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.
genetics (some breeds seem to have higher rates of the disease)
- 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).
- B-12 injections: Many cats benefit from injections of vitamins B12 and folate, both of which are essential to digestion and cell signaling.
- Prebiotics: Prebiotic supplements like psyllium husk are special sources of dietary fiber that nourish bacteria in the gut
- Probiotics: Literally meaning "for life," these provide a regular source of beneficial gut bacteria.
- Antacids: Antacids like Pepcid or Prilosec decrease the acidity of the stomach acid to prevent it from irritating the lining of the digestive tract.
- Fecal Microbiota Transplants (FMTs): FMTs transplant gut bacteria found in fecal material from a healthy donor to the digestive tract of a recipient.
If you have a cat with IBD who is not responding to treatment, it is possible that there is another underlying disease present, such as pancreatitis or an improperly balanced gut microbiome.
Most of the cats tested via AnimalBiome’s gut bacteria assessment kits who have been diagnosed with IBD have very different microbiomes compared to healthy cats. Such alterations in microbiome composition are 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 overwhelming to deal with. That’s why AnimalBiome developed affordable gut health assessment kits as well as fecal microbiota transpant (FMT) pills 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. These assessments are also useful in establishing a baseline microbiome for your cat.
Learn more about the assessment kits for cats.
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Coauthored by Veterinarian, Aubrey Tauer, DVM and Holly Ganz, PhD