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Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

By: Dr. Erika de Papp

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Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders that involve infiltration of the gastrointestinal tract by inflammatory cells (white blood cells). IBD can affect both the upper (stomach and small intestine) and lower (colon) gastrointestinal tracts.

IBD is the most common cause of chronic (persistent) vomiting and diarrhea in cats. The cause of IBD is currently unknown.

The most common form of IBD is usually seen in middle aged to older animals, however there are some forms of IBD that are seen in young cats, often less than 5 years old. Purebred cats are thought to be at an increased risk.

IBD can cause a range of clinical signs from mild gastrointestinal illness to debilitating disease.

What to Watch For

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite or increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Gas
  • Noisy gut sounds
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Blood or mucus in the stools
  • Straining to defecate

    Diagnosis

  • History and physical exam
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal tests for parasites, protozoa and bacteria
  • Trypsin-like immunoreactivity (test of pancreatic function)
  • Tests for bacterial overgrowth in the intestine
  • Radiographs (x-rays)
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Food trial
  • Intestinal biopsy

    Treatment

  • Dietary modification
  • Antibiotics
  • Corticosteroids for anti-inflammatory effects and to suppress the immune system
  • Sulfasalazine for anti-inflammatory effects in the colon
  • Other immunosuppressive (suppress the immune system) drugs

    Home Care and Prevention

    Give all medications as prescribed by your veterinarian. Careful adherence to dietary recommendations is crucial. Feed only the prescribed diet. Do not feed table scraps or other foods, including natural chew toys (rawhides).

    Observe for inappropriate response to treatment or worsening of clinical signs at home. Persistent vomiting and diarrhea, continued weight loss, lack of appetite and lethargy should prompt a call to your veterinarian.

    There are no measures that can be taken with respect to preventing the development of IBD. Prevention of relapses after initial treatment may require long-term to life-long therapy.

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