Pet Care

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Orange and black cat looking up

What Is IBD?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) occurs when a cat’s stomach and/or intestine becomes home to an unusually high number of inflammatory cells. These cells cause a thickening of the lining of the digestive tract, which inhibits digestion and the normal absorption and passage of food.

It is important to note that although many of the symptoms may be similar, IBD is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome, which is caused by psychological stress rather than a physiological abnormality.

What Causes IBD?

The cause of inflammatory bowel disease is not known. It may involve the body’s response to the presence of bacteria, a parasite or a type of dietary protein in the digestive tract. IBD might also be due to an underlying abnormality of the cat’s immune system. In some cases, a combination of these factors contribute to chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

What Are the General Symptoms of IBD?

Intermittent, chronic vomiting is the most common sign of IBD in cats. Long-term diarrhea is frequently seen as well. Symptoms often depend on whether the inflammation is affecting the cat’s stomach, upper intestine or colon. If IBD is affecting the cat’s stomach or upper small intestine, vomiting will likely be seen. If the disease involves the lower small intestine, watery diarrhea would be the main symptom. When disease affects the colon (or large intestine), diarrhea with blood and mucus is likely to result. Sometimes IBD can affect the entire GI tract. Weight loss and decreased appetite are common symptoms as well. In rare cases, IBD can progress to intestinal cancer.

How Is IBD Diagnosed?

If your cat is exhibiting any signs of IBD, please take him to a vet for a physical examination. The only definitive way to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease is through biopsies taken of the GI tract. This is usually performed after blood work, urinalysis, fecal examination and radiographs rule out other common problems that cause similar signs. In a cat who has IBD, the biopsy often reveals the quantity and type of inflammatory cells in the stomach or intestinal wall.

Which Cats Are Prone to IBD?

Although IBD can affect cats of any age or breed, it is most common in middle-aged and older cats and those with compromised immune systems.

How Is IBD Treated?

Initial management of IBD usually involves diet modification. This may significantly improve the animal’s clinical signs. If diet alone is unsuccessful in controlling the problem, an anti-inflammatory medications or immunosuppressive drug will likely be prescribed by your veterinarian. Finding the right combination of medication and diet for each animal usually involves quite a bit of trial-and-error. It is important to be patient during this process and work closely with your veterinarian at all times. The good news is that some cats are eventually able to stop taking medicine every day and might need it only during bad episodes.

When Is It Time to See the Vet?

Please see your veterinarian if your cat has chronic diarrhea or vomiting, or experiences weight loss, decreased appetite or unusual lethargy.