Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, in cats is often confused with inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. Despite some similar symptoms, the two are distinct. IBS involves intermittent lower intestinal sensitivity; IBD includes intestinal inflammation and is more serious. The symptoms of IBS in cats are generally manageable with home care.
Symptoms of IBS
Diarrhea is the hallmark symptom of feline IBS. Your kitty's stool may be loose or hard. Often, diarrhea entails frequent bowel movements that each pass a small amount of feces. Sometimes, the stools are larger than usual. Other typical symptoms include bloating or general digestive discomfort, lower abdominal pain, gas, nausea and occasionally vomiting. Your kitty's belly may be sensitive to your touch due to gas or pain. Some of the symptoms stem from excessive spasms of the colon. Call your vet if symptoms persist for more than one or two days.
The symptoms of feline IBS, as you may have noticed, are fairly generic and nonspecific. They may indicate countless health concerns, from the relatively harmless to the life-threatening. That's why it's so important to get your kitty into the vet's office promptly if these symptoms continue. Don't ever take it upon yourself to diagnose your pet's problem. The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are potential signs of IBD and numerous other digestive disorders, bacterial infections, intestinal parasite infections, dietary intolerances or food allergies, and plenty of other conditions.
Diagnosing IBS as the Cause of Symptoms
Only your vet can diagnose the cause of your kitty's digestive problems. He'll consider the symptoms and your cat's history, and he'll perform a physical examination and possibly some tests. Testing is important for ruling out other potential causes of your cat's symptoms and may include urinalysis, blood tests, fecal examinations and internal imaging of the digestive tract. The best indication that your kitty's symptoms are due to irritable bowel syndrome is if stress and new foods are their main triggers. That's because IBS isn't a specific disorder so much as a digestive sensitivity to irritating factors.
Managing IBS Symptoms
When your vet diagnoses feline IBS he'll provide instructions for managing your kitty's symptoms. Management mostly revolves around prevention, which means identifying triggers. Stress is the biggest trigger. Your cat may become stressed by the presence of unfamiliar people or animals, frequent loud noises, travel, confinement, lack of stimulation and environmental changes. Avoid these sorts of stressors when possible. Talk to your vet about using a pheromone-simulating product or a supplement or medication to help keep your kitty stress-free. He may also recommend behavioral or physical therapy. Ask about probiotics supplements. These sources of beneficial bacteria often help treat and prevent digestive upset and the various symptoms associated with IBS in cats. You may need to make changes to your kitty's diet, too, under your vet's supervision. Stick to whole foods and natural ingredients, and don't offer your kitty much in the way of new foods. Consider commercial cat foods specially formulated for cats with sensitive stomachs.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.