What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome often causes pain and discomfort in affected cats. Prompt veterinary treatment is recommended so that the cat can maintain a positive quality of life. With proper treatment, symptoms can be managed and the condition should not affect life-expectancy.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a sensitivity of the lower bowels characterized by frequent urges to defecate, diarrhea or constipation, and cramping. The condition is typically caused by stress, dietary intolerance, or a disruption in the bowel’s chemical functions. Irritable bowel syndrome is often confused with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The difference is that IBS occurs as a result of a psychosomatic (mental) condition while IBD is an inflammation of the intestinal lining caused by an underlying disease.
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Cats
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome in cats can range in frequency and severity and may include:
- Difficulty with defecation
- Chronic intermittent diarrhea
- Frequent passing of feces
- Mucus or blood in the feces
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in appetite
- Weight loss
Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Cats
It is often difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of irritable bowel syndrome. The condition is primarily related to stress caused by factors such as a change in living situation or routine, the addition of new pets or children to the home, trauma, or lack of stimulation. Other causes may include:
- Separation anxiety
- Dietary intolerances
- Lack of dietary fiber
- Abnormal colon function
- Neural dysfunction
Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Cats
Prior to examination, the veterinarian will review the cat’s medical history and discuss details regarding the onset of symptoms. Owners should be prepared to provide the vet with information regarding changes in the cat’s personality, theories regarding other possible causes, and information regarding recent changes to the cat’s environment. A physical exam will be performed and a standard set of lab tests will likely be ordered to assess the cat’s overall health. This may include a complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, urinalysis, fecal examination, and electrolyte panel. Negative test results may indicate the presence of IPS since it is primarily a mental condition. X-rays or ultrasounds may be ordered to help with visual diagnosis and intestinal tissue biopsies may be recommended.
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are similar to those of other conditions. Prior to making a definitive diagnosis, the vet will attempt to rule out other possible causes including inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies, feline leukemia, metabolic disease, bacterial or parasitic infections, or cancer.
Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Cats
Unless the cat is severely dehydrated, outpatient treatment will likely be sufficient. There is no single treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, so the vet is likely to recommend a combination of therapies.
A hypoallergenic food trial may be recommended. This is done by feeding the cat a diet consisting of a protein and carbohydrate source that it has never previously consumed. Options may include duck, venison, or rabbit-based foods. During a food trial, the cat should not be fed any other substances including table-scraps, treats, or flavored medications. It usually takes several weeks or longer for improvements to be seen. After this time period, if the cat still continues to suffer from IBS, the diet may be changed again. Cats tend to respond well to diets that are easily digestible, high in fiber, and low in fat. Be sure to consult closely with the veterinarian throughout the process to ensure that the diet is appropriate for the cat’s breed, age, and level of activity.
Corticosteroids, primarily prednisolone, may be prescribed to treat inflammation. In some cases, antibiotics and/or immunosuppressive drugs will be prescribed. Each of these medications may cause serious side effects and close veterinary supervision will be necessary.
Veterinarians have recently had success in treating IBS with prebiotics and probiotics to help support the production and maintenance of the beneficial bacteria that aids in gastrointestinal health.
If the cat is living in conditions that are causing undue amounts of stress, this will need to be addressed promptly. In some cases, anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed to help the cat deal with situations that cannot be otherwise resolved. Owners may also try using calming essential oil diffusers or sprays to help soothe the cat’s anxiety. Increasing the amount of human interaction and ensuring that plenty of toys are available will help to reduce stress and ensure that the cat is getting sufficient exercise.
Recovery of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Cats
Although irritable bowel syndrome is not usually curable, symptoms can be controlled with proper ongoing treatment. It will be necessary to maintain the recommended dietary restrictions and ensure that the environment remains as stress-free as possible. Relapse is likely, making regular follow-up appointments an important factor in long-term recovery.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hello my cat alley has being vomiting blood and losing weight. the vets think she has IBS they are gong to do a biopsy of her bowel. she also has a mass which was picked up on a xray.
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