Meet the Dog Who’s a Weapon Against IBD

Jenn White has a secret weapon for coping with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – A French bulldog-Boston terrier mix, named after a rock legend: Jagger.

Jagger is more than Jenn’s emotional support animal, he’s a kindred spirit who also suffers from IBD.

“I applied to adopt dogs several times for over two years and it wasn’t working out. I was about to give up for a bit…then I came across Jagger and knew I needed him,” she says. “After a conversation with his vet about his digestive issues and diet, I made sure they knew I had similar problems and that he would be in great hands.”

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Jenn White and her dog, Jagger, help each other cope with inflammatory bowel disease.

IBD strikes when the immune system attacks the intestines, causing inflammation, abdominal pain and bleeding. As Jagger can testify, these problems are not unique to humans, and they occur at least as frequently in many animals as they do in people.  While many different types of IBD have been described in different animals, in humans it comes in two main forms: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Jagger and Jenn have been fighting IBD together since February of 2015, when she adopted him as a nine-month-old puppy. At the time, Jagger was malnourished and struggling with everything from incontinence to a high white blood cell count. But his route to recovery, though daunting, did not discourage Jenn at all.

“It was so sad to see him in pain,” she says. “But I knew he had tummy issues, and I knew I could handle it.”

Road to Recovery

Jagger’s road to recovery included a probiotic diet and anti-diarrheal medication. Once he felt better, Jenn decided to register him as an emotional support animal. She met with a trainer twice a month for a year, and they motivated Jagger with treats and taught him the commands required for certification: “sit,” “stay,” “lay,” and understanding his name.

“Jagger learned it all and when he needs to go to the bathroom, he knows to wait patiently at my front door,” she says. “The only times he has accidents is when he’s flaring and can’t hold his bowels.”

When Jagger is sick, Jenn draws upon her personal experience of following an IBD-conscious diet. If she notices signs of a flare, like vomiting or blood in his feces, she changes his diet. That may involve adjusting the consistency of his food or having him fast. And she does this all while managing her own, sometimes similar, symptoms.

“I’d say the biggest difference between our IBD experiences would be that Jagger rarely ever has fatigue, and I certainly do,” she says. “He is always ready to play!”

Enduring a Flare

Another key difference between Jenn and Jagger is that her IBD treatment is a lot more complicated. Jenn’s treatment has included several immunotherapy drugs and bowel surgery, and she chooses to follow a gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free diet to try to keep her digestive tract in balance. Her treatment is guided by James Lord, MD, PhD, a Virginia Mason gastroenterologist and BRI principal investigator who leads several IBD studies.

Jenn, who works as an e-commerce buyer for Nordstrom Rack, said Jagger senses when she’s not feeling well – and responds by being gentler and more attentive. During the summer of 2016, Jenn had to take medical leave and was hospitalized four times when she suffered an extreme flare. During the flare, she made bathroom trips over ten times a day – but each time, Jagger waited for her behind the restroom door.

“I was so depressed, but Jagger’s sweet face brought me joy. It forced me to keep a routine and not fall into being unsocial,” she says. “And because I have to take him outside, he keeps me on a schedule, which is super important to managing chronic illness. He gives me someone else to focus on so I don’t spin about in my own struggles. I need him and he needs me need him and he needs me.”

Supporting IBD Patients

Jenn, who is currently in remission, volunteers for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and sits on its Northwest Board of Trustees. She likes to bring pictures of Jagger to Camp Oasis, the Foundation’s summer program for children with IBD.

Jenn says it brightens kids’ spirits when they see a dog who’s just like them, and she also brings Jagger when she visits friends who are hospitalized for IBD.

One of her friends “absolutely lit up when Jagger walked in the hospital room,” she says.


BRI and Virginia Mason are involved in numerous studies to help us understand IBD and explore new treatments. View our currently enrolling studies here, or join the Clinical Research Registry to get connected with study opportunities.


A version of this story originally appeared in the Benaroya Research Institute Autoimmune Life Blog and  fall newsletter. 

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