A diagnosis of a disorder like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in your cat can be challenging to deal with for you, your veterinarian, and of course your feline companion. Unfortunately, inflammatory bowel disease is a common disease veterinarians see in practice. Below we’ll cover what a diagnosis of IBD in your cat means, possible causes, other diseases that might need to be ruled out, and possible treatments or therapies to ask your veterinarian about.
What is IBD?
Inflammatory bowel disease is a group of inflammatory disorders of the cells of the gastrointestinal tract. We don’t know the exact number of cats that have the disease, mostly because cats are often treated for the disease without an official diagnosis (official diagnoses can only be made via biopsy). Your kitty may get a “provisional diagnosis” of IBD, meaning that your vet believes this is the most likely diagnosis given the symptoms.
Some cats may be given an IBD diagnosis when they in fact have a food intolerance, a thyroid disorder, or gastrointestinal lymphoma. Additionally, some cats start out with IBD and may later develop gastrointestinal lymphoma. The development of lymphoma in these cases is most likely because the chronic inflammation causes cells to mutate and become cancerous.
What Causes Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats?
- Ultimately, despite a lot of research, at this time we are not sure what exactly causes IBD in cats. It may be a combination of:
- Genetics (some breeds seem to have higher rates of the disease)
- Antibiotic usage
- Immune system malfunction
- Changes in the microbiome (the community of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the GI tract in this case) or
- Some other factors that we have not yet identified
Diseases Your Veterinarian Will Rule Out, Before Diagnosing IBD
There are other diseases that your veterinarian may decide to rule out before coming to a diagnosis of IBD, including food sensitivities or allergies, pancreatitis, liver disorders, kidney disease, intestinal worms, bacterial parasites, cancer, ingestion of toxins, and foreign body obstructions.
Sometimes a case of chronic vomiting can be as simple as a cat eating its food too fast, but often a number of tests have to be conducted to investigate chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea, such as a complete blood count, blood chemistry, feline pancreatic lipase test, vitamin B testing, fecal exam, fecal test PCR or culture, radiographs, abdominal ultrasound, upper GI endoscopy with biopsies, lower GI endoscopy with biopsies, and sometimes even abdominal exploratory surgery.
Treatment Will Vary Based on Your Cat’s Needs
First-line treatment most commonly consists of changing your cat’s diet and prescribing an anti-inflammatory medication.
Here’s a brief list of possible treatments your vet may suggest:
Food trials: Commonly food trials will be done using a novel protein or a prescription diet will also be done, to determine if food sensitivities are the issue or to see if symptoms improve with a change in diet. Some cats with chronic diarrhea benefit from added fiber to the diet, so make sure and consult with your veterinarian about the best kind of fiber to use and how to introduce it into your cat’s diet.
Steroids: Steroids are often prescribed due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Prednisolone is a common one, but some budesonide, another steroid, is used, because its effects are more localized to the GI tract, meaning it often causes fewer side effects.
Antibiotics: An antibiotic, such as metronidazole, is commonly given, as it also has anti-inflammatory properties when used long term.
To increase appetite: Additional medications may be given to try to boost the appetite (usually mirtazapine) or control nausea (Cerenia).
A diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease in your cat can be costly and overwhelming to deal with. That’s why AnimalBiome developed affordable gut health microbiome tests as well as gut restoration fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) capsules that can be administered at home. We have the largest research database of feline gut microbiomes, which we use to compare your cat’s microbiome to the microbiomes of healthy cats. Our microbiome test kits are also useful in establishing a baseline microbiome for your cat. Since medications (like antibiotics), diet and environment can affect the bacteria living in your cat's gut, a baseline test is useful for comparison.