Inflammatory bowel disease in cats

Inflammatory bowel disease in cats (IBD) causes repeated bouts of digestive symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhoea. It’s more common in Siamese cats. This is a debilitating condition that requires lifelong management.

IBD is a complicated condition and we still have much to learn about it, but it seems to be caused by a combination of factors. Treatment usually involves diet changes, digestive support and, sometimes, ongoing medication to manage the immune response. Symptoms may be mild initially, but managing the condition is important to lessen its impact on health and prevent worsening.



What is inflammatory bowel disease in cats?

Inflammatory bowel disease is the name given to a group of conditions.

  • Inflammation in the gut wall disrupts the gut defences
  • This exposes the immune system to more triggers, which worsens inflammation
  • This also disrupts normal digestion

Several factors contribute to the development of this condition, such as:

  • Immune response
  • Genetics
  • Diet
  • Infections

Inflammatory bowel disease is different from food allergies, where the immune system reacts to one or a few specific foods. It is also different from irritable bowel syndrome, where the nervous system plays an important role.

IBD in cats appears to sometimes be connected to disease in the liver (hepatitis) and pancreas (pancreatitis). This is sometimes referred to as “triaditis”. Blood tests and an ultrasound will usually help recognise this and adjust treatment accordingly.



Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in cats

Symptoms can be ongoing or intermittent:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Poor appetite in some cases, excessive hunger in others
  • Weight loss
  • Tummy pain
  • Dark stools



What cats are at a higher risk of inflammatory bowel disease?

Pure-bred cats seem to be at higher risk of IBD, with Siamese cats appearing to be particularly affected.



Diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease in cats

Diagnosing IBD requires several steps:

  • Ruling out parasites and infections with stool tests and preventive treatments
  • Ultrasound or x-rays to rule out foreign bodies, this also allows checking for masses or signs of cancer
  • Diet trial with hydrolysed or novel protein diet to rule out a food allergy
  • Fully confirming the diagnosis requires intestinal biopsies
  • Blood tests are also important to check for liver/pancreas involvement or potentially serious consequences of IBD, such as vitamin B12 deficiency
  • A course of antibiotic treatment may be recommended in select cases when an imbalance in gut microbes (dysbiosis) or infection in the gallbladder (cholangitis-cholangiohepatitis) is present.


Vet treatment

Vet treatment of inflammatory bowel disease in cats

  • A hydrolysed or hypoallergenic diet is helpful in most cases of IBD (up to 65%). In milder cases, it may be enough to control or resolve the symptoms on its own
  • Correcting vitamin B12 deficiency is important, as this is common and can contribute to worsening of the symptoms. This can done with daily supplements or weekly injections
  • Regular use of antiparasitic (de-worming) treatments is important to prevent further causes of inflammation
  • Cases with symptoms of colitis, such as mucus or blood in the stool, may benefit from extra fibre in their diet
  • Probiotic use is unproven but may be beneficial
  • Cases that don’t respond well enough to the treatments above will need medication to control the inflammation and prevent worsening. This will depend on the case:
    • Steroids are commonly used and are usually effective. As the symptoms respond, it may be possible to reduce to a low maintenance dose
    • Chlorambucil may be used in cases that do not respond to steroids
  • In the future, faecal transplants may become a treatment option in some cases, but this is currently under investigation


Home treatment

Home treatment of inflammatory bowel disease in cats

Diet is a crucial part of managing IBD in cats. It’s important to work with your vet to find out what the best dietary plan is for your cat and what they can or cannot eat.



Prevention of inflammatory bowel disease in cats

There is still a lot to be understood about IBD in cats and no specific prevention methods are known. As ever, a balanced diet with good quality ingredients is important for health.

IBD is not known to be contagious between cats or other animals.

Will my cat be able to live with inflammatory bowel disease?

  • Some cases may resolve completely after several months on a special diet
  • Many cats will have normal lives as long as their diet and treatment are carefully managed
  • Unfortunately, some cats have severe disease that does not respond to medication
  • It is suspected that, in some cases, IBD may lead to the development of intestinal cancer


When to worry

When to worry about inflammatory bowel disease in cats

Take your cat to see a vet immediately if they have:

  • Constant vomiting, especially if blood is present or it has a ground-coffee appearance
  • Diarrhoea with a lot of blood
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Very painful and hard tummy
  • Pale gums
  • Weakness or lack of response when you interact with them

Speak to a vet as soon as possible if your cat:

  • Has a small amount of blood in their vomit
  • Continues to vomit even on an empty stomach
  • Loses interest in food
  • Seems to be in pain in their tummy
  • Is quiet or lethargic
  • Passes some blood in their diarrhoea

It’s also important to discuss with your vet if the symptoms are returning after being well managed for a while, or if your cat is losing weight.

The vets of Joii are always available to give you advice and answer any questions

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