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What is Immunoproliferative Enteropathy?

This disorder was first thought to only be seen in Basenji breeds, but has since been determined to affect all breeds, although the Basenji is most susceptible. Immunoproliferative enteropathy is considered to be hereditary in most cases, but there is really no definitive cause of the disease. It is considered to be an immune response to some sort of environmental antigen such as diet (milk, beef), bacteria, or parasite, but that is not the case with all dogs. There are many different conditions that can be mistaken for immunoproliferative enteropathy such as eosinophilic enteritis, histoplasmosis, lymphoma, pancreatitis, giardia, and salmonella.

Immunoproliferative enteropathy is a dangerous inflammatory bowel disease that creates severe diarrhea and vomiting in a dog that is accompanied by protein loss and malabsorption. The condition most often affects young adult (3-6 years old) Basenji breed dogs, but is also seen in other breeds of all ages. Immunoproliferative enteropathy can be debilitating and in severe cases may affect all body functions and vital organs including heart, lungs, kidneys, and liver due to malabsorption. Dehydration is also a serious concern in dogs with immunoproliferative enteropathy because of the severe diarrhea and vomiting.

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Symptoms of Immunoproliferative Enteropathy in Dogs

Dogs with immunoproliferative enteropathy show signs of gastritis and irritable bowel disease which gets worse over time until they look emaciated. Extreme cases of immunoproliferative enteropathy affect other organs of the body due to the lack of protein and other necessary vitamins and minerals from malabsorption. Without treatment, your dog will continue to deteriorate until their heart can no longer function.

  • Diarrhea (sometimes bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Depression
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Weakness
  • Fluid in abdomen
  • Sleeping more often than usual
  • Debilitation (emaciation, inability or refusal to move)
  • Death

 Types

  • Allergic
  • Bacterial
  • Hereditary

Causes of Immunoproliferative Enteropathy in Dogs

The cause of immunoproliferative enteropathy in dogs is still unknown. However, some experts suggest the cause may include:

  • Hereditary in certain breeds (Basenji, Lundehund, German Shepherd, Shar-pei)
  • Immune response
  • Overgrowth of intestinal bacteria
  • Food allergy

Diagnosis of Immunoproliferative Enteropathy in Dogs

Because there are so many illnesses and diseases that can cause diarrhea, diagnosis may be difficult. Therefore, a number of tests will be done to rule out other disorders before making a definitive diagnosis. The first thing needed is your dog’s immunization records and medical history, which will help your veterinarian determine if there may be something else hiding that is causing his symptoms. The physical examination comes next, which will usually include an overall health assessment, vital signs, behavior, and palpation of the abdomen. Gastric lesions can be seen with an endoscope, which is a lighted tube that the veterinarian can insert in the throat of your dog to reach into the stomach and duodenum. 

The endoscope takes photographs and video so the veterinarian can see the inside of the digestive system. The laboratory tests are done next including bacterial and fungal cultures, urinalysis, fecal examination, chemical analysis, and complete blood count (CBC). If your dog has immunoproliferative enteropathy, a decrease in serum albumin and an increase in serum globulin and IgA concentrations will be found with special blood tests such as protein electrophoresis and serum IgA concentration.

Other findings may include microcytic anemia, neutrophilic leukocytosis, and decreased protein. Sometimes, a biopsy of the intestine is done by removing a small sample of tissue from the intestinal wall. An ultrasound will likely show a thickening of the small bowel and the layers of the intestinal wall will be abnormally enlarged.

Treatment of Immunoproliferative Enteropathy in Dogs

There is no cure, but immunoproliferative enteropathy can be treated to control the episodes. Some of the treatments include a special diet, medications, and stress management. Fluid therapy is also given in many cases for dehydration.

Fluid Therapy

If your dog is dehydrated, the veterinarian will most likely administer intravenous (IV) fluids. This can also help flush toxins from his system and improve circulation.

Special Diet

A hypoallergenic diet is especially helpful in cases of immunoproliferative enteropathy. Some common choices are prescription or homemade controlled carbohydrate diets low in fat, lactose, and gluten.

Medications

Some drugs that have been known to help with immunoproliferative enteropathy include fenbendazole supplementation, trimethoprim plus sulfadiazine, tetracycline, tylosin, metronidazole, budesonide, cyclophosphamide, azathioprine, and corticosteroids.

Stress Management

To manage stress, your veterinarian may prescribe an antidepressant or antianxiety drug. Daily exercise and a structured routine are essential to managing stress as well.

Recovery of Immunoproliferative Enteropathy in Dogs

If you get the treatment started early, you should be able to control the symptoms of this lifelong disease with medication and a special diet. It may take several types of diets before you find the one that helps because every dog is different. The veterinarian will likely have you start with something simple like lamb or veal with rice. Continue to keep track of your dog’s appetite and bowel habits and follow up with the veterinarian often.