Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats: Guide + Vet Q&A

Inflammatory bowel disease in cats is a chronic condition, and there is no cure for it. However, with veterinary care and guidance cats can live normal and long lives. 

In this article, we will embody the various aspects of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in cats, exploring its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and how you can support your furry companion throughout their journey to recovery.

What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) In cats

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in cats is characterized by chronic inflammation in the lining of the intestines, which inhibits the proper absorption of nutrients from food and can lead to digestive issues, weight loss, anemia, etc.

The exact cause of IBD in cats is not always clear, but it is believed to result from an abnormal immune response to the gut’s normal bacteria.

IBD in cats

Causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

Genetics: Certain breeds of cats (Siamese and Abyssinians), may have a higher predisposition to developing IBD, indicating a genetic component in the disease.

Immune System Abnormalities: IBD in cats is an immune-mediated condition. The immune system in cats with IBD may overreact to normal gut bacteria or dietary antigens, leading to chronic inflammation.

Dietary Sensitivities: Food allergies or sensitivities can trigger an inflammatory response in the intestinal tract. Cats with IBD may have adverse reactions to specific proteins (beef) or ingredients in their diet (wheat).

Environmental Factors: Exposure to certain environmental triggers or toxins might play a role in the development of IBD. However, specific environmental factors are yet to be definitively identified.

Gut Microbiota Imbalance: An imbalance in the gut’s microbial population, known as dysbiosis, may contribute to chronic intestinal inflammation.

Stress: Stress and anxiety can exacerbate gastrointestinal issues in cats. While stress alone might not cause IBD, it can worsen the symptoms in cats already predisposed to the condition.

Infections: In some cases, chronic infections in the gastrointestinal tract may trigger an inflammatory response leading to IBD.

Autoimmune Factors: IBD could involve an autoimmune response where the cat’s immune system mistakenly attacks its healthy gut tissues.

Food allergies or intolerances can trigger an inflammatory response in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to the development of IBD. 

What are the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in cats?

  • Chronic vomiting
  • Diarrhea, which may be persistent and accompanied by changes in stool consistency and color.
  • Weight loss 
  • lack of appetite
  • Lethargy, or a lack of energy and enthusiasm
  • Abdominal pain, bloating, and increased flatulence. These symptoms can further contribute to the overall discomfort and distress experienced by the affected feline.
  • Rumbling and gurgling abdominal sounds
  • Bright red blood in the stool
  • Distressed coat hair

How is IBD diagnosed?

Your vet will run a physical examination, paying close attention to your cat’s abdomen and gastrointestinal system. They will also ask detailed questions about your cat’s medical history, diet, and symptoms.

Diagnostic Tests for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

One of the first diagnostic tests your veterinarian may recommend is bloodwork. 

Blood samples are collected from your cat and analyzed to assess various parameters such as complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and inflammatory markers. Abnormalities in these blood parameters can indicate the presence of inflammation and help in supporting the diagnosis of IBD.

In addition to bloodwork, your veterinarian may also recommend fecal analysis and urinalysis to rule out any parasitic infections. A stool sample is examined under a microscope to identify any parasites or abnormal bacteria that may be contributing to your cat’s gastrointestinal symptoms.

An abdominal ultrasound will help evaluate the structure and function of your cat’s gastrointestinal tract. Ultrasound allows the veterinarian to visualize the intestines, assess the thickness of the intestinal walls, and detect any abnormalities such as thickening or strictures. These findings can provide valuable information in diagnosing IBD.

However, the most crucial diagnostic test for confirming the presence of IBD is a biopsy of the intestinal tissue. This procedure involves collecting a small sample of the intestinal lining, usually through an endoscopic procedure. The collected tissue is then examined under a microscope by a veterinary pathologist. The microscopic evaluation of the biopsy sample helps in identifying the characteristic changes associated with IBD, such as the infiltration of inflammatory cells in the intestinal wall.

How is IBD treated?

Treatment includes:
IBD symptoms management and stabilizing immune response

Weight management 

Dietary adjustments 

Medication and Supplements

The specific medications will depend on the severity of the disease and the individual cat’s response to treatment.

Corticosteroids are commonly used to reduce inflammation in the intestines. They work by suppressing the immune response that contributes to the inflammation. These medications can be administered orally or through injections, and the dosage will be determined by your veterinarian based on your cat’s needs.

In some cases, immunosuppressive drugs may be prescribed to modulate the immune system’s response and reduce inflammation. These medications are typically used when corticosteroids alone are not sufficient in controlling the symptoms of IBD.

Supplements such as probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, antioxidants and vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids can also be beneficial in supporting gut health and reducing inflammation. Probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria into the gut, helping to restore the balance of the intestinal flora. Prebiotics, on the other hand, provide nourishment for the beneficial bacteria already present in the gut. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce the severity of symptoms in cats with IBD.

Surgical Intervention

In severe cases of IBD that do not respond to other treatments, surgical intervention may be necessary. Surgery can help remove diseased portions of the intestine, alleviating symptoms and improving your cat’s overall quality of life. However, it is usually considered a last resort when all other options have been exhausted.

The decision to proceed with surgery will depend on the cat’s overall health, the extent of the disease, and the risks associated with the procedure. 

Your veterinarian will discuss the potential benefits and risks of surgery with you and help you make an informed decision.

Dietary Changes and Management

One of the key aspects of managing IBD in cats is dietary modification. 

Your veterinarian will recommend a novel protein diet or a hypoallergenic diet that excludes common allergens. 

These specialized diets are formulated to be easily digestible and less likely to trigger an inflammatory response in the intestines. They may contain alternative protein sources such as duck or venison, and carbohydrates that are gentle on the digestive system.

Dietary changes should be made gradually to allow the cat’s digestive system to adjust. Transitioning to a new diet too quickly can cause gastrointestinal upset and worsen the symptoms of IBD. Your veterinarian will provide specific guidelines on how to introduce the new diet and monitor your cat’s response.

In some cases, a prescription diet may be necessary. These diets are formulated with specific ingredients that have been shown to help reduce inflammation and promote gut health. Prescription diets may also include additional nutrients and supplements to support the overall well-being of the cat.

During the diet trial, only use the prescribed food. Avoid giving your cat treats, tuna, or anything flavored

Brands that include special diets:
Hill’s

Royal Canine

Blue Buffalo 

Purina

Potential Complications of IBD

Secondary Infections: Chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract can weaken the cat’s immune system, making them more susceptible to secondary infections, such as bacterial or parasitic infections.

Intestinal Obstruction: In severe cases of IBD, there is a risk of developing scar tissue and strictures in the intestines, which can lead to intestinal obstruction. This obstruction can cause severe pain and discomfort and may require surgical intervention.

Pancreatitis: IBD can be associated with inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), leading to additional gastrointestinal symptoms and complications.

Anemia: Chronic inflammation and reduced nutrient absorption can contribute to anemia in cats with IBD.

Perforation: In rare and severe cases, the inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract can be so intense that it leads to perforation (tearing) of the intestinal wall. This is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.

How long do cats live with inflammatory bowel disease?

Most cats live long lives in cases where IBD is successfully managed. 

The lifespan of a cat with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can vary depending on several factors, including the cat’s overall health, the severity of the disease, how well it responds to treatment and the management of the condition. 

Living with a Cat with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Managing IBD in cats requires a multidimensional approach. Ensuring your cat’s environment is stress-free, providing regular exercise, and maintaining a consistent daily routine can help alleviate symptoms. 

It is essential to keep their litter box clean and accessible

Cats can associate pain and discomfort with a litter box, especially if there is pain during urination and defecation. 

Litter box aversion can lead to further health issues and complications such as:

Cat UTI
Cat constipation
Elimination outside of litter box

If you notice aversion, the first thing to try is to change the litter substrate

Regular monitoring of your cat’s health is crucial

This includes keeping an eye on their weight, monitoring their appetite and bowel movements, and observing any changes in behavior or symptoms. It is important to work closely with your veterinarian to adjust the treatment plan as needed and address any concerns.

Talk to your vet about  hemp and CBD products 

While primarily these products contribute to stress and anxiety relief they showed to contribute to some pain relief as well.

Products such as Hemp Cat Calming Treats can be found on Amazon. 

cat chews for stress relef

However, individual cats can have different reactions to different hemp products,

If you decide to include hemp products, start slow and observe your cat’s response. 

I personally recommend these products for pets who experience pain to help them sleep and recover. 

You can learn more here.

What foods cause IBD in cats?

While specific foods do not cause IBD, certain dietary factors can contribute to the development or exacerbation of symptoms in cats with IBD. These include:

Highly Allergenic Ingredients: Some cats may develop food allergies or sensitivities to beef, dairy products, wheat, and certain protein sources. These allergies can trigger inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and worsen IBD symptoms.

Low-Quality or Poorly Digestible Diets: Cats with IBD may have difficulty digesting certain ingredients. Diets containing low-quality or poorly digestible ingredients can put extra strain on the gastrointestinal tract and potentially aggravate the condition.

Artificial Additives and Preservatives: Some cats may be sensitive to artificial additives and preservatives commonly found in commercial pet foods. These additives can lead to inflammation in the gut.

High-Fat Diets: In some cases, diets that are excessively high in fat content can worsen the symptoms of IBD in cats.

Changes in Diet: Sudden changes in a cat’s diet or the introduction of new foods can sometimes trigger gastrointestinal upset, including in cats with IBD.

VET Q&A

vet answers IBD in cats questions

Can IBD be cured in cats?

While there is no definitive cure for IBD in cats, it can be managed effectively with the right treatment and care. Many cats with IBD go on to live happy and healthy lives with proper management.

Are Some Cat Breeds More Prone to Developing IBD?

Siamese and Abyssinians appear to have a higher predisposition to developing IBD, but it can affect any breed or mixed-breed cat.

Managing Flare-ups and Recurrences

IBD in cats can sometimes have flare-ups even with proper management. Here are a few ways you can help your cat in addition to veterinary care.

Supplements: Some cats may benefit from the addition of certain dietary supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids or probiotics, to support gastrointestinal health.

Stress Reduction: Minimize stress in the cat’s environment as stress can exacerbate IBD symptoms. Provide a quiet and comfortable space for the cat to rest and reduce exposure to potential stressors.

Regular Follow-ups: Schedule regular check-ups with the veterinarian to monitor the cat’s progress, adjust medications if necessary, and discuss any changes in the cat’s condition.

Hydration Support: Ensure the cat stays adequately hydrated, especially during flare-ups when diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration. Subcutaneous fluids may be administered if needed.

Monitoring for Complications: Keep an eye out for any signs of complications, such as severe dehydration, weight loss, or secondary infections, and address them promptly. 

Can stress cause IBD in cats?

While stress may not directly cause IBD, it can worsen the symptoms and lead to flare-ups in cats already affected by the condition.

Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease life-threatening for cats?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease can be a serious condition if left untreated, but with proper management, many cats can lead normal lives.