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My cat was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Posted by Alex Martin on

A diagnosis of a disorder like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in your cat can be challenging to deal with for cat owners, veterinarians, and your feline companion. Inflammatory bowel disease is a common disease veterinarians see in practice, and below we’ll cover what a diagnosis of IBD in your cat means, possible causes, other diseases your veterinarian should rule out and possible treatments or therapies to ask your veterinarian about.


cat inflammatory bowel disease

What is IBD?

Inflammatory bowel disease is a group of inflammatory disorders of the mucosal cells of the gastrointestinal tract. We don’t know the exact number of cats that have the disease in the feline population, partly because many cats are treated for the disease without necessarily being diagnosed with intestinal biopsies, which are the gold standard for diagnostic testing. However, it is the most common diagnosis for cats with chronic vomiting and diarrhea.  It can be difficult clinically to separate which cats may have IBD versus food intolerances, and some cats may have symptoms of IBD but in fact have lymphosarcoma of small intestine (cancer). Additionally, some cats may start out with IBD and later develop lymphosarcoma in their GI tract, most likely from the chronic inflammation in the intestines leading to mutations in the cells in the small intestine.

cat with inflammatory bowel disease
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)
  • diet
  • antibiotic usage
  • 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 need to rule out before coming to a diagnosis of IBD, including food sensitivities or allergies, pancreatitis, liver disorders such as cholangiohepatitis, kidney disease, parasites, cancer, ingestion of toxins, and some other rarer disorders.

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.

sick cat IBD


Treatment Will Vary Based on Your Cat’s Needs

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:

  • 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, 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.
  • A common anti-inflammatory medication prescribed is usually prednisolone. Sometimes budesonide, another steroid is used, as its effects are more localized to the GI tract and it tends to not cause as many side effects.
  • An antibiotic, metronidazole, is commonly given, as it also has anti-inflammatory properties when used long term.
  • Additional medications may be given to try to boost the appetite (usually mirtazapine) or control nausea (Cerenia).
  • In severe cases chemotherapy medications may be used, even if the patient has not progressed to cancer.
  • Many cats benefit from injections of vitamins B12 and folate.
  • Fecal Microbiota Transplants (FMTs): FMTs transplant gut bacteria found in fecal material from a healthy donor to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of a recipient.


      If you have a pet with IBD that is not responding to treatment, often concurrent disease is present that is not being controlled, such as pancreatitis, or their microbiome may be dysbiotic (essentially abnormal when compared to healthy animals).

      Most of the cats tested via AnimalBiome’s gut bacteria assessment kits who have been diagnosed with IBD have very different microbiomes when compared to cats without IBD. Such alterations in microbiome composition is consistent with recent findings on dogs and people with IBD. Moreover,  a recent study found that people with IBD show dramatic shifts in the composition of gut bacteria over time.

      A diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease in your cat can be costly and stressful to deal with for pet parents. That’s part of why AnimalBiome developed affordable gut health assessment kits as well as oral capsule fecal microbiota transplant poo pills. We also have the largest research database of cat microbiomes which allows us to compare your cat’s microbiome to healthy cats as well as establish a baseline for your cat. AnimalBiome has a veterinarian on staff who can consult with clients about treatment options they are developing and make recommendations based on the results of the gut microbiome test results.

      Learn more about the assessment kits for cats.

      We’d love to hear your comments or feedback. If you liked this article please consider sharing it.

      Coauthored by Holly Ganz, PhD

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      1 comment

      • How quickly does budesonide work fpr cats with diarrhea??

        Nb on

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