Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
The signs of inflammation in the large intestine (also called the colon) are the same regardless of cause: a gooey, mucous diarrhea, straining to pass stool, cramping, and sometimes a surprise urgency to “go.” These symptoms can be acute (as is common with a short term stress like boarding, return from boarding, or diet change or they can be chronic as with whipworm infection or inflammatory bowel disease.
Many people get confused between inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Inflammatory bowel disease is a physical disease where the intestinal lining is infiltrated by inflammatory cells. The delicate intestinal lining becomes thickened and absorption of nutrients becomes altered. The infiltration can be seen under the microscope and this is how the diagnosis is confirmed. This has nothing to do with irritable bowel syndrome.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a psychosomatic disease. This means that it is the activity of the mind that causes the symptoms. Most people do not have difficulty imagining having so much anxiety that diarrhea results. Chronic anxiety can similarly result in chronic diarrhea. This is basically what irritable bowel syndrome is all about. Intestinal biopsies are normal because there is nothing directly wrong with the large intestine.
The symptoms of large intestinal diarrhea can have many causes and IBS is afoot in about 10% to 15% of cases. It is important to rule out physical causes before blaming psychological reasons but if all tests are normal and treatment for physical problems is not yielding results, this is when a biopsy is helpful. Again, a normal intestinal biopsy rules in IBS. It should be noted that fresh blood in the diarrhea is common with large intestinal diarrhea other than IBS. If fresh blood is present, this is a sign that a physical cause is actually present.
Treatment of IBS
The obvious approach is to address the anxiety. The source of emotional stress may not be obvious but general anti-anxiety medications such as amitriptyline may be of use, particularly if the anxiety source is not clear or cannot be removed. It is important to imagine the pet’s world from his/her own perspective. The pet does not speak English and must infer what is going on from events he or she witnesses directly. Inconsistent scheduling, moving, even weather changes can be very confusing for an animal.
Increasing dietary fiber also seems to help with this condition. Commercial high fiber diets can be purchased from the veterinarian’s office or you may ask your veterinarian how to add wheat bran or a commercial fiber supplement to the diet. Fiber appears to normalize the activity of the large intestinal muscle to help stop spasms. Often this sort of dietary modification with periodic use of an anti-diarrheal medication, such as loperamide, during flare-ups controls the condition.