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Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Cats

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Cats

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can affect your cat’s digestion, appetite and quality of life. It can also be challenging to diagnose. Today, our Hattiesburg and Wiggins vets explain more about IBD in cats, including symptoms, causes, and treatments.

What is IBD in cats?

When your cat’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract becomes chronically irritated and inflamed, inflammatory bowel disease (also called IBD) may develop. IBD in cats does not have a single cause but may occur when inflammatory cells attack the walls of your cat's GI tract. 

The GI tract's walls thicken, impairing your cat's ability to digest and absorb food. According to current evidence, IBD in cats is caused by a complex, abnormal interaction between the immune system, bacterial populations in the intestines, diet, and a variety of environmental factors.

It may take a while to diagnose and properly treat your feline friend's IBD but through dietary changes, medication and other treatments, it is possible for your cat to enjoy a great quality of life long-term. 

What causes IBD in cats?

Genetic abnormalities in a cat's immune system, like in humans and dogs, may play a role in the development of feline IBD. Although IBD can affect cats of any age, it is most common in middle-aged and older cats.

A number of factors typically contribute to IBD developing in cats. Your kitty's risk factors may include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Hypersensitivity to bacteria
  • Food allergies (such as food additives, proteins in meat, preservatives, artificial coloring, gluten, and/or dairy proteins)

Symptoms of IBD in Cats

Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a tricky health issue to diagnose in cats since the most common symptoms can mimic those of intestinal lymphoma, (a type of cancer seen in cats) and other conditions of the GI tract.

You may notice a number of symptoms in your cat, which can vary in both severity and frequency depending on which parts of the GI tract are affected.

If your cat's colon is inflamed, expect diarrhea with or without blood in the stool, whereas if the problem is in the stomach or higher areas of their small intestine, chronic vomiting may be the most noticeable symptom.

If your cat is suffering from IBD you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chronic or intermittent vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bright red blood in stool
  • Lack of energy
  • Gas (flatulence)
  • Gurgling sounds from abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Coat in poor condition
  • Lack of appetite

Diagnosing IBD in Cats

Our Hattiesburg and Wiggins vets have a number of diagnostic tests and methods that can be used when diagnosing IBD in your kitty. Your veterinarian will start by taking a detailed medical history of your cat and asking questions about the frequency and duration of your cat's IBD symptoms.

After a complete physical examination, if IBD is suspected routine laboratory tests may be completed in order to help diagnose the cause of your cat's symptoms. Your kitty's tests may include:

  • Urinalysis
  • Complete blood count
  • Fecal Exam
  • Biochemistry profile
  • X-rays

That said, these tests cannot definitively diagnose IBD, however, they are useful in ruling out other diseases (including elevated thyroid, liver disease and kidney disease), whose symptoms can mimic IBD.

Even if your cat has IBD, these routine laboratory tests may come back normal. Some IBD cats may have an abnormally high number of white blood cells, as well as anemia and abnormal levels of liver enzymes and protein. More tests may be required to determine how well your cat's small intestine is working.

Abdominal Ultrasound

An abdominal ultrasound may be recommended by your veterinarian to help rule out other diseases that blood tests do not reveal (such as cancer or pancreatitis). Ultrasound imaging can also help veterinarians examine the stomach and determine the thickness of the intestinal wall.

Stomach Biopsy

The only way to definitively diagnose your cat's IBD and determine the extent of the disease is to take a biopsy. Stomach and intestine biopsies can be performed with surgery or endoscopy.

Following a definitive diagnosis of IBD your vet will create a customized treatment plan to help reduce your kitty'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 IBD in cats, which means that you may need to try several different combinations of medication and 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 alleviate your cat's IBD symptoms, a low-fat, easily digestible, high-fiber diet may be recommended next. Be patient when making dietary changes; it can take several weeks or longer for symptoms to subside. To ensure the diet's success, all other food sources, such as treats, flavored medications, and table scraps, should be avoided.


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.

While corticosteroids are usually well tolerated, they must be closely monitored because immune suppression and diabetes are potential side effects. More potent immunosuppressive drugs, such as chlorambucil or azathioprine, can suppress the production of red and white blood cells (and occasionally platelets) within the bone marrow.

Other Therapies for IBD in Cats

Prebiotics (substances that promote specific bacterial populations) and probiotics (bacterial strains that promote GI health) may aid in balancing your cat's GI bacteria and alleviating IBD symptoms.

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

There is no cure for IBD in cats but, with the right treatment, symptoms can often be managed to help keep your cat comfortable and healthy.

Even with proper treatment, your cat's IBD symptoms may come and go and vary in severity. Strict adherence to dietary restrictions and medications will be required to manage your cat's symptoms. You and your veterinarian will keep a close eye on your cat for the rest of its life.

When relapses occur your cat should be assessed by your vet as soon as possible 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.

Is your cat displaying symptoms of IBD? Contact our Hattiesburg and Wiggins vets today for a diagnosis.

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