Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can affect your cat’s digestion, appetite, and quality of life. It can also be challenging to diagnose. Today our Riverside Veterinary Clinic vets explain more about IBD in cats, including symptoms, causes, and treatments.
IBD in Cats
When your cat’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract becomes chronically irritated and inflamed, inflammatory bowel disease (also called IBD) may develop. IBD in cats does not have a single cause but may occur when inflammatory cells attack the walls of your cat's GI tract.
The walls of the GI tract then thicken and disrupt your cat's ability to properly digest and absorb food. Current evidence suggests that IBD in cats can be due to a complex, abnormal interaction between the immune system, bacterial populations in the intestines, diet, and several environmental factors.
It may take a while to diagnose and properly treat your feline friend's IBD but through dietary changes, medication, and other treatments, your cat can enjoy a great quality of life long-term.
Risk Factors for IBD in Cats
As with both people and dogs, genetic abnormalities in a cat’s immune system may be a factor in the development of feline IBD. The disease develops most often in middle-aged and older cats although cats of any age can be impacted by IBD.
Several factors typically contribute to IBD developing in cats. Your cat's risk factors may include:
- Genetic factors
- Hypersensitivity to bacteria
- Food allergies (such as food additives, proteins in meat, preservatives, artificial coloring, gluten, and/or dairy proteins)
Symptoms of IBD in Cats
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a tricky health issue to diagnose in cats since the most common symptoms can mimic those of intestinal lymphoma, (a type of cancer seen in cats) and other conditions of the GI tract.
You may notice several symptoms in your cat, which can vary in both severity and frequency depending on which parts of the GI tract are affected.
For example, if your cat's colon is inflamed, diarrhea with or without blood in the stool is likely, while if your cat's problem is in the stomach or higher areas of their small intestine, chronic vomiting maybe your cat's most noticeable symptom.
If your cat is suffering from IBD you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chronic or intermittent vomiting
- Bright red blood in stool
- Lack of energy
- Gas (flatulence)
- Gurgling sounds from the abdomen
- Abdominal pain
- Coat in poor condition
- Lack of appetite
Diagnosing IBD in Cats
Our Riverside Veterinary Clinic vets have several diagnostic tests and methods that can be used when diagnosing IBD in your cat. Your veterinarian will start by taking a detailed medical history of your cat and asking questions about the frequency and duration of your cat's IBD symptoms.
After a complete physical examination, if IBD is suspected routine laboratory tests may be completed to help diagnose the cause of your cat's symptoms. Your cat's tests may include:
- Complete blood count
- Fecal Exam
- Biochemistry profile
That said, these tests cannot definitively diagnose IBD, however, they are useful in ruling out other diseases (including elevated thyroid, liver disease, and kidney disease), whose symptoms can mimic IBD.
These routine laboratory tests may come back normal even if your cat does have IBD. Some cats with IBD may have an abnormally high number of white blood cells, along with anemia, or abnormal levels of liver enzymes and protein levels. More tests may be required to find out how well your cat’s small intestine is functioning.
An abdominal ultrasound may be recommended to help your vet rule out other diseases not revealed with blood work (these can include cancer or pancreatitis). Ultrasound imaging can also help vets examine the stomach and find out how thick the intestinal wall is.
The only way to definitively diagnose your cat's IBD and determine the extent of the disease is to take a biopsy. Stomach and intestine biopsies can be performed with surgery or endoscopy.
Following a definitive diagnosis of IBD, your vet will create a customized treatment plan to help reduce your cat's symptoms and manage the condition long-term.
Treatment for IBD in Cats
If your cat has not recently been treated for intestinal parasites, your vet may recommend this along with changes in diet and the introduction of medications.
No single treatment is best for treating this IBD in cats, which means that you may need to try several different combinations of medication and diet to find the best therapy for your cat.
If your cat has an issue with dietary allergens, a hypoallergenic diet may help to resolve your cat's IBD symptoms. Protein or carbohydrate sources the cat has never eaten before (novel protein diets), including venison, rabbit, or duck-based diets may be recommended.
If a novel protein diet does not reduce your cat's symptoms of IBD, a diet of low-fat, easily digestible, high-fiber foods may be recommended next. Be patient with dietary changes - it can take several weeks or longer for symptoms to begin clearing up. For the diet to be successful, all other food sources, including treats, flavored medications, and table scraps should be eliminated.
Along with dietary changes, medications may be required to help calm symptoms, Metronidazole has antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antiprotozoal properties which may help.
Corticosteroids, a potent anti-inflammatory, and immunosuppressive agents may be recommended if diet changes or metronidazole proves ineffective for your cat.
While corticosteroids are usually well-tolerated, it's important to monitor them closely as immune suppression and diabetes can be potential side effects. The next options include more potent immunosuppressive drugs such as chlorambucil or azathioprine, which can suppress the production of red and white blood cells (and sometimes, platelets) within the bone marrow.
Other Therapies for IBD in Cats
Prebiotics (substances that promote certain bacterial populations) and probiotics (bacterial strains to promote GI health) may help balance your cat's GI bacteria and reduce your cat's symptoms of IBD.
Soluble fibers such as psyllium may also be added to your cat’s diet if inflammatory colitis is an issue. Folate or vitamin B12 may be recommended by your vet if your cat is deficient in these.
Life-Expectancy for Cats with IBD
There is no cure for IBD in cats but, with the right treatment, symptoms can often be managed to help keep your cat comfortable and healthy.
Even with proper management your cat's symptoms of IBD may come and go and vary in severity. Strict compliance with dietary measures and medications is going to be a necessary part of managing your cat's symptoms. Diligent monitoring by you and your vet will be ongoing throughout your cat's lifetime.
When relapses occur your cat should be assessed by your vet as soon as possible so that medications and other treatments can be adjusted as required.
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.