Intestinal Tract Problems (IBD, IBS, and Colitis)

There are various types of intestinal tract problems among pets, and often, pet owners get them confused. Each causes a pet to exhibit similar symptoms, but not all are alike. In learning the subtle differences, you can help understand which issue your pet is suffering from and get them the treatment they need.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a psychosomatic disease (mental illness that is characterized by physical symptoms) and is entirely self-inflicted by an over-abundance of anxiety.

Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome:

  • Constipation. 
  • Cramping.
  • Diarrhea. 
  • Mucous in stool.
  • Urgency to defecate.

Treatment of IBS

The treatment of IBS focuses on identifying and addressing the anxiety or stressor. Inconsistent schedules, frequent moving, or weather changes can all contribute to anxiety, as can numerous other causes. Increasing fiber in the pet’s diet tends to help IBS symptoms, as does adding an anti-diarrheal medication during flare-ups. In extreme cases, the veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety medication to keep a pet’s stress level under control, but this is typically used as a last resort.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders affecting cats and dogs. IBD is characterized by chronic inflammation of the small and large intestines which results in a disruption of the digestive system’s regular contractions. This disruption produces irregular contractions that cause mucus and toxins to collect in the intestines and build a partial obstruction that traps gas and feces. This obstruction results in bloating, distention, and constipation.

Most causes of IBD are unknown but could be related to food allergies, bacterial or viral infection, or parasites.

Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease: 

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Anorexia. 
  • Bloating. 
  • Constipation. 
  • Diarrhea. 
  • Flatulence. 
  • Mucous in stool. 
  • Nausea.

Treatment for inflammatory bowel disease

Treatment for inflammatory bowel disease is a tough balancing act, because pets respond drastically different and causes of IBD usually cannot be determined. Prescription medication along with dietary restriction is usually the best method of treatment, though some pet owners are against medicating their pets. Dietary management comprises of eliminating allergens from the diet and adding non-fermentable fiber with the intention of normalizing a pet’s bowel movements. The veterinarian also recommends limiting tap water intake and opting for bottled water, because tap water can contain lead, copper, mercury, and aluminum, which can irritate a sensitive stomach and cause inflammation. It is important to note, that it is difficult to obtain a full recovery with diet alone.

If you opt for medication for your pet, the veterinarian will determine which is best based on your pet’s species. Some medications are better for dogs, while others work best for cats.


Colitis is a condition similar to inflammatory bowel disease and causes rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, and abdominal spasms. It is more common in dogs but reported instances in cats have been increasing. Because finding the origin of the problem is difficult, treatment is typically symptomatic.

How is colitis treated? 

  • Drug therapy – implements the use of anti-inflammatories. This form of treatment can have long-term side-effects, so it is rarely used over an extended period of time. 
  • Dietary management – initiating a change in diet to control fiber and polyunsaturated fatty acids with the intention of controlling colitis. 
    • Elimination diets: consists of removing all additives and supplements from diet, stripping it down to one carbohydrate and one “novel” protein (a protein that the pet has previously been unexposed to). After the symptoms dissipate, a normal diet can be reintroduced. 
    • Hypoallergenic diets: involves feeding one “novel” protein for a 4 week period then slowly introducing a second “novel” protein. This second protein can typically be used to manage symptoms long-term.

If you have any questions about intestinal tract issues or if your pet is exhibiting any of the issues described above, please contact our office, and we can help diagnose the issue and formulate a treatment plan.