If Tabby's been losing weight, suffering from diarrhea or vomiting more than usual, she may have inflammatory bowel disease. IBD is characterized by an inflamed intestinal tract. It's not a fatal condition, but it can be very unpleasant for Tabby. Fortunately it can be managed with diet and medication.
What Is IBD?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is more of a symptom than an actual disease. It's an uncontrolled gastrointesintal inflammatory response that occurs when there's been a long-term irritation and inflammation of a cat's digestive tract. The bowel lining isn't able to absorb and move food, disrupting its function. Any cat is at risk for IBD, regardless of breed, age or gender.
It's usually not known why a cat develops IBD. If Tabby has been diagnosed with it, she may have a parasite, an allergy or some underlying problem with her immune system. Diagnosing the cause of IBD can be expensive, so effort tends to be focused on treating the condition that results from the cause.
Symptoms of IBD
If Tabby has IBD, chances are she's lost some weight, the most common symptom of the condition. Other signs include bloody stool, diarrhea, loss of appetite and vomiting. Symptoms will depend on what part of her tract is inflamed. If Tabby's stool is loose, her colon is the part of the tract most inflamed; if she is vomiting more, her stomach and upper intestine are the problem areas; if she has watery diarrhea and weight loss, her problems are likely to be coming from the mid portion of her digestive tract. In severe cases a cat may suffer lethargy, significant loss of appetite, high fever or depression. It's not unusual for a cat to have a spell of diarrhea or vomiting, so it can be easy to overlook that something's wrong with her. If you notice that Tabby hasn't had firm stool over an extended period, or if she's been vomiting more than occasionally, it's time to get her to the vet.
It can be difficult to diagnose IBD because the physical examination is often normal. Occasionally the vet may feel thickened or fluid-filled intestines, but as a rule IBD will be diagnosed by excluding other disorders. IBD shares symptoms with a host of other conditions, so they must be ruled out before IBD is determined as the condition to be treated.
Diet and IBD
The part of the intestinal tract that's inflamed can impact what sort of diet will benefit Tabby if she has IBD. She may benefit from a high-fiber diet if the IBD is affecting her colon. If it's contained primarily in her small intestine, a low-fiber, easily digestible diet may be more beneficial. VetInfo recommends a low-fat, low-gluten diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Hypoallergenic diets, which contain a protein source that is new to the cat (such as rabbit, venison or duck), may also help. Your vet will likely be able to provide you with a commercially available food that meets that need. Hypoallergenic foods may help, but probably will not cure the condition. In fact, if hypoallergenic food alone does the job, Tabby probably had an allergic reaction or food sensitivity to her previous diet. Low-residue diets, which are easy to digest and absorb, are sometimes recommended. These usually come in prescription form.
If you are interested in making Tabby's food yourself, remember that cats have very specific nutritional requirements. Consult with your vet first.
Other Treatment Options
Changing Tabby's diet will likely help, but medication can bring her relief too. Prednisone is often prescribed for cats with IBD. If her condition is more severe, stronger drugs may be suggested. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed to kill harmful bacteria that may be aggravating the condition. Medicine that contains bismuth subsalicyclate (such as Pepto-Bismol) should not be given to cats.
Your vet will work with you and Tabby to determine what mix of medication and diet will work best for her.
- VetInfo: Dietary Management of IBD in Cats
- Feline Nutrition Education Society: Feline Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Nature and Treatment
- Manhattan Cats: Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- 2nd Chance: Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Your Cat: Feline Chronic Diarrhea and Vomiting
- Mar Vista Animal Medical Center: Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images