Irritable Bowel Syndrome – IBS

Veterinarian Reviewed on January 4, 2008 by Dr. Janice Huntingford


Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic problem during which the mind’s activities cause symptoms. IBS may have a connection with the functional disorder of intestinal motility or movement and is attributed to the dysfunction of the large intestine. Some research indicates the small intestine may also play a role. Chronic anxiety leads to chronic diarrhea. Factors may include short-term stress, including boarding, change of diet or may be in conjunction with whipworm infection or Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

IBS is primarily a canine disorder, especially high strung dogs, performing and working dogs. Cats that suffer from IBS may exhibit behavioural changes the pet owners should note. Internal biopsies appear normal with the functioning large intestine. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) differs from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that involves an abnormal accumulation of inflammatory cells on the delicate intestinal lining.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome may be acute: increased frequency of defecation, passing of small volumes of stool, gooey, mucus diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, excessive gas, cramping, straining to pass stool, occasional nausea and vomiting.

Anxiety can lead to some of the above symptoms. Pet owners need to understand the source of anxiety. Pets, especially cats, may feel confused or anxious by changes in schedule, moving, boarding, a new pet and other factors. Cats suffering from IBS may develop more serious illnesses with similar symptoms. Diagnosis could be more difficult. Cat owners should observe changes in behaviour and report to the veterinarian. Changes may include crying, hiding, restlessness and others. Without treating IBS, felines may lose weight. IBS can interfere with the normal absorption of vitamins and minerals. Weight loss and infection may occur.

Diagnosis of IBS does not rely on one specific test, but rather on excluding physical causes of gastrointestinal disease. A history and physical exam, with a complete blood count, biochemical profile, urinalysis, fecal test and fecal cytology, abdominal ultrasound can all show normal results. Should tests appear normal, an intestinal biopsy can follow. A normal biopsy can rule in IBS, and rule out inflammatory and cancerous causes.


Treatment of IBS should address the anxiety that triggered the psychosomatic disease. Owners should take care to minimize sources of stress in the pet’s home environment. Veterinarians may suggest general anti-anxiety medications such as amitriptyline. Anti-spasmodic/tranquilizer combinations that reduce abdominal bloating and pain can include Librax. Certain drugs can decrease gastrointestinal gas. Anti-diarrheal drugs include Loperamide and Diphenoxylate.

Dietary management that increases dietary fiber can help the large intestinal muscle’s activity and stop spasms. During dietary therapy, owners should feed pets only the prescribed diet that is low in fat and highly digestible. Food scraps and chewable toys such as rawhide must be excluded. This modification may control the condition during flare-ups. Not all patients respond successfully to dietary therapy.

During times of change that may trigger episodes of anxiety or confusion in the pet, owners should take time to reassure the pet.

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Read also: Giardia
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Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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