Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing


Inflammatory Bowel Disease: IBD in Cats

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) can pose a significant challenge when diagnosing and managing it in cats. Today, our veterinarians in Babcock Ranch explain the topic of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in cats, exploring its symptoms and available treatment options.

IBD in Cats

When your cat's gastrointestinal (GI) tract becomes chronically irritated and inflamed, it may develop inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), also known as IBD in cats. IBD in cats does not result from a single cause but rather can occur when inflammatory cells attack the walls of your cat's GI tract.

This process causes the walls of the GI tract to thicken, disrupting your cat's ability to digest and absorb food properly. Current evidence suggests that IBD in cats can arise from a complex and abnormal interaction between the immune system, bacterial populations in the intestines, dietary factors, and various environmental elements.

Diagnosing and effectively treating your feline friend's IBD may require some time and effort. However, with dietary adjustments, medication, and other therapeutic interventions, your cat can potentially enjoy a high quality of life over the long term.

What Are some of the Risk Factors for IBD in Cats?

Just like with people and dogs, genetic abnormalities in a cat's immune system can play a role in the development of feline IBD. While this disease most commonly occurs in middle-aged and older cats, cats of any age can be affected by IBD.

Several factors usually contribute to the development of IBD in cats. Your cat's risk factors may encompass:

  • Genetic factors
  • Hypersensitivity to bacteria
  • Food allergies (such as food additives, proteins in meat, preservatives, artificial coloring, gluten, and/or dairy proteins)

Some of the Common Symptoms of IBD in Cats

In diagnosing Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in cats, one faces a challenging task, as the most common symptoms can resemble those of intestinal lymphoma (a type of cancer observed in cats) and other gastrointestinal (GI) tract conditions.

Your cat may exhibit a range of symptoms, the severity and frequency of which depend on the affected parts of the GI tract. For instance, if inflammation occurs in your cat's colon, you may observe diarrhea with or without blood in the stool. On the other hand, if the issue lies in the stomach or higher regions of the small intestine, chronic vomiting may become the most prominent symptom.

If your cat is suffering from IBD, you may notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chronic or intermittent vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bright red blood in stool
  • Lack of energy
  • Gas (flatulence)
  • Gurgling sounds from the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Coat in poor condition
  • Lack of appetite

How is IBD in Cats Typically Diagnosed?

Our Orange County vets have a number of diagnostic tests and methods that can be used when diagnosing IBD in your kitty. Your veterinarian will start by taking a detailed medical history of your cat and asking questions about the frequency and duration of your cat's IBD symptoms.

After conducting a thorough physical examination, if we suspect IBD, we will perform routine laboratory tests to aid in diagnosing the cause of your cat's symptoms. These tests for your kitty may encompass the following: 

  • Urinalysis
  • Complete blood count
  • Fecal Exam
  • Biochemistry profile
  • X-rays

However, these tests do not provide a definitive diagnosis of IBD. Instead, they prove valuable in eliminating other diseases, such as elevated thyroid, liver disease, and kidney disease, which can exhibit symptoms similar to IBD.

While these standard laboratory tests might yield normal results, it's important to note that a cat with IBD may still show abnormal indicators, such as an increased white blood cell count, anemia, or irregular levels of liver enzymes and protein. Additional tests may be necessary to assess your cat's small intestine's functionality thoroughly.

Abdominal Ultrasound

An abdominal ultrasound may be recommended to help your vet 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.

Stomach Biopsy

The only way to definitively diagnose your cat's IBD and determine the extent of the disease is to take a biopsy. Stomach and intestine biopsies can be performed with surgery or endoscopy.

Following a definitive diagnosis of IBD, your vet will create a customized treatment plan to help reduce your kitty's symptoms and manage the condition long-term.

How Your Cat Might Be Treated for IBD

If your cat hasn't received recent treatment for intestinal parasites, your vet might suggest treating them, making dietary adjustments, and introducing veterinary internal medicine.

Treating IBD in cats doesn't have a one-size-fits-all solution, so you may need to explore various combinations of medication and diet to discover the most effective therapy for your cat.

Dietary Changes or Restrictions

If your cat is experiencing dietary allergen-related issues, consider implementing a hypoallergenic diet to alleviate your cat's IBD symptoms. You may receive recommendations for novel protein diets, such as venison, rabbit, or duck-based options, which your cat has not previously consumed.

If a novel protein diet fails to reduce your cat's IBD symptoms, the next step may involve transitioning to a low-fat, easily digestible, high-fiber diet. Please exercise patience during dietary changes, as symptoms may take several weeks or even longer to improve. To ensure the success of the diet, it is crucial to eliminate all other food sources, including treats, flavored medications, and table scraps.

Medications to Help Manage the Symptoms

In addition to dietary adjustments, your cat may require medication to alleviate symptoms. Metronidazole, possessing antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antiprotozoal properties, may be beneficial in providing relief.

If dietary changes or metronidazole fail to produce the desired results for your feline companion, your veterinarian may recommend corticosteroids. These powerful agents, known for their anti-inflammatory and immune-suppressing capabilities, may be suggested.

While corticosteroids are generally well-tolerated, it is crucial to closely monitor your cat for potential side effects such as immune suppression and diabetes. If further intervention is necessary, options may include more potent immunosuppressive drugs like chlorambucil or azathioprine, which can suppress the production of red and white blood cells (and occasionally platelets) in the bone marrow.

Alternative Therapies to Help Relieve IBD in Cats

Prebiotics (substances that promote certain bacterial populations) and probiotics (bacterial strains that promote GI health) may help balance your cat'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. Your vet may recommend folate or vitamin B12 if your kitty is deficient in these.

What is the Average Life Expectancy for Cats with IBD?

In cats, IBD cannot be cured, but the right treatment can often help manage symptoms, ensuring your cat's comfort and health.

Even with proper management, your kitty's IBD symptoms may fluctuate in severity and frequency. To effectively manage your cat's symptoms, it is crucial to adhere strictly to dietary measures and medications. You and your vet must consistently monitor your cat's condition throughout its lifetime.

In the event of a relapse, it is essential to promptly consult your vet so that necessary adjustments can be made to medications and other treatments.

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.

Are you worried about detecting signs of IBD in your cat or dog? Contact our vets in Babcock Ranch for more information about this uncomfortable condition and discover how internal medicine can assist your feline friend.

New Patients Welcome

Animal Hospital at Babcock is welcoming new patients. Our team provides compassionate care to you and your animal companions. Book your appointment today!


(941) 220-6300 Contact