Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can affect your cat’s digestion, appetite, and quality of life, and can also be challenging to diagnose. Today, our Everett vets discuss the causes, signs, treatment, and life expectancy of cats with IBD.
IBD in Cats
If a cat’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract becomes chronically irritated and inflamed, inflammatory bowel disease (also called IBD) can develop. IBD does not have a single cause but can occur when inflammatory cells invade the walls of your kitty's GI tract.
These walls then thicken and disrupt your cat's GI tract’s ability to properly digest and absorb food. Current evidence suggests that IBD can be due to a complex, abnormal interaction between the immune system, bacterial populations in the intestines, diet, and a host of environmental factors.
While it may take some time to diagnose and treat your kitty's IBD through dietary changes, medication, and other treatments, cats can have a great quality of life long-term with the appropriate treatment.
Risk Factors for IBD in Cats
As with both people and dogs, genetic abnormalities in a cat’s immune system may factor into feline IBD. Though cats of any age can be impacted by this condition, the disease develops most often in middle-aged and older cats.
More than a single cause typically contributes to IBD developing in cats. Your cat's risk factors may include:
- Genetic factors
- Hypersensitivity to bacteria
- Food allergies (such as food additives, proteins in meat, preservatives, artificial coloring, gluten, and/or dairy proteins)
Signs of IBD in Cats
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a tricky condition to diagnose in cats since the most common symptoms can mimic those of intestinal lymphoma, (a type of cancer seen in cats).
You may notice several symptoms in your cat, which can vary in both severity and frequency depending on which parts of the GI tract are affected.
For example, if the colon is inflamed, diarrhea with or without blood in the stool is likely, while if the problem is in the stomach or higher areas of the small intestine, chronic vomiting may be your cat's most noticeable symptom.
Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in cats include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Chronic or intermittent vomiting
- Bright red blood in stool
- Lack of energy
- Gas (flatulence)
- Gurgling sounds from the abdomen
- Abdominal pain
- Coat in poor condition
- Lack of appetite
Diagnosing IBD in Cats
At Broadway Animal Hospital, our vets have several diagnostic tests and methods that can be used when diagnosing IBD in your kitty. Your vet will begin by taking a detailed medical history of your cat and asking questions about the frequency and duration of your cat's IBD symptoms.
Following a complete physical exam, if IBD is suspected routine laboratory tests may be completed to help diagnose the cause of your cat's symptoms. These can include:
- Complete blood count
- Fecal Exam
- Biochemistry profile
Although these tests cannot definitively diagnose IBD, they are useful in ruling out other diseases (including elevated thyroid, liver disease, and kidney disease), whose symptoms can mimic IBD.
These routine laboratory tests often come back normal. Some cats with IBD may have an abnormally high number of white blood cells, along with anemia. Your veterinarian may also discover abnormal levels of liver enzymes and protein levels. More tests may be required to find out how well your cat’s small intestine is functioning.
An abdominal ultrasound can help your vet to rule out other diseases not revealed with blood work (these can include cancer or pancreatitis). Ultrasound imaging can also help vets examine the stomach and find out how thick the intestinal wall is.
The only way to definitively diagnose IBD in cats and determine the extent of the disease is to take a biopsy. Stomach and intestine biopsies can be done via surgery or endoscopy.
Once your veterinarian can definitively diagnose IBD in your cat, a customized treatment plan can be created to help reduce your cat's symptoms and manage the condition long-term.
Treating IBD in Cats
If your cat has not recently been treated for intestinal parasites, your vet may recommend this along with changes in diet and the introduction of medications.
No single treatment is best for treating this condition, which means that you may need to try several different combinations of medication or diet to find the best therapy for your cat.
If your cat has an issue with dietary allergens, a hypoallergenic diet may help to resolve your cat's IBD symptoms. Protein or carbohydrate sources the cat has never eaten before (novel protein diets), including venison, rabbit, or duck-based diets may be recommended.
If a novel protein diet does not reduce your cat's symptoms of IBD, a diet of low-fat, easily digestible, high-fiber foods may be recommended next. Be patient with dietary changes - it can take several weeks or longer for symptoms to begin clearing up. In order for the diet to be successful, all other food sources, including treats, flavored medications, and table scraps should be eliminated.
Along with dietary changes, medications may be required to help calm symptoms, Metronidazole has antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antiprotozoal properties which may help.
Corticosteroids, potent anti-inflammatory and immune-suppressing agents, may be recommended if diet changes or metronidazole prove ineffective for your kitty.
Though corticosteroids are usually well-tolerated, watch them closely as immune suppression and diabetes may be potential side effects. The next options include more potent immunosuppressive drugs such as chlorambucil or azathioprine, which can suppress the production of red and white blood cells (and sometimes, platelets) within the bone marrow.
Other Therapies for IBD in Cats
Prebiotics (substances that promote certain bacterial populations) and probiotics (bacterial strains to promote GI health) may help balance your kitty's GI bacteria and reduce your cat's symptoms of IBD.
Soluble fibers such as psyllium may also be added to your cat’s diet if inflammatory colitis is an issue. Folate or vitamin B12 may be recommended by your vet if your kitty is deficient in these.
Life-Expectancy for Cats With IBD
While there is no cure for IBD in cats treatment symptoms can often be managed to help keep your cat comfortable and healthy.
In some cases, even with proper management symptoms can come and go, in varying levels of severity. Strict compliance with dietary measures and medications is going to be a necessary part of managing your cat's symptoms. Diligent monitoring by you and your vet will be ongoing throughout your cat's lifetime.
Relapses should be assessed so that medications and other treatments can be adjusted as required.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.