cocker spaniel

Anatomy of a Dog With Irritable Bowel Disease: Part 4 of 5

cocker spaniel
This little girl is forever missed and loved.

Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) took my dog from me way too soon. In writing this 5-part series about this dreaded disease, which sounds nasty, can be, and has the potential to be fatal, I am learning, trying to understand, but find myself mourning the loss of my dog with all too real surfacing emotions.

It is hard to difficult to write about that which:

  1. We don’t understand how or why something happened;
  2. The topic is loss of a loved one;

Although my beloved dog was a week shy of 15 years old on her passing, it was sudden, unexpected, and I had no clear cut answer as to what happened. In some ways, I suppose I never will: IBD is just that way.

I could not write a series about such a sensitive topic and one that affects dogs and cats all over the world without enlisting the expertise of a revered veterinarian whom I admire, trust, and is a wealth of information for his readers and clients.

patrickmahaneyDr. Patrick Mahaney. Mahaney is a veterinarian and President at California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW). I have known Mahaney for years and consider him to be an excellent resource who keeps pace with current trends and is an industry expert.  Mahaney’s terrier, Cardiff, is living (and thriving) despite his diagnoses of Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia and more recently, cancer.

In this fourth of a five-part series on living with a dog with IBD, we asked Mahaney how he deals with this disease in his practice along with any recommendations for pet parents facing this illness.

Preventing IBD

Perhaps the hardest part of this disease is feeling like something can be done to prevent it: When it happens it is generally something that has been building. IBD’s exact etiology (cause) is unknown, but there are factors that can instigate it.

Fidose of Reality: Is there anything that can be done to prevent IBD in dogs?

Dr. Patrick Mahaney: Feeding your dog whole-food diet instead of one composed of processed foods (i.e. kibble, canned, “faux meat” treats, etc.). Whole food diets tend to be more biologically appropriate to the needs of dogs, as they more closely match the format by which food exists in nature. The food our dog eats should look very similar to the way it grows, walks, or swims on this earth instead of appearing in nugget format.

Ensure the ingredients entering your dog’s food and treats are considered human-grade instead of feed-grade. (note: You can read an entire post about human-grade vs. feed-grade here). Ingredients that are feed-grade have been deemed inedible for humans, yet we liberally feed them to our canine and feline companions without much consideration for their quality and nutritive value.

There are higher allowable levels of toxins permitted to enter feed-grade foods as compared to human-grade options. Some toxins, such as mold-produced aflatoxin and vomitoxin cause inflammation of the intestines that can contribute to IBD, damages the kidneys and liver, and even is carcinogenic (cancer-causing).



Fidose of Reality: Is there any way to determine if a dog might develop IBD? Any signs or symptoms or behaviors to know about?

Dr. Mahaney: Prevent your pooch from having episodes of dietary indiscretion. Dogs who are more prone to eating inappropriate things are more likely to develop IBD. This includes items in the home, yard, dog park, daycare facility, and other locations. Doing so is more likely to cause inflammation to the stomach (gastritis) and intestines (enteritis, colitis).

Dogs who constantly consume dirt, hair, sticks, toys, Christmas tree needles, Easter basket straw, magazines, feminine hygiene products, plastic bags, and other materials are inadvertently contributing to their own gastrointestinal inflammation (and ultimate demise).

Dogs who have more frequent episodes of dietary indiscretion are also more prone to ingesting infectious organisms, such as pathogenic bacteria (Salmonella, Campylobacter, etc.), parasites (Giardia, whipworm, roundworm, etc.), and viruses (Parvovirus, Coronavirus, etc.).

Over repeated episodes, acute (short-term) inflammation or infection can become chronic (long-term) and negatively impact the function of the stomach and intestines. Additionally, chronic inflammation and/or infection can contribute to changes in intestinal DNA and the potential emergence of cancer (lymphoma, carcinoma, etc.).


Fidose of Reality: Are there any tests that dog parents should have performed on their dog?

Dr. Patrick Mahaney: Regularly test your dog’s feces for parasites. Have your veterinarian run a combination of fecal tests including: ovo/parasite floatation and Giardia/Whipworm ELISA. Testing should be done at least on an annual basis or more frequently for dogs that are prone to dietary indiscretion or spend time in the presence of other dogs at dog parks, daycare, etc.

Fidose of Reality: Do you see a lot of patients with IBD?

Dr. Patrick Mahaney: I do see patients having inflammatory bowel disease, but seemingly not in significant numbers.

I tend to evaluate and treat more patients with acute or chronic digestive tract upset secondary to dietary indiscretion (eating things they should not), infection with parasites (Giardia, whipworm, etc.), or suffering from side effects secondary to medications prescribed to control underlying illness (chemotherapy for cancer, NSAIDs for arthritis, etc.).

cocker spaniel


Fidose of Reality: What is the overall prognosis for a canine patient diagnosed with IBD?

Dr. Patrick Mahaney: Overall prognosis for dogs diagnosed with IBD is a variable depending on the ability for the veterinarian to get the inflammation under control on both a short- or long-term basis.

IBD is a challenging condition to diagnose and treat, as the nature of the diagnostic testing required to rule in or rule out other associated disease conditions is quite extensive (and often expensive). Such diagnostics blood/urine/fecal testing, radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, and others. Additionally, there are many other conditions that can appear like IBD, including the most severe a diagnosis of all: cancer. Therefore, veterinarians must take a very thorough approach in performing the diagnostic workup of their patients.

Treatment often includes dietary modification (novel protein/carbohydrate combinations as part of a food elimination trial), medications (prednisone, metronidazole, etc.), and nutraceuticals (pre-and probiotics, fiber, Vitamin B12 injections, etc.).

Patrick Mahaney
Dr. Patrick Mahaney with his dog, Cardiff.

About Patrick Mahaney:  To satisfy his creative urges, Dr. Mahaney writes a pet health column (Patrick’s Blog) and connects with animal aficionados worldwide through Q & A, videos, and radio interviews. He also guest blogs for Perez Hilton’s,i Love Dogs, Veterinary Practice News, Healthy Pets and People with Dr. Patrick on, MSNBC Sunday with Alex Witt, and Pet Docs On Call. Recently, he’s lent his holistic veterinary perspective to Jackson Galaxy’s My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet.

In our final segment of this five-part series on IBD in dogs, we’ll revisit our final weeks with our dog, the challenges faced, and the cruel reality of facing the hardest decision a dog parent could ever make.

Catch up on the rest of our IBD series here:

Part 1 of 5

 Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5


  1. Oh wow, I didn’t realize the dietary indiscretion Dr. Mahaney describes above could potentially contribute to getting IBD. I’ve got some changes to make. Thanks for this wonderful series Carol!

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