Your cat’s appetite, digestion and quality of life can be impacted by Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). It can also be difficult to diagnose. Here, our Greensboro vets offer advice and insight regarding IBD in cats, from causes and symptoms to diagnoses, treatment and life expectancy.
IBD in Cats
A cat’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract may become chronically inflamed and irritated. Inflammatory bowel disease (also referred to as IBD) can also develop. Though IBD does not have a single cause, it can happen when inflammatory cells penetrate the walls of your cat’s GI tract.
The walls of your cat’s GI tract then thicken, which disrupts the tract’s ability to correctly digest and absorb food. Current evidence suggests that IBD may be caused by a complex, abnormal interaction between the immune system, diet, bacterial populations in the intestines and many environmental factors.
While your cat’s IBD may take some time to diagnose and treat with medication, dietary changes and other treatments, cats can still enjoy great long-term quality of life with appropriate treatment.
Risk Factors for IBD in Cats
Similar to both dogs and people, one factor in feline IBD may be genetic abnormalities in a cat’s immune system. The disease is most common in middle-aged and older cats, though kitties of any age may be impacted by this condition.
Typically, more than a single cause contributes to the development of IBD in cats. Your cat’s risk factors may include:
- Hypersensitivity to bacteria
- Genetic factors
- Food allergies (such as preservatives, proteins in meat, food additives, dairy proteins, gluten and/or artificial coloring)
Symptoms of IBD in Cats
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a challenging condition to diagnose in cats, since the most common symptoms may imitate those of intestinal lymphoma (a kind of cancer seen in cats).
Depending on which parts of the GI tract are affected, you may notice numerous symptoms which can vary in both severity and frequency.
For example, if the colon has become inflamed, your cat will likely have diarrhea - with or without blood in the stool. However, if the problem lies in the stomach or higher areas of the small intestine, chronic vomiting may be the most apparent symptom.
Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in cats can include:
- Lack of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chronic or intermittent vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Coat in poor condition
- Bright red blood in stool
- Gurgling sounds from abdomen
- Gas (flatulence)
- Lack of energy
How IBD in Cats is Diagnosed
At Friendly Animal Hospital, our vets have a range of diagnostic tests and methods we can use to diagnose IBD in your cat. The veterinarian will start by thoroughly documenting your cat’s medical history and asking about the frequency and duration of your cat’s IBD symptoms.
After completing a complex physical exam, the vet may take routine laboratory tests if he or she suspects IBD. These can help diagnose the cause of your cat’s symptoms and may include:
- Complete blood count
- Biochemistry profile
- Fecal exam
Though these cannot be used to definitively diagnose IBD, they do allow your vet to rule out other diseases (including thyroid, liver disease and kidney diseases) who symptoms may mimic IBD.
Often, these routine laboratory tests often come back normal. Abnormally high white blood cells and anemia may appear in some cats with IBD. Your vet may also discover abnormal protein levels and levels of liver enzymes. More tests may need to be done to learn how well your cat’s small intestine is working.
An abdominal ultrasound can help your vet to rule out other diseases not revealed with blood work (these can include cancer or pancreatitis). Ultrasound imaging can also help vets examine the stomach and find out how thick the intestinal wall is.
The only way to definitively diagnose IBD in cats and determine the extent of the disease is to take a biopsy. Stomach and intestine biopsies can be done via surgery or endoscopy.
Once your veterinarian is able to definitively diagnose IBD in your cat, a customized treatment plan can be created to help reduce your cat's symptoms and manage the condition long-term.
Treatment for IBD in Cats
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.
No single treatment is best for treating this condition, which means that you may need to try several different combinations of medication or diet to find the best therapy for your cat.
If your cat has an issue with dietary allergens, a hypoallergenic diet may help to resolve your cat's IBD symptoms. Protein or carbohydrate sources the cat has never eaten before (novel protein diets), including venison, rabbit or duck-based diets may be recommended.
If a novel protein diet does not reduce your cat's symptoms of IBD, a diet of low-fat, easily digestible, high-fiber foods may be recommended next. Be patient with dietary changes - it can take several weeks or longer for symptoms to begin clearing up. In order for the diet to be successful, all other food sources, including treats, flavored medications and table scraps should be eliminated.
Along with dietary changes, medications may be required to help calm symptoms, Metronidazole has antibiotic, anti-inflammatory and antiprotozoal properties which may help. Corticosteroids, potent anti-inflammatory and immune-suppressing agents, may be recommended if diet changes or metronidazole prove ineffective for your kitty.
Though corticosteroids are usually well-tolerated, watch them closely as immune suppression and diabetes may be potential side effects. The next options include more potent immunosuppressive drugs such as chlorambucil or azathioprine, which can suppress the production of red and white blood cells (and sometimes, platelets) within the bone marrow.
Other Therapies for IBD in Cats
Prebiotics (substances that promote certain bacterial populations) and probiotics (bacterial strains to promote GI health) may help balance your kitty's GI bacteria and reduce your cat's symptoms of IBD.
Soluble fibers such as psyllium may also be added to your cat’s diet if inflammatory colitis is an issue. Folate or vitamin B12 may be recommended by your vet if your kitty is deficient in these.
Life-Expectancy for Cats with IBD
While there is no cure for IBD in cats with treatment symptoms can often be managed to help keep your cat comfortable and healthy.
In some cases, even with proper management symptoms can come and go, in varying levels of severity. Strict compliance with dietary measures and medications is going to be a necessary part of managing your cat's symptoms. Diligent monitoring by you and your vet will be ongoing through your cat's lifetime.
Relapses should be assessed so that medications and other treatments can be adjusted as required.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 your cat may be experiencing symptoms of IBD? Contact our Greensboro vets to book an examination for your furry friend. We may be able to help your feline companion feel better.
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