Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, refers to a group of chronic gastrointestinal disorders. The disease prevents your pet’s stomach and intestinal tract from functioning properly, causing severe digestive problems. In some cases, IBD can even lead to intestinal cancer or lymphosarcoma. Thankfully, this painful condition can be managed. The key is to know the signs of inflammatory bowel disease in cats, work with your vet to reverse the inflammation, and get your cat back to feeling normal.
What Causes IBD?
Veterinarians and researchers don’t really know what causes this inflammation. However, they do have some well-grounded theories about factors that affect a cat’s risk of IBD, including:
- Age: Cats can develop the disease at any point, but it seems most prevalent in middle-aged and senior felines.
- Immune system: Problems with your cat’s immune system may lead it to attack the “good” intestinal flora (microorganisms), causing inflamed cells in the digestive tract.
- Diet: Hypersensitivity or an allergy to certain foods may trigger IBD.
There’s also speculation that the modern diet of domesticated cats puts them at risk for IBD, and that a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet (like that of wild felines) can protect cats from the disease. However, there’s no definitive evidence to support that theory.
What Are IBD Symptoms in Cats?
The buildup of inflammatory cells in the stomach and intestines of felines interferes with normal absorption and the passage of food through the digestive tract. This leads to a range of problems. If your cat regularly suffers from one or more of the following symptoms, talk to your veterinarian about whether the cause is inflammatory bowel disease.
The signs of IBD are very similar to other gastrointestinal conditions so your vet will need to rule out causes such as parasites, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, and pancreatitis.
Another Possibility: IBS
IBD symptoms can also be similar to another inflammatory condition, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is not considered a gastrointestinal disease, though, and is most likely caused by miscommunication between the brain and the intestinal tract.
To definitively diagnose IBD, your vet will perform blood work, a urinalysis, and a fecal examination. Biopsies of the GI tract are also needed so your vet can identify the extent and type of inflammation affecting your pet.
Treating Feline IBD
When treating IBD, the best you can usually hope for is to control your cat’s symptoms. Once your cat has been diagnosed, treatment usually follows a two-step approach:
Step 1: Change your cat’s diet
Since allergies and food sensitivities are common triggers, your vet may recommend a food trial using a hypoallergenic diet. During the trial, you’ll introduce a type of protein (such as rabbit, duck, or venison) and carbohydrate that your pet hasn’t eaten before while eliminating all foods not specified by your veterinarian. You may then need to wait several weeks to see if your cat improves with the new food. It can take several attempts with different foods to find a combination that works best for your cat.
If a hypoallergenic diet doesn’t help, your vet may switch your kitty to a high-fiber, low-fat diet of easy-to-digest food.
Step 2: Use medication
Along with dietary changes, cats with IBD are usually put on prednisolone or another corticosteroid. This anti-inflammatory medication can suppress an overactive immune system. There are potentially dangerous side effects, including diabetes, but the usual course is to have the cat’s dosage lessened over the course of several weeks while under the close supervision of a vet who can watch for signs of problems.
If corticosteroid and dietary changes don’t resolve your cat’s digestive distress, antibiotics (such as Metronidazole for dogs and cats) may be recommended as well.
Prognosis for Cats with IBD
With proper treatment, IBD symptoms should lessen or disappear. However, ongoing vigilance is needed on the part of pet parents to ensure that cats don’t suffer side effects from the treatment and to ensure that, if symptoms flare up again, a cat’s medication and treatment can be adjusted.
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