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Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in Dogs

Golden retriever dog resting lying in bed
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Severity: i Low - Medium
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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in dogs is very rarely diagnosed in pets with intestinal problems. Chances are that if you’re looking for information on IBS in dogs, your dog has instead been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a more common intestinal condition in dogs. 

IBD in dogs is often confused with IBS. However, that doesn’t mean IBS in dogs isn’t a thing! 

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Dogs?

Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS in dogs is generally caused by stress and anxiety rather than an actual intestinal condition. When psychological activity causes physical ailments, we call those ailments “psychosomatic.” 

Think of how stressful situations can cause intestinal problems in people. Similarly, chronic anxiety in dogs can lead to chronic diarrhea. This is sometimes referred to as “irritable bowel syndrome” in dogs.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs, on the other hand, is an actual disease of the intestines. With IBD, white blood cells infiltrate the lining of the intestines and affect the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients, resulting in chronic and severe diarrhea.

IBS doesn’t lead to IBD. In fact, they’re completely different conditions.

No specific breeds are considered predisposed to IBS. However, dogs with anxiety are at a greater risk for experiencing IBS.

What Causes IBS in Dogs?

IBS in dogs is generally caused by chronic anxiety. Anxiety affects how the muscles of the intestines contract, resulting in diarrhea and constipation. The intestines themselves are not generally diseased in dogs with IBS.

IBS in Dogs Symptoms

The main symptoms of IBS in dogs include:

  • Bouts of watery diarrhea, often with mucus in the diarrhea
  • Straining to poop
  • Urgency to poop, which may result in accidents
  • Occasional constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting

Although blood is common in the diarrhea of dogs who have conditions of their large intestine causing diarrhea, blood isn’t common in the diarrhea of dogs with IBS. 

Diagnosing Dogs with IBS

Veterinarian examining Shih Tzu dog

The first step in diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome in dogs is to get a physical examination with a veterinarian. 

The veterinarian will want to ensure your pet isn’t losing excessive amounts of weight. They’ll also press on the dog’s abdomen to see if they can feel any abnormalities. Pressing on the abdomen will also key the veterinarian into your pet’s pain level. 

Another important part of the physical examination is a rectal examination. The veterinarian will ensure there aren’t any obvious masses in the anal region that are contributing to straining and urgency to defecate.

Assuming no obvious explanation for your dog’s clinical signs is found on the physical examination, your veterinarian will move on to diagnostics. Diagnosing dogs with IBS involves ruling out other causes. Common testing would include:

  • Routine bloodwork and urinalysis: The veterinarian performs these tests to check on your pet’s overall systemic health, including major organ function. 
  • X-rays or ultrasound of the abdomen: Imaging of the abdomen may help detect abnormalities, such as a mass, an intestinal blockage, or thickening of intestinal lining.
  • Fecal testing: Testing to rule out parasites and other infectious causes of diarrhea should be performed in dogs with diarrhea.
  • Dietary trials: Diarrhea also occurs in dogs with food allergies. Your veterinarian may recommend switching your dog to a diet with novel proteins or proteins that have been altered to make them more tolerable. 
  • Intestinal biopsy: Intestinal biopsy is the gold standard for diagnosing IBD. Because IBD is an important rule-out for a dog with IBS, the veterinarian may recommend biopsies. These can be obtained surgically through a midline incision or via a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are usually performed at a specialty center. In dogs with IBS, intestinal biopsies will usually be normal.

Treatment for IBS in Dogs

To manage loose stools, veterinarians recommend increasing the fiber in your pet’s diet. Options for increasing the fiber in your dog’s diet include:

  • Dog food for IBS, usually a prescription high fiber diet
  • Commercial fiber supplements
  • Adding fibrous foods, such as canned pumpkin, to your pet’s diet

Prior to making changes to your pet’s diet, speak with your veterinarian. 

Some veterinarians may use anti-diarrheal medications, such as loperamide, when there is an IBS flare. If the diarrhea is severe during a flare, your pet may also need to be given fluids. Often, IBS isn’t severe enough to require hospitalization with intravenous fluids, so your veterinarian will give the fluids subcutaneously (under the skin).

The most important aspect of managing IBS is reducing stress and anxiety. If you identify a trigger for your pet’s anxiety and diarrhea, such as long car rides, avoiding those triggers when possible may reduce the incidence of IBS flare-ups. Some dogs will benefit from the addition of more physical activity, such as going for a daily walk, to reduce anxiety.

The veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medications. For dogs with chronic anxiety, daily medications such as fluoxetine or clomipramine will be considered. For dogs who have specific triggers that set off their anxiety, the veterinarian may prescribe a more situational medication to be given before the incident, such as trazodone.

Shop Dog Anxiety Medications:

Over-the-counter supplements for anxiety can be purchased without a prescription. Examples of supplements that may be used for dogs with IBS include cannabidiol (CBD) or L-theanine. Speak with your veterinarian before adding supplements to your pet’s diet.

Initial diagnostics to rule out other conditions will likely be the most expensive part of managing your pet’s condition. Because this may take several visits to rule out anything more nefarious, you can expect this part to cost anywhere from $500 to over $1,000, especially if intestinal biopsies are pursued. 

Once you have a set routine, the cost will depend on what treatment options you choose and how often your pet has flare-ups of IBS. However, this will generally be more affordable.

How to Prevent IBS in Dogs

Not all dogs with chronic anxiety develop IBS. Minimize the stress your pet experiences to decrease the likelihood of IBS developing. If you’re noticing anxious behaviors in your pet, such as destructiveness, repetitive vocalization, self-injury, or house-soiling, speak with your veterinarian.

Related Conditions 

  • Anxiety
  • House-soiling
  • Diarrhea in dogs