Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition with no cure. It can be a painful moment when you realize that your beloved cat has IBS and will have to live with this condition for the rest of their life.
But, while there is no cure for IBS, the condition can be managed, mostly naturally, at home through diet and lifestyle adjustments. With a little care and attention, you can ensure your cat enjoys an excellent quality of life despite their IBS.
Read on to better understand what IBS is and how it affects cats. We’ll then look at the steps you can take at home to manage your cat’s condition naturally. We’ll also share information on what kind of medical treatment you can expect if home treatment doesn’t prove sufficient relief.
What Is IBS In Cats?
IBS stands for irritable bowel syndrome, a digestive issue that affects humans, dogs, cats, and various other animals.
The condition occurs when the gastrointestinal (GI) tract becomes chronically irritated and inflamed, undermining the natural digestive processes. This happens when inflammatory cells infiltrate the walls of the GI tract., causing it to thicken. This disrupts the ability of the digestive system to properly absorb nutrients and digest food.
While we generally use IBS as an umbrella term, there are different forms of IBS. The most common types are when the stomach itself is inflamed, which is called gastritis; when the small intestine is inflamed, called enteritis; and when the colon, which is the large intestine, is inflamed, called colitis.
The most common form of IBS among cats is lymphocytic plasmacytic enteritis, which involves inflammatory lymphocytes and plasma cells invading the small intestines.
While the symptoms for each of these types of IBS can vary slightly, they are generally treated in the same way.
It’s not clear what causes IBS in cats. It is believed to be a complex mix of immune system issues, diet issues, problems with the bacterial populations in the intestines, and environmental factors. While it can flare up in stressful conditions, such as when moving or a new pet is introduced into the home, there is no clear cause, and you shouldn’t blame yourself. It’s not the result of any one thing your feline family member may have experienced or eaten.
Symptoms Of IBS In Cats
While cats of any age can develop IBS, it usually develops in middle-aged and older cats. This is why older cats can seem to suddenly become picky about what they eat and develop food sensitivities.
There are a variety of clinical symptoms that suggest your cat may be suffering from IBS. These include vomiting, diarrhea, and blood in their stool. You should always check your cat’s stool for abnormalities while you’re cleaning up since it is often one of the first signs that something is wrong.
Your cat may also show weight loss and lethargy since they aren’t absorbing the nutrients they need from their food. Counterintuitively, they may also lose their appetite. While they may crave the nutrients, digesting food can become painful, so they might avoid eating to avoid that pain.
In some cases, the abdomen can also become visibly bloated with the inflammation. At this point, your cat is probably in quite a bit of pain, and you should take them to the vet.
It’s necessary to visit your vet for a proper diagnosis since these symptoms accompany many other medical conditions in cats, some of which require immediate treatment.
Your vet will eliminate other possibilities, such as worms and parasites. If they believe the condition is IBS, they will then want baseline blood work, fecal examination, x-rays, and an abdominal ultrasound. In many cases, this will be enough to confirm your vet’s suspicions, but a stomach tract biopsy is sometimes needed for a full, definitive diagnosis.
How To Treat IBS In Cats
IBS in cats is a chronic disease with no cure. Rather, you will be working to manage your cat’s symptoms so they can enjoy the best quality of life. Your vet will probably work with you to find natural approaches to manage the condition and avoid putting your cat on heavy medications for the rest of their life unless it’s absolutely necessary.
There are several steps to take to start treating your cat naturally at home for IBS.
1. Start An Elimination Diet
Allergens in their food can be one of the major triggers for IBS symptoms in cats. You might say your cat has never been allergic to anything before, but it’s not uncommon for felines to develop allergies as they age. In fact, they tend to develop allergies to the foods they eat most often, such as chicken.
An elimination diet will give your cat some relief from what is irritating them and let you determine what your cat is allergic or sensitive to.
You’ll want to move them to a diet of protein and carbohydrate sources they haven’t eaten before. So, goodbye chicken, beef, and salmon, and hello rabbit, duck, and venison. You may also move to carbohydrates such as potatoes.
While you should transition them onto the new diet over the course of a week or so, once they are on the new diet, stop giving them all other food. This will eliminate the allergen from their system. You should expect it to take several weeks for their system to reset and start feeling and looking better.
While you could keep your cat on this new diet in the long term, it tends to be expensive and difficult to maintain since the food can be hard to find, and it can be challenging to stop cats from eating food scraps or from the bowls of any neighboring cats.
So, once they have returned to a good digestive state, you can start reintroducing more common foods, one at a time, for a few weeks at a time. For example, reintroduce chicken to their diet and see how they respond. If, after three to four weeks, they are fine, you can start reintroducing other foods to see how they respond.
If they respond badly to a reintroduced food, this is probably one of the things exacerbating their IBS and should be eliminated from their diet permanently.
Change Your Cat’s Diet
After the elimination diet, you can permanently change your cat’s menu, avoiding foods that might negatively affect them. You will probably also want to move toward foods that are easier to digest than standard cat foods.
Hypoallergenic cat foods are a good choice as they tend to use just one protein and one carbohydrate, so you know exactly what’s in the food. This is in contrast to other foods that may be marketed as beef—because that’s the most plentiful protein in the mix—but also contains chicken meal, which may be an allergen. These hypoallergenic foods also eliminate additives that might exacerbate your cat’s condition. Royal Canin is a popular hypoallergenic cat food choice.
You might also want to consider low-residue foods. These are products made primarily from foods that pass through the stomach with little digestion, minimizing the work for the system. Alternatively, you might want to look at high-fiber foods since fiber regulates healthy digestion.
If you’re looking for new foods for your cat, the following products are great choices and relatively easy to find from most pet retailers:
Nutro has a variety of excellent recipes that use one protein and one carbohydrate source to avoid anything that might irritate your cat’s stomach. This is the real salmon and brown rice recipe, but there are other options depending on what your cat needs. The recipe is also high in fiber from natural sources to help regulate digestion.
Blue Buffalo is well known as a brand that produces simple recipes with limited ingredients and recipes with unusual proteins. This recipe uses duck as its one protein along with potato. It’s also high in peas and pumpkin, both of which naturally aid digestion.
Solid Gold is another brand that produces a variety of recipes with uncommon proteins. This particular recipe uses lean quail and is high in pumpkin for additional digestive help.
If you prefer to feed your cat wet foods, then Wellness Core offers a great range of foods that use limited ingredients and are rich in superfoods such as pumpkin and papaya that aid digestion. These are the salmon and whitefish recipes. They may work well for cats that have issues with chicken, but there are also chicken, duck, and other protein recipes available.
2. Manage Their Exercise
Regular exercise helps improve colon function, so a good amount of exercise is an important ingredient in managing your cat’s IBS. If you have an outdoor cat who loves to explore the neighborhood, they might be getting enough exercise on their own. But if you have an indoor cat, they often won’t get enough exercise wandering between couch, bowl, and bed.
While some people do choose to take their cat out for a daily walk, investing in toys can be enough. Take some time to play with your cat each day. A laser pointer or an interactive wand are great choices.
3. Reduce Stress Levels
While stress is not the cause of IBS, it’s known to cause flare-ups. Changes in your cat’s diet or living environment can increase IBS symptoms. When making changes at home, consider how it might affect your cat and how you can minimize stress. As much as possible, keep them on a regular routine.
Also, ensure their litter box is always clean. Unclean living conditions tend to be something that causes significant stress in cats. So, make sure you are scooping at least daily and changing their litter at least weekly.
Medical Interventions For IBS
If your cat has a particularly bad case of IBS or suffers from other medical conditions, your vet may suggest medications.
One of the most common medications used for a bad IBS flareup is Metronidazole, which is a combination antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and antiprotozoal. This medication is designed to treat all the main symptoms of IBS without being too heavy.
If this doesn’t provide relief for your cat, your vet may suggest corticosteroids, which are a bit stronger and can be used for three- to four-month intervals while your cat recovers from flareups. It’s important to give them the right dosage, as too much can lead to immunosuppression and diabetes.
In the most serious cases, cats may receive immunosuppressive drugs for a short period of time. This is usually considered a last resort because these medications are very strong. Not only do they leave your cat lethargic, but they can lead to complications such as bone marrow suppression.
When possible, it’s best to manage your cat’s IBS naturally and only turn to medications as a last resort.
Manage Your Cat’s IBS
Chronic diseases like IBS have no cure and need to be managed in the long term to ensure the best possible quality of life for your cat. Diet and lifestyle changes can have the biggest impact on how your cat feels. Sticking to a strict diet and ensuring your feline friend gets enough exercise and avoids stress will help ensure that you still have many happy years together.
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