He was the only one of a litter of three feral kittens who was desperate get in from the cold when he popped through the oprn patio door. Although he looked perfectly healthy, my experience as a cat rescuer warned me not to let him mingle with the other cats. As a result, he spent three weeks quarantined at home until after all his immunizations and wormings. Despite treatment for roundworms, he still made horrible messes in his litter box. A specialist who performed an ultrasound exam said she suspected the cat suffered from one of the types of feline inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). I sighed.
What is Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats?
According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in cats actually refers to a group of ongoing disorders of the gastrointestinal tract instead of a single condition. The name of each type of feline IBD refers both to the type of inflammatory cells present and the location of the inflammation in the cat’s gut.
As in the case of the IBD in humans from which I suffer, experts are still stumped as to the exact cause or causes. However, they believe issues related to both the human and the feline immune systems are somehow to blame. In many cases, diagnosing IBD in cats is a matter of ruling out other potential causes like parasites. In others, only analysis of a tissue sample collected during endoscopy or a laparoscopic procedure is definitive.
Some cats diagnosed with IBD have food sensitivities. And some owners are lucky enough to be able to manage their pet’s symptoms simply with a change of diet. According to the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, common signs and symptoms of IBD in cats include vomiting and weight loss. Our little guy had stinky diarrhea – very typical – almost every day.
When a special diet isn’t the answer, standard treatments include the use of corticosteroids alone or in conjunction with certain antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications. WebMD reports that some cats might require azathioprine, an immunosuppressant. Some pets also do well on omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and/or probiotics like acidophilus.
Types of IBD
Researchers have identified four types of inflammatory bowel disease in cats. Knowing which specific type a pet has helps vets determine the treatment mostly likely to control symptoms.
Lymphocytic-plasmacytic is the most common. The inflammation can occur in either the small or the large intestine. Remaining on a special diet for life is especially important for pets with this type of IBD. The vet will recommend appropriate food based on the area of the gut the inflammation has struck. Cats with this type have sometimes already experienced an infection from protozoans known as giardia or bacterial overgrowths in their intestines.
Eosinophilic is the second-most common type, according to peteducation.com. In cats, it occurs in two forms and can be fairly severe. An exam will show the presence of specific cells known as eosinophils in the cat’s intestines or stomach. This type of IBD in cats is often associated roundworms, hookworms and food allergies.
Regional Granulomatous is also sometimes called regional enteritis. This rare type resembles Crohn’s disease in humans. Cats with this disorder usually respond best to corticosteroids and immunsuppressants. As in humans, the illness often causes intestinal strictures that might require surgery.
Suppurative IBD is also known as neutrophilic IBD. An exam of a cat with this type will show the presence in the gut of neutorphils. These are a special type of white blood cells. Because of their presence, vets must be careful to rule out other potential causes of the cat’s symptoms, such as a bacterial infection.
While a vet with a general practice might note symptoms of one of the types of feline inflammatory bowel disease, it’s likely that the actual diagnosis and treatment will come after referral to a specialty vet. The two types of vets who most commonly treat IBD are those with a specialty in either internal medicine or gastroenterology.
As for our little guy, the culprit behind his nasty litter box was a bacterial infection known as Bartonella.