Natural Guide for Pets: Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Let’s chat about gastrointestinal health. There’s a lot involved in keeping your pet healthy and the main area to focus on is the digestive system. Digestion is important and there are some poor pooches and pussy cats out there whom are diagnosed with inflammatory Bowel Disease, namely Crohns and Colitis.

Intestinal issues and disorders are among the most common reasons for trips to the vet whether it be diarrhoea, constipation, IBS and today’s focus, IBD’s such as Crohns and Colitis. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) such as Colitis and Crohns are conditions resulting from an inflammatory response in the gut. They are characterised by the infiltration of pro-inflammatory cells into the intestinal mucosa. The lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may become thickened and/or ulcerated, overreactive and less integral, with lessened gut acid and an imbalance of good gut microbiome (the good bacteria in the gut). Nutrient absorption may be compromised and the passage of food and waste material through the gastrointestinal tract may be altered. This can lead to a very sick pet.

There is a genetic correlation in IBD but this disease is a combination of genetics and environmental factors. Some breeds of dog do however seem to be more susceptible to the disease such as Schnauzers, French Bulldogs, Doberman Pinschers, Mastiffs and Alaskan Malamutes.

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The signs of IBD may include one or more of the following;

  • Chronic diarrhoea, loose stools or constipation
  • Difficult or painful bowel movements
  • Bloated, tender abdomen and gas
  • Fresh blood and/or mucus in the stool
  • Chronic or intermittent regurgitation/vomiting (often a sign common in cats)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Weight loss

While many other problems can also cause these symptoms, when they become more frequent and chronic, then the diagnosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can then be given.

Colitis by definition is inflammation of the lining of the colon. This can be inflammation only or can turn into ulcerative colitis where the integrity of the bowel lining becomes compromised and ulcerates. Colitis is usually limited to superficial layers (mucosa, superficial part of the submucosa) of the colon.

Crohns by definition is Inflammation in different areas of the digestive tract from the mouth through to the anus and tends to affect the deeper layers of the bowel wall.

When a pet has IBD, his stomach lining can become irritated, causing food to move through his system faster or gut motility can become slower. Over time, the lining of the digestive tract can ulcerate, thicken and become irritated from the inflammatory cells. Healthy cells that usually fight off bacteria and other invasive allergens will build up within this area of the body, causing diarrhoea, constipation, cramping, and abdominal pain.

Possible Causes of IBD’s

  • A poor, inadequate processed pet food can cause inflammation in the GI tract.
  • Food allergies and sensitivities to foods such as beef, chicken, milk, eggs, corn, wheat, and soy or flavourings and colourings are common, commonly found in many processed pet food.
  • Stress is often a low grade release of cortisol that can slow down digestion causing digestive dysfunctions, leading to inflammation.
  • Dysbiosis (bacterial overgrowth in the gut) is highly linked to autoimmunity and in particular digestive disease (IBD). Dysbiosis leads to increased intestinal permeability, loss of immune tolerance, immune response, activating immune cells and specific microbiome (good bacteria) shifts. SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), is commonly found in the bowel and highly associated to IBD.
  • Histamine and allergic response, impacts SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), that in humans is linked to IBD’s.
  • Parasitic infections can take hold when the GI is not functioning well and immune function is compromised.
  • Stress leads to mast cell activation via binding of corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH) to mast cell CRH receptor sites increasing inflammation and IBD’s.
  • Poor immunity and gut immunity (integrity of the ‘one cell epithelial of the gut’), can cause over-reactivity and inflammation (IBD). This can arise from birth from not being weaned effectively.
  • Adverse drug reactions or over-medication and vaccination, which can create a hyperactive immune state and may be a factor in IBD’s.

Conventional Veterinary Approach to IBD

Vet’s often use bland prescription diets of poor quality and certain drugs as an intervention to reduce inflammation and common symptoms.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), inhibit the gastric acid production and are amongst the top 10 most commonly prescribed drugs in the world for humans and pets. Acid reflux can be a symptom of an IBD. Whilst inhibitors may give short term relief, a more holistic approach is far more successful than unnaturally suppressing HCL levels.

Pro-kinetic medication is sometimes used to help move food through the digestive system and strengthen the oesophageal sphincter muscles in acid reflux, a known symptom of IBD’s.

Prednisone or other similar steroids, may me used to address the inflammatory nature of IBD’s. This does however negatively impact the immune and endocrine system and in human conventional medicine, is being used less and less. Long term this is a very damaging drug.

How Diet and Supplements can Help


Looking at suitable diets and food for your pet is essential. A fresh and balanced diet rich in easily digestible proteins, good fats and vegetables (fibre) can help support gut microbiota and stomach acid levels. Home made cooked or raw food are often best in this instance.

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Processed foods and sugars can cause inflammation in your dog’s stomach, decrease acid levels, triggering acid reflux symptoms, poor gut motility, proliferation of bad bacteria and so forth.

Certain foods can often elicit an unwanted immune response, so understanding what might be causing your pet to react is essential. If feeding a fresh diet has not worked, doing a food sensitivity test can help in removing the offending culprits.

Nutriscan sensitivity test: check your pet at home easily for food sensitivity.

Low dietary fibre intake is associated with decreased stomach and gut motility and delayed gastric emptying. Low fibre findings are mostly found in humans, but our counterparts experience the same pathogenesis in IBD and adding insoluble fibre, may help.

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Although more research is required, we know from research that prebiotics hold promise for IBD support in pathogensis and reduction in inflammation.

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Checking for nutritional deficiencies is always a good start and something we offer here at MPN. There is a large correlation between low vitamin D levels and GERD in humans. I often find our pets can experience the same thing. Although a vitamin or mineral deficiency isn’t usually the soul reason for acid relax, it is good to check this out. Low levels of acid may also indicate deficiency in B12, iron, magnesium and calcium.

Asking your vet to test for vitamin levels is a good start.

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Zinc deficiency is correlated to and regarded as a potential in protecting gastro lining. The research is based on its anti-secretory properties and regulation of gastric levels. Many foods can be deficient in zinc and a common mineral when looking at deficiencies.


Such a beautiful and useful part of a diet regime is to looking at supplements. They can help to reduce symptoms of IBD successfully. These are mostly looking at how to support digestive function, inflammation and considering how digestion can be impacted from external elements such as stress.

Ashwaganda; this native Ayurvedic herb is one I always wax lyrical about. It has adaptogenic abilities when it comes to stress. It modulates cortisol levels (your pet’s stress hormones). If your cat or dog is experiencing consistent stress, cortisol shuts down the digestive system and this has been shown to increase bowel inflammation.

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Slippery elm; such a beautiful insoluble fibre that tends to help regardless of the cause. It has mucilage properties where it creates a film, soothes, protects and helps to heal the entire gastric system, modulating gut function. It’s a wonder herb for the cupboard and a great ingredient to trial for your pet with IBD. Human studies are mostly being run but pet’s achieve the same level of relief from slippery elm.

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Deglycyrrhised licorice; this botanical and functional herb is a demulcent (or mucilaginous, the same as slippery elm). It enhances oesophageal and digestive mucosal protection and in powder or liquid form, can help soothe the oesophaegal and digestive lining. According to a 2014 study, DGL was shown to create extra mucus, acting as a barrier to acid in the stomach and oesophagus. This barrier may allow the damaged tissue to heal. A 2018 study i humans, found it was more effective than acid-suppressive drugs used.

Probiotics;  gut microbiota allows for a healthy ecology and functioning of the gut. We know from studies that good bacteria protects the gut mucosa, helps support immunity, aids the digestion of food, may help prevents bad bacteria and yeast and has shown promise in reducing inflammation in the gut.

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Enzymes; can be a great addition to help reduce acid reflux symptoms, especially if there are food intolerances and allergies. Best used in conjunction with slippery elm and probiotics to cover all digestive bases.

Glutamine; maintaining the gut membrane integrity has shown in animal and clinical studies that glutamine deprivation leads to atrophy and mucosal ulcerations. Healing the GI helps to reduce inflammation at the cause.

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Magnesium: hypo motility (slow motility of the gut) can be caused by a nutritional deficiency of magnesium and chronic stress. Whilst this has only been studied in humans and sheep, I have found the same to be true for dogs (especially if they have anal gland issues and anxiety). Magnesium can also aid spasmodic cramping in the GI tract.

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Herbs can certainly help the inflammatory response but knowing more and seeing an expert is warranted in this case. We know from research that devils claw, curcumin, betagucans and bovine colostrum may help the immune response and help reduce inflammation in the GI tract.

In conclusion, it is essential to address stress, looking closely at diet, feeding fresh and balanced foods and lastly, considering supplements to help support digestive and immune function.

We hope this helped and please know we are here to help. If you are concerned or at a loss as to what to do, check out our consultation services.


MPN Team x

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