Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Cats

Key Takeaways

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of idiopathic (spontaneous) conditions that lead to chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. 

• Common symptoms in cats include chronic vomiting and diarrhea, weight loss, blood in stool, and weight loss

• The cause of IBD is unknown, but a number of risk factors may increase the likelihood of symptoms developing, such as food allergies, genetic abnormalities of the immune system, and environmental factors

• Diagnosis of IBD is challenging as its symptoms are common to a number of other GI tract conditions

• Treatment of IBD is focused on supportive care since there is no definitive cure. The course of treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms. IBD can be food, antibiotic, or steroid responsive

• The prognosis for IBD is generally good, but treatment is usually lifelong and constant monitoring is crucial in improving the animal's quality of life.

A Closer Look: What is IBD in Cats?

Symptoms of IBD vary in accordance with which part of the GI tract is inflamed. Inflammation of the stomach and/or the first part of the small intestine causes chronic vomiting, whereas inflammation of the colon causes diarrhea and blood in the stools.

Risk Factors

IBD is among the most common causes of chronic vomiting and diarrhea in cats. It is not life-threatening, but can cause debilitating symptoms. It is more common in middle-aged to geriatric cats, but it can affect younger cats as well. 

Possible Causes

IBD has no known cause, but dietary and immune-mediated factors as well as the impact of these on the gut microbiome are suspected to play a role.

Main Symptoms

Common symptoms of IBD: 

Vomiting  • Diarrhea  • Blood in stoolWeight lossLethargy • Decreased appetite

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnosing IBD is challenging as symptoms of IBD are common to a number of different conditions. 

Typical diagnostics include:

• Blood tests • Diagnostic imaging  • Endoscopic biopsy • Surgical biopsy • Fecal test: to rule out parasite infection

Steps to Recovery

Treatment of IBD is generally systematic, based on a trial and error approach to resolve or improve symptoms. The success of treatment usually falls into one of the following categories:

• Food responsive  • Antimicrobial responsive  • Steroid responsive 

Food-responsive IBS typically includes use of a hypoallergenic or hydrolyzed diet. 

If food therapy is unsuccessful, a typical next step is an antimicrobial trial, which is generally outlined as:

• Two-week antibiotic treatment: if the animal responds positively, treatment is continued for one month 

• 3-5 day trial with the anthelmintic medication fenbendazole

If the antibiotic trial is successful, the cat may need lifelong antimicrobial treatment. 

If the animal’s symptoms do not improve, the next step is the suppression of the immune system with corticosteroids. 

Stem cells and fecal transplantation therapy are being investigated as treatment options for IBD. 

Cats with chronic vomiting and diarrhea tend to develop cobalamin deficiency, so Vitamin B supplementation is often helpful. Prebiotics and probiotics may provide additional support for healthy gut flora. IBD often is a lifelong condition. With proper treatment, the animal can lead a healthy life. Even with proper treatment, symptoms of IBD can return periodically. A cat diagnosed with IBD needs frequent life-long monitoring.

Prevention

IBD is not contagious. There is no way to prevent IBD. Keeping up to date to date with vaccinations and annual veterinary check-ups can help identify conditions in their early stages, increasing the animal’s general health condition.

Is IBD Common in Cats?

IBD is the most common cause of chronic diarrhea and vomiting in cats.

Typical Treatment

Specific therapy: 

• Hypoallergenic diets • Hydrolyzed protein diets • Antibiotic therapeutic trials • Steroid therapeutic trials

Symptomatic and supportive therapy

• Probiotics • Vitamin supplementation

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