cocker spaniel

Anatomy of a Dog With Irritable Bowel Disease: Part One of Five

cocker spanielOn October 11, 2008, time stopped. My spouse and I stood by as the veterinarian stopped my dog’s heartbeat, thus breaking our hearts in the process.  To the best of my abilities, skills as a journalist, background in the dog world, and with all the professional veterinary contacts I have, as of this writing, in the over six years since my dog died, I have no idea what actually caused her rapid decline. The cause of her death remains euthanasia. This much I know is true.

It is my intent that this 5-part series surrounding my dog’s death will:

  • Help other dog parents struggling with Irritable Bowel Disease issues;
  • Help me to find answers where currently a void exist, thus helping you learn, too;

This series will be broken up into five parts because there is much that happened, many unanswered questions, and I want to understand WHAT transpired while educating dog parents facing the same prognosis;


If a dog is diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Disease, I hope this series will help you realize it isn’t a death sentence but can often be managed with due diligence and traditional veterinary /alternative/holistic interventions. Many dogs live long lives with Irritable Bowel Disease.

Irritable Bowel Disease

If you are reading this article, a veterinarian or specialist probably diagnosed your dog with irritable bowel disease or suspects it; or you are curious to learn more about the disease itself. Some of you might just be reading to learn more about the one who came BD (before Dexter).

The hard facts are this: The Merck Veterinary Manual describes IBD as, “a group of gastrointestinal diseases characterized by persistent clinical signs and histologic evidence of inflammatory cell infiltrate of unknown etiology.”

The exact etiology (cause) of IBD is unknown, and this is where I struggle to this day:  I have no clue what happened, why it occurred so suddenly, what I could have done differently, and how I can prevent this from happening in the future to my dog.

A lot of other conditions mirror symptoms associated with irritable bowel disease. In order to accurately diagnose a dog as having this condition, a biopsy must be performed. Your veterinarian can rule out other conditions and suspect IBD, but a definitive diagnosis comes with a biopsy, obtained via colonoscopy and/or endoscopy.

Our dog had both of these tests performed by at a veterinary specialty hospital, and the diagnosis made on September 15, 2008 is as follows:

Gastritis, irritable bowel disease of a plasmacytic and eosinophilic nature, ulcer probably caused by Salmonella in the colon, colitis, and mucosal hemorrhage.

I cringe reading that now as I did then.

Your veterinarian may suspect IBD after evaluating your dog’s symptoms, but the only definitive way to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease is through a biopsy. Our dog had both the colonoscopy and the endoscopy to conclusively diagnose the disease and other issues.

Prelude to a Series

I am able to disseminate this information because:

A) I keep hand-written journals of my dogs veterinary visits, changes in diet, any tests performed, unusual occurrences, etc.

B) I keep the above journals in the event of recurrence;

I encourage all dog parents reading this to keep a hand-written notebook about your dog. Date each incident. Keep it in a safe place. Couple this with your dog’s veterinary visit notes and you’ve become your dog’s best ally for preventative care and fact-finding information when issues arise. Here are Brandy’s notebooks, which have been hidden away and now unearthed for this series: (side note:  I penned entries into my childhood diaries growing up and tossed them in the garbage when I moved out of the family home – file that one under “stupid decisions I wish I could take back”)

dog journal

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Some folks confuse IBD with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a stress-related problem and involves diarrhea whereas IBD is a condition that is ongoing, must be monitored, and has a host of issues that accompany it. According to Marvista Vet, “Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a physical disease where the intestinal lining is infiltrated by inflammatory cells. The delicate intestinal lining becomes thickened and absorption of nutrients becomes altered. The infiltration can be seen under the microscope and this is how the diagnosis is confirmed. This has nothing to do with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”

IBS is anxiety based. Ongoing fighting or yelling in a household, moving from one home to another, flying, or even change in routine can upset a dog and induce anxiety.  Managing the anxiety and increasing dietary fiber are two methods of controlling IBS, which also can be ongoing.

Treatment for IBD and treatment for IBS are different, but there may be some crossover. It is important, however, to know the distinction between the two, and more importantly, the cause and symptoms of each.

Diagnosing IBD

As stated earlier, there are other conditions that cause similar symptoms of IBD, including, but not limited, to:

We did not immediately jump to have an endoscopy or colonscopy performed on our dog. We tried things with our veterinarian. I feel at peace with this decision.

Treatment of IBD

Treatment is not easy and it is not a one-size-fits-all regimen. Each dog will respond differently, and there are a number of holistic methods, medications, treatments, and dietary modifications that can help a dog who is diagnosed with IBD.

IBD does not generally happen overnight. Has your dog ever vomited or had a case of diarrhea, maybe even twice (or more) in a short period of time? Perhaps the dog got “into something,” ate too many table scraps, digested something on a walk, or even contracted bacteria at the dog park. Dogs do, on occasion, vomit or have a bout with diarrhea.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association says IBD has no specific cause, which makes it even more difficult for dog parents to understand and for veterinarians to pinpoint.

Treatment and therapy are directed at the inflammation created by IBD in the gut and suppressing the immune response while adjusting dietary intake that does not cause further upset to the dog’s delicate, affected gastrointestinal tract.

We’ll get more into treatment options in this series.

dog running
Calendar cover girl and dog-lebrity in her own right, our little girl. Forever mighty.

Our Dog’s Story

This brings us to the story of Brandy Noel and her diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Disease.  There were NO major signs of digestive issues with our dog prior to the onset of a bout with colitis in June of 2008. On October 11th of that same year, she was gone.

I struggled for years over this loss, wondering what I did wrong, how I might have changed the course of things, and exactly what could have precipitated this disease. I packed away these feelings for years and this series is bringing them to surface again, which is exactly what I need: To face this.

Inflammation of the bowel sounds nasty but not incurable, right? I am a dedicated dog mom who considers herself to go above, beyond, and then to the next level and then some for her dog: So what the hell happened?

I’ve learned to accept that I did not cause this disease in my dog. Thanks to a grief counselor, reading, trying to understand, and knowing I uncovered every stone possible at the time, I have acceptance that she is gone.  No amount of tears will bring her back. Dogs cannot live forever I tell myself: I don’t deny that. It sucks and is the worst part (the only bad part for me) about owning a dog and sharing life with one or more. They leave us way too soon.

So how did our 14-year-old Cocker Spaniel who did this in the spring of 2008 fade so rapidly from our lives?

running dog

She had no symptoms, but then again, maybe the disease was manifesting in a way that was not evident to us lay people, aka her family.

As a Cocker mom, Cocker lover, and someone who anticipates sharing life with a Cocker Spaniel until my time comes to cross the Rainbow Bridge, IBD is all too common in the breed.

This is a 5-part series that will run every day this week and chronicle our journey along with information garnered for other dog parents to use. If your dog doesn’t have IBD, this information is still useful from a general dog mom or dog dad educational angle. So stay with me for the ride: I can’t promise it will be easy, but I can promise it will be truthful and based in reality.

In the next part, I will discuss three factors I believe contributed to Brandy’s diagnosis and demise: These three factors would not have changed the outcome, but I wonder now if her disease might have been prevented. Knowledge is power, and in the years since her passing, I’ve been blessed with a bit of both.

Keep in mind that the dog mom I am today is vastly different than the dog mom I was in 2008: The love, devotion, dedication, and over-the-top-anything-for-my-dog mantra still exists, but I now know better, so I try and do better. Stay tuned.



  1. This is the first I’ve heard of a dog with IBD so I am interested in learning as much as you can share of your personal story with your dog, Brandy Noel, and this disease.

    1. Our little golden doodle, Seeger, was diagnosed with IBD at 4 months old. He is now 7 months. He has been on prednisone, then budesonide and as of today, back on prednisone. We are currently boiling chicken for him and giving him hills science diet lamb food. We are struggling with knowing what to do for him! For the past 3 days he has hardly eaten anything, therefore the vet recommended going back to the prednisone. He also had horrible gas and diarrhea. I want to help him but there is soooo much information out there, I dont know where to turn. Any help you can give would be appreciated. We love him so much and hate to see him in pain!

  2. Unfortunately, there are many disease that we still have not discovered what causes them. It is very important to follow through with diagnostic testing to get an actual diagnosis so proper treatment can begin. Thank you for talking about this important topic.

  3. Beautiful, intimate and helpful – thank you for being vulnerable, willing to share your story. And knowledge – I found a lot of great, new information in this post!

  4. Inflammatory bowel disease can be an elephant of conditions to treat. With Jasmine, we were both lucky and unlucky. Unlucky because it went undiagnosed for so long. Lucky because we were able to manage it quite well with diet and TCVM. The worst was the impact it had on the body before it got diagnosed and addressed.

  5. I’m so sorry for the sudden and inexplicable death of Brandy. IBD is a terrible disease. Thank you for this information – I didn’t know much about it. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

  6. Thank you for this great information! I especially liked your advice about writing down information in a notebook! Too often I’ve heard people say that they don’t remember when something started or forget that it happened entirely!

  7. This will be interesting to read. Sometimes ma wonders how Jenny Sue could go from having the results in bloodwork so good that the vet hugged her for having a healthy 11 yr old spaniel to having diabetes with number so high that it could have put a human in a coma within a 1 yr period.
    Ma has decided to take Jenny to the vet for another round of bloodwork and to make sure its not something else causing the blood sugar to be so high and not diabetes itself. They have to wait to get the taxes back first to have all the test ran.

  8. Great information. I love the idea of keeping a handwritten journal of their medical background. All these years later it remains such a tragic and sudden loss. I honestly had never considered that IBD and IBS were different problems. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

  9. I learned a lot from this article – thanks for writing this. And I know that it’s been 6 years, but I am sorry for your loss. I’m glad you’re sharing what you learned going through that difficult process.

  10. My first Cocker, Mia was 3 years old when adopted her and 6 when she passed away. Half of her time with us was spent (and I mean $pent) on fighting Immune Mediated Hemolyctic Anemia. IMHA also has no known etiology. She did go into remission but I often wonder if choices I made or things I didn’t do contributed to her relapse and if I made the mistake of confusing “remission” with “cured”.

  11. To keep hand-written notes about vet visits, and about we notice ourself is important and very useful. As you say, it helps to prevent or make us aware of any suspect change or recurrence. Claire

  12. I didn’t know that kind of disease for dogs. To keep hand-written notes about vet visits, and about we notice ourself is important and very useful. As you say, it helps to prevent or make us aware of any suspect change or recurrence. Claire

  13. I’m so sorry. You obviously did all you could for your beloved dog. I know that nothing i can write can help. I’m owned by cats and know how they can make us feel.

  14. My elderly cocker Sunny developed IBD late in life. Found that my excellent vet could do very little for him. Went to a holistic vet and did my own research. What made the difference was restricted diet, slippery elm capsules, and monthly B12 shots. TAMU did research on the B12 injections, and my vet believes it saved Sunny’s life. IBD is a condition that responds very well to alternative therapies.

  15. I am so happy you are doing this series. Cody, my 11 year-old Shepherd/Collie mix received a confirmed diagnosis of IBD last month. We’ve been struggling with ongoing loose stools, high liver enzymes and weight loss for more than a year now. My poor guy is on so many drugs now, he isn’t himself. The RX diets aren’t working either so I just started cooking for him. I’m going to thoroughly review the comments by your other readers to see if I can get more information and I am really looking forward to reading your story. I’m sorry for your loss. I am so worried Cody will not rebound from this awful condition.

    1. Sharon, I will be sharing things that do work and can help and reaching out to other folks whose dogs are affected. There are also some very helpful forums online dealing with this disease. Unfortunately our diagnosis came late and Brandy was nearing 15 and it just devastated her. This can be managed but it can be tricky. However, you are on top of it and that is the important thing. Stay tuned and you will do it 😉

  16. I can’t say enough good things about your veterinary log. I have a series of book sjust like it detailing Fe’s long history with allergies and food intolerances, plus a shiny new set focus on his achey breaky ACLS.

    My heart breaks for you, Darlene and Brandy, but I so admire you sharing your story and so much valuable information. IBD is so hard to diagnose and harder yet to treat, so any time someone shares, it’s amazing.

    1. Indeed and thanks. There is something so wonderful and practical about writing it down in your own words. In fact, I take the pad and paper and feel like Kalinda from the Good Wife when I go to the vet. I write things down – so I can also look them up later. I am still very old fashioned in that I want my notebooks. And the ACL course of action here and our surgeries – we have quite the folder full of that – hugs to you and your pack. Stay healthy!

  17. Looking forward to this series. Jack has a ‘tentative’ diagnosis of IBD, but I think we caught it early and so far have been able to treat it with a heavy round of steroids – diet change and ongoing B12. Anxious to read & learn from your journey.

  18. Carol thank you for this information. I am currently dealing with what my vet believes to be IBD or worse with my Bentley. We’re at the point that every day is just a gift but I’m trying a combination of some holistic treatments along with traditional medicine. That does seem to be working but it’s just something that you never know when the next big diarrhea event will hit. I look forward to the information you will share.

  19. I didn’t know that this was the cause of Brand’s passing.

    As someone who is just learning about IBD I am looking very forward to series. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you but I know it will be a great resource for others dealing with this condition.

    I’ve been keeping track of Leroy’s IBD in a notebook 🙂 and even though it’s only been about 4 months I already refer back to it! It’s a great way to keep track of things like his weight, medications, urination and bowel movements and when I introduce a new food.

  20. Brandy Noel was so beautiful, I’m very sorry you had to go through such heartbreak. You’re right, the only bad thing about having pets is that they leave us way too quickly. Thanks for sharing your story.

  21. I’m so sorry you lost your furbaby, and under such difficult circumstances. It is a great idea to record everything. Your loss and all that you have learned from it will benefit others. Thank you.

  22. Dear Carol,

    This is going to be a very difficult series to read. I’m so sorry for Noel and for you and Darlene, but glad that you kept everything and can help people and their pets through your experience.

    Love you!

  23. Thank you for sharing your story. I will be following this series closely.
    I am so sorry for your loss btw, I can imagine how hard that must have been :/
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  24. Carol, this is such an important topic . . . both for people and their dogs as it affects both and is so horrible to deal with. Our 15 yr old Danny had IBS which appeared to be stress-related and then pancreatitis the last year of his life. Fortunately he didn’t have IBD, but we administered sub-cutaneous fluids twice daily, then once daily for a year until he could no longer tolerate the needle and we knew he was telling us it was time. Would not subject him to any pain or discomfort. The vet said she didn’t think he had more than a month or two left when we started. Thank you for opening up your heart and notebooks to share this.

  25. Carol, my heart goes out to you in a deep and personal way. I understand the personal struggle with a chronic illness in your beloved pet child. We have 3 little ones each with serious life threatening issues. I admire your courage to share something so personal and heart breaking. I thank you my dear friend.
    Yesterday marked 7 years since I said goodbye to my first dog Morgan. I still cry as I still miss her and love her. They never leave our hearts.
    Jenny & Pixel

  26. My cocker spaniel Molly who was 5 years old was diagnosed with IBD and protein losing enopathy. At first I just thought it was her getting used to us as she was a rescue and the changing of the food but after constant diarrhea and many trips to our regular vet I finally requested to see a specialist who diagnosed with a biopsy in Pittsburgh. She was put on prednisone, then budesonide , Purina EN and Pepcid. I kept daily entries regarding her poop status. She had many explosive episodes of diarrhea. After 5 months the specialist in Pittsburgh got her into remission but she fell out 3 mo later and they seemed to not care any longer so we finally took her to Ohio State University which those people were so caring and loving but it was too late as 3 days later she passed. You need a lot of patience with this disease and knowledge is your key. I also joined a group on Yahoo for IBD that were exceptional. They helped me get through the terrible days offering some of their ideas to pass along when I would go to the specialist to see if it could work with my dog. Through it all Molly was a sweetheart and never complained of the many baths she had to get because of the diarrhea. I read a lot and researched a lot of different ideas that may help my dog. Question your specialist if you do not understand something and offer any ideas that you may have read and see if it could work with your dog. You need to trust your specialist and feel comfortable also with them.

  27. I’m so sorry you lost your Brandy Noel to this dreadful disease. My heart goes out to you as it must have been gut-wrenching to actually write this post. There is no doubt in my mind that this series of posts will help so many others having to deal with IBD and IBS. Thank you for sharing your story.

    1. That means a lot to me. I still cannot believe she is isn’t here – and over 6 years has passed. That’s the worst part of being a dog mom – knowing their short life span. SO I just try to live happy with each moment I have them in my life. I so appreciate your kind words.

  28. My beagle boy, Reese, was diagnosed via endoscopy with IBD in December 2013 at the tender age of 3. We were on Azothiaprine, prednisone, metronizazole, and vitamin B12 shots since diagnosis and I lost him last Monday to gastric lymphoma. He just turned 5 in August and had stable blood work as of Aug 11 but between then and about two weeks ago began a rapid decline. IBD can transform into lymphoma but my vet had never seen it happen so quickly and to such a young dog. It is truly heartbreaking but even with the best care the outcome isn’t always good.

    1. I am so so sorry. That is so young is right. My deepest condolences go out to you, Dot.

      I know many folks who successfully manage their dog’s IBD but since your dog’s IBD turned into gastric lymphoma, I can only imagine everything you went through. Many hugs and thank you for sharing your story.

  29. Hi Carol. Please see my facebook page Little Cocoa was only 5. She was abandoned on the doorstep of my dog training business when she was 3. She came to grossly emaciated and not eating. Upon even looking at kibble she would start salivating, gagging and turning her head away. Fortunately I was already a raw feeder so getting her to eat the raw was instantaneous but she wasn’t holding anything down. The primary symptom was projectile vomiting. BM’s were normal. I tried so many rare food sources imported at great expense from all over the country – elk, rabbit, vension, bison, etc. Tried so many vets and specialists. Basically it was what was believed to be multiple allergies – food, chemical, seasonal with gastrointestional, skin and respiratory involvement. The vets were beginning to suspect IBD but then I somehow when I tried her on beef and beef only she made a miraculous recovery, started holding food down and gained a ton of weight. She stayed on that upward course for two continuous years and then started losing weight rapidly. The two previous springs also she lost weight and it was believed to be an increase in her metabolism from fighting the environmental allergens. Fall would roll around and the weight would go back on. So I didn’t think anything unusual was going on the first week of her weight loss until she started rejecting food and vomiting again. It was back to the vets. I hired canine nutritionists, allergists, Immune specialists, etc. Everything they prescribed she was allergic to as many meds have soy and gluten in the casings. We suspected that she just had too much beef and that she now was allergic to the beef. This followed with 50 million food trials. For a week she made great improvement with Bison shipped in from California. The improvement was short lived and IBD was suspected but she was too weak for a colonoscopy or endoscopy. All sorts of steroids were tried and she rejected all of them and suddenly in the middle of trying things (it was only a month since symptoms started) her gums turned pale. I rushed her to another specialist who basically said “God was calling her home.” He added some more blood tests (she had a series just a few weeks previous) and her red blood cell count was very low and internal bleeding was determined. It was suddenly out of nowhere seeming in a matter of seconds that the only humane thing to do was end her suffering. I am still heartbroken and overwhelmed with guilt. If it was IBD why did she make that miraculous recovery for two years? The vet said that it definately wasn’t allergies and that perhaps she had a remission and then whatever it was returned with a vengence. She had such a sad little life. Her first owner couldn’t handle the illness (which is how I ended up with her) but she never got over losing the little boys. Whenever she saw a group of boys she would wag her tail seeming to look for them. Maybe it was heart break. I wish I could have done more for her.

    1. Gosh this is so heartbreaking. You did so much for her and she was brought into your life for a reason. Thank you for sharing her story.

      1. I have just read this story today and though I did not mention all about Jess` down-hill battle, this story is so true of my own dog, and I DO AGREE, there could well be emotional reasons behind this Desease
        that triggers off a chemical -change in the gut that we humans could never measure or understand.
        In other words trauma or shook could be the begining cause.


  30. Carol, My Poochie has been gone for 8 weeks now, he had a colonoscopy/endoscopy and 2 days he was gone….not having answers is eating away at us, but unfortunately we didn’t even get him tested for IBS ever. We found him as a stray, so we didn’t have anything to go by as far as how his life was before we found him. Pls where do I find the rest of your story about your furbaby? I want to keep reading what you had to say. He also was thought to have Cushing’s and Diabetes….and even that was questionable, so don’t even know if he actually had one, or the other or both, never could get his numbers under control…Thank you for helping me find this article….now I do not know if I ever want another dog, and love them so much.

    1. Hi Sharon. First, our hearts are with you and our deepest condolences. The story is five parts about our dog’s IBS and eventual passing and here are the five parts

      Part 2:
      Part 3:
      Part 4:
      Part 5:

      And the Anatomy of a Grieving dog mom post that may help, too:

  31. Hi Carol. I first read your story a few weeks ago while my sweet pug Reggie was battling IBD. He was diagnosed via a biopsy in late April and we lost our baby to this horrible disease on Monday. Our experience was so similar to yours. The steroids worked for him for a couple of months, but eventually the IBD took over. He lost weight, his other organs were beginning to shut down, and he developed pneumonia. We loved him so much and when we knew there was nothing more we could do for him we could not let him suffer anymore.

    I am so very sorry about the loss of your Brandy Noel. I now understand that heartbreak all too well. Your story was so helpful to me as I didn’t feel so alone. I felt like I did everything I could for my dog, as you did. When I heard the diagnosis of IBD I never thought of it as a death sentence, but sadly it was for our dogs.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I can only imagine how difficult it was for you. Hopefully Brandy Noel and Reggie are enjoying each other’s company up in Heaven!

  32. Dear Carol,
    Your Blog Carol, is a “wonderful conduit ,” along side so many unhappy stories around IBD.
    It can only be for the good , but also, a consolation for so many Canine owners ,especially Spaniel owners who have gone through so much hurt and experiance of loss over their animal . It is a credit to You.
    Your own loss lying amongst so many others……and the hurt never really goes away, we learn to live with that loss ?
    I just hope that vets will take the trouble to visit this site and learn more from the pattern of illness that this
    curse brings to Domestic Cats &Dogs . I have already seen for myself through reading these stories just how similar the way this Desease takes a dog and the time duration , its remission , and then a new vigorous onslaught once more. There is even a `time -similarity` at work regarding the age break out of the cursed thing. Not in all cases like your own `Brandy` but in many others there is……..2 to 5 years.
    Thank You so much.


  33. Thank you for posting your story about Brandy Noel. I had to mourn the death of my 1st Cocker Spaniel, Trooper in 2010. It was the hardest hitting blow I have ever felt. I still had a Queensland & a Mastiff at home at the time, but Trooper was my heartthrob.
    As a critical care RN I understand much about illness and death.
    What I have difficulty with is why my current Dog has had so many ER visits starting at age three. Kailer is a purebred American Cocker Spaniel. I believe it is IBD.
    Thank you for your story. You & Brandy Noel are still helping people 10 years after her untimely death.

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