Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (a general term for a variety of bowel disorders) is a common cause of feline chronic vomiting and diarrhea. The most common form of inflammatory bowel disease in cats is lymphocytic-plasmacytic enteritis in which lymphocytes and plasma cells invade the intestinal wall. IBD most commonly affects older cats, although all cats are at risk of contracting it. It is also often difficult to diagnose and is often misdiagnosed as being a pancreatic or stomach problem. A biopsy of the intestinal wall is the only way to conclusively prove or disprove IBD.

Inflammatory bowel disease can develop in one of two ways. Due to some sort of infection or injury to the intestine inflammatory cells can enter the cells of the intestinal wall. The other way is a not so clearly understood method in which the immune system is activated to create chronic inflammation in the intestinal wall. This inflammation may be due to parasites, bacteria, fungi, cancer or food intolerance.

Symptoms to look for:

  • Vomiting
  • Vomit consisting of mucus and bile only (no food)
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Stomach rumbling
  • Belching or gas
  • Black and/or tarry stools
  • Halitosis
  • Increased thirst
  • Abdominal pain


Your vet will first need to run a number of tests to rule out infectious disease, parasites, intestinal obstructions, or cancer. Other diseases that are often misdiagnosed for IBD are hyperthyroidism, large bowel disease, and pancreatic insufficiency. These also need to be ruled out. And lastly your cat should be screened for viral infections, FeLV, and other auto-immune disorders as they can be associated with IBD. Once all other causes are ruled out definitive diagnosis of IBD can be made by examining several biopsy samples from the intestinal tract.

Treatment depends on the severity of your cat’s condition. Your veterinarian may suggest a course of immuno-suppressive drugs. Most cats start out on prednisone (corticosteroid) with is both immuno-suppressive and anti-inflammatory. In severe cases of LPE, azathioprine can be useful as a potent immunosuppressive drug. There is also evidence that metronidazole may have a direct immune suppressing effect. Cyclophosphamide is a chemotherapy drug that also has potent immune suppressing qualities.

Precautionary measures:

As most cases of IBD start out due to injury to the intestinal wall try to make sure your cat eats balanced meals and drinks water from clean bowls. Try to keep your cat from eating diseased, raw, or bacteria-ridden food (aka. garbage can feedings). Also if your cat is ill or has an infection (especially a stomach or intestinal infection) take him/her to the vet immediately for treatment.