John Libonati

Our Pets, Gluten and Irritable Bowel Disease

by John Libonati on May 24th, 2010


They might be furry and walk on four legs, but they’re family just the same and we oftentimes treat them like our kids. I’m talking about our pets. Well, it seems our pets are even more like us than we thought. Dogs, cats and even other animals like guinea pigs can have food sensitivity issues just like humans leading to digestive problems.

Diane Haggar’s black Labrador, Maddie, suffered from frequent diarrhea, weight loss and terrible smelling gas. The diagnosis was Irritable Bowel Disease and an elimination diet was performed that found gluten to be the problem. A change to a gluten-free diet resulted in a complete remission of symptoms within a few weeks. “We had to be especially careful to inform family, friends and the doggie day care people about Maddie’s diet. She gets sick for a few days with diarrhea, even if she only gets a little bit.”

What is Irritable Bowel Disease?

Most cases of vomiting and diarrhea are limited and due to a benign cause. They start and stop quickly. But sometimes a pet can have what is called irritable bowel disorder or IBD for short. IBD is chronic, returning over and over. 1

Veterinary texts define IBD as a group of disorders resulting in chronic stimulation of inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. The inflammation causes frequent, recurring episodes of vomiting and/or diarrhea. But, just like in humans, diagnosing and treating the condition can be difficult. 1

IBD can be triggered by a number of things: bacterial or viral infection, parasitic infestation, hypersensitivity or intolerance to dietary ingredients, digestive enzyme deficiencies or intestinal wall defects. Some researchers believe it’s an autoimmune response to a foreign antigen – a substance that provokes an immune response – or reaction to a normal antigen such as a food protein like gluten. 1

Dr. Angela Davies, a veterinarian in Hockessin, Delaware, treats dogs and cats with IBD all the time. “IBD is common in cats and dogs. Less is known about exotic breeds because we see less of them. The etiology of IBD is unknown at this point, but a lot of canine breeds have food sensitivities and it seems to range across all breeds.”

Dr. James Berman of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania estimates 10-20% of his dog cases are for IBD problems. He goes on to say, “It is usually due to some type of food intolerance.” Dr. Davies adds, “Protein is normally what the animal is reacting to.”

Concerning the prevalence of IBD in dogs, it is increasing according to Dr. Berman. “The prevalence of IBD in dogs is increasing, probably due to more veterinarians are getting better at finding it. There is no test available specifically for celiac disease in dogs. Most have mild symptoms.”

Breeds likely to develop IBD are Basenji, Boxer, Cocker Spaniel, Dalmatian, German Shepherd, Irish Setter, Lundehund, Shar-Pei, Rottweiller, Soft-coated Wheaton Terrier and Yorkshire Terrier.1 Dr. Davies is quick to warn about only focusing on a few breeds. “Other breeds may be affected since it is not known whether we see more of these breeds because they are more commonly purchased as pets.”

Diagnosing IBD

Although a dog can have IBD at any age and show subtle signs when young, the average age at diagnosis is about 6 years. The disease affects males and females equally. 1

A diagnostic test for IBD is a positive biopsy, obtained through an endoscopy of the stomach or a colonoscopy of the lower GI tract. But results still may be unclear. 1

Because of the ambiguity of biopsy results, veterinarians may try dietary changes and drugs to see if symptoms improve before doing the biopsy. 1

Dr. Berman provides 2 options for diagnosis:

1) Diet

Try a hypoallergenic diet, such as duck and potato for a period of time and note the response.

2) Biopsy – There are two options here:

1. Endoscopy – A tube is inserted through the mouth and passed through the stomach and intestine looking for inflammation. The cost is $800-1,000 plus the risk of anesthesia to the patient.

2. Open Abdomen – In this case, surgery is performed to identify inflammation. The cost is $500-700 plus the risk of anesthesia .

Concerning a positive diagnosis, Dr. Berman says, “People usually go the diet route. In that case, a conclusively positive diagnosis cannot be made, but the dog is listed as a “probable IBD.”

Treatment

The first line of defense in the treatment of possible IBD is an elimination diet. If food sensitivity is a contributing factor, it’s likely the ingredient has been in the diet for many months. All foods used in the past or being currently fed, including treats, are eliminated.1

We try to gauge the patient’s respond to an elimination diet,” says Dr. Davies. “Hypoallergenic diets are administered, usually using a novel protein that the animal has not eaten before. It can be salmon, duck or venison used as a protein source. Sometimes a hydrolyzed protein is used. This is a protein broken down to the point where the body will not react to it.”

It is important to go slowly to see what’s working.1

The treatment goals in IBD are to eliminate an identifiable cause, reduce diarrhea and vomiting, decrease bowel inflammation and stabilize the dog’s weight. After gaining control over acute episodes, long-term management may come down to diet.1

“An animal may be doing fine then suddenly get a crumb that isn’t part of their prescribed diet,” Dr. Labato said. “Sometimes it just takes one or two bites to trigger a flare-up.” Despite periods of remission, she warns clients that IBD is progressive.1

Finding the right food is a matter of trial and error, one change at a time, at the veterinarians’ direction. “No one diet is suitable for all patients,” Dr. Krecic said. In addition to special foods, IBD dogs do well when owners add fiber in the form of cooked potatoes, sweet potatoes or pumpkin to their meals. 1

Performing a Dietary Elimination Trial

Protocol: the elimination diet (and nothing else) is fed.

Gastrointestinal cases:

    elimination diet is fed for 2-4 weeks; most will show clinical improvement within several days.

Dermatology cases:

    elimination diet is fed for 10-13 weeks; some will take several months to respond.

Look for resolution of clinical signs.

Gastrointestinal cases:

    hallmark sign of positive response to diet is amelioration of GI signs.

Dermatologic cases:

    hallmark sign of positive response to diet is decrease in pruritus (itching).

Confirmation of diagnosis: re-exposure to suspected food allergen elicits return of clinical signs.

    Suspected foods can be added back to elimination diet one at a time (one per week) to observe for reaction. A tolerable diet containing variable ingredients can usually be determined within 4-6 months.If intestinal signs do not recur upon challenge – suggests recovery of GI mucosa and loss of hypersensitivity.

Hypoallergenic Diets for Dogs and Cats

Canine Hypoallergenic Diet Recipe

¼ diced lamb

1 cup cooked white rice

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 ½ tsp dicalcium phosphate

Balanced supplement which fulfills the canine MOR for all vitamins and trace minerals. (Contact your veterinarian.)

Trim fat from lamb. Cook thoroughly (braise or roast) without seasoning. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Keep covered in refrigerator. Yield 2/3 lb.

Analysis

Protein…………………7.0%

Fat……………………..10.0%

Carbohydrate…………..14.0%

Moisture……………….66.0%

Metabolic Energy……..795 Kcal/lb.

Feeding Guide

Feed sufficient amount to maintain normal body weight.

Body weight Approx. Daily Feeding

5 lb. ¼ lb

10 lb. ½ lb

20 lb. 1 lb

40 lb. 1 ½ lb

60 lb. 2 lb

80 lb 2 ½ lb

100 lb 2 ¾ lb

If the allergy is suspected to be food induced, maintain the patient on this diet and distilled water. Then expose the patient to foods, one at a time per week, beginning with tap water, to discover the offending materials. The aim of this provocative exposure is to determine the foods the patient CAN eat, rather than those the patient cannot eat.

Feline Hypoallergenic Diet

¼ lb diced lamb

1 cup cooked white rice

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 ½ tsp dicalcium phosphate

Balanced supplement which fulfills the canine MOR for all vitamins and trace minerals. (Contact your veterinarian.)

Trim fat from lamb. Cook thoroughly (braise or roast) without seasoning. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Keep covered in refrigerator. Yield 1/3 lb.

Analysis

Protein…………………7.0%

Fat……………………..10.0%

Carbohydrate…………..14.0%

Moisture……………….66.0%

Metabolic Energy……..795 Kcal/lb.

Feeding Guide

Feed sufficient amount to maintain normal body weight.

Body weight Approx. Daily Feeding

5 lb 1/3 lb

7-8 lb ½ lb

10 lb 2/3 lb

If the allergy is suspected to be food induced, maintain the patient on this diet and distilled water. Then expose the patient to foods, one at a time per week, beginning with tap water, to discover the offending materials. The aim of this provocative exposure is to determine the foods the patient CAN eat, rather than those the patient cannot eat.

1. Snider L. The Frustrations of IBD. Your Dog. 2003. http://www.geocities.com/ibdogsintl/yourdogarticle.html?200613

Dr. Angela Davies is a veterinarian at Lantana Veterinary Center in Hockessin, DE.

Dr. James Berman owns a veterinary practice in Fort Washington, PA. He can be reached at jibvmd@hotmail.com.

-------------------------- Author Information: John Libonati, Philadelphia, PA Publisher, Glutenfreeworks.com. Editor & Publisher, Recognizing Celiac Disease. John can be reached by e-mail here.


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