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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

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Boots

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Tuxedo

dog-age-icon

11 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Occasional Vomiting, Weight Loss,

I have an 11 yr old cat. He's basically indoors, but goes out in the yard for about an hour about once per week. He has lost a lot of weight over a year. He eats like a horse. We give him moist cat food as a supplement. We have other cats..one which hangs around feral cats outside.

July 21, 2018

Boots' Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

There are many things that can start to happen around Boots' age, and his weight loss and vomiting, it would be a good idea to have him examined by a veterinarian, and possibly have some lab testing done to check his organ function. Once you have that information, your veterinarian will be able to help guide you with any treatment that he might need.

July 22, 2018

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Matylda

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Maine Coon

dog-age-icon

4 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Low B12

My Cat Matylda had been ravenous but would lose weight and had loose stools (lighter than normal). She had CBC - all showing everything to be completely normal. Did GI Blood workup and her B12 level was <150 and her pancreatic enzymes were on the low side of normal. She got her first vitamin B12 shot a few days ago and there is a marked difference in how she seems to feel, her energy level, how she's eating (not as ravenous) and most definitely in her stool. Only once/day and it is darker and well formed. My question is regarding her weight (she went from 14 to 9 lbs and is a 4 year old PB Maine Coon) - how quickly do they gain their weight back as things improve? Although 9 lbs might now sound small, it is very thin for a cat her size. She was not overweight at 14 lbs.

July 16, 2018

Matylda's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Weight gain will vary depending on diet, other treatment, activity, metabolism among other factors; if you’re seeing some improvement in her general condition you should keep an eye on her for now and monitor her for weight gain. If you’re not seeing weight gain you should return to your Veterinarian to discuss diet. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 16, 2018

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Loofa

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Siberian

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16 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

My 16 year old female Siberian cat has been diagnosed with Lymphoma a year go but we never did the biopsy as we didn't;t want to put her through a rough surgery as when this happen, her weight loss was drastic and she was really weak. She has been on steroids and Chinese herbal medicine for almost a year and doing well but she is super skinny and always hungry. I always assumed she is always hungry due to steroids but reading other posts about malabsorption cats do make me wonder if steroid has nothing to do with it? Anyway, she drinks a lot and pees a lot. She also has not been using litter box for almost 2 years and uses weewee pads that are infant of the other litter boxes (3 in total and I have 2 other cats). She has been peeing her life away for years and suddenly 2 days ago, she started peeing in the kitchen floor corner (where she may have peed a year before but we put a big box there and that discouraged her. we recently moved the box out and she started to pee on that spot. I did all the enzyme cleaning). Now, she is peeing around/near that area. Smell isn't so bad as her pee are diluted with so much water but know I am afraid she may go into peeing on other areas of the house. Recently, she had an infection on her cheeks so we had the opportunity to do a blood test and my regular vet said she may have diabetes but wasn't;t sure if it was stressed related from traveling to the vet. we tried to do fluctosamine test(something like that) but there wasn't enough blood so I was to collect her urine and bring it in to the vet. my ultimate question is, is her peeing related to being diabetic (possibly) or just being old? or is it a behavior issue? We only have 3 options - try to retrain her by putting her in a cage (as told by ASPCA), or put a diaper on or put her to sleep. I don't even know if training her at this point will help. I don't want to put diapers on - what happens when she poops in it? trying to clean her up will be a mess. I can get a super large cage so she can live in there, peacefully for rest of her life. no matter what choice I decide to take, I am not sure any thing will make me happy but I also want to do what is good for her. so what should I do? any advice please?

July 2, 2018

Loofa's Owner

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1 Recommendations

It can be difficult to decide on a course of action, if Loofa is distressed too much from a visit to a clinic you should see if a Veterinarian will do a home visit to take a blood test as this would be less traumatic overall for her. However, an increase in thirst and urination may be due to diabetes, other hormonal conditions, kidney disease among other conditions; the urination around the house may be a behavioural issue more than anything else. Without examining Loofa and seeing some test results I cannot give you any specific advice, but I wouldn’t recommend diapers as urine can faeces contacting the skin may cause a variety of secondary problems. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 3, 2018

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Beans

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DOMESTIC

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1 Year

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss
Increased Hunger
Undigested Food In Faeces

hi i have a 1year old domestic cat- about 3 months ago he started to get very skinny and hungry all the time - he is has regular flea and worming treatments. He often will poo outside his litterbox and sometimes the faeces looks undigested. Sometimes it seems like the need to poo comes upon him all of a sudden and he'll just poo on the floor, its not diarreah So i took him to the vet - they did a number of tests with bloods and urine, we gave him antibiotics in case it was a bowel inflammatory issue but no improvement. Hes happy enough, just skinny and hungry - i feed him twice a day and he has access to dry biscuits all day. The vet costs were substantial and the next set of tests are over $800 Do gooders in my street are threatening to call the police for neglect he looks so skinny What can i do

May 23, 2018

Beans' Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

I'm not sure what is causing Beans to have this weight loss and hunger, or what tests were run, but he may need the further diagnostics to find out what is going on with him, as I can't diagnose him without seeing him or knowing more about him, unfortunately. It seems at this point it would be best to talk to your veterinarian and see what can be done within your budget, and what tests might be most valuable for him. I hope that you are able to resolve this for him.

May 23, 2018

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Misty

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DOMESTIC

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9 Months

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

No Weight Gain

I have a rescue kitten (approx 9 mths) however looks more like 4 mths. She isn't putting on weight and so is not growing, upon advice we got tests done, no issues regarding liver/kidney function, no protein in urine, stools are normal, she doesn't have diarrhoea, nor is she constipated. The only thing that the lab suggested was that it 'looks' like she could have malabsorption. She would eat you out of house and home, her appetite would rival any adult stray cat but weight doesn't stay on her. Based on the malabsorption theory, the vet recommended trying her on specialised wet and dry food for this and sachets of granules specific for malabsorption, for 2 weeks we separated her, gave her smaller portions more often, but she wasn't eating much and no evident weight gain, I then put her onto her usual shop food but still gave her the granules and kept her separate from the other cats to keep track of her intake, she seemed to be bulking out a little, however some says she still looks very thin. She has no energy, except when food is put down in front of her, she takes colds easily, I can see she is run down, but I am not in a position to get test after test done in order to keep ruling things out. Is there anything else I can try to build this kitten up, she looks miserable, they also ruled out dwarfism. Regards

May 17, 2018

Misty's Owner

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It does sound like malabsorption disorder, however the only real way to get a concrete diagnosis is to do another test to either confirm or rule it out; but at this point if it isn’t a malabsorption disorder I cannot think of any other cause it could be. I would definitely continue just to either test for a malabsorption syndrome or visit an Internal Medicine Specialist to help narrow in on a diagnosis. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 18, 2018

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Roxy

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Domestic shorthair

dog-age-icon

10 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

Diarrhea
Gas
Loose Bowel Movements
Smelly Feces

Roxy is about ten years old. We adopted her two years ago. She's a domestic shorthair calico, and the sweetest little girl. She started having loose stools about a year ago. It seems as though she is suffering from malabsorption. We had her feces tested. The test came back negative for parasites. We also adopted her brother and he has no sign of malabsorption or any distress - so we can rule out environmental factors, as both cats would have been suffering from parasites. She is gassy, prone to diarrhea now that she isn't vomiting any longer. She has an increased appetite and is an energetic girl. She loves climbing, she purrs constantly, and she's always looking for belly rubs and love. Depression is definitely not her problem. She always uses her litter pan to pee, however she often poops outside the pan. We hope that whatever ails her can be fixed with medication or diet. We've moved both cats onto healthier foods - Whole Earth Farms, Blue Buffalo, Whole Hearted, Merrick, etc. Her brother eats a normal amount, drinks water on occasion, and is a healthy, active boy. Roxy over eats, doesn't gain weight, but her coat looks good and she seems content 95% of the time.

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Smudgie

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Cat

dog-age-icon

14 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

Sneezes Nr Food Very Thin/Boney

My 14yr old cat kept sneezing over months. The vet could not find cause and extracted his canine tooth. After the anaesthetics he suddenly lost weight rapidly and developed congestion and his 'cold' continued. He has constant runny nose, although this and the congestion seems to have improved. The vet wanted to do major teeth extraction but I could not allow this so soon as he had hardly recovered

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Ninja

dog-breed-icon

dsh

dog-age-icon

5 Months

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

Moderate severity

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

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargic, Losing Weight,

We rescued a kitten the was feline FIV/LEUK neg, and the vet did all worming, and vaccines. His fecal sample came back negative. However when we adopted him he was 3 pounds and we have had him for about 2 months and he is now 2.7 pounds. He does not poop in the litter box anymore, and his stool looks as they he is not digesting his food.

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PJ

dog-breed-icon

Siamese

dog-age-icon

6 Years

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

Fair severity

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

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea, Excesive Thirst

We have a 6 yr old Siamese rescue that we got about 2.5 months ago. Her name is PJ .She has diarrhea , since she came to us, and has been seen by the vet twice. We have very limited info from her previous situation. We thought initially it may be due to stress since she was in a rescue/ foster situation for several months that before we adopted her. Symptoms include extreme diarrhea in a large amount, often resembling pudding or curdled milk, color appropriate to color of food she is ravenous. I feel that there is an urgency to her diarrhea and she often defecates just outside on partially in the litter box . She has gained 3.5 pounds since she came to us. She also drinks huge quantities of water at one time, up to 3/4 cup at one time. We have another cat ( a 16 yr old Tortie) and PJ eats her food as well. Hence the weight gain. On our first trip to the vet bloodwork was done , all normal including WBC, liver function, renal function and heamotology panel. Stool specimen negative for parasites etc, urinalysis all normal. Placed in Metronidazole for 14 days , probiotics and the introduction of royal canin Hypoallergenic dry food. The other cat has been switched to the same food to try and limit the types of food being ingested.

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Ginger

dog-breed-icon

Bombay

dog-age-icon

2 Years

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

Mild severity

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

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Vomiting

My cat who recently about two moths ago had kittens. She seemed fine after she had her kittens, but she started to want to eat a lot of human food and it got to the point where she didn’t want her cat food anymore, because she was feeding her cats and I didn’t want her to lose weight or get sick I feed her human food. Now recently she has been throwing up and has diarrhea. She has become really skinny and I’m worried.

Malabsorption Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$850

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