Monday, April 22, 2013

Alternative inflammatory bowl disease treatments

I recently received this question on "IBD"; which unfortunately is a very common disease in dogs and cats. Please see the question and my answer below.
Q. "Do you have any advice about how to cope with a cat who has inflammatory bowel disorder and how to eventually get him off of steroids?  My cat was diagnosed with IBD about a year ago.  During this time, he's been on steroid doses ranging from 2 pills a day to half a pill every third day (and I always transition gradually between dose sizes).  I'd recently gotten him to half a pill every 3 days.  Then he had a backslide, and how he's back to 1 pill a day.  He's living fine with the disease, but he's had several instances of dropping weight and losing appetite -  he swings between 7 pounds and 8 pounds.  Even at his ""healthy"" weight of 8 pounds, he's a skinny cat.  He doesn't have extra weight to lose!
I've researched so many unique protein foods.  He's currently on Hills z/d for dry food and two types of wet food - Ziwi Peak venison and Addiction brushtail and venison. 
I also give him probiotics and shots of B12.
Any suggestions of other ways to manage this disease so that he doesn't back-slide and so I can get him off the steroids?
Thank you!!!!
Thanks for this important question. IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) is a very common disease in dogs and cats.  IBD is characterized by inflammatory cells accumulating in the intestine; leading to signs that include vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.  The cause of the disorder is usually hard to identify; but common causes include food "allergy" (to things like meat proteins, artificial colorings and preservatives in food) and microbial infection (such as giardia and salmonella). IBD is suspected to have a genetic component, as certain breeds have a higher incidence of certain presentations.

In western medicine the most common medical treatments include the use of anti-inflammatory medications (such as steroids); often combined with antibiotics, antidiarrheal drugs and ideally a hypoallergenic diet.

This treatment can be effective at keeping the signs under control; but clinical signs often flare up; and western medications alone rarely lead to a cure.

In my Chinese medical practice I have had great success with treating IBD. I have found TCVM (traditional Chinese veterinary medicine) to be able to nurture a patient's body, to restore health and prevent recurrence of disease in a way that western medicine is often not able to do. You will notice the western medical treatments include many medications that are "anti" something. Western medicine is wonderful at killing invaders of the body and treating "excess"; but it often overlooks the support of the body and the underlying cause of the "excess". Western medicine lacks where Chinese medicine excels; in allowing the body to heal itself and prevent recurrence of problems.

Patients with IBD in my practice usually receive a series of acupuncture and massage treatments, and often take customized herbal formulas to normalize their stools, prevent nausea, and promote weight gain if needed.  Since your cat is receiving vitamin B injections; I would likely use "aquapuncture", and inject the vitamin at acupuncture points for a synergistic effect.

I also almost always adjust the diet of a patient with IBD. In western medicine we recognize that IBD patient's guts often react to certain ingredients, and we therefore put these animals on special diets that exclude these ingredients. In TCVM we take it a step further and customize the choice of ingredients to the patient's particular imbalances. In Chinese medicine every food is considered to have a unique effect on the body, and we use this knowledge to use food as medicine.  I have had great success with simply modifying a patient's diet according to Chinese medical principles with no other treatments to help patients with IBD.

When I see patients that are on western medications I usually leave them on the meds until they have been stable and showing no clinical signs for weeks. I then gradually taper them off the medications; while working closely with the veterinarian that prescribed them.  Remember, western medications are very powerful and effective at getting rid of problems. I strongly believe in using the best of everything available to us - western medicine to quickly damper an out of control inflammatory reaction, and Chinese medicine to balance the body to prevent it from coming back.

As far as "western" supplements go, a good place to start is with digestive enzymes and a high quality probiotic (with multiple species and billions of colonies of "good" bacteria and yeast) to help your pet digest and assimilate his food. I especially like probiotic products that contain "soil organisms”. Occasionally I see animals who do not respond well to probitics. In Chinese medicine probiotics are considered "dampening"; and often I find these animals have an excess "dampness" that must be addressed before probiotics will be helpful. You also must take care to be sure the probiotic does not contain dairy, wheat, corn, etc if your pet is on an elimination diet. For sympotm relief, enteric coated peppermint is a very safe and often effective herb. N-Acetylglucosamine (dose 50mg/pound body weight) is showing promise as  a supplement which helps to preserve the intestinal mucosa and regulate inflammation.

Unfortunately, Chinese medicine is very patient - specific. There is not one acupuncture plan or herbal prescription I can recommend to treat all animals with IBD - the treatments are customized to each animal's unique imbalances.  I would highly recommend making an appointment with a local veterinary acupuncturist to get your kitty started on an integrative medicine plan.

 With all this being said IBD is a disease that veterinary acupuncturists commonly treat with great success. I hope this helps; and please follow up with additional questions if you need.

Please check with your veterinarian before changing anything in your pet’s health care regime.
No information in this blog is meant to replace the advice of your veterinarian


  1. THANK YOU for taking so much time and effort to answer my question!!! It's very kind of you.

    I do have a few follow-up questions if you don't mind... do you know any good veterinary acupuncturists to recommend in the Washington, DC area? Alternatively, if you ever visit DC (your friend or maybe cousin Amy told me about you!), I'd be happy to pay for a visit!

    Finally, do you know where I might buy the things you mentioned and what the products are called on the shelf? I'm referring to enteric coated peppermint and N-Acetylglucosamine.

  2. Also, I just had to sign in with a different email address than the last one I used. The last one where you sent me an email before is best if you ever need to use it again. Thank you for your wonderful blog and your work with animals!

  3. Thanks for your response and support of my blog. I will send you an email with specific recommendations for vets etc I do see appointments in DC (mostly seasonal acupuncture "tune-ups"). I would recommend your kitty initially see a vet for acupuncture for at least 4 treatments (1-2 weeks apart) before you see if you can taper him to less frequent acupuncture.
    Take care!