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Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

Posted October 21, 2011 in Cat Health

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Overview and Risk
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a condition that results when your cat’s immune system turns against the lining of her gastrointestinal (GI) tract, causing an issue with the absorption of nutrients and the ability to digest food properly. This wreaks havoc on your cat’s entire GI system and can impact the stomach and upper small intestine, causing chronic vomiting, and/or the lower intestine, causing diarrhea. IBD is one of the most common causes of persistent vomiting and diarrhea in cats. Unfortunately, the cause of this debilitating disease is unknown and most often is a problem in middle-aged or older cats.

Any cat owner knows that vomiting and diarrhea occasionally happen. After all, what fun would owning a cat be without a few hairballs? With IBD, however, the vomiting and/or diarrhea become chronic, occurring regularly rather than occasionally. Cats with IBD don’t necessarily act sick, other than displaying GI symptoms.

If your pet has IBD, you may notice the following:

  • Diarrhea
  • Blood or mucus in stool
  • Black, tarry stool (melena) 
  • Gas
  • Straining to defecate
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting 
  • Accidents outside the litter pan

Diagnosing IBD begins with a thorough physical examination and tests to rule out other possible causes of the diarrhea and/or vomiting. These tests may include the following:

  • Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function as well as sugar levels
  • A complete blood count (CBC) to rule out blood-related conditions
  • Electrolyte tests to ensure your cat is neither dehydrated nor suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
  • X-rays of the abdomen and intestinal tract to rule out obstructions
  • An ultrasound to evaluate the integrity of your cat’s digestive tract
  • An endoscopy to evaluate the intestinal tract
  • Specific tests to rule out viral infections such as feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus
  • Fecal tests to identify potential fecal parasites
  • Special fecal tests, such as cultures and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing
  • An intestinal biopsy to evaluate the tissue of the GI tract

If diagnosing IBD in your cat, your veterinarian will recommend medications that will treat your pet's symptoms. These may include:

  • Antibiotics, if infection is suspected
  • Steroids (corticosteroids) and other medications to suppress the body’s attack on the GI tract
  • Dietary modification, which may include a prescription dietspecifically for treating IBD

When treating IBD, it is very important to administer all medications prescribed by your veterinarian, as well as to follow any dietary guidelines he or she suggests.

Unfortunately, there are no preventive measures that will protect your cat from inflammatory bowel disease.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

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