Pets with Inflammatory Bowel Disease show a variety of symptoms from chronic changes in appetite (either decreased or increased in some cases), diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss. Weight loss can be quite severe resulting in emaciation. It is important to know that affected pets may exhibit only one of these general signs of illness, and that a full medical workup is needed to differentiate Inflammatory Bowel Disease from other causes of digestive upset.
Definitive diagnosis of dogs and cats with Inflammatory Bowel Disease is made by biopsy of the intestines or stomach done at surgery or using an endoscope. Definitive diagnosis is important to make sure intestinal cancer known as lymphoma is not present, as well as other less common bowel diseases. This is critical because too often veterinarians might automatically put pets on prednisone without a definitive diagnosis. This strategy is certainly risky, and if diagnosis is delayed, pets with lymphoma have a much poorer prognosis.
A thorough physical exam, CBC/Chemistry/thyroid blood test, urine analysis, fecal checks for parasites, as well as radiographs, are often important first line diagnostic tests. Adrenal gland and pancreatic blood function tests, as well as abdominal ultrasound are often performed to evaluate for other disease processes of the digestive tract, liver, kidney, adrenal glands and pancreas. Blood Vitamin B-12 levels and blood folate levels are also used to help with diagnosis. Definitive diagnosis, however, is only possible with biopsy.