Digestive upsets can have a number of different causes and their treatments should be considered accordingly. What works for one may not work for another. (i.e., simple stress induced colitis may be treated with a few days of feeding rice and ground beef whereas a dog with serious IBD shouldn’t be fed rice at all.)

Jessie-living with IBDMy experience with IBD has taught me that human medicine is much more specific than canine medicine (not a real newsflash, but, important nonetheless). In human medicine the doctors will try to specify the underlying causes of the digestive disturbance and treat it accordingly. In canine medicine it seems that the less serious cases are called colitis and treated, but, when they don’t get better or get more serious then it’s called Inflammatory Bowel Disease and you are given a bad prognosis and the treatments are not case-specific. To all of our veterinarian friends out there, please don’t take this as a slight as it is not intended to be one. During my experience with IBD our vets were wonderful and caring, but, even they admitted that the Veterinary profession is limited in it’s availability to the drugs used to treat this disease. If you are as lucky as I was to have wonderful vets they will go to whatever measures necessary to access the proper medications to deal with this disease, be it waiting for drugs to cross the border or calling the local pharmacies (as the pharmacies have better access to and lower costs than the veterinarian distributors). Let me say right now that medications should only be prescribed to you by your veterinarian and that is why I am only going to discuss the natural food alternatives and hints that I found helpful for IBD.

As you may have figured by this time, I had a very special dog who was diagnosed with an extremely serious case of IBD. I will try and outline all of the natural alternatives I found helpful and that worked for Jessie.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a disease which is believed to have many different causes. Although this cause is the center of much debate, it is believed to have genetic predispositions. Even in Human medicine doctors have been unable to come up with a definite genetic marker for it, but, the patterns are clear; if one member of a family is diagnosed with IBD, more often than not there are other members of that family who will suffer from similar symptoms. Other causes can be dietary factors, infectious agents, immune disorders and sometimes stress.

At about six months of age Jessie’s gas started, it was pretty horrible so I can sympathize anyone who has ever experienced this part of IBD. Jessie was put onto a special veterinary formulation kibble that was designed for IBD. This seemed to help, but, it didn’t last for very long. When we moved out to the country Jessie was exposed to a bacteria called Campylobacter, this seemed to be the onset of her serious problems with IBD. Don’t get me wrong, this didn’t cause her IBD, it just seemed to make it worse, but, the vets and I both agreed that we could never be sure if it was her sensitive bowels that made her susceptible to the campylobacter or if the campylobacter put too much strain on her sensitive bowels and aggravated them to the point of severe inflammation. Either way this seemed to be the onset of her serious problems with IBD.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease can be recognized by intermittent bouts of foul smelling diarrhea, low-grade fever and abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, weight loss, bloating and gas and general appearance of malaise. IBD can and should be diagnosed by a veterinarian so that you can get the guidance you need to make the right dietary and lifestyle changes for your dog. Inflammatory Bowel Disease is just what it sounds like, the bowels become irritated by some stimulus and they get so inflamed and swollen that the intestines cannot properly take in the nutrition from their diet and this is what causes the poor health of the dog. Sometimes the stimulus can be the food that the dog is eating, the body becomes so dysfunctional that it loses the ability to recognize the good from the bad and it just refuses to take in any nutrition at all.

As I mentioned earlier, we had put Jessie on a special kibble at an early age. This kibble seemed to help for awhile, but, eventually her body started to reject the kibble also. Jessie’s rejection of a food was apparent by the intensity of her flatulence, bloating, diarrhea and sometimes she would vomit her food up almost completely undigested after as many as 5-6 hours after eating. The food would sit in her belly and ferment because her body refused to digest it. Eventually, we tried the BARF diet and it seemed to be the one thing that Jessie could eat for long periods of time. It absolutely amazed me that a dog that couldn’t digest kibble or even soft dog food could efficiently digest an entire chicken back! (I would remove the skin from the chicken backs to make it lower in fat, but, I will discuss the issue of low fat food choices and IBD later on.)

The first thing I did when Jessie was diagnosed with IBD was breath a sigh of relief – phew, at least it’s not cancer! Then my vet said that this diagnosis was almost as serious as cancer based on the severity of Jessie’s case. Yes, almost as serious as cancer! I don’t know how many times I have heard breeders and pet owners say that Inflammatory Bowel Disease is not a serious disease, diarrhea can’t kill a dog! Well, I beg to differ. I am not writing this article to scare anyone, just to inform you that this is in fact a disease that needs to be recognized and treated for what it is, a serious disease. This is also not to say that IBD can’t be lived with because it can be, you just have to be aware of it’s existence and make the proper choices for your dog. The disease can also affect the dog in a range of severities, some dogs will never develop more than gas and mild bouts of diarrhea or as in Jessie’s case it can become quite serious. Either way as long as you are aware of it and make the proper decisions for your dog’s food and lifestyle choices you can keep your dog happy and comfortable.

I found myself a really good book on human bowel disease and I tried to apply as many of their suggestions as possible to help me construct a diet for Jessie. I found this book much more insightful than any of the canine books on this topic. This book was called Stomach Ailments and Digestive Disturbances, How you can benefit from Diet, Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs, Exercise and other Natural Methods. The author was Michael T. Murray, ND. (I bought it in a health food store.) The Ian Billinghurst book on feeding the BARF diet is also a great book to help you start feeding your dog a natural raw diet. (just keep in mind the principles of the IBD guidelines.)

Jessie’s belly was upset very easily, but, some of her more fierce triggers were; fat, beef, pork, wheat and dairy. Now obviously no living organism can function without fat, but that was the recommendation for Jessie, as little fat as possible. Even in healthy bowels the introduction of fat slows down the digestive process, as it is hard to digest. In a compromised digestive system it hinders the digestion even more and sometimes it can even slow it down so much that the good food sits in the stomach or intestines and ferments (this causes gas and bloating sometimes resulting in vomiting the food back up almost completely undigested.) It is recommended to choose your fats wisely for a dog with digestive difficulties. Good suggestions are flaxseed (one of the best I think), safflower, sunflower and soy. Even better for IBD are the omega 3s which are found in coldwater fish (salmon, mackerel, herring and halibut). There is an oil on the market that is called Essential Balance and it combines many of these oils together. (I use if on Dylan now.) If you can keep the diet low in fat and then add your fat this way I think that is the best way to do it. Now with Jessie she couldn’t even tolerate these fats so I had to resort to an oil called MCT oil (Medium Chain Triglyceride). MCT oil is an oil that used to be quite popular with body builders and is used at Sick Kids Hospital for children with bowel problems, as it is an oil that is easily absorbed into the system without any of the bad effects of a fat. (It can be found in some health food stores and can also be ordered through pharmacies – it is not cheap though!)

Jessie couldn’t handle beef, but beef should be a fine choice for most IBD sufferers especially if you are choosing lean cuts. Pork is not recommended for IBD, as it is one of the hardest meats to digest. I used turkey with Jessie, as it is low in fat and extremely digestible. Chicken is also a good choice, but with Jess I found success with turkey and stuck to it. With IBD dogs it is even more important that you are making wise choices as to the freshness and quality of your meats. A healthy dog may be fine with meats that are a little older, but, IBD dogs should be fed meats and/or poultry that is very fresh and it should be washed thoroughly. As I mentioned earlier if I was feeding her chicken backs I would remove the skin as this was too rich for her to digest. I did use grains with Jessie, but I did so because she couldn’t handle anything too rich and this helped to keep her diet somewhat bland. For Jessie I used Quick Oats. We decided on the quick oats because they are crushed so finely that they are quite easily digested, I still used to pre-cook them the night before so that they would be even more soft and mushy when served.

Rice shouldn’t be fed to IBD sufferers unless it is ground up. Rice flour is okay if you are going to make homemade cookies, but oat flour is even better. The theory behind the rice is that, if served the conventional way, it has sharp pointy ends that can trigger a bout of inflamed bowels. (For normal dogs it does work quite well at clearing up acute diarrhea though.) I would think that if your dog can manage a without the use of grains you would probably find it much easier.

Now one thing that is important to remember with IBD dogs is that they often have a hard time getting all of the nutrition out of their food and therefore it is important to supplement them with a daily vitamin and mineral supplement that is balanced for canine nutritional needs. The less processed the vitamins and minerals the better, natural source vitamins are normally much more easy to digest. (the Missing Link makes a natural source canine vitamin supplement that is hypoallergenic as well as other ones.) One very important element to supplement is zinc, zinc is often not absorbed by IBD dogs at all and to make it accessible to them it should be supplemented in the form of zinc picolinate. Which can be tricky to get ahold of, but a good health food store should be able to get it for you.) You can also buy digestive enzymes from a good health food store and you can open the capsules and sprinkle them over your dogs food and this will help his/her challenged digestive system.

When you are giving your dog his/her veggies they should be either crushed very finely or juiced. I juiced Jessie’s veggies and they didn’t seem to give her any troubles at all. I added juiced carrots or sweet potatoes to her diet as well as cabbage (Cabbage juice is supposed to be a great soother of inflamed bowels!) and garlic (1 or 2 cloves). I also used to add some aloe vera juice to her veggies too as it was supposed to soothe irritated bowels and heal any damage that may have been done while the bowels were inflamed. Cabbage that is shredded or cooked can cause gas as anyone who has ever had cabbage rolls can attest to, but fresh cabbage juice is recommended to soothe both IBD and peptic ulcers. (Jessie loved fresh cabbage juice! And Dylan still loves to eat whole cabbage leaves once in awhile!) Garlic is also supposed to help replenish friendly bacteria in the bowels, but in excess it can also cause gas so use it sparingly. Cottage cheese is also very easily digested and it is a terrific source of protein for a dog who could use some extra energy.. It is recommended to use the pressed style cottage cheese as it is lower in sodium, but I used the creamed style because it came in very low fat versions. Yogourt is also a great treat for IBD dogs as it helps to replenish the friendly bacteria in the intestines (plain, unsweetened of course). When using dairy products, however make sure to check to see if they contain Carageenan! This is very important, as carageenan is a trigger for IBD in those who are predisposed to it. I know with Jessie that almost any type of artificial preservative would trigger her so I tried to stick to natural and fresh foods.

If you would rather stay away from dairy you can give a daily supplement of lactobacillus and acidophilus. This is the ingredient in yogourt that helps the bowels stay healthy and you can get it in non-dairy formulations in a health food store. This is one of the best supplements you can give your IBD dog. Another veggie that I juiced for Jessie was alfalfa sprouts, she liked to eat them whole too and they didn’t seem to hurt her at all. Alfalfa is reputed to be good for digestion and can help to promote weight gain. Alfalfa is available in tablets and powders too. I know that from my personal experience that if anything was given in tablet form, it came out in tablet form so I had to either crush them or if in capsule form I opened them and sprinkled the powder in her food. (Warning though if they were in capsules they usually tasted horrible and so they would be hidden in something she really liked and not in her regular food as she was easily turned off of her food). Some of the treats I might use to tempt her to eat her yucky supplements were natural source baby foods (no preservatives and no wheat for Jessie), her favourites were the sweet potatoe and meat flavours. Once in awhile I would give her lactose free ice cream too, but, that was only when we were really kissing up to her because the sugar is not recommended for serious IBD dogs either. Frozen yogourt sweetened with fruit is a nice treat too. Jessie also did not seem to have any trouble eating fresh fruit and she absolutely loved it! We often gave her *grapes, melon, kiwi and she would even eat clementines.
* please note that grapes are now determined to be toxic to dogs! 

Now I really hope that I haven’t confused you completely with my scattered train of thought or that even worse I have scared you at all. IBD is not a nice thing to live with, but, it CAN be lived with you just have to be aware of it and make sure that you are conscious of it every time you put something in your dogs mouth. One mistake that is very easy to make is to feed a balanced IBD friendly diet and then give conventional dog cookies. Make sure that you don’t give your dog cheap dog cookies; they are full of&ldots;well nothing but wheat flour usually. (Bad for sensitive bowels, even Dylan who has an efficient digestive system gets horrible gas when he eats these cookies.) Now you will notice how difficult it is to find wheat free dog cookies the first time you try to find some. (Almost impossible) I have found a few and they are Iams Lamb and Rice, Innova Health Bars (mine and Dylan’s favourite) and some flavours of the Northern Biscuits as well as the Medi-Cal cookies available from the vets office (which were the best for Jessie because they are completely hypoallergenic and low fat.)

Once again I would like to say that I hope that you have found some helpful information in this artice, but, that it is not recommended to replace a proper diagnosis and treatment plan from your veterinarian.

Jessie and friend - living with IBDI hope that you have been able to obtain some helpful tips from what I have outlined for you here. The diet and tips that I have explained are what helped me to enjoy three more years with Jessie that I would otherwise not have been able to experience. Jessie passed away on October 5, 2000 at the age of 5. She is dearly missed by Cassandra and Kevin Levy, her brother Dylan, and her cat Shelby as well as anyone who ever had the pleasure of meeting her and her fierce “wiggle bum”.

Submitted By: Cassandra Levy

Pictured above is Jessie (Jowett’s Jessica) Photo courtesy of Mark Raycroft, Brountrout Calendars

Pictured below is Jessie and Shelby