can be caused by:

  • Stress: Stressful situations, changes in the environment, or anxiety can disrupt the normal function of the digestive system, leading to IBS symptoms.
  • Dietary Factors: Food intolerances or sensitivities can cause IBS. Unlike IBD, these do not cause physical changes in the gut but can lead to significant discomfort and irregular bowel movements.
Dog with IBD

Both IBD and IBS highlight the importance of a balanced diet and a stable, stress-free environment for dogs. Regular veterinary check-ups, a suitable diet, and minimising stress can help manage and reduce the risk of these conditions.

Symptoms of IBD and IBS

Clinical manifestations of IBD in dogs are many and nonspecific, which can make the diagnosis difficult. The most common clinical signs are:

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting – persistent or recurrent
  • Diarrhea/loose stools – persistent or recurrent, may contain blood or mucus
  • Abdominal pain and gas

Other symptoms include pale mucous membranes like gums and the inside of the eyelids (signs of anaemia), fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity (ascites), dehydration, and hair loss. If untreated, other organs can become involved, such as the pancreas (pancreatitis).

IBS is primarily characterised by alternating between watery diarrhoea and constipation. If the condition is related to emotional stress, there is often a distinct correlation between stress and stomach upset. Additional symptoms may include excessive gas and rumbling in the stomach, and the stool may sometimes be covered in foam due to the presence of mucus in the intestines, which results from irritation or inflammation. Unlike IBD, IBS is often periodic, meaning that the dog can appear healthy for a time and then suddenly experience gastrointestinal problems again.

Dog with IBD

How is the Diagnosis Made?

Diagnosing can be challenging, and findings made by the veterinarian will guide treatment. In addition to history and blood tests, the veterinarian can use ultrasound, X-rays, and endoscopy to make the diagnosis. In some cases, a stool sample and/or biopsy may also be taken. In general, treatment aims to improve gut health while avoiding ingredients that trigger the condition.

In IBD, tests will reveal changes in the gut lining and possibly pathogenic bacteria or viruses. In IBS, on the other hand, tests will not find pathogenic bacteria or viruses, and biopsies of the intestine show no inflammation, tissue changes, or cancer.

Outlook and Long-Term Management

The prognosis is generally good when the right treatment and diet are implemented. IBD is a chronic condition, but it may be possible to reduce the medication dose over time. Most dogs do well for many years, while others require treatment changes every few months. If neither diet nor corticosteroids yield good results, the veterinarian will conduct further testing to check for an underlying disease. In IBS, symptoms may disappear after the dog is given food it tolerates and any stress factors are removed.

Treatment of IBS

The two main causes of IBS are food intolerance and/or stress. The main focus of treatment will be to identify what triggers your dog’s IBS and avoid this. If it is food, then an allergy-friendly or gut-sensitive diet may be appropriate. If stress is the culprit, try to manage this by:

  • Going for daily walks and exercise 
  • Allow for play and mental stimulation
  • Providing enough sleep and rest
  • Giving your dog love and care
  • Avoiding harsh punishment and shouting at your dog
  • Managing your own stress

Many dogs recover from an IBS episode within a week with treatment and a proper diet. Some dogs will continue to have IBS periods and need a diet with easily digestible ingredients for the rest of their lives.

Treatment of IBD

Depending on the test results and which part of the digestive tract is involved, special diets can be used as part of the treatment. These diets usually contain a single protein source that is new to the dog, referred to as a “novel protein.” Another option is food that contains only hydrolyzed protein, which is broken down into smaller parts so the body does not recognize it as a specific protein. The veterinarian may put the dog on an elimination diet to better understand which ingredients cause inflammation; this diet should last eight to twelve weeks, during which the dog should not receive any treats or other food. Often, treatment can involve one or more of the following:

Dog with IBD

Optimal Nutrition

  • Allergy-Friendly Food: Avoid allergenic proteins and other dietary triggers. Chicken, beef, soy and eggs are common culprits. Hypoallergenic protein sources the dog hasn’t eaten before (such as white fish, game, ostrich, and insect protein). Some recommend hydrolyzed protein food as the body does not recognise the source of the protein, lowering the chance of an allergic reaction.
  • Low Fat: A diet with low-fat content can also be beneficial.
  • Gluten-Free: Gluten-free food for dogs who react to gluten. Millet, sorghum, buckwheat and oats are some carbohydrate options.
  • Fibre and Probiotics: to help balance the gut microenvironment and strengthen the gut lining, which often is unbalanced in dogs with IBD.


  • Corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory medications help reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, thereby alleviating symptoms and allowing the gut to heal. 
  • Electrolytes: Diarrhea and vomiting deplete the body of electrolytes, which must be replaced to maintain fluid balance inside and around body cells.
  • Anti-nausea and Anti-Diarrheal Medications: These medications help manage symptoms and improve the dog’s comfort by reducing nausea and controlling diarrhoea.
  • B-12 Supplements: Inflammation in the stomach weakens the production of intrinsic factor (IF), resulting in B-12 not being absorbed in the intestine.
  • Deworming: If parasites are detected in the gut. IBD can be triggered and worsened by internal parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii.
  • Glutamine: Some studies show that the amino acid glutamine can be deficient in some patients with IBD and that supplementation can help improve symptoms.
  • Antibiotics: Used to treat or prevent secondary bacterial infections that can occur due to inflammation and compromised gut health.
Dog with IBD

Nature’s Pharmacy

To support the health of a dog with IBD or IBS, focus on food and supplements that aid the digestive system and calm the immune response. Always consult with your veterinarian before starting any supportive treatment, as some herbs and supplements can interfere with the prescribed care. Each dog has a unique medical condition that influences its treatment and prognosis.

Herbal Teas for Digestive Health

You can make herbal teas that soothe the gut by mixing 1 teaspoon of herbs to 150ml of water. You can use a single herb, such as dandelion, or mix 2-3 herbs. Let it steep for 10 minutes, cool, and pour over the food. Once a day for a week. Observe how your dog reacts, and stop if you see any adverse effects. If the dog tolerates it well, you can continue giving the herbal tea every other day. Beneficial herbs include:

  • Dandelion – liver cleansing.
  • Fennel – can help relieve bloating.
  • Chamomile – mildly anti-inflammatory and calming.
  • Marshmallow root – mildly anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
  • Rooibos – antioxidants that strengthen the immune system.

Supplements for Dogs with IBD or IBS

  • Psyllium Husk: Mix a level teaspoon with a little water and stir into the food, 3-4 times a week. It cleanses the intestine and absorbs water in the gut, helping to firm up stools.
  • Omega-3: Add 1 teaspoon to the food once a day. It is mildly anti-inflammatory and supports overall health.
  • Fermented Vegetables: Add a small amount to the diet, ideally homemade. These are beneficial for the gut microenvironment and support healthy digestion.
  • Bone Broth: Excellent for the gut lining, providing extra nutrition and collagen. It also enhances the flavour of food, which can be helpful if the dog has a poor appetite.

Nala Health for the Gut

Nala Health dog food is specially formulated with a focus on gut health, which is essential for nutrient absorption, a strong immune system, and overall well-being. Our food includes:

Dog with IBD
  • Healthy Fibers: From chicory root, carrot, and sweet potato, which support digestive health.
  • Probiotics: To help strengthen the healthy bacterial flora in the gut.
  • Butyrate: A short-chain fatty acid that serves as the main energy source for gut lining cells and has a direct anti-inflammatory effect.
  • Balanced Omega-3 and Omega-6: To support overall health and reduce inflammation.
  • Gluten-Free Ancient Grains: Such as millet, sorghum, and oats, provide essential nutrients without causing digestive issues.
  • Pure and Complete Protein: Sourced from black soldier fly larvae, which are raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, under strict hygienic conditions.
  • Natural Preservatives: Including antioxidants, clay minerals, rosemary, cinnamon, oregano, paprika, and organic acids to maintain freshness and health benefits.


Both IBD and IBS are chronic conditions that can significantly affect a dog’s quality of life. However, with proper diagnosis and a comprehensive treatment plan, many dogs can lead happy and comfortable lives. Regular veterinary check-ups, a tailored diet, and careful management of stress are crucial in managing these conditions. By focusing on gut health and working closely with your veterinarian, you can help your dog achieve better digestive health and overall well-being. Remember, every dog is unique, so it’s essential to find the right combination of treatments and lifestyle adjustments to suit your dog’s specific needs. With the right care and attention, dogs with IBD or IBS can enjoy many years of good health and companionship.