cocker pup

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

Brandy_dogIrritable Bowel Disease is manageable, but can be complicated to treat, sometimes leads to secondary gastrointestinal issues, and there are dogs who lose their lives to IBD-related issues. I am a dog mom who lost her one-week-shy of 15 years old Cocker Spaniel to IBD back in 2008.

This is part two of a five-part series related to our dog’s journey with IBD in an effort to help other dog parents dealing with this while understanding what exactly happened to our forever loved and eternally missed Cocker Spaniel. If you missed part one, you can catch up on the introduction of IBD and this series here.

Brandy’s Background

Christmas was always a special time of year for me, filled with extra meaning since I was born on Christmas Day and my little girl came into my life for Christmas, 1993.

On the weekend that my now-spouse and then “partner,” Darlene and I traveled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for a civil union, we decided to go and “look” at some puppies who were bred from a puppy mill. If these puppies were not adopted, they’d be shipped back to the puppy mill where the unthinkable would happen. We often joked over the years that we were “wed” and acquired the “kid” all in one weekend. Writing that, it seems like yesterday yet oh so long ago.

We fell truly, madly, deeply and head over heels in puppy love with this little dog. I didn’t know the first thing about a puppy mill in 1993, a time before the boom of the Internet. I would not go back and change one single thing, even knowing now what I didn’t know then.

cocker pup
Head over heels: Instant connection. Circa 1993.


Over the course of her life, Brandy Noel (my middle name, incidentally) had a higher-than-average share of health issues. We faced each one as a family and with the dog’s best interests in mind. Some of these health issues include:

  • Cherry eye treatment and surgeries in both eyes within the first two years of her life;
  • Food allergies, first diagnosed in 1995, long before rotational diets and the hotly contested debates of feeding traditional dog food or a homemade diet existed; Many foods caused GI upset and/or yellow bile-filled vomiting, so once we hit on a dog food that stayed down, we stayed with it;
  • Chronic urinary tract infections, eventually eradicated by the addition of cranberry to her diet;
  • Patellar luxation repaired at a university veterinary hospital ;
  • Mast cell cancer at the site of yearly injections: Over-vaccination wasn’t up for discussion at the time;

Brandy had quality of life. She was happy. She faced a lot and overcame each obstacle, a merry disposition, and the “Velcro Cocker” syndrome that most Spaniel parents can attest to experiencing. These love-bugs want to be rightnextoyou at all times.

Cocker Life Span

We believe Brandy to be a purebred American Cocker Spaniel. Her body conformation, characteristics, personality, and overall appearance coupled with her AKC papers all point to being a Cocker to the core. Puppy mills don’t always tell you the truth about the type of dog you are getting.

According to the American Spaniel Club, the average life span of a Cocker Spaniel is about 12 years. The majority of Cocker parents I have met over the last 20+ years tell me they have had Cockers live anywhere from 10 to 18 years.

When some people learn that my dog was nearly 15 years old on passing, they tell me things like:

“Well, she had a good life, it was her time.”


“She outlived a lot of dogs.”

And those things are true: She had a good life and she did outlive a lot of dogs. She was healthy and then she wasn’t.  Some utterances are hurtful and are best left unsaid. There is never enough time: fifteen months to fifteen years: I measure love by how much and not how long.

cocker spaniel
I returned to college as an adult – she was there for me every step of the way. My study buddy!

IBD Rearing Its Ugly Head

In June of 2008, Brandy was diagnosed with a bout of colitis: This is an inflammation of the colon. With loose, gelatinous-like stools, she was lethargic, not willing to drink, and very gassy. She was 14-1/2 years old at this time.

In August of the same year, a urinary tract infection appeared. In addition, there was vomiting and loose stools.

Testing, treatment, and visits to our regular veterinarian ensued.

Things began to clear and seem stable, so my spouse and I planned a dog-friendly visit with friends in New York on August 24, 2008. During the visit, Brandy ate the other dog’s food, consisting of boiled rice and chicken, while we chatted in another room. Ask me how paranoid I am about my dog eating from another dog’s food bowl these days.

As of August 25th, things were never again the same and thus began the process of our dog slowly dying and feeling helpless to do anything in making it better. As a mom or dad, that’s what we are supposed to do, right? Make it better and not allow suffering?

Severe colitis ensued, diarrhea, bouts of gas, lack of appetite, and overall general lethargy. Back to the vet we went.

Rather than bog this series down with details, suffice it to say my journaling went into MACH-5 at this stage. Here is an excerpt from Brandy’s health journal at the time:


We tried it all in a short period of time, which looking back could have actually instigated some of the IBD flare-up. Some of the medications, dietary changes, and treatments we tried prior to seeing a specialist include:

  • Tylan
  • Flagyl
  • Clavamox
  • Baby food
  • Cottage cheese
  • Eggs
  • Novel proteins: From kangaroo to buffalo and lamb to boiled turkey
  • Probiotics (something I wish we started ages before)
  • Holistic veterinarian for potential acupuncture treatment: More about that next time
  • X-rays and ultrasounds
  • Blood panels
  • Stool and urine testing

When your dog is rapidly losing weight, cancer is not suspected, blood tests are mostly normal, and your regular veterinarian has gone above and beyond his scope of expertise, even phoning in calls to specialists on your behalf, it’s time for next steps.

Three Life Altering Factors

As promised, there are 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 if they were changed. I can’t change history but perhaps this information can save your dog. If you are dealing with IBD, consider this:

A.  Chicken jerky: For years, chicken jerky was a staple in Brandy’s diet: Chicken jerky as in the one pound bags purchased at the local superstore or Sam’s club: The chicken jerky that has since been removed from many store shelves and is attributed to the death of countless numbers of dogs. No one talked about chicken jerky poisoning at the time. She had a strip of jerky a day for years.

B. Chemical-based topical flea and tick preventative: Readers of this blog know that I am pro flea and tick preventative that does not harm a dog. For her entire life, we treated Brandy with a chemical preventative squeezed between the shoulder blades. It not only contributed to her hair not growing back properly (and not at all in spots), but there is a theory that chronic use of medications and chemical toxins like topical spot-ons are contributing to the diagnosis of IBD in dogs.

She will ride along with me forever…

C.  Quality of food: Brandy was a fussy eater with a host of food sensitivities and allergies. We fed her primarily a store bought canned food for much of her adult life. The happy dog running free and looking lively on the can does not always equate to what is actually transpiring inside the dog eating this food. Granted, the quality of canned food was not poor, but I would not choose this route again for any dog who enters my life. As the saying goes, when you know better, you do better.

These three factors are all contributors to what I believe led to a diagnosis of irritable bowel disease. I believe the incident on August 24th of eating chicken and rice to be the tipping point to a disease that had been brewing and was finally rearing its ugly head.

By the way, a fourth factor is over-vaccination, which came to an abrupt halt when Brandy had a vaccine-induced reaction called CANCER.

In the next post, I will share the colonoscopy and endoscopy process, results, post testing treatment, what experts are saying about IBD in this current day and age, and how some dog parents are coping with their dog’s diagnosis of IBD. Expect these posts to gain length because this is a series with gobs and gobs of information to share. Please continue to stay with me for this series, and for those of you dealing with this, I’ll be sharing what to do’s, what to ask, how to get to the bottom of this, and where to go for help.

Catch up with part one of the series by reading here: Anatomy of a Dog With Irritable Bowel Disease: Part One of Five

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  1. Well, knowing what we know about food and nutrition, we’d have to agree with your three factors. We feel lucky we caught Jack’s issues early on and have changed all of those. Hoping it makes a difference. Great series Carol.

  2. I salute you Carol, for bringing this disease to the forefront. I hear people talk a lot about their fur baby having a sensitive tummy. Sometimes, this sensitivity continues to progress – may be IBS, food sensitivities, food allergies, or indeed IBD. Knowledge is the key component in order for us to be able to care for our fur kids. Thank you!!

  3. Great post Carol. Whether she was 15 or 5 doesn’t matter. We are never ready for a loss, especially when we feel that there are things that we could have done or wished we could do. It is amazing how much our knowledge has grown in the care and treatment of our pets…we all did what we knew as best at the time, but have learned so much since then. While the topic is sad, it is so important that this information is out there. Thank you.

  4. Thank you for all your input. I am so sorry for you loss as I lost my Cocker Spaniel, Precious on 9/27/2012. She lost her bought to cancer. My main reason for reading your story is my Rottweiler Pit-bull Sheppard mix is suffering now. She was diagnosed with Lymphoma 6 weeks ago and irritable bowel syndrome. My vet treated her with prednisone and meds to help with her vomiting and diarrhea. It seemed to help until I took her back to have a second ultra sound done. The next day she refused to eat and started with the worst case of gas and diarrhea I have ever seen. I called my vet and they gave me more meds and digestable food to help her eat. Slowly she is avoiding all food and seems to have lost even more weight. Our next step is to see if she had IBD. Thank you for writing something that makes more sense to me and how I can help her. My baby is suffering and can’t help to wonder where I went wrong.

  5. I have just lost “Jess” she was five and half years old, an English Cocker Spaniel. The Battle to keep her going started the day I adopted her as she came as a rescue -dog. Both Oxycare and Prednosole were tried on her as well as different foods as recommended by the vet. She came under weight to me at about 10,2 kgms (these dogs should be between 12 – 14 kgms)
    No matter what we did she never regained her weight and slowly lost more and more weight. Her blood results
    at first did improve for a while. But in the past 3 months she went down hill very quickly, and lost interest in her toys and was unable to jump any height at all even into her favourite chair. Then she lost interest in her food and that was when I took drastic action with the vet to restart eating. Lasting just a short while. I brought her home and she died peacefully close to me. Her muscle waste was awful , I have never seen an animal so thin in the space of about 10 days. She is at peace now, and I am grieving for her ………
    IBD, is a killer, and it seems to take different directions with the intestine of Dogs , tell tale signs early on , it seems are, constant running eyes, moisture from one nostril , excessive drinking , a temperature, poor energy
    levels and general lethargy , before going off food. That is as well as Diarrhea or soft stools which continue relentlessly as the IBD takes hold. I was too upset to have a PM on her but it was suspected that Lymphoma had taken place and that her body was attacking itself at the end…… apparently this does happen when it becomes advanced.

    1. My heart is with you, Chris. I know all too well the sadness and grief and I felt so helpless. 5-1/2 is so young; I am truly sorry. I blog so that I can help others, maybe get help for their dog, and you did everything right. Please stay connected to us. We are sending you hugs.

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