Question: Our German Shepherd, Hannibal, has suspected inflammatory bowel disease. Please can you recommend some natural remedies that can help?
T.R., via email
Answer: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a common diagnosis in dogs and cats that have suffered from some sort of chronic intestinal upset. It refers to a group of conditions that involve inflammation in part of or throughout the intestines. In most cases, the underlying cause is unknown.
Symptoms and diagnosis
Symptoms of IBD in both dogs and cats include weight loss despite a healthy appetite and chronic vomiting with or without diarrhea.
Pets typically experience an increase in the frequency of bowel movements but pass only a small amount of feces each time, and they may strain for a long time before or after defecating. Dogs may have chronic diarrhea with mucus and blood, while cats more often have solid but blood-stained feces.
To get a concrete diagnosis of IBD, your vet will need to collect a tissue sample from the intestine or use ultrasound to look for changes in the intestinal walls. But most vets diagnose IBD based on a detailed physical exam and medical history.
Usually, pets with chronic digestive issues look unkempt or messy. Dogs may have dry or greasy hair; cats will not groom themselves and may frequently throw up hair balls. Most importantly, a pattern where a pet is ill for weeks or months rather than just a few days is highly suggestive of IBD.
Pets with mild IBD will be treated as outpatients, but if your pet has bled a lot from his rectum or becomes dehydrated, he may be admitted for blood tests and fluid therapy. Antimicrobial drugs may be used if fecal cultures reveal giardia, salmonella, histoplasma or campylobacter infections.
Anti-inflammatory drugs, especially steroids, are often prescribed to suppress the immune system. In severe cases of IBD, some specialist vets have started prescribing powerful chemotherapy drugs like chlorambucil and cyclosporine. While these may help resolve the symptoms, they can be quite dangerous themselves.
Because these approaches don't address the root cause of the inflammation and have many possible side-effects, integrative care is preferable.
IBD responds well to herbal medicine and nutritional support, and there are many things you can do at home to try to ease Hannibal's symptoms. Here, the focus is on limiting the inflammatory process in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract by changing the gut environment and also to cure IBD by fortifying the immune system and organs like the liver.
It can be tempting to use lots of remedies together, but it's important to take it slow. Start with one supplement and slowly introduce additional ones, one at a time, over at least three-week intervals. There is no need to use every single supplement or herb listed here. When it comes to soothing the GI tract, more is not necessarily better.
Nutritional therapy is the first step to resolving IBD. Cats especially may respond to dietary management alone when fed a high-fiber or a highly digestible diet.
Just fasting your pet for 24-48 hours to 'rest' the GI tract may be enough to get temporary resolution of symptoms. You can also try feeding a hypoallergenic diet called a limited-ingredient diet or a novel protein diet, containing a form of protein that your pet has not been exposed to. Check out Hill's Pet, Lily's Kitchen, James Wellbeloved and Nature's Menu for some good options.
In the US, NutriScan
(www.nutriscan.org), a lab test developed by Dr Jean Dodd to identify food intolerances in pets, can provide some guidance in picking food for sensitive animals. Similarly, the Pet Wellness Life Stress Scan, available through Glacier Peaks
(www.glacierpeakholistics.com), can also help narrow down food allergies.
In the UK, allergy testing for pets is available through Avacta Animal Health
If there is no likelihood of an allergy, just feeding home-cooked chicken and rice can help. Hydrolized diets—where the protein has been broken down so far as to no longer trigger the immune system—are also available from your vet and can be effective for the treatment of colitis (inflammation of the colon), one form of IBD.
Fiber: Supplementing fiber intake with bran or psyllium can help bulk the feces up.
Suggested dosage: 1-4 Tbsp of coarse wheat bran; 1-6 tsp psyllium
Probiotics: These are a cornerstone of good gut health and immune system function as they help with digestion, optimal nutrition and good bacteria in the gut. There are several good quality products available online from companies such as Nutri-vet, Vetriscience and Glacier Peak Holistics.
Suggested dosage: follow label instructions; if your pet likes yogurt and isn't allergic to dairy, you can feed 1-3 tsp per day of live-cultured yogurt
Whole-food supplementation: Standard Process makes a Canine Enteric Support supplement that can be helpful, but it must be avoided in pets that have a sensitivity to beef, pork or lamb.
Suggested dosage: follow label instructions
Clay powder: Clay binds to bacterial toxins and helps to normalize stool quality. Bentonite clay, montmorillonite clay and zeolite clay are great supplements for diarrhea.
Suggested dosage: follow label instructions
Bovine colostrum: Available online, this is obtained from fresh cow's milk and is known to improve inflammation within the GI tract. There is also strong evidence it helps with chronic colitis in humans.
Suggested dosage: follow label instructions
Digestive enzymes: These are great for pets with too much gas or diarrhea. Use fungal-derived enzymes rather than those derived from pigs, and use half or a quarter of the recommended dose on the label. Pawgest from Glacier Peaks Holistics (available in the US) and Prozyme (available in the UK and US) are both excellent products.
Suggested dosage: for pets under 15 lb, give ¼ tsp twice a day with food; for pets 15-50 lb, ½ tsp; 50-80 lb, 1 tsp; over 80 lb, 1 Tbsp
L-Glutamine: This amino acid, available at most health food stores, protects the gastrointestinal mucosa.
Suggested dosage: 500 mg twice a day
Slippery elm: Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) protects the mucosal layer of the GI tract and has anti-inflammatory properties. Use an alcohol-free tincture and dilute 20 drops of it in a 1 oz (30 mL) bottle of spring water.
Suggested dosage: for pets under 15 lb, one dropperful three times daily; for pets 15-50 lb, two dropperfuls; for pets over 50 lb, three dropperfuls. It's best given 20 minutes prior to feeding and again at bedtime
Licorice: "DGL" (deglycyrrhizinated) licorice is best, as it has the toxic compound glycyrrhizin removed from it. It is an anti-inflammatory and has GI mucosa-protective properties.
Suggested dosage: choose a pet-safe formula and follow the label instructions
Mint: Mint, and most commonly the peppermint variety, Mentha piperita, is one of the best digestive aids available and helps soothe and relax the digestive tract. Many drugs and over-the-counter formulations for both humans and animals contain mint to help with all sorts of digestive complaints, including indigestion, flatulence, nausea, colitis, bloat and colic, as it has antispasmodic and calming qualities that help settle the stomach. Try my recipe for mint biscuits to introduce this herb into Hannibal's diet.
Both Nux vomica and Arsenicum are effective in stopping vomiting and diarrhea.
Suggested dosage: dilute 20 drops of Nux vomica 6X in 1 oz (30 mL) of spring water and give half a dropperful daily until symptoms abate. For Arsenicum, give 1-2 6X pellets to pets less than 15 lb and 3-5 pellets for those over 15 lb
Massage or scratch point ST36 on your pet daily for 30 seconds. This is the masterpoint for the GI system, and it is located just below the knee on the outside of the hind legs. See my book You Can Heal Your Pet for details on how to give acupressure to your pet.
To help with colicky intestinal spasms, use a nebulizer and let your pet breathe in a combination of the following essential oils: basil, chamomile, thyme and peppermint. They all have anti-spasmodic properties.
Mint canine biscuits
1½ cup (175 g) self-rising flour
1 free-range egg
2 Tbsp mint-infused sunflower oil (see the recipe for herb-infused oils below)
1 tsp honey
Handful finely chopped fresh garden mint
1) Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C and grease an 8 × 11 inch (20 × 29 cm) baking sheet.
2) Mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl to form a soft dough. Spread the mixture ½ inch (1 cm) deep on the baking tray. Bake for 25-30 minutes until just firm.
3) Remove from the oven and let cool. Cut into small, bite-sized squares. Keep in an airtight, labeled container in the fridge for up to five days, or freeze for up to one month.
Herb-infused sunflower oil
Use only one herb per infusion
1¾ oz (50 g or about 1¼ cup) dried herb of your choice: catnip, chickweed, calendula (marigold), mint, nettle, rosehip or bladderwrack
16.9 fl oz (500 mL) sunflower oil
1) Fill a dry, sterilized glass jar with your chosen dried herb and cover completely with the oil—keep pouring until you reach the sloped shoulder of the jar, leaving a small space for the oil to breathe.
2) Screw the lid on tightly and leave the jar in a warm place, or in direct sunlight such as on a sunny windowsill, for between four and six weeks or until the oil has taken on the color of the plant material. Shake the jar vigorously every day.
3) After the oil has infused, pour it through a sieve into a sterilized measuring jug to strain the herb. Transfer the oil to a (preferably dark) bottle
4) Label, date and store in a cool, dry place. Use within three months.
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com