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The Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Cats

The Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Cats

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is capable of affecting your cat's digestion, appetite and their overall quality of life. This disease can also be quite difficult to diagnose. Here, our Plains vets offer some advice and insight into IBD in cats, from its symptoms and causes to its treatment and diagnosis. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

When your cat's gastrointestinal tract becomes irritated and inflamed chronically, they can develop Inflammatory Bowel Disease. This condition, also known as IBD, doesn't have a single distinct cause, but occurs whenever inflammatory cells invade the walls of your cat's GI tract.

These walls then thicken and disrupt the GI tract’s ability to properly digest and absorb food. Current evidence suggests IBD can originate due to a complex, abnormal interaction between the immune system, bacterial populations in the intestines, diet, and other environmental factors. 

Although it may take some time to diagnose and, thus, treat IBD in your cat, it is possible to use dietary changes, medications and other treatment methods to combat it. With these  and other appropriate interventions, it is possible for your cat to keep a great quality of life in the long term.

What are my cat's risk factors for IBD?

Similarly to people and pups, genetic abnormalities in a cat's immune system may have an influence on the development of feline IBD. Although cats of any age may develop this condition, IBND most often develops in middle-aged cats and older. 

Typically, more than one cause can contribute to IBD in cats. These include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Hypersensitivity to bacteria
  • Food allergies (may include food additives, proteins in meat, preservatives, artificial
  • coloring, gluten, and/or milk proteins)

What are symptoms of IBD in cats?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a frustrating condition to diagnose. Symptoms can mimic intestinal lymphoma, a type of cancer.

You may see many signs of IBD in your cat, but they can vary in severity and frequency. Depending on which parts of the GI tract are affected, predominant symptoms can vary.

For example, if the colon is inflamed, you’ll likely notice diarrhea, with or without blood in the stool, while if the problem is in the stomach or higher areas of the small intestine, chronic vomiting may be an issue.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in cats include:

  • Distressed coat hair
  • Weight loss
  • Chronic intermittent vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bright red blood in stool
  • Lethargy
  • Gas (flatulence)
  • Gurgling or rumbling sounds in abdomen

How is IBD in cats diagnosed?

At Sharon Lakes Animal Hospital, our veterinarians have a few diagnostic tests and methods they can use when it comes to diagnosing IBD in cats. Your veterinarian will first take a detailed medical history and ask questions about frequency and duration of symptoms.

After a complete physical exam, routine laboratory tests will be completed. These can include:

  • X-rays
  • Urinalysis
  • Complete blood count
  • Fecal analysis
  • Biochemistry profile

These non-invasive tests will not be able to definitively diagnose inflammatory bowel disease, however, they are quite useful to your vet in ruling out other diseases as the cause of your cat's symptoms such as liver disease, kidney disease, or elevated thyroid levels. These diseases have symptoms which can be quite similar to IBD's.

These routine laboratory tests often come back normal. Some cats with IBD may have an abnormally high number of white blood cells, along with anemia. Your vet may also discover abnormal levels of liver enzymes and protein levels. More tests may be needed to find out how your cat’s small intestine is functioning.

Abdominal Ultrasound

An abdominal ultrasound can help rule out other diseases not revealed with blood work (these can include cancer or pancreatitis). This treatment method can also help vets examine the stomach and find out how thick the intestinal wall is.

Stomach Biopsy

The only way to truly effectively diagnose IBD and determine the extent on the disease in your cat is through a biopsy. Intestinal or stomach biopsies are conducted through surgery or endoscopies. 

Once your vet is able to obtain a definitive IBD diagnosis for your cat, they can begin creating a customized treatment plan for you.

How is IBD in cats treated?

If your cat has not recently been treated for intestinal parasites, your vet may recommend this along with changes in diet and introduction of medications. Though no single treatment is best, several different combinations of medication or diet may be needed to find the best therapy for your cat.

Specifically, treatments can include:

Food Trials

If your cat has an issue with dietary allergens, a hypoallergenic diet may help to resolve the problem. Protein or carbohydrate sources the cat has never eaten before, including venison, rabbit or duck-based diets may be recommended initially.

If your cat's symptoms don't improve with these options, a low fat, high fiber and easily digestible food may be chosen for your furry companion. It is important to remember that you should be patient when it comes to effectiveness of dietary changes. It can take a few weeks or even longer to start to improve symptoms. For the diet to be successful, all other food sources, including treats, flavored medications and table scraps should be eliminated.

Medical Treatment

Along with dietary changes, medications may be needed to calm symptoms, Metronidazole has antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and antiprotozoal properties may help.

Corticosteroids, potent anti-inflammatory and immune-suppressing agents, may be recommended if diet changes or metronidazole prove ineffective.

Though corticosteroids are usually well-tolerated, watch them closely as immune suppression and diabetes may be potential side effects. The next options include more potent immunosuppressive drugs such as chlorambucil or azathioprine, which can suppress production of red and white blood cells (and less commonly, platelets) inside the bone marrow.

What are new therapies for IBD in cats?

Prebiotics (substances that promote certain bacterial populations) and probiotics (bacterial strains to promote GI health) may help balance GI bacteria that can potentially factor into the development of IBD.

Soluble fibers such as psyllium may also be added to your cat’s diet if inflammatory colitis is a problem. Folate or vitamin B12 can help if your kitty is deficient in these.

Can IBD in cats be cured?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for inflammatory bowel disease in cats, but symptoms can often be controlled in order to keep your cat comfortable and healthy. 

Even with proper management, this disease's symptoms may flare up every so often. Managing this disease in your cat requires strict compliance with their diet and medications along with careful monitoring by your vet and you.

Any relapses should be assessed and medications and other treatments may be adjusted long-term.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect that your cat is showing signs or symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease? Contact your vet as soon as possible to inquire about diagnosis and management of this condition and referral to Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital. Contact our vets for more information about IBD and its treatments. 

From Happy Pet Owners

  • My pup Fiona has had both CCL’s fixed in her hind legs by Dr. Hassinger. He has been straight-forward about everything from the start. I couldn’t be happier with what he has done with her. The staff is also patient and kind, you can tell that they really love every animal that comes through those doors.
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