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Cat IBD – what is it and how to deal with it?

IBD, or idiopathic enteritis in a cat, is increasingly common. It is often the cause of diarrhea and vomiting in cats.

What is cat IBD?

IBD refers to intestinal diseases most commonly manifest by vomiting, diarrhea, and problems absorbing nutrients from food. However, this term is used for the still poorly understood intestinal pathology, as the definition of IBD has not yet.

To better illustrate the problem of IBD in a cat, below I will describe a brief pattern of how the cat’s body absorbs food values.

Most of the nutrients are in the small intestine during the digestion of the eaten food. The walls of the small intestine of finger-like villi. Between the villi are gaps lined with cells called enterocytes. We can imagine that the fingers of our hands represent the intestinal villi, and the spaces between the fingers are the gaps with enterocytes.

The main task of enterocytes is to absorb nutrients from food and then transport them into the bloodstream, subsequently nourishing the body. Enterocytes are very vital cells in an animal’s body.

They form at the base of the villi, in the crevices, and reach their top. Enterocyte cells by the body, a healthy animal has no problems absorbing nutrients from food.

In cats with IBD, the structure of the villi is disturbed. The villi become flat, shortened, and often joined together. This change leads to a reduction in the number of enterocytes responsible for absorbing nutrients.

In addition, the inflammation fills the gaps between the villi, which flattens the intestinal walls. The intestinal mucosa is damaged, and its permeability deteriorates. Consequently, this can lead to toxins from the intestine into the bloodstream. It is a phenomenon known as gut dysbiosis.

Symptoms of IBD in a cat

IBD symptoms often depend on the specific site of the gut that has become inflamed. Remember that the affected area can range from the intestines to the duodenum and even the large intestine. Usually, however, the problem is in the anterior segment of the small intestine.

The most common symptoms of IBD in a cat are:

  • diarrhea;
  • vomiting;
  • ascites;
  • weight loss;
  • stomach pain;
  • spilling in the abdominal cavity;
  • flatulence and gas;
  • thickened intestinal loops;
  • eating grass intensively;

The toxins circulating in the bloodstream can ultimately trigger a solid systemic immune response. Food allergies and intolerances can result from this.

Digestive disorders, unfortunately, are also often the cause of secondary infections in the cat’s body. The digestive system is responsible for over 50% of the body’s immunity. Idiopathic enteritis can also lead to deficiencies.

There is also a correlation between gastrointestinal lymphoma and chronic IBD disease in cats. Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers among cats.

Chronic diarrhea and vomiting may lead to additional inflammation and scarring of the intestinal mucosa. These changes, in turn, can evolve into cancer cells, which can eventually develop into lymphoma in the gastrointestinal tract.

How do you detect IBD in a cat?

The primary form of initial diagnosis of idiopathic enteritis in a cat is proper blood tests. In addition to basic tests, it is worth performing a test to determine the body’s folic acid and vitamin B12. These two parameters can decide if the animal’s body is properly absorbing and assimilating the nutritional value of the food. A decreased level of folic acid may indicate malabsorption and an existing disease of the small intestine. On the other hand, if we have an excess of folic acid, it may indicate a condition called SIBO in cats, an overgrowth of the intestinal bacterial flora.

A reduced level of cobalamin, or vitamin B12, may also indicate intestinal problems.

When diagnosing IBD, it is worth checking the condition of the pancreas. For this, it is helpful to carry out TLI and PLI tests proving the functioning of the pancreas. Secondary pancreatitis is very common in cats suffering from IBD.

The final test, unfortunately quite invasive but sometimes unavoidable, is a biopsy to find changes in the architecture of the gastrointestinal tract. This study should be the last resort.

Cat IBD – treatment

When our cat has been diagnosed with IBD, it is worth cooperating with a veterinarian specializing in digestive system problems. IBD is a complex problem requiring a professional and often varied medical approach. Sometimes IBD requires appropriate pharmacological treatment to improve the condition of the animal’s digestive system and reduce inflammation.

Issues worth discussing with your veterinarian include future vaccinations, drug therapy used so far, any changes in the animal’s environment recently, and possible contact with toxic material.

Usually, during an effective treatment with drugs, they are discontinued after an appropriate time, one after another, starting with the one with the most side effects while keeping a watchful eye on the cat.

A diet for a cat with IBD

Elimination diet

Dietary management of a cat’s IBD usually begins with a mild elimination diet. You should often pay attention to the degree of processing of the ingredients used in the diet, which is why a cooked or diet BARF. However, this usually depends on the animal’s blood test results.

The elimination diet is parallel with antibiotic therapy and treatment prescribed by the attending veterinarian.

Sometimes it turns out that IBD is merely a food intolerance that resolves with an elimination diet with a new source of protein. The transition period to a new type of diet is also critical. Some IBD cats show a decrease in appetite that can be dangerous for a sick pet. Therefore, it is often advisable to gradually mix the old diet with the new one in such a situation. To carry out an elimination diet, in addition to using a cooked diet or a BARF diet, you can use the appropriate quality mono-proteins wet food. However, this is a less recommended solution.


With IBD, it is worth introducing probiotic support that will help rebuild the disturbed intestinal flora. Probiotics live bacterial cultures. Sometimes the probiotic treatment is extended even after the symptoms have ceased.

We use probiotics must be probiotics intended for dogs and cats and not for humans. A good probiotic should not contain unnecessary additives and the necessary strains of bacteria. The use of probiotics stimulates intestinal peristalsis and prevents diarrhea and constipation.

Supplementation with IBD

When suspecting IBD in a cat, the good idea is to use the appropriate supplementation to strengthen the body. It is, however, must be previously determined based on research results.

In the presence of vitamin B12 deficiency, parenteral dosing is very often required. It is because oral administration does not usually produce the desired effect.

It is good to supplement with Omega 3 fatty acids, e.g., in wild salmon oil, which promotes health and reduces inflammation in the animal’s body.

Proper dietary management of a cat’s IBD has a therapeutic effect and helps to stabilize the pet’s body. Unfortunately, there is always a risk of disease recurrence, but the risk is much lower when using a well-balanced and adequately selected diet.

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