Published: February 2021 | Updated: September 2022
If you've ever had a stomach ache, you probably know what it feels like to have your intestines ache. But if you've ever had a serious illness, or undergone surgery, or had a pet pass away, you might be familiar with the experience of having your entire body hurt.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an inflammatory condition that can cause both your intestines and other parts of your body (including the joints) to hurt.
Unfortunately, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) isn’t just limited to humans; cats, as well as other animals, can suffer from this painful condition as well.
Chronic irritation caused by IBD triggers inflammatory cells which invade the wall of the stomach and/or intestines, so knowing how to recognize the clinical signs of IBD in cats, as well as how to treat the condition, is important for any cat owner.
What is IDB in Cats?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a common digestive disorder that causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. The inflammation can result in diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and other symptoms.
In humans, several different types of IBD exist, but cats are only thought to get one specific type called feline infectious/inflammatory bowel disease (FIBD).
FIBD does not have any connection to human IBDs; it is caused by a different kind of bacteria than those responsible for human inflammatory bowel disease.
There are two types of IBD in cats:
- Ulcerative colitis. This type of IBD causes the intestines to become inflamed. The inflammation causes ulcers (open sores) on your cat's colon wall and rectum. When these sores are open, they will bleed and cause diarrhea.
- Granulomatous colitis. Granulomatous colitis affects only part of the colon in cats, which means there are no ulcers or bleeding involved with this type of IBD. Instead, it causes thickening or scarring of the colon wall as well as inflammation in one part of your cat's intestines—usually near where it attaches to the anus.
Causes of IBD in Cats
Feline inflammatory bowel disease is most common in middle-aged cats, usually between 5-12 years of age. Certain breeds have an increased chance of developing IBD, especially Persian cats and Siamese cats.
There are multiple causes of the condition, including, but not limited to, bacterial infection, parasitic infection, ingestion of toxins, systemic illness, or an allergy/intolerance to a specific protein in the diet. Diets high in carbohydrates may make your cat more susceptible to developing IBD, while diets low in carbohydrates may reduce their risk of developing this disease.
Depending on what part of the cat’s digestive tract is affected, the disease can go by different names. For example, if the stomach is involved, it’s referred to as gastritis; if the small intestine is inflamed, it’s called enteritis; if it’s the colon that’s affected, the condition is called colitis.
However, the most common form of IBD involves inflammatory cells that have invaded the small intestine.
Symptoms of IBD in Cats
It's important to know the symptoms of IBD so you can help your cat get the treatment they need. If IBD affects a cat’s stomach, they will likely experience chronic vomiting.
However, if the intestines are involved, chronic diarrhea will be present, and some cats have the unfortunate experience of having both parts of the digestive tract affected by IBD, and therefore, will have both symptoms simultaneously. It’s also important to note, the diarrhea may contain blood and mucus.
If IBD has been ongoing for several months, cats may experience weight loss and a decreased appetite, but, in some cases, a cat can develop a ravenous appetite when they are unable to absorb nutrients from the food they are eating.
Another telltale IBD symptom in cats is vomiting hairballs more than once per month.
Feline IBD is diagnosed via several methods, including fecal examination, blood tests, and often imaging of the intestines. Ultrasound can be used to measure the thickness of the stomach and intestinal lining. Since there are multiple types of IBD, your veterinarian may want to take a tissue biopsy as well, but this will require anesthesia as it is a surgical procedure.
Treatment for IBD in Cats
Aside from deworming, the first step in treating GI tract inflammation is often through a change in diet. Though IBD isn’t always caused by food allergies, certain proteins often trigger inflammation in the cat digestive system and prevent healing.
Therefore, hypoallergenic pet foods are often beneficial, as is eliminating treats and table foods. It may take several weeks to see a difference in your cat’s symptoms, but if a hypoallergenic diet doesn’t help, a low-fat, high-fiber diet should be your next step.
Adding therapeutic probiotics such as Daily Cat can also help to control feline IBD symptoms.
This unique formula was developed by veterinarians and a world-renowned animal nutritionist at Texas A&M University and contains a specific yeast strain of probiotic (S. boulardii for cats), along with prebiotics, enzymes, and L-glutamine, all of which help to support the immune system, improve nutrient digestibility, and strengthen the natural bacterial populations in the cat’s gut microbiome.
In some extreme cases, if dietary changes and probiotic supplementation don’t relieve feline IBD symptoms, your veterinarian may prescribe corticosteroids and possibly immunosuppressive drugs, but, as always, using natural treatments first can save your cat from potentially harmful side effects due to medications.
Check out our natural anti-inflammatory cat probiotic today to support your cat’s long-term gut health!
Feeding Cats With Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Feeding cats with inflammatory bowel disease is a long process that requires patience, dedication, and a willingness to learn.
In order to properly feed your cat with inflammatory bowel disease, you'll need to understand what's going on with their digestive system. You'll also want to know how the disease works and what symptoms you can expect from it. This will help you determine whether or not your cat is ready for a special diet.
If your cat has been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, there are several things you can do to help them manage the symptoms of the condition. These include:
- Feeding them a special diet that's high in fiber and low in carbohydrates
- Giving them probiotics as discussed above
- Keeping track of their weight loss/gain over time so you know whether or not they're getting enough nutrients from their food
- Giving them plenty of fresh water at all times
Consult a Veterinarian
If you think your cat might have IBD, it’s important to get him or her checked out by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to let you know if they think it’s something serious and what kind of treatment plan would work best in your situation.