It seems to be a sort of accepted reality that if you have a cat, you’ll be cleaning up hairballs and piles of semi-digested kibble regularly.
But is it normal for cats to vomit once a week or more? No! Inflammatory bowel disease in cats is a common cause of frequent vomiting as well as other GI symptoms.
What is IBD in Cats?IBD stands for inflammatory bowel disease. When inflammatory cells take up residence in the walls of a cat’s stomach and/or intestines, they crowd out normal cells. Intestines with IBD can’t absorb nutrients very well.
The exact cause of IBD is not known, but experts believe it’s probably caused by multiple factors. One theory holds that the body starts recognizing normal food and bacteria as foreign invaders.
The classic symptoms of IBD in cats include vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, finicky or decreased appetite (or occasionally increased appetite), and weight loss.
DiagnosisFeline IBD is not easy to diagnose and can be confused with more serious diseases like lymphoma. Although there are blood tests that may help narrow down the possibilities, a biopsy of the affected tissue is the best way to confirm a cat's IBD.
Since there is a spectrum of gastrointestinal diseases that can cause similar symptoms, getting the right diagnosis is the fastest way to decide on the best treatment.
TreatmentAppropriate dietary therapy can decrease inflammation in the GI tract of cats with IBD (Washabau, 2005). The right diet is a cornerstone in the treatment of feline IBD and may be enough to heal mild cases.
Cats with moderate to severe IBD often require steroids and possibly immunosuppressive drug treatment before they feel better.
The Best Food for Cats with IBDWhile there is no one ideal food for all cases of inflammatory bowel disease in cats, here are some diet characteristics veterinarians recommend…
Since we don’t know which ingredients cats with IBD are reacting to, it’s best to choose a food that is very simple. Avoid additives that may cause an immune reaction.
Highly digestible, low residue diets
Veterinary nutritionists recommend a moderate to high protein level, lower fat levels and low carbohydrate content. The foods should be highly digestible, which means more meat and less plant material. High moisture food is easier for many cats to digest than dry kibble, too.
Novel protein diet
IBD may be an immune system reaction to food. Scientific research tells us proteins from beef, fish, and chicken are the most common foods to cause reactions in cats (Mueller, Olivry, & Prélaud, 2016).
When a cat eats a protein she’s never had before, her immune system is not primed to react to it. Choose foods without the common food allergens as a starting place to find an ideal diet for your cat’s condition.
Novel protein diets may include rabbit, duck or even more unusual meat sources like kangaroo, depending on what the cat has been exposed to in her lifetime. Use a limited ingredient food with one protein source so you’ll know what your cat is reacting to if symptoms flare-up.
Mueller, R. S., Olivry, T., & Prélaud, P. (2016). Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (2): common food allergen sources in dogs and cats. BMC veterinary research, 12(1), 9.
Washabau RJ: Diseases of the Intestine. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 6 ed. Elsevier Saunders 2005 pp. 1378-1408.