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Best Food for Dogs with IBD [2024] dogs

Best Food for Dogs with IBD [2024]

I once had a client who was in the running for the best dog mom of the century. She knew every inch of her two dogs and did a ton of research to find the best ways to take care of them.

When one of the dogs developed a finicky appetite, she brought him to see me. Her main goal was to get him to eat more: he had normal blood tests and x-rays, but sometimes he just refused to finish his meals.

After questioning her about the dog’s symptoms, habits, and preferences, it was clear he had a good reason for not eating well. His stomach hurt!

Eventually, we diagnosed him with inflammatory bowel disease. After that, we devised a special diet based on moist, novel protein food.

Over a period of a few weeks, he became happier and more active. His appetite also came back with a vengeance once we found out he needed a diet that didn’t cause inflammation (and pain) in his guts.


What is IBD in Dogs?

IBD stands for inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory cells take up residence in the walls of a dog’s stomach and/or intestines, crowding out the normal cells. Without enough normal cells, digestion and absorption of nutrients suffer.

Duck Dog Food: Limited Ingredient Diet Duck Entrée for Dogs
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Limited Ingredient Diet Pork Entrée for Dogs
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The exact cause of IBD is not known, but experts believe it’s probably caused by multiple factors. One theory holds that the body mistakenly identifies normal food and bacteria as foreign invaders.


The classic symptoms of IBD in dogs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Finicky or decreased appetite
  • Weight loss.


N.B. This section of the article has been expanded since the original authoring by Dr. Tabitha Thompson to include more details on dog IBD symptoms: 


Other common indications of IBD include:

  • Chronic diarrhea: persistent, watery, or mucoid diarrhea that lasts for an extended period.
  • Vomiting: frequent or chronic vomiting, which may contain bile or blood.
  • Weight loss: unexplained weight loss despite a regular or increased appetite.
  • Reduced appetite: decreased interest in food or reluctance to eat.
  • Abdominal pain: signs of discomfort, such as abdominal tenderness or reluctance to be touched.
  • Increased flatulence: excessive gas production often accompanied by a change in stool odor.
  • Straining during bowel movements: difficulty and discomfort while defecating.
  • Changes in stool quality: variations in stool consistency, including mucus or blood.
  • Lethargy: reduced activity levels or overall lethargy.


Diagnosing IBD in Dogs

IBD is not easy to diagnose. Although there are blood tests that may help narrow down the possibilities, the best way to confirm a dog's IBD is with a biopsy of the affected tissue.

Since there is a spectrum of gastrointestinal diseases that can cause similar symptoms, getting the right diagnosis is the fastest way to decide on the best treatment.


N.B. This section of the article has been expanded since the original authoring by Dr. Tabitha Thompson to include more details on diagnosing IBD in dogs: 


 Diagnosing IBD in dogs is akin to solving a complex puzzle. While blood tests can offer valuable clues, the most definitive method involves a biopsy of the affected tissue. 

  • Blood Tests: When a dog exhibits symptoms suggestive of IBD, veterinarians often start with blood tests. These tests can help narrow down possibilities by revealing abnormalities that may point to inflammation or other issues in the gastrointestinal tract. However, it's important to note that blood tests alone may not provide a conclusive diagnosis of IBD. The results serve as a valuable starting point, guiding veterinarians toward further investigation.
  • Biopsy: A biopsy of the affected tissue is the gold standard to confirm IBD. This involves obtaining a small sample from the gastrointestinal tract, typically through endoscopy or surgery. The biopsy allows for a detailed examination of the tissue at a microscopic level, revealing any signs of inflammation, immune cell infiltration, or structural changes characteristic of IBD. Differentiating IBD from other gastrointestinal diseases is crucial, since similar symptoms may stem from a variety of causes. The biopsy not only confirms the presence of IBD but also helps rule out alternative diagnoses, ensuring a more accurate and targeted treatment plan.

Given the spectrum of gastrointestinal diseases with overlapping symptoms, an accurate diagnosis is the linchpin for swift and effective treatment. Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can lead to prolonged discomfort for the dog and hinder the implementation of the most suitable therapeutic measures. 

Pinpointing IBD allows veterinarians to tailor treatment protocols to address the specific nature of the inflammation, promoting a more favorable prognosis.


What Causes IBD in Dogs?

The exact cause of IBD in dogs remains elusive, and it often arises from a complex interplay of factors. While the specific triggers may vary from one dog to another, several key contributors are recognized in the development of canine IBD:

  • Genetics: Genetic predisposition plays a role in the susceptibility to IBD. Certain breeds, such as Boxers, German Shepherds, and Shar-Peis, have been noted to be more prone to developing this condition.
  • Immune System Dysfunction: IBD is characterized by an abnormal response of the immune system within the gastrointestinal tract. In dogs with IBD, the immune system tends to overreact to normal bacteria in the digestive system, triggering inflammation. 
  • Environmental Factors: Environmental factors, such as diet and exposure to certain substances, can contribute to the development of IBD. Dietary allergens, additives, or sensitivities to specific ingredients in commercial dog food may provoke an immune response.
  • Changes in Gut Microbiota: Imbalances in the microbial community can disrupt the delicate ecosystem of the intestines, potentially contributing to inflammation.
  • Stress and Anxiety: Stress and anxiety can impact a dog's overall health, including the gastrointestinal system. Dogs experiencing chronic stress may be more susceptible to developing IBD. 
  • Infectious Agents: While not the primary cause, some researchers suggest that exposure to certain infectious agents or parasites could contribute to the development of IBD in susceptible dogs.

 Understanding the multifaceted nature of IBD in dogs requires a holistic approach. Identifying and addressing these factors is essential for developing effective management strategies to improve the quality of life for dogs affected by this challenging condition.


Treatment for Dogs with IBD

Luckily, many dogs with mild IBD respond well to dietary therapy alone (Allenspach, Wieland, Grone & Gashchen, 2007).

Dogs with moderate to severe IBD often require antibiotic and anti-inflammatory treatment before they feel better.


N.B. This section of the article has been expanded since the original authoring by Dr. Tabitha Thompson to include more details on IBD treatment in dogs:


As we seek to make our doggy pals with IBD feel their best, it's essential to know the different ways we can help them


Dietary Therapy 

Dietary therapy stands as a cornerstone in the treatment of dogs with IBD, offering a personalized approach to address their unique digestive challenges. 

Here's how dietary therapy brings relief and promotes well-being:

  • Identify triggers: Identifying specific ingredients that trigger inflammation or discomfort is crucial. This might involve eliminating common allergens or opting for novel protein sources that are less likely to cause a negative response.
  • Specialized diets: Veterinarians often recommend specialized diets designed to soothe the digestive system and minimize irritation. These diets may include limited ingredient options or hypoallergenic formulations. The goal is to provide easily digestible nutrients that nourish the dog without exacerbating inflammation.
  • Novel protein sources: Introducing novel protein sources is a key aspect of dietary therapy. These proteins, not commonly found in the dog's previous diet, can help reduce the risk of allergic reactions and minimize the strain on the digestive system. Common novel protein sources include duck, venison, or rabbit.
  • Easily digestible carbohydrates: Carbohydrates that are easy on the digestive system become a priority. Opting for easily digestible sources, such as rice or sweet potatoes, helps ensure that the dog receives essential nutrients without placing additional stress on the gastrointestinal tract.

By tailoring the canine diet to address specific triggers and promote digestive harmony, we aim not only to manage symptoms but also to cultivate a foundation for overall well-being and a happy, healthy life for our furry friends.


Antibiotic & Anti-inflammatory Treatment 

When it comes to managing IBD in dogs, a strategic combination of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories is often employed to target underlying issues and alleviate symptoms. 

Antibiotics play a crucial role in IBD treatment by addressing bacterial overgrowth in the gastrointestinal tract. Dogs with IBD may experience an imbalance in the normal bacterial population in their gut, leading to inflammation and digestive distress. 

Antibiotics help restore this balance by combating the excess growth of harmful bacteria. Commonly prescribed antibiotics for dogs with IBD include metronidazole and tylosin. These medications are chosen for their effectiveness against specific bacteria implicated in gastrointestinal issues.

Anti-inflammatory medications are employed to address the inflammation characteristic of IBD directly. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are commonly prescribed to dampen the immune response and reduce inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract.

Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial during treatment. These visits allow for ongoing assessment of the dog's response to medication, enabling adjustments to the treatment plan as needed.



Probiotics are gentle yet powerful allies in the treatment of IBD in dogs, focusing on restoring balance to the delicate ecosystem of the gastrointestinal tract. 

What are probiotics? They are live microorganisms, often consisting of beneficial strains of bacteria, that are introduced into the digestive system. The aim is to bolster the population of good bacteria and create a balanced environment in the gut.

In dogs with IBD, disruptions in the composition of the gut microbiota are common. Probiotics work to counteract these imbalances by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibiting the proliferation of harmful microbes, contributing to a healthier gastrointestinal environment.


Stress Reduction 

Stress reduction plays a crucial role in treating IBD in dogs by positively impacting the physiological response of the gastrointestinal system. 

Chronic stress exacerbates inflammation and worsens symptoms associated with IBD. Implementing stress reduction strategies, such as creating a calm environment, maintaining consistent routines, and incorporating positive interactions, helps modulate the dog's stress levels. 

Reduced stress contributes to a more stable and harmonious digestive environment, promoting overall well-being and aiding in the management of IBD symptoms. Additionally, stress reduction complements other treatment modalities, enhancing their effectiveness in addressing IBD in dogs.

The Best Food for Dogs with IBD

When it comes to IBD in dogs diet recommendations can vary. Each dog with IBD will have different allergens and reactions to certain foods. That being said, there are some basic diet characteristics that veterinarians recommend to help treat IBD in dogs:

  • Minimal Ingredient

Since we don’t know which ingredients dogs with IBD are reacting to, it’s best to choose a food that is free from any fillers, such as peas and potatoes. Preservatives and additives can also cause an immune reaction and should be avoided.

  • Highly digestible, low residue diets 

Some foods are more digestible than others. For most dogs, fiber and fat are more difficult to digest, especially when their GI tract is inflamed. Based on my personal clinical experience, high moisture food is easier for many dogs to digest than dry kibble, too.

  • Novel protein diet

IBD may be an immune system reaction to food. Scientific research tells us proteins from beef, dairy, chicken, and wheat are the most common foods to cause reactions in dogs (Mueller, Olivry, & Prélaud, 2016).

When a dog eats a protein they've never had before, their immune system is not primed to react to it. Choosing foods without the common food allergens is part of a logical approach to finding a food that doesn’t aggravate inflammatory bowel disease in dogs. The best dog food for IBD is going to be a novel protein diet, with a single protein source and no unnecessary fillers.

Novel protein diets may include duck, rabbit, pork, or lamb depending on what the dog has been exposed to in his lifetime.


N.B. This section of the article has been expanded since the original authoring by Dr. Tabitha Thompson to include more details on the best food for dogs with IBD: 


Minimal or Limited Ingredient Dog Food for IBD

What It Is: A minimal ingredient diet for dogs, often referred to as Limited Ingredient Diet (LID), is a type of canine nutrition plan that aims to simplify the ingredients in a dog's food to minimize the potential for triggering food sensitivities or allergies.

Why It Works: LIDs work by minimizing allergenic potential, simplifying the digestive process, identifying and eliminating triggers, incorporating novel protein sources, providing balanced nutrition, and managing gastrointestinal symptoms. 

Best Food for Dogs with IBD:

Highly Digestible, Low Residue Diet for Dogs with IBD

What It Is: Highly digestible, low residue diets for dogs with IBD is a specialized nutritional approach designed to provide easily digestible food while minimizing the residue left in the gastrointestinal tract. 

This type of diet aims to reduce the workload on the digestive system and minimize irritation in the inflamed intestines commonly seen in dogs with IBD.

Why It Works: 

This specialized diet includes easily digestible ingredients, limiting dietary fiber to decrease residue in the intestines. Novel protein sources are often introduced to mitigate allergic reactions, while common allergens are minimized. 

The diet aims to provide essential nutrients in a balanced manner, avoiding artificial additives that could contribute to digestive issues. By offering easily assimilated nutrition and reducing potential irritants, this diet helps manage symptoms associated with IBD, supporting the overall well-being of dogs with gastrointestinal sensitivities. 

Veterinary supervision is essential to tailor the diet to individual needs and ensure optimal effectiveness in alleviating IBD symptoms.

Best Food for Dogs with IBD:

Novel Protein Dog Food for IBD

What It Is: A novel protein diet is a specialized canine nutrition plan that incorporates protein sources not commonly found in a dog's regular diet. This approach is designed to reduce the risk of triggering food allergies or sensitivities by introducing novel or unique protein sources that the dog has not been exposed to previously. 

Novel proteins are typically sourced from less common animals, such as venison, duck, and rabbit. The goal is to offer a limited and novel selection of proteins to which the dog's immune system has not developed sensitivities, making it a valuable strategy for dogs with food-related allergies or intolerances.

Why It Works: A novel protein diet is effective in treating IBD in dogs by minimizing allergenic potential and avoiding familiar allergens. Dogs with IBD often have sensitivities to common proteins, and introducing novel protein sources reduces the risk of triggering allergic reactions. 

This specialized diet helps identify specific triggers through an elimination strategy, allowing for a customized approach based on individual sensitivities. By modulating the immune response and promoting digestive tolerance, a novel protein diet contributes to a more stable and comfortable gastrointestinal environment, addressing key goals in managing IBD symptoms. 

Of course, it’s always important to consult with a veterinarian for a tailored approach that considers the unique dietary needs of each dog with IBD.

Best Food for Dogs with IBD:

N.B. This next section is new. It includes more details about IBD food for dogs. 


More About Food for Dogs with IBD

Let’s review some of the common questions that arise for treating dogs with IBD.


Is there homemade food for dogs with IBD?

Homemade food could be an option for dogs with IBD. However, it's crucial to carefully balance the diet to meet the specific nutritional needs and dietary restrictions associated with IBD.

Why not avoid all the fuss and opt for KOHA’s convenient and nutritionally balanced solution that caters to dogs with IBD? KOHA's specialized diets contain carefully selected ingredients to support digestive health, making it a reliable and hassle-free choice for pet parents seeking optimal nutrition for their furry companions. 


What to do if your dog with IBD won't eat

A decreased appetite in dogs with IBD can be a common challenge. It's important to address this issue promptly to ensure your dog receives the necessary nutrients. 

Try offering smaller, more frequent meals and experimenting with different textures and temperatures. If appetite issues persist, consult your veterinarian for tailored advice. 

Additionally, KOHA's palatable and specially formulated diets can be a tempting solution to encourage eating. Their Freeze-dried Raw Toppers entice the pickiest eaters and come in novel flavors like Elk & Venison. They’re great for dogs and cats with IBD.


How to get a dog with IBD to gain weight

Helping a dog with IBD gain weight involves strategic dietary adjustments. Opt for nutrient-dense foods and consider dividing meals into smaller portions throughout the day to enhance absorption. Regular monitoring is, of course, essential. 


Should I avoid feeding my dog treats if they have IBD? 

Choosing treats for a dog with IBD requires careful consideration. Opt for treats that align with the prescribed diet, avoiding ingredients that may trigger inflammation. KOHA offers one ingredient, grain-free treats that complement their specialized diets, ensuring a tasty and safe option for your dog with IBD.


Is egg good for dogs with IBD? 

Egg whites can be a good source of easily digestible protein for dogs with IBD. They are gentle on the stomach and provide essential nutrients. 

However, individual dogs may react differently, so introduce eggs gradually and monitor your dog's response. Yolks are not recommended.


Is peanut butter okay for dogs with IBD?

Peanut butter is generally not a safe food for dogs with IBD since its high fat content may aggravate their condition. 


 Limited ingredient dog food

If you're looking for a novel protein dog food for IBD, KOHA Limited Ingredient Diet recipes are a great place to start. Our entrées have only one meat per recipe, include novel protein options such as duck and lamb dog food, and are all minimal ingredient with no fillers.




Want to help your dog with IBD? KOHA can help.



Allenspach, K., Wieland, B., Gröne, A., & Gaschen, F. (2007). Chronic enteropathies in dogs: evaluation of risk factors for negative outcome. Journal of veterinary internal medicine, 21(4), 700-708.

Mueller, R. S., Olivry, T., & Prélaud, P. (2016). Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats. BMC veterinary research, 12(1), 9.


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