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Colitis in Cats

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Colitis is an inflammation of the colon, or large intestine. It may be acute, with sudden onset and short duration, or chronic, that is present for at least two to three weeks or exhibiting a pattern of episodic recurrence. In cats, there is no age or gender association with colitis.

There are many potential causes of colitis. These include:

  • Specific inflammatory disorders of the colon. Lymphocytic-plasmacytic, histiocytic, granulomatous, suppurative, and eosinophilic are terms that describe colitis on the basis of the predominant type of cell present in the inflamed colon.

  • Infectious agents, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites

  • Dietary intolerance or allergy

  • Dietary indiscretion

  • Cancer of the colon

  • Trauma, internal or external

  • Intussusception, which is a mechanical problem characterized by telescoping of the bowel into itself.

  • Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE), which is an inflammatory disorder of the intestinal tract characterized by hemorrhage and production of a "raspberry jam" appearance to the stool

  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

  • Antibiotic-associated colitis

    Most often, colitis causes some combination of fresh bright red blood in the stool, mucus in the stool, straining to defecate, and increased frequency of defecation, often many times per day. With acute colitis, the cat usually does not show signs of systemic illness, but cats with chronic colitis can experience clinically important weight loss.

    What To Watch For

    An occasional bout of acute colitis is not uncommon in the small animal patient. However, it is important to watch for frequent recurrence or worsening of signs, especially if they include systemic signs of illness. Although occasional vomiting occurs in otherwise healthy cats, repeated vomiting, poor appetite, weight loss and general lethargy should be reported promptly to your veterinarian.

    Diagnosis

    Your veterinarian will recommend diagnostic tests in order to recognize colitis and confirm the diagnosis. Tests may include:

  • A complete medical history and thorough physical examination

  • Fecal examination to evaluate for the presence of disease-causing bacteria or parasites

  • A complete blood count (CBC or hemogram) to evaluate for anemia, systemic inflammation, and presence of inflammatory cells (i.e., eosinophils) that may indicate an underlying allergic cause

  • Serum biochemistry tests to evaluate the general health of your cat and to identify problems in other organ systems

  • Urinalysis to evaluate kidney function

  • Abdominal X-rays to look for tumors or enlargement of abdominal organs

  • Serum trypsin-like immunoreactivity (TLI) in cats to evaluate for pancreatic disorders

  • Colonoscopic examination to identify the presence of colitis or colon cancer and biopsy to determine the type of inflammation (eosinophilic, granulomatous, lymphoplasmacytic) or neoplasia (adenocarcinoma, lymphosarcoma). This procedure requires anesthesia, adequate cleansing of the bowel by enemas, and special equipment (a flexible fiberoptic endoscope) that may only be available at veterinary specialty referral centers.

    Treatment

    Treatment for colitis is most effective when directed at the underlying cause. Your veterinarian may recommend several symptomatic treatments for an animal with signs of colitis before recommending an extensive diagnostic evaluation.

    These treatments include:

  • Dietary modification

  • Empirical de-worming medication (because whipworms are a common parasitic cause of colitis and they only intermittently shed their eggs in the feces)

  • Antibiotics

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs

  • Motility-modifying drugs

    Home Care and Prevention

    Administer as directed any medications prescribed by your veterinarian and follow recommendations for dietary modification. Also, observe your cat's general condition, watching for worsening of symptoms and bringing any changes to the attention of your veterinarian.

    Although some causes of colitis cannot be prevented, try to avoid exposure of your cat to infectious agents or abrupt dietary changes.

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