Feline Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Diets and Everything Else

Feline Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD for short, is a well-known illness that has been plaguing cats probably ever since there were cats.

Although doctors are aware of this disease and knowledge exists on treatment and outward symptoms, there is still much to be learned about it.

Today, you’ll gain some insight into how inflammatory bowel disease affects cats, what type of cat IBD diet they should be on, preferred treatment methods, and much more. 

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll hopefully be able to save at least one of your diseased cat’s nine lives!

cute cat

Understanding IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease can affect cats, dogs, and other animals as well. In humans, it’s mainly described as either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

It’s part of a group of gastrointestinal diseases which causes inflammation and chronic irritation in the stomach and/or intestines.

Once the gastrointestinal tract becomes inflamed, the ability to properly digest and absorb food is disrupted. Research has shown that cats of any age can be affected by IBD, but the disease mostly occurs in middle-aged to older cats of around 5-12 years.

Inflammatory bowel disease can have several different forms, depending on the affected area and the type of cells are that involved.

For example, if the stomach is inflamed, the condition is called gastritis. An inflamed small intestine is commonly referred to as enteritis, while an inflamed colon is called colitis.

The most common type of IBD, however, is called “lymphocytic plasmacytic enteritis” and it happens when inflamed lymphocytes and plasma cells attack the small intestine. Another similarly common form is “eosinophilic gastroenteritis”, which is where inflammatory white blood cells join other inflammatory cells to invade the liver, pancreas, and nearby organs

Food for Cats With IBD

A cat with inflammatory bowel disease will need to be put on a special diet for a certain period of time, according to the instructions provided by your vet. The best type of food for cats with IBD should be easily-digestible and work to heal the gut lining while restoring healthy gut flora at the same time.

Ideal cat food should be rich in protein as cats are carnivores and still require a primarily meat-based diet. Be wary of commercial prescription cat foods which are supposed to be specifically formulated for cats with IBD or digestive issues.

Remember that every feline is different and you’ll notice that although many of these prescription foods omit common inflammation triggers, they also greatly lack in nutritional value.

When in doubt, check the label for allergens and by-products to avoid. Plant ingredients provide a minimal amount of nourishment, while fruits aren’t beneficial to felines.

Meat such as fish, beef, and pork are good protein sources although some cats may be allergic to them. As chicken is one of the top cat allergens, it should generally be avoided – although you can try it if your cat already consumes it regularly without problems.

The chosen food should be something that the cat readily accepts in order to avoid placing unnecessary stress on the digestive system and its body. It might, therefore, take some trial and error before you’re able to figure out what exact food is the absolute best for your kitty.

Based on veterinary research, we’ve compiled a list of the best cat food products for you to consider. You can try one type for a week or two and continue with it or switch to another; depending on your cat’s reaction.

  • NomNomNow is a fresh cat food delivery service that uses ingredients supplied from restaurants to whip up tasty and unique recipes. All food is prepared in human-grade kitchens. Its Flavorful Fish Feast product contains a blend of tilapia, salmon, beef fat, yuca, and carrot which is highly-digestible and contains plenty of omega-3 fatty acids from the fish and beta-carotene from the carrots. It provides 143 guaranteed grams of protein and only 15 grams of carbs.
  • If you’d like to try out a raw diet for your kitty, Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Food should do the trick. It’s made primarily of rabbit which is a great protein source for cats and unlikely to worsen inflammation while being allergen-free at the same time. Raw food is very easy for cats to digest, with many people swearing to its effectivity in relieving IBD symptoms. This recipe is free of grains, potatoes, and other plant ingredients that provide little value.
  • Hound & Gatos is a brand of cat food that caters specifically to IBD cats. The product is made of only one protein source – Turkey – which is a highly-digestible protein that rarely causes allergic reactions. There aren’t any other grains, vegetables, fruits or filler ingredients either, which makes this product one of the best for felines with IBD. It is, however, one of the most expensive types of cat food that you can currently buy on the market.
  • ZiwiPeak also has a great canned cat food product out which uses a special New Zealand Venison recipe. Venison, being deer meat, is another highly-digestible novel protein source just like turkey. This product contains 93% venison and the rest of the contents are dried kelp and New Zealand green-lipped mussel. It does contain chickpeas, though, which aren’t that useful and can be difficult for some cats to digest.
  • Another turkey product, PureVita Turkey Entrée, has several great qualities which make it an excellent choice for cats with IBD. It’s a one-ingredient grain-free canned cat food which contains 96% turkey. Most of the meat is turkey muscle and liver. It’s an ideal product for cats with allergies to other types of meat. It contains natural flavoring and calcium carbonate. Besides just the different types of food associated with a specific diet, a cat with IBD can also benhefit from taking supplements. Probiotic supplementation that has good bacteria will help control inflammation. B12 supplementation replaces vitamin B12 in cats that are lacking it due to their inability to absorb nutrients. Meat and bone broth/stocks help heal the lining of the gut and are a rich source of minerals and collagen which reduce intestinal inflammation.
cat caressing itself

Just What Causes IBD?

The exact causes of feline inflammatory bowel disease are not currently known. However, researchers suspect that there are a few different factors that play a major role in contributing to the illness.

First and foremost, the primary factors are hypersensitivity to bacteria and food allergies. Some of the main food allergens suspected to trigger IBD include meat proteins, food additives, artificial coloring, milk proteins, wheat (gluten), and preservatives.

Genetics are also believed to play a role in predisposing certain cats to IBD. Dogs also display similar traits when it comes to genetics.

So far, all feline breeds seem to be similarly affected by the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, although Siamese cats in particular have been found to be more prone to falling ill. Scientists believe that this is due to the genetic makeover that these mixed breeds have.

Current evidence also suggests that IBD happens because of a combination of abnormal interactions between the immune system, diet, and bacterial growth in the intestines. Certain environmental factors may also play a role in triggering the disease further.

Ultimately, despite a lot of research on the subject, doctors still aren’t sure of what exactly causes feline IBD. It may be one of the possibilities mentioned above or a combination of multiple things.

Diagnosis

When you bring your cat to see a vet, they’ll usually attempt to rule out other possible diseases before formally diagnosing your pet with inflammatory bowel disease. It may require an extensive workup to pinpoint the exact disease that’s causing the issue.

Your vet will start with taking a detailed history of your cat and gathering all the information from you about the signs that your cat has been exhibiting. Important details include the frequency and duration of the symptoms.

A complete physical examination will then be conducted and upon completion, the vet will commence with various laboratory tests including CBC (complete blood count), biochemistry profile, and urinalysis.

In the majority of cases, the results of these tests are normal. In other patients, the tests may reveal an abnormally high number of white blood cells.

Cats that have IBD usually are found to have peculiar levels of proteins and liver enzymes. Once most of the initial lab tests are done, a vet may also do a fecal examination to check for any parasites that might have caused the infection.

Additional supplementary tests that a vet may recommend include cobalamin and folate level tests to check the functions of the small intestines.

Barium contrast studies in conjunction with X-rays are helpful in determining whether a cat has feline inflammatory disease or not. The procedure usually starts with ‘’allowing the cat to ingest the barium, which enhances the visibility of the organs through the X-rays.

The cat’s body is scanned while the barium is moving downward through the GI tract and the specialist that’s working with the machine will then be able to more clearly spot any abnormalities present on the intestinal wall.

In the same way, ultrasound technology is also useful in scanning the intestines to find a probable cause for feline IBD. To figure out if any specific food allergen caused the disease, there are more tests that may be prescribed.

In extreme cases, a small sample of tissue may need to be surgically removed from the cat’s intestine in order to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment of Cat Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Once a vet has sufficient reason to believe that a cat under assessment is affected by feline inflammatory bowel disease, various recommendations will be made. It’s important to know that there isn’t any exact cure-all for IBD and the treatment method or combination of methods will vary depending on the circumstances of each individual cat.

The aim is to control the symptoms as best as possible. Even in cases where a cat is able to completely ditch the symptoms, IBD has been known to return and the cat relapses.

Treatment for internal parasites will be one of the first recommendations, especially if the cat hasn’t been treated recently. De-worming is usually done via oral medication or injections.

Once the kitty has been confirmed to be free of worms, medical treatment and dietary management will usually be prescribed.

Dietary management is necessary and important because, as mentioned above, a cat may be allergic to certain foods or there may be a certain component in its regular food that is directly or indirectly causing it to have IBD.

A vet will usually start off by recommending a food trial for a couple of weeks using a specific diet.

Usually, all common meat sources such as chicken, beef, pork, and fish will be completely eliminated from the cat’s diet. Venison, turkey, and rabbit-based diets are preferred in their stead.

If the symptoms remain unchanged after using the hypoallergenic diet, the vet may prescribe a different diet which contains lots of fiber, a minimal amount of fat, and which is easy to digest.

The time period for observation is usually two to three weeks. While a cat is on dietary management, it’s important to cut out all other sources of food including treats and table scraps.

Medication is the second type of treatment that may be recommended simultaneously with dietary management.

The drug that is commonly prescribed in these situations is metronidazole, which works as an antibiotic and also has anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic properties. It’s usually received well by most cats but can sometimes cause a loss of appetite.

If no recognizable progress is made from taking metronidazole or dietary supplements, a different type of drug called corticosteroids may be used. These are also powerful agents used for reducing inflammation and a cat that is prescribed it needs to be monitored closely for any side effects.

There are a variety of other drugs that may be prescribed by a vet in the event that a cat does not respond well to these first two, and even probiotics have benefits in healing the gut lining and promoting gastrointestinal health.

Natural Aids for Treating IBD

Besides medication and the other prescription treatment methods that a vet will usually recommend, there are other, natural ways, of dealing with IBD.

Be aware, though, that “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean safe. There are many natural remedies that can actually be toxic to cats, so don’t overload them with too many methods at once.

Here are a couple of natural treatments to consider for felines with IBD:

  • Vitamin B12

This vitamin is best given as an injection, as the stomach and small intestines will sometimes bypass the B12 in kitties. If your pet puts up a fight and refuses to take a shot, try providing a vegetarian version B12 tablet.

The tablets should contain no sugar, artificial sweeteners, coloring, or flavoring. Vets can write you up a prescription for B12 injections and can be filled out at any generic pharmacy.

A bonus effect of vitamin B12 is that it’ll increase your cat’s appetite and help it start eating again.

  • Probiotics

These are very good for pets and especially the ones with IBD. Having that healthy bacteria in their intestines will help cats to eat more and digest their food better.

Select probiotics which are specially made for cats, as human versions have other ingredients added which may not sit well in a cat’s stomach.

  • Marshmallow Root and Slippery Elm Bark

These are two ingredients provided by nature which have been used by natives for hundreds of years due to its gut-healing ability and power to soothe coughs, stop diarrhea, and more.

They also work nicely as anti-nausea agents which will reduce any side-effects that your cat might have from other medication. They’re high in antioxidants which fight inflammation.

This product can usually be purchased commercially as either a powder which may be added to your cat’s food.

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