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The Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Cats

Inflammatory Bowel Disease can significantly impact your cat's digestion, appetite, and overall quality of life. This condition can be particularly challenging to diagnose. Our veterinary team, serving Diamond Bar, offers valuable guidance and expertise on IBD in cats, encompassing its symptoms, causes, treatment, and diagnosis.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can develop in cats when their gastrointestinal tract becomes chronically irritated and inflamed. This condition occurs when inflammatory cells invade the walls of the cat's GI tract, leading to thickening and disruption of its ability to properly digest and absorb food.

The exact cause of IBD is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a complex interaction between the immune system, bacterial populations in the intestines, diet, and other environmental factors.

Diagnosing and treating IBD in cats may take some time, but dietary changes, medications, and other treatments can be used to manage the condition. With appropriate interventions, cats can maintain a good quality of life in the long term.

What are my cat's risk factors for IBD?

Genetic abnormalities in a cat's immune system may impact the development of feline IBD, similar to how they can affect humans and dogs. While cats of any age can develop this condition, it most commonly occurs in middle-aged and older cats. Feline IBD can be caused by multiple factors, including:

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

What are the 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 observe 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 the abdomen

How is IBD in cats diagnosed?

At [Diamond Bar Veterinary Clinic, our veterinarians have several diagnostic tests and methods at their disposal for diagnosing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in cats. Your veterinarian will begin by taking a detailed medical history and asking questions about the frequency and duration of symptoms. Following a thorough physical examination, routine laboratory tests will be conducted. These tests 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 is struggling with dietary allergens, a hypoallergenic diet may help resolve the issue. Initially, it is recommended to try protein or carbohydrate sources that your cat has never eaten before, such as venison, rabbit, or duck-based diets.

If your cat's symptoms do not improve with these options, a low-fat, high-fiber, and easily digestible food may be chosen for your furry companion. It's important to be patient as it can take a few weeks or longer to see improvements. To ensure the success of the diet, all other food sources, including treats, flavored medications, and table scraps, should be eliminated.

Medical Treatment

Dietary changes, alongside medications, may be necessary to alleviate symptoms. Metronidazole, possessing antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antiprotozoal properties, can aid in this effort.

If dietary adjustments or metronidazole fail to produce the desired results, corticosteroids, potent agents with anti-inflammatory and immune-suppressing capabilities, may be advised.

Although corticosteroids are generally well-tolerated, closely monitor their usage due to potential side effects such as immune suppression and diabetes. Other options include more potent immunosuppressive drugs like chlorambucil or azathioprine, which can inhibit the production of red and white blood cells (and less frequently, platelets) within 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?

Inflammatory bowel disease in cats cannot be cured, but its symptoms can often be managed to keep your cat comfortable and healthy. Even with proper management, the symptoms of this disease may flare up from time to time.

Managing this disease in your cat requires strict compliance with their diet and medications, along with careful monitoring by your vet and yourself.

Any relapses should be assessed, and medications and other treatments may need to be adjusted in the 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 our vets for more information about IBD and its treatments. 

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