While uncommon, dogs can develop irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a series of gastrointestinal symptoms usually related to stress. IBS is characterized by chronic or intermittent bouts of diarrhea, vomiting, and constipation. Environmental stressors, anxiety, and poor diet can cause or exacerbate IBS in your dog. A vet will diagnose IBS through a process of elimination, and treatment typically revolves around stress management. Overall, the prognosis for dogs with IBS is good.
What Is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a large intestine condition in which an uncomfortable group of symptoms occurs in the gastrointestinal system. IBS is often stress-induced, doesn't have a physiological explanation, and won't cause damage to the intestinal tract. IBS is often confused with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but these are two different conditions. IBD is an inflammatory condition of the intestines that can be diagnosed by analyzing damaged intestinal cells, whereas IBS is a psychosomatic condition, meaning it has a non-physical cause like stress. IBS isn't common in dogs and is usually diagnosed on the basis of exclusion, meaning the diagnosis is given when there is no other physical explanation.
Symptoms of IBS in Dogs
IBS symptoms in dogs are also those of a wide range of other conditions. If your dog is experiencing bouts of diarrhea or vomiting, visit your vet right away.
Dogs with IBS most commonly experience diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting. The diarrhea usually has a gooey consistency and contains mucus. You may sometimes notice the dog straining to defecate, but also a sudden urge to have a bowel movement. Vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite, bloating, and abdominal pain may also accompany diarrhea. Canine IBS is typically a chronic, intermittent problem, meaning it may come and go over a long period.
Causes of IBS
Typically, IBS is a psychosomatic disease. Chronic stress is the most common cause of IBS in dogs.
- Stress: IBS in dogs is often triggered by stress. Dogs can experience stress for various reasons, including lifestyle changes, the addition of a new person to the household, moving houses, fears and phobias, and separation anxiety. Psychological stressors alone can lead to IBS. Dogs that work are also very likely to develop IBS.
- Diet: Sometimes, IBS can be exacerbated or triggered by poor diet. If your dog is not getting enough fiber and experiencing stress and anxiety, IBS can flare-up. A vet-approved change in diet can help soothe the condition.
Diagnosing IBS in Dogs
Your veterinarian will diagnose IBS by running diagnostic tests to rule out other illnesses that may be causing gastrointestinal distress. These tests may include a stool culture, imaging, blood analysis and urinalysis, endoscopy, and a biopsy of the intestines. In addition to examinations, your vet will examine your dog's medical history and ask questions about its deification patterns, environmental stressors, and diet. A dog with IBS will have normal intestinal cells, and diagnostic tests will yield negative results. There is no single test for IBS, so the diagnosis usually results from a process of elimination.
The best way to begin treating dogs with IBS is to identify the source of their stress and reduce or eliminate it. Sometimes, the source of stress cannot be easily controlled or identified. Your veterinarian will work with you to create a plan to help you manage the gastrointestinal symptoms and minimize your dog's stress. Your vet may prescribe medications to relieve IBS symptoms, such as antidiuretics and antispasmodics. In cases of severe anxiety, veterinarians may prescribe drugs like fluoxetine or clomipramine. However, non-prescription options can effectively reduce stress and anxiety in some dogs. Veterinarians often recommend high-fiber diets or fiber supplements to control IBS in dogs.
There are a number of over-the-counter supplements that can help calm your dog. Calming aids for dogs may contain ingredients like L-theanine, tryptophan, CBD, and natural herbs. Never give your dog supplements without approval from your vet. Human products and other commercial supplements may contain toxic ingredients and worsen your dog's IBS.
Pheromone sprays, diffusers, or collars such as Adaptil send calming signals to dogs and can help reduce stress and anxiety. You can use these pheromone products in conjunction with other treatments.
Prognosis for Dogs With IBS
Once stress is reduced, and symptoms are treated, the prognosis for dogs with IBS is good. Most dogs will recover within weeks of treatment but may have to continue with specialized diets. It's essential to closely monitor your dog for returning symptoms and ensure it isn't eating anything that may irritate its bowels.
How to Prevent IBS
You may be able to prevent IBS in your dog by minimizing stress in the household. If you can identify signs of stress, anxiety, or fear in your dog early, you may be able to address the problem before IBS develops. You can use calming aids while you work to address the source of your dog's stress. Your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medications or recommend behavior modification if fear, anxiety, or behavioral problems are severe. A specialized diet may also help prevent IBS.
Some dogs work hard to hide fear and anxiety from humans, so IBS is not always preventable. Seek treatment early and stay in contact with your veterinarian.
Is IBS damaging my dog's body?
IBS doesn't cause damage to a dog's GI system or increase the risk of cancer. The symptoms themselves are not harmful to your dog.
What is causing my dog stress?
There are a variety of factors that may be causing your dog stress. Dogs with severe separation anxiety or phobias commonly experience IBS.
How do I fix IBS?
IBS is best treated by addressing the stressors in your dog's life. If separation anxiety in giving your dog IBS, work to resolve the root cause. Usually, IBS symptoms will then lessen.