Inflammatory bowel disease is a condition in which the walls of the gastrointestinal system (the gut) become inflamed. IBD in cats is not the same as irritable bowel syndrome in people, and treatment designed for control of human irritable bowel syndrome will not help IBD in cats. The exact cause of IBD in most cats is never determined. Allergies to food or dietary intolerances have been shown to trigger the development of IBD. The cat may be allergic to a particular part of the diet (protein is the most common allergen) or may develop an intolerance to one of the many types of bacteria that live in the gut.

Clinical signs of IBD in cats are most commonly a poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and/or weight loss. Some cats develop dry, scaly skin and matting of the fur, particularly if they have vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Signs can vary in type and severity from day to day.

Diagnosis of IBD can be difficult due to the vague symptoms associated with the disease. IBD can be present in cats that have other concurrent diseases. The most definitive way to diagnose IBD is to take surgical or endoscopic biopsies of the gut.

Treatment for IBD can be as simple as changing the diet. The new diet is either specifically manufactured to be hypoallergenic or is composed of a different protein source. If no improvement occurs with diet changes or the cat has to be on a certain diet for other health concerns, anti-inflammatory medication, such as steroids, may be given.

There should be improvement within two to three weeks following a diet change or treatment with steroids. If no improvement is seen, your veterinarian may increase the dose of steroids or other immunosuppressive medications may be added to the therapy. After all signs have disappeared, based on the recommendations of your veterinarian, the medications may be decreased slowly (tapered).

Prognosis for most cats is good. Many cats will show substantial improvement with diet changes and anti-inflammatory medications. The disease can be more severe in some cats and difficult to control with diet and steroids. These cats have a poor to guarded prognosis. Occasionally, cats with IBD can develop intestinal lymphoma, which requires more aggressive therapy.

Dr. Allani Delis is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic.

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