Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome in Cats

BS (also known as inflammatory bowel disease or IBD), which causes severe digestive upsets in cats, may be triggered by poor quality cat food.

Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder in cats, particularly those that are middle aged or older (though some younger cats are afflicted as well). Symptoms include:

  • recurrent episodes of diarrhea
  • soiling outside the litter box
  • intermittent vomiting
  • weight loss
  • mucous or blood in the stool
  • straining to defecate
  • frequent defecation
  • gassiness
  • appetite changes
  • lethargy
  • rumbling sounds emanating from the guts

The most common symptoms are diarrhea and/or vomiting that come and go, as well as having accidents outside the litter box.

Sadly, many cats that suffer from IBS and start soiling around the house as a result are mistreated or abandoned to shelters because their owners assume that the problem is behavioural rather than medical.

Causes of IBS in Cats

According to Fox et al., IBS is caused by long-term stimulation of the immune system that disrupts a cat’s normal digestive functioning. The most likely culprit is cat food – in particular, cheap, high-carbohydrate cat foods (especially dry foods). These foods have been implicated in a number of other feline health problems as well, including feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) and diabetes. Many cats are also sensitive to the poor-quality proteins and artificial ingredients used in the majority of commercial cat foods, particularly the bargain brands.

According to Kirk, Debraekeleer, and Armstrong, cats evolved to eat meat only, which is evident in the fact that they have shorter digestive tracts than omnivores and don’t produce the digestive enzymes required to effectively make use of plant-based nutrients. It’s difficult for them to digest grains and other plant matter, so eating high-carbohydrate cat food can lead to malnourishment, obesity, and digestive difficulties.

Other problems that can cause IBS symptoms include intestinal parasites, food allergies, cancer, metabolic disorders, and certain fungal and viral infections. In addition, stress and anxiety can exacerbate irritable bowel syndrome. Because there are so many possible causes, a veterinarian should be consulted to rule out non-food-related triggers and discuss treatment options.

Treatments for Feline IBS

Immunosuppressant medications, hypoallergenic diets, and in certain cases, antibiotics are the treatments of choice for IBS, but these approaches are not always effective (veterinarian Arnold Plotnick notes that one case series showed a positive response rate of 79%). Also, some of the medications have side effects and can increase the risk of secondary infections, and relapses may occur even with effective treatment.

Given that stress is a contributing factor, taking the following measures to reduce it can be beneficial:

  • In multicat households, provide one litter box for each cat plus a spare, and place them in different, quiet, low-traffic locations around the house.
  • Provide each cat with his or her own food and water bowls.
  • Provide high perches and kitty condos (a cardboard box with a hole in it is a good budget-conscious option) so that cats have places to climb and hide as needed.
  • Spend plenty of quality time with the cat.

Exercise also reduces the symptoms of IBS (ScienceDaily), so encouraging the cat to get more exercise can be beneficial. You can do this by:

  • Engaging in interactive play using a fishing-wand toy
  • Providing toys such as catnip mice for solo play
  • Leash training the cat to take him out for walks
  • Feeding him at the top of a flight of stairs (assuming that he has no mobility limitations)
  • Providing a cat tree for climbing
  • Adding an outdoor cat run or enclosure or placing a cat fence around a yard for safe outdoor excursions

The risk of triggering IBS can be reduced by making general dietary changes. First and foremost, switch to a premium high-protein wet cat food. When switching a cat’s food, do it gradually because cats don’t respond well to change. Begin by mixing in a little of the new food with the old and gradually increase the amount of new food until the shift is complete.

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