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Q&A: Why Won't My Dog's Chronic Diarrhea Go Away?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) has no cure, but certain treatments may allow your dog to live a relatively normal life.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) has no cure, but certain treatments may allow your dog to live a relatively normal life.

Why Does My Dog Have Diarrhea and Weight Loss Even Though All of His Lab Tests Are Normal?

"We own a 9-year-old German Sheperd named Kobalt. Kobalt recovered from Parvo as a puppy (not sure if it will assist in your answer to our concerns, but I thought I would mention it). Throughout his life, Kobalt has had stomach issues on and off, but in the last year, these issues have increased.

In early 2021, he was having diarrhea almost every other week and was losing a lot of weight. We took him to our veterinarian, and they proceeded to run a full blood panel, test his stool, and test his urine. The only thing that could be found was that he was low in vitamin B. The doctor ultimately diagnosed him with IBS.

We tried him on prescription foods, and all of them caused diarrhea. Finally, we decided to home-cook all of his meals and this seemed to work. We would prepare, sweet potato, chicken (or beef), carrots, zucchini, and a probiotic supplement. This did the trick for a little while, but then last month, the chronic diarrhea resumed. We took him to the veterinarian once again, and this time, they found that his thyroid was a little low, but other than that, they could not see anything present in blood work, stool sample, or urinalysis.

I do not typically write to online forums, but we do not know what to do. We feel like our veterinarian is unable to help us, and we financially are unable to afford to continue running tests that lead nowhere.

In the last week, Kobalt has had diarrhea every day. The last couple of days have been particularly bad (watery, mucus-filled, gassy episodes of diarrhea). We are only giving him rice and low-fat beef (he can no longer tolerate chicken). He has a big appetite and is not acting lethargic. It does not appear that he is absorbing any nutrients, because he is only losing weight. There is no vomiting associated with his symptoms, only diarrhea. He is drinking water.

Please let me know if you feel that we are overlooking something bigger or if you have any suggestions." —Shannen

IBS vs. IBD in Dogs

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a diagnosis that is made if nothing else is found wrong, which is why all of those tests are necessary. Based on the low B12 and weight loss, however, it is more likely that your dog has inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Some dogs with IBD also have a voracious appetite since no matter how much they eat, they still lose weight.

It does not sound like you are overlooking anything, but are there any other symptoms? If Kobalt is scratching his face and ears, this could also be a food allergy. If everything is normal except for the diarrhea, this is a lifelong diagnosis and there is no cure.

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Read More From Pethelpful

What's the Best Homemade Diet for Dogs With IBD?

You can control the signs (diarrhea and weight loss) and I think you are already on the right track by giving him a homemade diet. If this were my dog, I would want to change the protein source from beef to a novel protein, something totally new that he has not been eating in the past.

Dog foods are usually made with beef, chicken, and lamb. If you can, switch him to a homemade diet of duck, rabbit, or turkey. (There is a recipe in the food allergy link above.) Novel protein sources are not as cheap or as easy to find as chicken and beef, but they may provide him with a relatively normal life.

Corticosteroids for IBD

IBD means that your dog has an inflamed bowel, and in the past (before we could do biopsies of the intestine with a laparoscope), we treated the dog with corticosteroids like prednisone. You do not mention if you tried this or not. If you have not, explain to your veterinarian that you are not able to go on with tests and want to try some things for IBD; they will likely prescribe one of the corticosteroids for your dog.

There are prednisone alternatives, but since you need an immunosuppressive dose for this disease, they are not appropriate. Call Kobalt's regular vet to get a prescription.

When to Get an Intestinal Biopsy

If he does not do okay with the new diet and the steroids, you will need to take him to an internal medicine specialist (usually at a state veterinary college) to have his intestine biopsied.

The biopsy will tell you which of the four types of IBD he has and may let you alter his treatment. (1, 2) He will have to be on general anesthesia for this, so it would be more expensive than the tests you have already done.

I wish I could be more positive, but there is no cure for IBD. Most of these dogs do well on the new diet and the prednisone treatment though and live a good life.

Sources

(1) Cerquetella M, Spaterna A, Laus F, Tesei B, Rossi G, Antonelli E, Villanacci V, Bassotti G. Inflammatory bowel disease in the dog: differences and similarities with humans. World J Gastroenterol. 2010 Mar 7;16(9):1050-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835779/

(2) Malewska K, Rychlik A, Nieradka R, Kander M. Treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs and cats. Pol J Vet Sci. 2011;14(1):165-71. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21528730/

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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