Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

Cats middle-aged and older are more prone to inflammatory bowel disease.
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Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, is a common gastrointestinal disorder whose cause is unknown. It is rare for a cat to be cured of IBD, but barring a very severe case, your kitty can continue to live comfortably if you follow the diet plan and administer the medications your veterinarian will prescribe.


IBD is an umbrella term for conditions that involve a buildup of inflammatory cells in the digestive tract. As a result, the lining of the cat's intestines and other organs thickens, which disrupts digestion. The various types of IBD are distinguished by the kind of cell accumulating. Plasma cells and white blood cells known as lymphocytes are the most common culprits. A buildup of macrophages, infection-fighting cells found in tissues, results in a rare type of IBD known as regional enteritis. IBD is most difficult to treat when the offending cells are eosinophils, another kind of white blood cell.


Diarrhea and vomiting are common IBD symptoms in cats, though the frequency and duration can vary. Diarrhea and vomiting are generally chronic but intermittent; episodes may resolve quickly but recur for weeks or months at a time. You may notice bright red blood and mucus in your kitty's stool; she may defecate outside her litter box. IBD can keep your cat from properly absorbing nutrients, which results in weight loss over time. She may also be anemic and have a poor appetite.


A biopsy of the intestine is the most reliable way to know if your cat is suffering from IBD. A biopsy involves taking a sample of intestinal tissue, either during open surgery or via an endoscopy. The procedure consists of inserting a tube affixed with a cameralike device into the cat's colon or stomach. A biopsy, which is performed under general anesthesia, allows your veterinarian to rule out other conditions that produce similar symptoms. It's important to rule out or diagnose IBD, as it can turn into cancer over time. Blood tests, fecal and urine tests, ultrasounds and X-rays are other means of ruling out other possible causes.


If your veterinarian suspects your kitty has IBD, she may prescribe a corticosteroid, a drug that fights inflammation and suppresses the immune system. A corticosteroid is usually given for a period of time and gradually reduced. You may have to give your cat an antibiotic if there is an infection in his digestive tract, which sometimes happens when the disease is caused by a buildup of lymphocytes and plasma cells. Dietary changes are usually part of treatment. You may be asked to switch your cat to a highly digestible lowfat diet, either commercial or homemade. If your cat's small intestine has become narrower than normal, which can occur with regional enteritis, surgery may be necessary. Usually you can manage IBD successfully by adhering to your veterinarian's guidelines.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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