Does your cat ever have issues with an upset stomach? Do they vomit on occasion, or eat too fast and then throw up or even have diarrhea sometimes? Most people think this is normal but it can actually mean your cat has an underlying gastrointestinal issue. One of the most common in cats is IBD, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. This month we’ll learn about the symptoms, how we diagnosis it and how we manage the disease.

What is IBD?

Abdominal ultrasounds are extremely helpful when diagnosing GI disease.

IBD is not actually a single disease. Instead, the term refers to a group of chronic gastrointestinal (GI) disorders that are caused by an infiltration of inflammatory cells into the wall of a cat’s gastrointestinal tract. These cells cause a thickening of the digestive tract lining. They also inhibit digestion, as well as the normal absorption and passage of food.

Though it can affect cats at any age, IBD is more commonly seen in felines that are middle-aged or older.

What causes IBD?

What actually causes the infiltration of inflammatory cells is not currently known. It may occur as a result of the body’s response to bacteria or parasites. Or it may be due to an allergy to certain ingredients in your cat’s food. IBD could also be caused by an underlying abnormality in your feline’s immune system. The symptoms of IBD unfortunately also mimic GI lymphoma and can potentially turn into GI lymphoma in the future.

What are the symptoms?

Regardless of what causes IBD, it is important to recognize the symptoms. They can vary considerably, because they often depend on which part of the cat’s GI tract is affected. If it is the stomach or upper small intestine, your cat may vomit when the disorder flares up. If it is the lower small intestine, soft stools or diarrhea will typically be the main symptom. If the colon or the large intestine is affected, your cat may have diarrhea with blood and mucous present in the stool. In some cases, the IBD affects the entire GI tract with intermittent but chronic vomiting being the primary indicator. Weight loss and decreased appetite can be commonly seen as well.

How is IBD diagnosed?

Image from abdominal ultrasound showing jejunum – the part of the small intestine between the duodenum and ileum.

If your cat has any symptoms of GI distress whether it’s vomiting, weight loss, or diarrhea, it’s important to bring your cat in for an exam and potentially further diagnostics depending on the symptoms and exam findings. Even though there’s no one definitive test to determine if your cat has IBD, lab work can be a helpful tool in determining what’s happening in the gut and elsewhere in the body. We’ll also potentially run a Pro-BNP, which helps evaluate the health of the heart in case long term steroid use is needed for treatment or if anesthesia is needed for a confirmed diagnosis.

Radiographs and abdominal ultrasounds are extremely helpful when evaluating GI disease. Ultrasounds are preferred because they can show if there is inflammation in the gut, any potential masses, or other abnormalities. Thanks to MiVU –Mobile Imagining Veterinary Ultrasound- Just Cats is able to offer diagnostic ultrasounds right here in the clinic.

When confirming a diagnosis of IBD, the only definitive way is through biopsies of the GI tract. The biopsy will often reveal the amount and type of the inflammatory cells in the stomach or the intestinal wall. There are 2 options for obtaining biopsies – endoscopy/colonoscopy and surgical. While endoscopy/colonoscopy is a less invasive method for obtaining biopsies and requires less recovery time, it does not allow access to certain parts of the GI tract. Additionally, the doctor is not able to take as thick of samples for biopsies, which can lead to inconclusive results. Surgical biopsies are typically preferred because it allows the veterinarian to see the full GI tract and take fuller biopsies. While a confirmed diagnosis is extremely helpful, it may not be the right choice for your cat depending on their other risk factors or diseases. Anesthesia does come with a risk and there is recovery time to consider. Just Cats will work with you to determine what’s the right plan for your particular cat.

How is IBD treated?

Acupuncture helps treat inflammation like IBD. 

Treatment is essential to controlling IBD and minimizing the effects. If left untreated, chronic inflammation can lead to further damage in the GI tract.  Treatment is usually a multi-faceted approach involving diet, supplements, medication and/or acupuncture.

Diet management: Diet management is the first component to treating IBD. Some cats are able to manage their symptoms primarily with a diet change and the type of diet will depend on your particular cat varying from prescription diets to high quality over the counter food. It’s all about what works for your cat’s symptoms.

Many cats at some point in their IBD treatment will require medications to help control their symptoms. Anti-nausea medications, anti-inflammatory medications, and probiotics can all be helpful in treating your cat’s IBD.

Additionally, certain alternative therapies like acupuncture can help alleviate symptoms and keep your cat feeling their best.  Acupuncture tries to reestablish the balance in the body by stimulating points to help move energy, clear blockages, and support and strengthen any weaknesses that exist. It has been shown to increase the release of beta endorphins, which are natural pain relievers in the body.  It can also increase serotonin release, which helps boost mood and helps patients feel better.  It also helps relieve inflammation in the body, which makes it particularly effective for treating IBD – which essentially is an inflamed gut.

Can IBD be cured?

A happy and well managed IBD patient!

Unfortunately not, but it can be managed to help your cat live a happy and healthy life. Through an appropriate mix of medications and careful monitoring of your cat’s progress, you can greatly reduce the effect IBD has on your cat.