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Chronic bowel inflammation (IBD) in cats: what is it?


IBD in cats stands for "Inflammatory Bowel Disease" and can be translated as "chronic bowel inflammation". It is not a single disease, but a collective term for various inflammatory diseases in the intestinal area that persist permanently. IBD is not curable, but it can be treated well. You can find out everything you need to know about the disease here. The veterinarian is trying to relieve IBD in cats with a combination of changing feed and medication - Shutterstock / M. A. Arkhipov

Chronic intestinal inflammation does not only exist in cats, but also in dogs or humans - the forms of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are primarily known there. Little is known about the causes. In humans, doctors believe that a genetic predisposition and an autoimmune reaction of the intestine come together and the disease breaks out through a trigger such as certain foods or bacteria.

What is IBD in cats?

IBD in cats has not yet been researched as widely as in humans. However, since chronic intestinal inflammation is similar in animals, a mixture of predisposition, autoimmune reaction and trigger is also suspected as the cause. There are also different forms of IBD in cats. For example, the colon, in particular, can be affected - as with ulcerative colitis. But it is also possible that the small intestine is essentially chronically inflamed, as is usually the case with Crohn's disease.

The chronic inflammation thickens the intestinal wall of the affected section in the digestive tract. This gradually leads to intestinal narrowing and impairment of the intestinal motor system. Diseased cats can no longer digest their food properly and suffer from painful abdominal cramps.

Recognizing Chronic Colon Inflammation in Cats: Symptoms of IBD

The symptoms that indicate IBD in cats depend on whether the chronic inflammation is in the colon or small intestine. If the small intestine is affected by IBD, it usually shows the following signs:

● diarrhea
● Blood in the stool (recognizable by black feces)
● weight loss

If the colon is chronically inflamed, this can be seen, for example, from these symptoms:

● Frequent toilet use with low droppings
● Increased urge to drop feces (tenesmus)
● Mucus and traces of blood in the stool
● Hardly any weight loss

Vomiting is often added to IBD. Your cat also sometimes has a bloated stomach. The symptoms of chronic intestinal inflammation are not always the same, but occur in batches. As a result of the digestive problems, the food can no longer be processed properly, causing deficiency symptoms. This includes:

● tiredness
● fatigue
● depression
● Matt or shaggy fur

With these 5 signs, your cat must go to the vet immediately

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How does the vet diagnose IBD?

Unfortunately, the symptoms of IBD are not clearly due to this disease. The indigestion and deficiency symptoms can also indicate other diseases. In addition, since the causes are not entirely clear, the veterinarian only has the option of a diagnosis of exclusion to identify the chronic inflammation of the intestine. With the help of feces and blood tests, functional tests of certain organs and ultrasound, he tries to rule out the following diseases:

● Parasites, for example worms
● Bacteria, for example salmonella
● kidney problems
● liver problems
● overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
● Feline leukosis (FeLV)
● Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
● Feline immunodeficiency (FIV)
● Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI - chronic pancreatic weakness)
● Tumors in the digestive tract

The vet also uses an exclusion diet to test whether your cat may be suffering from food intolerance or food allergy. However, an exclusion diet can also improve IBD. Therefore, an ultrasound of the abdominal cavity and a colonoscopy (endoscopy) are important to either confirm or refute the chronic inflammation of the intestine. With the help of a tissue sample (biopsy) during the colonoscopy and its examination, the veterinarian can see whether there is a chronic inflammation. Ultrasound is also important to detect or rule out tumors in the digestive tract.

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Treat IBD by changing feed

IBD therapy in cats aims to permanently alleviate the symptoms. There is currently no cure. First, the veterinarian tries to calm the digestive tract, correct deficiency symptoms and maintain a healthy weight by strictly changing the feed. As with the treatment of feed intolerance, IBD leads to an exclusion diet.

Your cat can then only eat food with meat that it has never had before - for example rabbit, duck, veal or exotic meat such as reindeer, elk, wildebeest or kangaroo. Cats with IBD of the colon also benefit from a higher proportion of crude fiber in the feed. This can help stimulate intestinal motor skills and improve fecal consistency so that your pet can excrete the feces more easily.

In severe cases with severe diarrhea and frequent vomiting, your cat may be dehydrated. An infusion to balance the fluid may then be necessary.

Anti-inflammatory drugs for IBD in cats

As a supplement, your cat's veterinarian will prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, for example with the active ingredient prednisolone. It relieves inflammation and suppresses the autoimmune reaction in the intestine. Unfortunately, prednisolone has some strong side effects, such as an increased susceptibility to infections or diabetes mellitus. Therefore, your veterinarian will reduce the initially high dose over time and continue to widen the time between medications. This process is called "tapering off" and is intended to ensure that the anti-inflammatory effect predominates and the side effects are as mild as possible.

Treatment with a change of feed and anti-inflammatory medication may not be sufficient. In this case, it may make sense to give additional antibiotics or stronger immunosuppressants (agents that inhibit the immune system). You should definitely discuss this with your veterinarian. If the treatment has successfully stabilized your cat's state of health, this is already the first step towards improvement. Afterwards, it is important that you regularly visit the vet with your cat and stay alert to whether there are any new episodes of illness.

You might also be interested in these topics related to cat health:

Irritable bowel syndrome in cats: what is it and how does it express itself?

Chronic pancreatitis in the cat

Prevent causes of intestinal obstruction in cats

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