Immune Diseases of the Gastrointestinal Tract
Along with attacking skin and kidneys, immune diseases may interfere with digestion and the gastrointestinal tract as well. The formation of immune complexes may block cells that are important for absorbing and transporting fluids and nutrients into the body. Other immune problems can damage the cells directly.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs is characterized by large numbers of lymphocytes collecting along the intestinal tract and in the stomach. A number of different versions of this problem are seen in dogs, depending on which areas of the intestines are affected. Dogs with IBD will have vomiting and diarrhea, often with accompanying weight loss. This is a chronic problem and may be cyclic, which means your dog may experience periods of normalcy. IBD may be caused by a hypersensitivity reaction to drugs, bacteria, viruses, or parasites. It may also have a genetic component. Most dogs are diagnosed as adults, but sometimes even young dogs will show signs of this problem, especially if there is a genetic predisposition. Basenjis and German shepherd dogs are two breeds that seem predisposed to IBD.
Diagnosing and Treating IBD
Diagnosis of IBD may require blood work, an endoscopic exam, and a biopsy. Treatment varies with the cause and the severity of the signs. It is important in all cases to eliminate any parasites. Your dog may need medications to cut down on bacteria in the intestines and steroid or immunosuppressive drugs to reduce the inflammation. Increasing fiber in the diet may help. If your dog has a sensitivity to certain foods, a bland food can also be helpful.
Because the drugs used to treat autoimmune disease have the potential for side effects and are usually administered for the lifetime of your dog, it is important to have regular checkups to catch any complications early on. A close partnership with your veterinarian is extremely important!