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What to Know About IBD in Cats

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An orange tabby cat lying down, looking sick and tired.

Few ailments sound less fun than inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – and if your cat could talk, odds are she would agree. IBD in cats can cause intestinal discomfort, make eating unpleasant, and diminish the quality of at least four or five of your kitty’s nine lives. As a cat parent, chances are that IBD is no fun for you either. If you regularly come home to find your cat has deposited several piles of vomit on your kitchen floor like a chain of very gross, smelly islands, IBD may indeed be the culprit.

It’s important to note that the name is somewhat misleading. Though it’s called inflammatory bowel disease, in cats it’s actually a syndrome that develops as a result of chronic irritation to the stomach or intestines. You might expect to see your feline friend make more frequent trips to the litter box (or smell her gas as she’s napping beside you on the couch). but IBD in cats is more complex than just an upset tummy. Here’s the inside scoop on IBD in cats.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

A sick cat wrapped up in a blanket.

Fatigue is among the symptoms of IBD in cats. Photography ©vvvita | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

According to Dr. Leanne Landau Kasitz, a veterinarian at Stilwell Animal Hospital and Equine Center in Stilwell, Kansas, the most common symptom of inflammatory bowel disease in cats is chronic intermittent vomiting, as well as weight loss and anorexia. Other symptoms of IBD in cats can include fatigue, depression, gas, and rumbling or gurgling abdominal sounds. Diarrhea may be present, but that is not always the case.

“Unlike dogs, diarrhea is less common in cats with true IBD,” Dr. Kasitz says. “It is most commonly seen in middle-aged to older cats.”

Causes of IBD in Cats

The causes of IBD in cats are tough to pin down, meaning inflammatory bowel disease in cats is also tough to prevent. “IBD is a group of gastrointestinal disorders with no discernible underlying cause,” Dr. Kasitz says.

And depending on where the irritation or inflammation occurs, IBD in cats can harm various parts of a cat’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. IBD can affect the stomach (gastritis), small intestine (enteritis) or colon (colitis). Most commonly, IBD in cats occurs when inflammatory lymphocytes and plasma cells invade the small intestine, known as lymphocytic-plasmacytic enteritis.

According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, IBD makes the GI tract unable to properly digest or absorb food. Additionally, IBD may be caused by an abnormal interaction between the immune system, diet, intestinal bacteria and environmental causes, though genetic factors may also play a role.

Diagnosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

Diagnosing IBD in cats often requires a series of tests, including but not limited to blood and fecal examinations, X-rays, and intestinal or gastric biopsies. The physical examination of most cats with IBD appears normal, and symptoms of IBD in cats often resemble those of many other conditions. Therefore, inflammatory bowel disease in cats is often a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning the possibility of several other disorders that cause GI distress get eliminated before the presence of IBD can be confirmed.

“There are many other diseases that resemble IBD,” Dr. Kasitz says. “Therefore, to make a diagnosis, other causes such as parasites, endocrine disorders, viral diseases such as feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, metabolic diseases and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency have to be ruled out.”

Treatment of IBD in Cats

Just like IBD in cats can be tough to diagnose, there is no single best treatment. A combination of medication and diet is the best treatment for inflammatory bowel disease in cats, though it may take testing out a few different combinations to find the one that works best.

“Once IBD has been diagnosed, prednisone or prednisolone is the drug of choice along with dietary therapy except for lymphocytic-plasmacytic colitis,” Dr. Kasitz says. “The steroids are tapered over a period of time to remission or the lowest effective dose. If lymphocytic-plasmacytic colitis has been diagnosed, mesalamine preparations along with dietary therapy is the choice.”

As for that critically important diet: Cats with IBD should eat easily digestible, reduced-fat meals with plenty of fiber. Omega-3 fatty acids, antimicrobials or immunosuppressive therapy may help reduce inflammation. “As I am certified in veterinary acupuncture, I have also had some symptom relief in cats using this method,” Dr. Kasitz adds.

Prognosis of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBD in cats, but with adequate treatment, the disease can be well managed, and your cat’s comfort and quality of life can be restored.

Odds are that the symptoms of IBD in cats will come and go, and staying on top of your cat’s special diet and medications is essential during these times. As a cat parent, your well-being will improve alongside your cat’s IBD. After all, no one enjoys cleaning up vomit several times a day.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Dashabelozerova | Thinkstock.

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