New grant to search for solutions for inflammatory bowel disease in dogs

Researchers at the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Animal Hospital are working to identify new ways to diagnose and treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in dogs by looking at changes in gut bacteria that stimulate the immune system.

IBD is a common chronic intestinal condition of dogs, causing vomiting, diarrhea and weight loss.

Previous studies have suggested specific intestinal microbiota – the community of bacteria and other microorganisms in the digestive system – can drive or exacerbate intestinal inflammation, but this mechanism has not been well-studied in dogs.

Associate Professor Caroline Mansfield is the chief investigator of the project and an internal medicine specialist and Director of U-Vet Animal Hospital. She says that IBD, or chronic enteropathy as it is now called, can cause serious and life-threatening disease in some dogs.

Even dogs mildly affected have impacts on their quality of life, and if not treated they may face chronic and recurrent bouts of diarrhoea, discomfort and lack of appetite.

“Normal dogs should tolerate their normal bacteria, but in dogs with IBD it seems that the bacteria either causes an excessive immune response and therefore inflammation or that the immune system goes a bit haywire and starts attacking bacteria that are normally innocent bystanders” Associate Professor Mansfield says.

Over the three-year study period, she and her team will assess stool samples of dogs with IBD for the type and numbers of bacteria that interact directly with the gut immune system during the dogs’ treatment and recovery.

The study allows the researchers to determine if changes in fecal bacteria can be used to monitor improvements in intestinal health in dogs with inflammatory bowel disease, and may reduce the need to directly examine the intestine via a biopsy to establish a definitive diagnosis. 
It will also lead to a better understanding of how the gut microbiome can be manipulated in dogs with IBD.

Researchers will evaluate bacteria that are coated with immunoglobulins (also known as antibodies) in stool samples of dogs with IBD as these represent the bacteria in the intestine of dogs that are causing or stimulating an immune response in affected dogs.

New analytical tools will be used to establish whether the changes detected in bacteria are functionally important, and how treatment modifies the findings.

Morris Animal Foundation’s Acting President and CEO Tiffany Grunert says the organisation is proud to fund research to help dogs live longer, healthier lives.

"Dogs are, as the saying goes, man's best friend," she says.

"They enrich our lives so much and deserve the best care we can provide."

This study is funded by Morris Animal Foundation.

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