It’s not easy living with a cat that has irritable bowel disease (IBD). Your cat may vomit frequently, have bouts of diarrhea, a rumbling stomach, and gas can be a problem.
Even if he seems to eat well, he may lose weight. He can also be depressed. Some of these symptoms are found with many feline health problems so it’s not always easy to tell what your cat’s problem might be.
For example, IBD can be easily mistaken for a food allergy or food sensitivity and in some cases, there is an allergy component to the illness. Identifying irritable bowel disease and finding the best cat food for IBD usually takes a lot of patience.
Cats that have irritable bowel disease (IBD) have a gastrointestinal (GI) tract that is chronically irritated and inflamed.
The inflammation means that their GI tract is unable to properly digest and absorb food. IBD can appear in any cat but it occurs most often in cats that are middle-aged and older cats.
If your cat has IBD, one of the ways your veterinarian will try to manage it is by changing his diet. You will need to find the best cat food for IBD – something that can take some work.
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Causes of IBD in cats
The exact cause of IBD is not known but current veterinary evidence indicates that it may be due to an abnormal and complicated relationship between the cat’s immune system, the bacteria in the intestines, your cat’s diet, and other environmental factors.
Genetic issues affecting the immune system could also play a role, if IBD in cats is similar to IBD in humans and dogs.
The disease can take different forms, depending on the part of the GI tract affected. If the cat’s stomach is inflamed, the condition is known as gastritis.
If your cat’s small intestine is inflamed, it is called enteritis. If the colon or large intestine is affected, the problem is called colitis. The most common kind of IBD in cats affects the small intestine.
It is called lymphocytic plasmacytic enteritis. Some IBD cases can also involve inflammation of other abdominal organs such as the liver and pancreas.
Symptoms of IBD in cats
Typical symptoms of feline IBD can include:
- Weight loss, anorexia
- Bloody stool
- Decreased appetite
Symptoms can vary in severity and can depend on which part of your cat’s GI tract is affected. If your cat’s stomach or higher parts of the small intestine are inflamed, he may have problems with chronic vomiting.
If your cat’s colon is affected, he could be more likely to have diarrhea, with or without blood in the stool.
If you notice these symptoms or you suspect that your cat has IBD, you should take your cat to the veterinarian. Many of these symptoms are seen with other illnesses so your vet will probably need to do a thorough workup in order to determine if your cat has IBD.
Along with blood work, a fecal exam, x-rays, and an abdominal ultrasound, your vet may recommend a hypoallergenic food trial to see if your cat has a food allergy instead of IBD. Intestinal and gastric biopsies could also be needed.
There is no single best treatment for IBD so your veterinarian may need to try a few things to see what works for your cat. Your veterinarian will probably treat for intestinal parasites if your cat hasn’t been treated for them recently.
Medications such as prednisone will also be given as a start. Your vet will also make some recommendations about your cat’s diet.
The good news is that the symptoms of IBD can be controlled so that your cat is healthy and comfortable. The bad news is that some of the symptoms may still come and go at times.
It will always be important for you to carefully manage your cat’s diet and monitor his medications in case they need to be adjusted.
Dietary management and food trials with IBD cats
Your vet may recommend a food trial for your cat if s/he is trying to determine if your cat has a food allergy instead of IBD. Your vet could also recommend a food trial if your cat has already been diagnosed with IBD.
This is because food allergens can play a role in IBD. In either case, the best cat food for IBD, at least at the diagnostic stage, is often a hypoallergenic food.
Hypoallergenic cat foods contain protein and carbs that your cat hasn’t previously eaten. These proteins are usually meats such as venison, rabbit, or duck.
Strictly speaking, a hypoallergenic cat food should contain one meat protein and one kind of carbohydrate but it’s not always easy to find a cat food that works for your cat that meets that criteria. It’s best to follow your vet’s advice and start with a food that s/he recommends.
Remember that when you are doing a food trial with your cat it’s vital that your cat doesn’t eat other sources of food that could ruin the trial. That means your cat can’t have table scraps, medications, or treats that contain non-approved ingredients.
A food trial will normally take up to 12 weeks unless you can tell sooner that your cat is having a negative reaction to the protein or carbohydrate in a food.
Once the food trial is over, if your cat doesn’t need to eat a prescription or veterinary diet, you may be able to find a limited ingredient diet (LID) that meets the requirements for a hypoallergenic cat food.
Also Read: The 5 Best Hypoallergenic Cat Foods
An LID commercial cat food can be a good choice for cats with IBD if you are careful about the ingredients.
If your cat’s IBD symptoms don’t get better while eating a hypoallergenic diet, she could do well eating a food that is easy to digest, high in fiber, and low in fat.
Keep in mind that any time you change cat foods, even when you make the change gradually, it can take a while for your cat to adjust. It may take several weeks or longer before you see an improvement in your cat’s IBD.
IBD can be very idiosyncratic, especially if any food allergies are involved, so be patient while you and your vet try to figure out the best cat food for your cat’s IBD.
What to look for in the best cat food for IBD
According to veterinary sources, hypoallergenic cat foods are normally started as part of the treatment plan for cats diagnosed with IBD.
These foods usually feature venison, rabbit, duck, lamb, or chicken as the lone meat protein. They should also have one kind of carbohydrate.
A slow change can later be made to a commercial diet that is low in additives. With the change, owners can attempt to feed a food that uses chicken or lamb as the primary ingredient.
This may not always work but most companies make foods with alternate meat proteins if your cat cannot eat the chicken or lamb.
In general, it’s a good idea to look for foods that have fewer ingredients, such as limited ingredient diets (LID), on the theory that foods with fewer ingredients have less chance of irritating your cat’s GI tract.
Cat foods that are easy to digest, with lower fat and lots of fiber are also recommended for cats with IBD.
Check with your veterinarian before adding any supplements to your cat’s diet that might cause irritation, including vitamins, minerals, and pro- or prebiotics.
Also Read: Best Probiotics for Cats
With cats that have this kind of sensitive GI tract, anything that you add to their diet, even if it sounds like something healthy, might be an irritant.
Best Cat Food for IBD Reviewed
If you have a cat with IBD, we know that it’s not easy finding diets that work. It can take time to find a food that’s suitable; that your cat likes; and that he’ll eat more than once or twice.
We hope that the foods mentioned here provide you with some options. There’s more than one kind of prescription diet.
A fresh food diet could work for some cats. And a limited ingredient diet can be a good choice for many cats. Good luck with your cat’s diet.