Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a common disease of cats characterized by chronic, cyclic or intermittent anorexia, weight loss and bouts of vomiting and/or diarrhea, which may continue for years. The cause of this condition is unknown.
How Inflammatory Bowel Disease Affects Cats
Inflammatory bowel disease causes gastrointestinal upset and abdominal pain. It is most common in middle-aged and older cats, although younger cats can be affected as well. The most consistent clinical sign in cats suffering from IBD is anorexia, followed by weight loss, vomiting and watery diarrhea. Affected cats are thin and sickly, with poor body condition and a dull coat. They are frequently gassy as well. These clinical signs can wax and wane over time. Inflammatory bowel disease can be quite painful.
Causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats
IBD is characterized by thickening of the large and/or small intestinal walls which occurs as a direct result of an excessive inflammatory response. The exact cause of feline IBD is not known but is thought to be multi-factoral. Some combination of genetic predisposition, hypersensitivity to bacteria and/or food allergies is suspected. Regardless of the ultimate underlying inciting cause, the normal bacterial flora of the cat’s gastrointestinal tract plays a major role in the inflammatory process associated with this disease. In cats, the condition has been associated with pancreatic inflammation (pancreatitis) and liver inflammation (cholangiohepatitis) in a syndrome termed “triad disease.”
Preventing Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats
Since the cause of feline IBD is unknown, there is no realistic way to prevent this disease.
Feline IBD usually can be managed medically with a combination of oral anti-inflammatory, immunosuppressive, antibiotic and/or antiparasitic drugs. Some owners find it difficult to administer oral medications to their cats, and most cats dislike the process (and the taste of the pills) as well. Supportive care and a healthy, palatable and highly digestible diet are also important components of an effective management protocol. The attending veterinarian will adjust therapy based on the patient’s individual needs and response to treatment. There is no “magic bullet,” but with patience and consistency, most owners will be able to control IBD in their companion cats. Follow-up veterinary assessments are an integral part of case management.
Although not yet conclusively proven, it has been suggested that severe IBD in cats may progress to intestinal lymphosarcoma. There also is a reported association between feline IBD, inflammatory liver disease and pancreatitis.