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canine health problems
Small dog pooping

📷 by Pezibear

The essentials

  • IBS in dogs is often psychosomatic i.e., a mental illness — It’s characterized by physical symptoms.
  • IBS and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) isn’t the same IBS is an entirely different condition than IBD.
  • There are 4 common causes Causes of IBS include anxiety, stress, food intolerance, infection, and more.
  • Your vet will prescribe treatment Anti-diarrhea medicines, probiotics, and calming supplements can help treat IBS symptoms.

What’s irritable bowel syndrome?

You’re probably familiar with IBS in humans. But did you know the condition affects canines as well? IBS in dogs, like other intestinal tract disorders, is marked by inflammation in the colon. This can lead to symptoms like upset stomach, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, mucus in stool, and more.

While IBS symptoms can mirror those of other intestinal illnesses, the main cause is often mental rather than physical. It’s important to distinguish IBS from other conditions, as the approach and treatment can vary greatly. IBS in pups is often confused with the more serious condition known as irritable bowel disease (IBD).

IBS vs. IBD

Unlike IBS, IBD is a physical disease where inflammatory cells attack the lining of a dog’s intestine. IBD may cause chronic inflammation of the small and large intestines. It can impact the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and disrupt the digestive system. Besides chronic abdominal pain, symptoms of IBD include vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, loose stool, lethargy, and more.

👉 If you suspect your dog may have IBD, you should immediately visit a vet. 

Treatments often involve prescription medication and dietary changes. Since it remains challenging for veterinarians to treat, early diagnosis is usually the best way to effectively manage IBD.

Symptoms of IBS in dogs

Many intestinal issues in dogs share similar symptoms to IBS. The underlying issue is often inflammation in the colon, meaning your dog’s digestive tract is often affected. A few common symptoms of IBS in dogs include:

Causes of canine IBS

As a psychosomatic syndrome, IBS in dogs is often a mental illness that leads to physical symptoms. While physical irritants can cause inflammation in the intestine, this isn’t often the case with IBS. Below are some of the more common causes of IBS in dogs:

Anxiety or stress. As in humans, chronic anxiety or stress can manifest physically in the body. In the case of IBS, chronic anxiety leads to chronic intestinal distress. Acute, short-term episodes, like a weekend away in a boarding facility or a move to a new home, may trigger this distress. However, some canines experience chronic stress over extended periods, leading to chronic digestive issues like IBS.

Food intolerance. Dogs are creatures of habit when it comes to their eating routines. They often have sensitive stomachs that don’t do well with diet changes. Though it’s not always known why, dogs can develop food allergies and intolerances throughout their lives. If your dog is experiencing IBS-like symptoms, a recent change in diet may be to blame.

Infection. Dogs can often get into trouble because they explore the world with their mouths. Ingestion or inhalation of foreign objects can cause bacterial or viral infections in the GI tract. These may lead to inflammation and distress in the large and small intestine.

IBS diagnosis and treatment

With symptoms like chronic diarrhea, dehydration can quickly follow. Therefore, it’s important to address diarrhea and other IBS symptoms as soon as possible. Since at-home diagnosis is difficult, it’s important to visit your vet to rule out other intestinal conditions.

Doctors can conduct blood work and biopsies to test for other physical ailments. Being largely a psychosomatic illness, IBS often lacks the physical signs of other intestinal diseases. Some clues, such as fresh blood in the stool, can help vets determine that physical — rather than mental — factors could be at play.

After making an IBS diagnosis, your dog’s vet will need to treat the physical symptoms and then address the root causes. Dietary recommendations such as an increase in fiber can help normalize the GI tract. They may also recommend calming supplements with ingredients that target anxiety.

There are also medicines a vet may recommend to address both mental and physical symptoms. Anti-anxiety drugs that have proven useful include amitriptyline, clomipramine, and fluoxetine. On the physical side, anti-diarrhea medication such as metronidazole, loperamide, and azulfidine can be effective in controlling chronic IBS symptoms.

“Long-term probiotics such as Fortiflora can be helpful to manage the physical symptoms,” says Dr. Dwight Alleyne, DVM. “In addition to anti-anxiety medication, behavior modification techniques can also be helpful to reduce anxiety.”

At-home options to treat symptoms

Besides medication, there are some simple ways to help treat your pup’s IBS symptoms at home.

Consider your dog’s diet — Introducing a bland diet, such as chicken and rice, can help calm active IBS symptoms. An increase in fiber is also a simple yet effective way to ease intestinal distress in the long term. Other diet options for sensitive stomachs include those with a novel protein. These often mean uncommon meat proteins such as duck, rabbit, or venison.

Feed smaller meals — This one is pretty self-explanatory. Smaller meals given more frequently throughout the day may reduce the possibility of eating-related intestinal issues. However, check with a vet first before increasing or decreasing your dog’s total daily food intake.

Provide plenty of fresh water — Dog owners should always do this, but it’s especially important with IBS. Since symptoms like chronic diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration, making sure your dog has a steady supply of water is vital.

How to prevent IBS in dogs 

Like many canine conditions, prevention is a key responsibility for pet parents. There are a few simple steps every dog owner can take to help avoid IBS and maintain your pets’ intestinal health.

Supplement with probiotics — Probiotics are a great way to aid digestion, boost immunity, and improve gut health in dogs. One of our go-to probiotic supplements is Premium Care’s Probiotic Treats. These chicken-flavored soft chews contain live probiotic strains, digestive enzymes, and natural ingredients like rosemary. Pet parents love their effectiveness for symptoms like upset stomach and diarrhea.

Address stress and anxiety — As a psychosomatic syndrome, IBS is often directly caused by chronic stress or anxiety. Maintaining a routine of diet and exercise is one way to address canine anxiety. In some cases of anxiety, dogs can benefit from calming supplements. These often include ingredients like l-theanine and ashwagandha, which have proven calming effects in dogs.

Mix pumpkin into their food — Being high in both fiber and vitamins, pumpkin is a commonly-suggested additive for a pup with an upset stomach. For a dog-safe option, we’re fans of Native Pet’s Organic Pumpkin Powder.

👉 Always ask your vet before incorporating a new ingredient or supplement into your dog’s diet. 

Frequently asked questions

What causes irritable bowel syndrome in dogs?

IBS in canines is often caused by chronic stress or anxiety. But, other causes can include food intolerance and infection.

How are IBS and IBD different?

Intestinal bowel disease (IBD) is a physical disease that disrupts a dog’s digestive system. The causes and treatment for IBD are different from that of IBS.

How is IBS detected in dogs?

Vets will often perform a biopsy and blood work to rule out other intestinal issues. If no physical cause is determined for the intestinal distress, IBS is often the culprit.

What can I give my dog for irritable bowel syndrome?

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe anti-diarrheal and anti-anxiety medication. There are also at-home ideas to soothe symptoms. These include increasing dietary fiber, maintaining a routine, and supplementing with pumpkin.

Which dog foods are good for a dog with IBS?

Generally, diets with simple proteins and high soluble fiber content can help normalize GI tract function in dogs. There are several novel protein diets and prescription brands to choose from when treating IBS. Examples include Hill’s z/d and d/d.