My cat was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Posted by Aubrey Tauer on

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.

cat inflammatory bowel disease

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.

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
  • 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.

sick cat IBD

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.

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


      Coauthored by Veterinarian, Aubrey Tauer, DVM and Holly Ganz, PhD

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      • My cat, Devil Bunny (probably of Manx extraction) age 11, was recently diagnosed with IBD, given shots’
        steriod and antibiotic, and put on a special diet. She stopped throwing up and her BMs returned to ‘normal.’ Her nose is pink again so I assume her
        white count is back to normal. Today her BM was runny and pale owing, I’m afraid to her stealing her cat friend’s wet food. I’ll work out the feeding routine. Would probiotics help her sensitive bowel?

        jacqueline on

      • To one and all,
        Your article about bowel syndrome and possible remedies is to say the least gives hope and promise.
        Right now I have a beautiful Orange Tabby(male), that is going through IBS, which my vet say’s is his problem. I am willing to go through what ever exspence to save his life. He’s my son. Right now he’s undergoing other tests to see if there is anything missed, because he has become listless and lost around 2lb. in a short period of time. So your article gives me hope and aids me with cannon fodder for my vet. I thank you so much for what you do, GOD BLESS, and keep up the good work.

        Dwight Clark on

      • How quickly does Budesonide work on cats with diarrhea?

        NB on

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