Gastrointestinal disorders in cats are not unusual. If Tabby went through a short spell of sickness, chances are it was harmless. However, if she's been vomiting or has had diarrhea for several weeks, she should be checked to make sure she's healthy. Inflammatory bowel syndrome can be serious.
What Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome Is
"Inflammatory bowel syndrome," sometimes called inflammatory bowel disease, is a label for a group of chronic gastrointestinal disorders. The condition is characterized by inflammatory cells, in Tabby's digestive tract, that cause abnormal digestion. Sometimes this syndrome can affect a cat's liver and pancreas
Common symptoms include chronic diarrhea, vomiting or both, plus weight loss, lethargy and a change in appetite. In some cases the symptoms come and go, with Tabby acting her normal, healthy self in between.
Though it's difficult to pinpoint an exact cause of inflammatory bowel syndrome, a variety of triggers can lead to it. If Tabby can't tolerate a certain diet; or if she's had gastrointestinal parasites or bacteria; or if she suffers from pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, liver disease or hypertension, she might be vulnerable to it. The trigger for the onset of inflammatory bowel syndrome usually isn't found, so in those cases the illness is considered idiopathic -- of unknown cause.
To confirm that Tabby has inflammatory bowel syndrome, your vet will run tests to rule out other gastrointestinal diseases. Common tests include complete blood cell counts, urinalysis, fecal exams for bacteria and parasites, tests for presence of feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus, and serum biochemistries.
The most definitive test is a biopsy obtained by an endoscopy. If your cat has an endoscopy, it'll probably be done under general anesthesia. She can be back home with you the same day.
If Tabby is suffering from inflammatory bowel syndrome, she'll have one of three forms. Lymphocytic-plasmacytic enterocolitis is the type most common in cats. It's associated with giardias, food allergy and intestinal bacteria. Vomiting is a common symptom for cats with this variety.
Eosinophilic enterocolitis is found in the stomach, small intestine or colon. It can be associated with food allergy or with roundworms and hookworms.
The third type, granulomatous (regional) enteritis, is rare in cats. Cats with this disease tend to have blood and/or mucus in their diarrhea as a symptom.
Complications If Left Untreated
Inflammatory bowel syndrome is not "cured." You might be tempted to hope that the condition wouldn't affect Tabby too much, or that it would work itself out. However, doing nothing could hurt her in the long run.
In the best case of not treating her, her gastrointestinal troubles would make her uncomfortable. However, lack of treatment could result in pancreatitis, lymphoma and liver damage. Tabby could run the risk of malnutrition and ulcers from not treating granulomatous enteritis.
Because inflammatory bowel syndrome can't be cured, the goal is to treat it. That's usually a lifelong commitment. The type of treatment depends on the type of inflammatory bowel syndrome. It can include dietary management, medications such as prednisone, supplements such as pro-biotics, and occasionally surgery.
Cornell University's College of Veterinary medicine notes there "is no single best treatment," and that it might be necessary to try different combinations to determine what Tabby will respond to best.
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.