If your cat often has an upset tum, you might be wondering what’s causing it. Most of us are familiar with the term inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as a cause of long-term digestive issues in people. So, it might be only natural to wonder if cats can get IBD too. The short answer is, yes! Inflammatory bowel disease can affect our feline friends, but there are many other reasons they could have vomiting and diarrhoea too. Let’s explore this further.

What is inflammatory bowel disease in cats?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a condition that causes marked inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. The exact cause of IBD is unknown, but inflammatory cells start to invade the walls of the digestive system. This causes thickening of the intestine and stomach walls, which affects your cat’s ability to digest food properly. Absorption of nutrients is impaired which can lead to weight loss, and your cat will develop vomiting and diarrhoea. As we don’t know the exact reason IBD develops in the first place it is hard to prevent it. Diet, genetics, bacteria levels, and environmental factors are thought to contribute to the problem.

What are the symptoms of IBD in cats?

Cats of any age could be affected, but it is most commonly seen in middle-aged to older animals. Symptoms may vary depending on where in the gastrointestinal tract is most affected, but can include – 

  • Chronic (ongoing) diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody stools
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss

Are there other conditions that might be confused with IBD in cats?

The symptoms of IBD discussed above are non-specific, which means they can be seen in several health conditions. It would be dangerous to just presume your cat has IBD as the following health issues can all cause similar symptoms –

  • Infectious disease – viruses, bacterial infections and parasites can cause loose stools
  • Dietary allergies
  • Hormonal imbalances such as thyroid problems
  • Foreign bodies (something that can’t be digested like elastic bands or food wrappers can cause vomiting)
  • Cancer
  • Pancreatitis – inflammation of a small organ called the pancreas could lead to diarrhoea
  • Liver disease

How is IBD diagnosed in cats?

Your vet will start by discussing your cat’s symptoms, diet, and parasite control history with you. They will then examine your pet to check things like their weight and temperature, as well as feel their abdomen for any abnormalities. If they are concerned about your cat, then they might advise blood samples next. Bloodwork will help to rule out other conditions (such as hyperthyroidism), but may also point towards IBD if there are elevations in circulating inflammatory cells. 

Faecal samples are often advised too, as these can help to rule out parasites and other infectious diseases. To rule out food allergies, a strict dietary food trial may be recommended.

Diagnostic imaging such as X-rays and ultrasound scans is the next step. They can be useful to rule out foreign bodies and to look for thickening of the digestive tract. 

However, the only way to definitively diagnose IBD is by taking a tissue biopsy. This can be done via an endoscopic exam (passing a small camera through your cat’s mouth or rectum) or by abdominal surgery, the latter allows for other samples to be taken such as liver biopsies if other disease processes need to be ruled out. These tissue samples are then sent away to a lab for analysis.

What is the treatment for IBD in cats?

Treatment is different for different cats, depending on the severity of their condition. Most cats do well on a change of diet, as well as treatment for any parasites that are complicating things. Other cats may require medication such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatories (steroids). For cats with a proven deficiency, a vitamin B supplement can be helpful as well as probiotics to improve their gut flora. 

IBD cannot be cured, treatments are aimed at improving and controlling the signs of the disease. Many cats show a good improvement with some of the changes discussed above. Your vet will discuss the best treatment plan for your cat.

Will my cat be ok if he is diagnosed with IBD?

Most cats with IBD have a good prognosis if their condition is managed appropriately. However, life expectancy is variable especially as many cats are not diagnosed until their more senior years and may have other health issues occurring at the same time. If your cat is starting to suffer from their IBD and his quality of life is deteriorating, then discuss it with your vet. Sadly, euthanasia may be suggested if his condition cannot be controlled. 


Inflammatory bowel disease is most commonly diagnosed in older cats but can affect animals of any age. The disease can range in severity with treatment options varying accordingly. If you suspect your cat has IBD then take them to your vet promptly. They will help to rule out other disease processes and advise you on the best treatment plan for your pet.

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