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Symptoms of IBD in Cats

Inflammatory Bowel Disease can affect your cat’s digestion, appetite and quality of life. It can also be difficult to diagnose. Today, our South Charlotte vets offer insight and advice about IBD in cats, from symptoms and causes to diagnoses and treatment.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

When a cat’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract becomes chronically irritated and inflamed, he or she can develop inflammatory bowel disease. Also known as IBD, the condition does not have a single cause, but can occur when inflammatory cells invade the walls of the 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. 

Though it may take some time to diagnose and treat IBD in your cat with dietary changes, medication and other treatments, it’s possible for cats to have a great quality of life long-term with the appropriate treatment. 

What are my cat's risk factors for IBD?

Similar to people and dogs, genetic abnormalities in a cat’s immune system may factor into feline IBD. Though cats of any age can be impacted by IBD, the disease develops most often in middle-aged and older cats.

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:

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

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:

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

Though these non-invasive tests will not definitively diagnose the condition, 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 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 definitively diagnose IBD and determine the extent of the disease is to take biopsies. Stomach and intestine biopsies can be done via surgery or endoscopy.

Once your vet is able to definitively diagnose IBD in your cat, a customized treatment plan can be created.

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 symptoms do not improve with these, low-fat, easily digestible, high-fiber foods may be chosen. Be patient with dietary changes - it can take several weeks or longer for symptoms to improve. 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?

There is no cure for IBD in cats, but symptoms can often be controlled to keep your cat comfortable and healthy.

Even with proper management, symptoms may come and go. Strict compliance with dietary measures and medications is required, along with diligent monitoring by you and your vet.

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.

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