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What is Malabsorption?

This syndrome might be due to a lack of digestive enzymes, inflammation of the bowel wall, or an overgrowth of flora and fauna which interfere with digestion. The signs linked to malabsorption are weight loss and diarrhea, however these are general symptoms and not diagnostic in their own right.

Malabsorption is an umbrella term used when a cat is not able to properly absorb all of the nutrition from its food. Most commonly this is linked to disease processes affecting the small intestine, where most of the absorption takes place, but can also affect the large intestine.

Malabsorption Average Cost

From 275 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,000

Average Cost

$850

Symptoms of Malabsorption in Cats

The symptoms of malabsorption are quite general and their presence alone is not sufficient to make a diagnosis. A persistent sign, such as long-term weight loss or diarrhea, needs investigation to determine the root cause, of which a form of malabsorption is one of many explanations. Indeed, even when malabsorption is diagnosed there is still a question as to what type of malabsorption the cat is suffering from. 

  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Increased appetite
  • Dullness and depression
  • Poor coat 
  • Flatulence
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Causes of Malabsorption in Cats

Poor absorption from the bowel has many causes. Key to treating the condition is to understand why the problem has developed in the first place. Some of the most common causes are: 

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI): A lack of digestive enzymes

  • Inflammation: the bowel wall may become swollen as a result of a dietary allergy, food intolerance, or conditions such as eosinophilic enteritis, in which one type of white cell floods the bowel wall.
  • Cancer: Bowel cancers such as adenocarcinoma or intestinal lymphosarcoma 
  • Infections: Such as campylobacter, cryptosporidia,  giardia, or parasitic worms
  • Damage to the gut wall: As a result of viral infections such as feline distemper, or an overgrowth of unhelpful bacteria.
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Diagnosis of Malabsorption in Cats

It is helpful to build up a picture of how frequently the cat has diarrhea and its appearance. This enables the vet to decide if the problem relates to the large or small intestine, which may influence the choice of tests. 

A fecal analysis is useful to detect infection and parasites. When present, the vet may treat these first and see if the problem resolves. If it doesn't, then screening blood tests give information about organ function (of which diarrhea could be a complication). For example, a cat with overactive thyroid glands may develop malabsorption as a result of increased gut motility, and the key to treatment is therapy for the thyroid. 

Bowel function blood tests give a valuable insight into the health of the gut wall, and levels of pancreatic enzymes, which are also causes of malabsorption. 

Ultrasound scans enable the clinician to assess the thickness of individual layers of the gut wall. This can help differentiate between an inflammatory condition (such as inflammatory bowel disease, IBD) and cancer. However, in these cases, the ultimate diagnosis depends on cytology (a sample of cells) or histology (examining a biopsy sample)

If dietary allergy is suspected, then the vet may suggest feeding a hypoallergenic diet for a number of weeks, to see if this brings about a resolution of symptoms.

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Treatment of Malabsorption in Cats

At first presentation the vet may try to relieve the symptoms using:

  • A low fat, highly digestible diet or a high fiber diet
  • B Vitamin injections to replenish low levels in the bowel wall
  • Deworming and / or an antibiotic such as metronidazole that has an anti-inflammatory effect on the bowel wall.
  • Probiotics: To re-establish a healthy population of bacteria in the gut

If the cat does not improve, then successful treatment depends on identifying the underlying reason for the malabsorption and addressing this.

  • Hyperthyroidism: Medication, surgery, or radioactive iodine therapy.
  • Cancer: Chemotherapy and surgery as necessary. Whilst lymphosarcoma responds well to chemotherapy, adenocarcinoma carries a much poorer outlook. In addition, bowel surgery to remove any cancerous areas is associated with a risk of complications, such as peritonitis.
  • Food allergy: Feed a hypoallergenic diet
  • EPI: Mix a supplement containing pancreatic enzymes into the cat's food
  • Bacterial overgrowth: Give a course of antibiotics that promote the growth of healthy bowel bacteria
  • Deworming: Or appropriate parasite control
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) If, despite dietary manipulation, the inflammation refuses to resolve, drugs such as steroids or other immunosuppressive drugs are most likely to be helpful. 
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Recovery of Malabsorption in Cats

If the cause is an infection, then complete cure may be possible. 

If the cause is disease elsewhere, such as overactive thyroid glands, how well-controlled that condition is will influence how the malabsorption responds. In these cases, close monitoring is needed of the primary condition (eg the thyroid) in order to control the secondary condition (malabsorption).

In cats with dietary allergies or intolerance that leads to malabsorption, feeding a low-allergen diet can bring about a dramatic improvement. However, relapses will occur when the cat eats something they shouldn't.

IBD is one of the commonest causes of malabsorption, and also one of the most difficult to control. Affected cats are often subject to relapses or flare ups, so it's important to have a good rapport with your vet so that you have a plan in place to cope with these episodes. 

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Malabsorption Average Cost

From 275 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,000

Average Cost

$850

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Malabsorption Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

dog-name-icon

Bella

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Scottish Fold

dog-age-icon

2 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss
Vomiting
Baldness

Hello, my cat (Scottish fold, 2yo female, 7lbs) has had visible allergies (balding patches on her coat, itching, excessive brown wax accumulation in her left ear, etc. Ringworm, fleas, etc. have been ruled out). Additionally there is always blood when she defecates. There is no blood in the actual stool, just a discharge that follows the process. She isn’t constipated. Multiple vet visits, and she continues to have elevated total Calcium levels but her iCa levels are not above the normal range - but it’s on the higher end of the range, the top number. Also, her urine is highly concentrated with oxalate crystals, but no stones were shown on the x-ray. Vet prescribed hypoallergenic diet that might help with malabsorption but two months later and the results are still the same. Dr says it’s the right diet for her yet I disagree and think my cat needs a urinary care diet instead. She is currently on Hills z/d diet which she absolutely hates; I tried Royal Canin Ultamino which she loved but her symptoms came back on that food; severe vomiting. Any thoughts? Anyone experienced similar episodes/diagnosis?

Sept. 17, 2018

Bella's Owner

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Roxy

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Adopted domestic short hair

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13 Years

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Moderate severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Eatting A Lot And Water Stool

Hi, my cat Roxy is 13 years young and had been throwing up for a few weeks. I took her to the vet and they suggested an X Ray. The X Ray revealed an object in her intestines and they offered us 2 suggestions.. to either let her expel it in a week or remove it as it may cause damage. We agree to the surgery for the next day.. the object a chicken bone was removed and a few days to monitor her. We bought her home a few days later as they thought stress there would not benefit her but she was puking again. They recommend a particular food and gave us free samples. We continued with the food and her stool became watery and more frequent. We keep bringing her in as we were concerned and he suggested she needed to lose a few pounds from 18pd.. by 10pds we ran her in and asked when can we stop the food so she can not have watery stools and urinate so much.. they suggested a lil more time but now she was not able to make it to the liter box so we got wee wee pads.. fast forward.. I ran her to the emergency clinic at another place and they found her sever dehydrated. I took her from the emergency place as we gave them a deposit for $2000 for any test needed but they called 7 hours later asking for more money without preformed tested agreed.. I took her to her first vet ever and they think she has malnutrition obsortion.. from a surgery resection gone wrong.. can we save our baby please and thank you for any advice

Sept. 6, 2018

Roxy's Owner

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Broze

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"Manx"

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4 Months

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Eats Well
Eats Well. "No Weight Gain.

My 4 month old male manx kitten is not gaining weight. He eats like a pig. His ribs are showing. He is active. He is on no medication. His sibling is normal. He is always hungry.

Aug. 24, 2018

Broze's Owner

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0 Recommendations

It is possible that Broze has a digestive issue or a malabsorption disorder, however this is something you need to visit your Veterinarian about as they will be able to examine him and recommend whether digestive enzymes are required or if a change in diet is needed. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 24, 2018

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Chittu

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stray

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3 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting, Weakness, Always Hungry,

I'm looking after a stray cat.she is so skinny and vomits most of the time. Some days before she got some wound and now it's infected. I took her to the vet. They gave blood test. But she doesn't have much blood. So they couldnt collect it. Her back legs r so weak.she can't walk with them properly. What foods can I give her to increase blood?

Aug. 14, 2018

Chittu's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

I'm not sure what is actually wrong with Chittu, so it is difficult for me to say how to help make her better. If your veterinarian can stop her from vomiting, she should gain weight and strength with regular feedings. Since they have seen her and have an idea what is going on with her, it would be best to follow up with your veterinarian to see what else can be done to help her.

Aug. 14, 2018

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Gabby

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short-hair

dog-age-icon

2 Weeks

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Swollen Abdomen
Worms In Stool
White Poop

Hi! My kitten is about 2-3 weeks old. He's tummy is currently swollen and he also has been pooping white poop for three days. I thought it was normal since he's on KMR and he's peeing really well. However, I found worms in his poop earlier which makes me think that something is off. Is there any home emergency remedy that I could give him? I'm currently working during the day so I can't take him to the vet until Saturday. Any help would be great.

July 30, 2018

Gabby's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Kittens are affected by many parasites that can cause GI upset. The best thing to do would be to take him to a veterinarian as soon as you can, have a fecal sample looked at, and make sure that he is de wormed and healthy.

July 30, 2018

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Spartan

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domestic medium hair

dog-age-icon

18

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Critical severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss
Muscle Wasting
Severe Dehydration
Loss Of Body Fat

Our 18 year old boy has High Blood pressure, Valvular Heart Disease Or Murmur, and Chronic Renal Failure. His heart issue is under control with medication. His CRF just slipped into the State 2 Level. He has lost weight steadily over the years. He was once a healthy 12 pound cat; is now a frail 5.25 pound shell of himself. He is on SubQ fluids daily. Check for heperthyroid, FELV, FIV, and FIP . . . all negative. They beleive he has an malabsorption issue or possibly a tumor and would like to do an ultrasound. We are considering skipping the ultrasound, as his frail body will not likely handle further invasive diagnostics or treatment for a tumor. We've been through small cell lymphome before, but that as for a healthy cat. Are we cheating him of a better life at this point? We would like to pursue Renal K, prednisolone, and B12 in lieu of the ultrasound. We want to provide comfort and love as long as he is willing. He still jumps on the bed, gets underfoot, and picks on the dog.

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Hops

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Domestic shorthair

dog-age-icon

10 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Weight Loss
Pancreatitis
Malabsorption

Hops is 10 years old. He’s been steadily losing weight for the last 6 months (at least). He’s eating but is not gaining. His gut will get big but his spine and hip bones are sticking out. He’s incredibly underweight and very weak. I’ve taken him to 2 different vets. Blood work was normal accept for mild anemia. Stool sample was negative for parasites. The other vet determined he has pancreatitis, prescribed him a week on cerenia, but there wasn’t any significant improvement. (Her next recommendation was to test for toxoplasmosis. But we’ve since moved to another state so I need to pick back up with a new vet that will probably just want to run all their own test $$$) It seems whatever he eats just goes right thru him. Dry food results in dry stool, wet food results in horrible smelling diarrhea. I’ve adding supplements (extra vits, mins and cal) to his food just to do anything to help him gain weight but he’s just not doing better. Im frustrated with dumping money into these tests with no results. I’m already $400 in. But I really want to see him get better. I’m really afraid he’s going to die if it doesn’t change soon.

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Lucy

dog-breed-icon

Domestic short

dog-age-icon

5 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss

My 5 year old girl has steadily lost weight over the past 3 months. She eats, but still looses weight. She has had x-rays, blood work, ultrasound. Her intestines are thickened and we are just waiting on GI blood work and Urinalysis, before moving forward. I have been told by the vet that it is either IBD or GI Lymphoma. However both seem to have vomiting and diarrhea as symptoms. My cat has neither of those things. I'm feeling like there has to be something else going on. Help!!

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Cody

dog-breed-icon

domestic short hair

dog-age-icon

16 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Vomiting
Poor Coat
Diarrhea, Vomiting, Poor Coat

Our Elder Cat has always had a sensitive stomach, so he was never fed grocery store food and is generally on James Wellbeloved. So when he developed diarrhoea, we kept an eye on him but usually this would correct itself and he'd be fine. Now however it has continued so he was taken to the vet and was given Canigest, a tablet to 'line his gut' and was put on Royal Canin GI food. We got one semi-solid stool and now things are worse however in that he has very water diarrhoea with some of it appearing like undigested food. He has lost weight, which could also be his age as he's about 15 or 16, but I have a feeling it's malabsorbtion and his sensitive stomach was IBS. I wonder how likely being able to get him to a point where he has solid stool and feels more comfortable will be. Another vet trip is planned but I don't want to do more than is best for him considering his age and whether or not I want to put him through expensive treatment if he's not able for it.

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Tigger

dog-breed-icon

D.S.H

dog-age-icon

10 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Vomiting

My cat Tigger just turned 10. For the past 2 months he has been vomiting but when it started it wasn't often. But in the last two weeks it's been getting worse. When he does it looks like his food that he's bringing up. His food has orange pieces in it and that's what colour he's vomiting. A couple days ago I decided to put him on a different kind of food. He ate some right away and the next morning he did vomit a little. The vomit was Brown and that is the colour of his new food.Tigger eats and drinks often and uses the litter box daily and is still active. also when he's laying next to me I can hear his stomach make loud noises. And I can feel bubbling when I touch his stomach. Does anyone have any idea of what's wrong with my fur baby???

Malabsorption Average Cost

From 275 quotes ranging from $500 - $2,000

Average Cost

$850

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