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Best Food For Cats With IBD [2024] tips

Best Food For Cats With IBD [2024]

When was the last time you stepped in a wet, gooey kitty surprise on your carpet at 2 a.m.? Most cat owners know that feeling all too well.

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?

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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 feline 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
  • Constipation
  • Finicky or Decreased Appetite (or occasionally increased appetite)
  • Weight Loss


N.B. This next section has been added since the original authoring by Dr. Tabitha Thompson to include more details on IBD symptoms in cats: 


Recognizing the symptoms of IBD in cats is crucial for early detection and effective management. Cats with IBD often exhibit a range of classic symptoms, including:

  • Vomiting: Persistent and frequent vomiting is a hallmark sign of IBD in cats. This occurs as a result of the inflammation affecting the digestive tract.
  • Diarrhea: Inflammation in the intestines disrupts their normal function, leading to diarrhea. The stool may be loose, watery, and may contain mucus or blood.
  • Constipation: On the flip side, some cats with IBD experience constipation. The inflammatory process can interfere with the smooth passage of stool through the intestines.
  • Appetite changes: Cats with IBD may demonstrate finicky eating habits, a decreased appetite, or, occasionally, an increased appetite. These changes are often indicative of the discomfort and disruption caused by the inflammatory response.
  • Weight loss: As the intestines struggle to absorb nutrients, affected cats may experience weight loss. This can be a gradual but significant consequence of the disease.

Understanding these symptoms is crucial for cat owners and veterinarians alike, as timely intervention and appropriate dietary measures play a pivotal role in managing and improving the quality of life for cats dealing with IBD.


Diagnosing IBD in Cats 

Feline 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 of IBD is the fastest way to decide on the best treatment. A veterinarian may also recommend a hypoallergenic food trial to determine if there is a food allergen causing your cat's symptoms. 

N.B. This next section has been added since the original authoring by Dr. Tabitha Thompson to include more details on diagnosing IBD in cats: 


The process of figuring out if a cat has IBD can be a bit like solving a puzzle. It's crucial to get it right because other stomach and intestine issues can look similar. 

To start, vets might do various blood tests to check for signs of inflammation and how well organs are working. While these tests give important information, they can't say for sure if it's IBD. Instead, they help rule out other possible causes and guide vets on other tests to perform.

When there's still a suspicion that it could be IBD, the next step is often a biopsy. This means taking a tiny piece of the affected tissue, usually through methods like endoscopy or surgery. By closely looking at this tissue under a microscope, vets can confirm if there are specific inflammatory cells linked to IBD, making the diagnosis more certain.


Risk Factors for Cat IBD

IBD in cats poses several risks and complications that can impact their overall health and well-being. These risks include:

  • Chronic Gastrointestinal Inflammation: IBD is characterized by persistent inflammation in the walls of the stomach and/or intestines. Chronic inflammation can lead to a range of digestive issues, affecting the cat's ability to absorb nutrients and leading to symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Due to the inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, cats with IBD may have difficulty absorbing essential nutrients from their food. This can result in nutritional deficiencies, leading to weight loss, lethargy, and a decline in overall health.
  • Dehydration: Chronic vomiting and diarrhea, common symptoms of IBD, can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can further exacerbate other health issues and contribute to a decline in the cat's overall condition.
  • Weight Loss: Cats with IBD often experience weight loss due to a combination of reduced appetite, nutrient malabsorption, and the energy expended in dealing with chronic inflammation. Sustained weight loss can weaken the cat and impact its quality of life.
  • Secondary Conditions: IBD can predispose cats to the development of secondary conditions, such as infections, pancreatitis, and liver disease. The compromised state of the gastrointestinal tract can make cats more vulnerable to other health challenges.
  • Decreased Quality of Life: The chronic nature of IBD and its associated symptoms can significantly affect a cat's quality of life. Persistent discomfort, changes in eating habits, and the need for ongoing medical management may impact the cat's overall well-being.

It's crucial for cat owners to work closely with their veterinarians to monitor and manage IBD effectively.


Causes of Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

Researchers don’t fully understand the risk factors for IBD in cats, and the exact cause remains elusive. However, several factors may contribute to a cat's susceptibility to developing IBD. These include:

  • Breed predispositions: Certain breeds may have a higher predisposition to IBD. While IBD can affect cats of any breed, some studies suggest that certain breeds, such as Siamese and Abyssinians, may be more prone to developing the condition.
  • Age: IBD can occur at any age, but it is often diagnosed in middle-aged to older cats. Senior cats may be more vulnerable, and age-related changes in the immune system could play a role.
  • Environmental influences: Environmental factors, such as stress, changes in routine, or exposure to certain substances, may contribute to the development or exacerbation of IBD. Cats are known for being sensitive to changes in their environment, and stress has been implicated in various feline health issues.
  • Genetic factors: There may be a genetic component to IBD. Some cats may have a genetic predisposition that makes them more susceptible to inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract.
  • Dietary factors: While the relationship between diet and IBD is complex, some cats may develop IBD in response to certain ingredients in their food. In some cases, your vet may recommend a change in diet as part of the treatment plan.

IBD is a complex condition with multiple potential contributing factors, and a combination of these elements may affect individual cats.


Testing for Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Cats

Diagnosing IBD in cats involves a combination of clinical evaluation, laboratory tests, and, in some cases, more specialized procedures. 

Here are the key types of testing commonly performed for IBD in cats:

  • Blood Tests: Bloodwork is often part of the initial diagnostic process. Complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry panels can provide information about the cat's overall health, detect signs of inflammation, and assess organ function. However, these tests are not definitive for IBD and are mainly used to rule out other potential causes.
  • Fecal Tests: Analysis of a cat's feces can help identify parasites, bacterial infections, or other gastrointestinal issues that might be contributing to symptoms. Fecal testing is crucial to rule out infectious causes of gastrointestinal problems.
  • Imaging Studies: X-rays (radiographs) and ultrasound imaging may be employed to visualize the structure and condition of the cat's gastrointestinal tract. These studies can help identify abnormalities such as thickened intestinal walls, which may be indicative of IBD. However, imaging alone cannot confirm a diagnosis of IBD.
  • Endoscopy: Endoscopy involves passing a flexible tube with a camera (endoscope) through the cat's mouth or rectum to directly visualize the interior of the gastrointestinal tract. During endoscopy, veterinarians can take biopsies from the stomach or intestines for microscopic examination. This is a key procedure for confirming a diagnosis of IBD.
  • Biopsy: Biopsies provide the most definitive confirmation of IBD. Tissue samples obtained through endoscopy or surgery are examined under a microscope to identify the presence of inflammatory cells characteristic of IBD. Biopsy results also help rule out more serious conditions like lymphoma.
  • Hypoallergenic Food Trial: In some cases, veterinarians may recommend a hypoallergenic food trial. This involves feeding the cat a specially formulated diet with novel protein and carbohydrate sources to determine if a food allergy or sensitivity is contributing to the symptoms.

The specific testing approach varies based on the cat's symptoms, the veterinarian's clinical judgment, and the availability of diagnostic resources. A comprehensive evaluation, often involving a combination of these tests, is necessary to accurately diagnose IBD in cats and differentiate it from other gastrointestinal conditions.

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Treatment for Cats with IBD

 Appropriate dietary therapy can decrease inflammation in the GI tract of cats with IBD (Washabau, 2005). When it comes to inflammatory bowel disease in cats, diet 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.


N.B. This next section has been added since the original authoring by Dr. Tabitha Thompson to include more details on treating cats with IBD: 


An accurate diagnosis not only guides treatment decisions but also influences the choice of a suitable diet. Considering potential dietary triggers and tailoring the cat's nutrition to its specific needs becomes a crucial aspect of managing IBD effectively.

Appropriate dietary therapy can decrease inflammation in the GI tract of cats with IBD. When it comes to inflammatory bowel disease in cats, diet 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.


Dietary Therapy 

Dietary therapy is a crucial component in the management of IBD in cats. The primary goal of dietary therapy for IBD is to alleviate symptoms, reduce inflammation, and promote overall gastrointestinal health. 

These are some of the types of diets you can expect your vet to try when administering dietary therapy:

  • Novel Protein Diets: Many cats with IBD respond well to novel protein diets, which feature protein sources new to the cat. This helps minimize the likelihood of triggering allergic reactions or sensitivities.
  • Limited Ingredient Diets: Limited ingredient diets for cats simplify the cat's food by minimizing the number of ingredients. This can help identify and eliminate potential allergens that may contribute to the inflammation seen in IBD. 
  • Highly Digestible Formulas: Easily digestible diets can help reduce the workload on the compromised digestive system of cats with IBD. These diets provide nutrients in a form that is readily absorbed, aiding in the cat's overall nutritional well-being.
  • Fiber Content: In some cases, dietary fiber may be beneficial for cats with IBD. Fiber can help regulate bowel movements and promote a healthy balance in the gastrointestinal tract. However, the type and amount of fiber should be tailored to the individual cat's needs.

The optimal diet for a cat with IBD varies from one individual to another. The choice of a specific dietary approach depends on factors such as the cat's response to certain ingredients, the severity of symptoms, and any concurrent health issues. 

Start by reading your pets' nutrition labels to understand what they’re eating and go from there.

Shop limited ingredient foods for cats



Steroids, particularly corticosteroids like prednisolone, are widely utilized in the treatment of IBD in cats due to their potent anti-inflammatory properties. Steroids suppress the inflammatory response in the body, a key factor in IBD where chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract is prevalent. Steroids alleviate symptoms and contribute to the healing process by reducing this inflammation.

Regular monitoring is essential when using steroids for IBD treatment. Periodic check-ups with the veterinarian assess the cat's response to treatment and any potential side effects. They may conduct blood tests to monitor liver function and other parameters.

In some cases, veterinarians may prescribe steroids in combination with other medications like immunosuppressants or antibiotics for optimal results. This multifaceted approach addresses IBD from various angles, potentially allowing for lower steroid doses and minimizing the risk of side effects.



Immunosuppressants, such as azathioprine and cyclosporine, play a key role in the treatment of IBD in cats by modulating the activity of the immune system. 

Typically used in combination with other medications like corticosteroids, these drugs target specific components of the immune system to reduce its overactivity, which leads to chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. 

Azathioprine interferes with DNA synthesis in rapidly dividing cells, including certain immune cells, while cyclosporine suppresses the activation of T-lymphocytes. 

Unlike corticosteroids, immunosuppressants may have a slower onset of action, and their full therapeutic effects may take several weeks to manifest. Regular monitoring, including blood tests to assess organ function and blood cell counts, is crucial for adjusting dosage and managing potential side effects. 


Prebiotics & Probiotics 

Prebiotics and probiotics are commonly used in the treatment of IBD in cats to support gastrointestinal health. 

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that promote the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut. They serve as a source of nutrition for these beneficial bacteria, helping to maintain a healthy balance in the cat's digestive tract. 

Probiotics, on the other hand, are live beneficial bacteria that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer health benefits to the host. In the context of IBD, probiotics can help restore a more balanced and diverse gut microbiome, contributing to improved digestive function and immune modulation. 


The Best Food for Cats with IBD


When dealing with inflammatory bowel disease IBD in cats, food is the first place you should start to look at. While there is no one ideal food for all cases of inflammatory bowel disease in cats, here are some diet characteristics veterinarians recommend…

  • Minimal Ingredients

Since we don’t know which ingredients cats with IBD are reacting to, it’s best to choose a food that is free from any fillers, such as peas and potatoes. Preservatives and additives can also cause an immune reaction and should be avoided long term.

  • Highly digestible, low residue diets

Veterinary nutritionists recommend a moderate to high protein level, lower fat levels and low carbohydrate content. Food for cats with IBD 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 beef, fish, and chicken are the most common foods to cause reactions in cats (Mueller, Olivry, & Prélaud, 2016).

Typically, the best food for cats with IBD are novel proteins. Novel proteins may include rabbit, duck, or pork, depending on what the cat has been exposed to in their lifetime. When a cat eats a protein they have never had before, their immune system is less likely to have a negative reaction (i.e. vomiting, diarrhea, constipation).

When choosing a diet for cats with IBD, use a limited ingredient food with one novel protein source so you'll know what your cat is reacting to if symptoms flare up.

KOHA Limited Ingredient Diet recipes can be a great option for IBD cats. Our patés are all single meat with minimal ingredients, and include novel protein options like rabbit cat food.


N.B. This next section has been added since the original authoring by Dr. Tabitha Thompson to include more details on the best food for cats with IBD: 


Limited Ingredient Diets for Cats with IBD

What it is:

Highly digestible, low-residue diets for cats with IBD emphasize highly digestible proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, along with lower fat and fiber content. These diets are easily digestible, with a focus on incorporating more meat and less plant material.

Why it works: 

Veterinary nutritionists recommend these diets to facilitate optimal digestion and minimize gastrointestinal distress. The emphasis on high moisture content, along with a well-balanced protein-to-fat ratio, supports cats with IBD in maintaining their nutritional balance.

Best Cat Food for IBD: 


Novel Protein Food for Cats with IBD

What it is:

Novel protein cat food for IBD introduces unique protein sources like rabbit, duck, or pork. This approach aims to minimize immune system reactions by offering proteins the cat has not been exposed to previously.

Why it works: 

Scientific research suggests that certain proteins, such as those found in beef, fish, and chicken, may trigger adverse reactions in cats with IBD. Novel proteins provide an alternative, reducing the likelihood of negative responses and supporting digestive health.

Best Cat Food for IBD: 


Minimal Ingredient Cat Food for IBD

What it is: 

Minimal ingredient cat food for IBD is grain-free and formulated with a simplified list of components, excluding common fillers such as peas and potatoes. The absence of unnecessary additives minimizes the risk of triggering an immune reaction in cats with IBD.

Why it works: 

This type of cat food reduces the likelihood of adverse reactions associated with unknown allergens, making it an ideal choice for managing IBD symptoms. By avoiding preservatives and fillers, minimal ingredient cat food promotes digestive health and supports overall well-being. 

Best Cat Food for IBD: 

Irritable Bowel Disease In Cats: Frequently Asked Questions

As pet owners navigate the challenges of managing IBD in their feline companions, a multitude of questions may arise. In this FAQ section, we address these common queries.

What is the life expectancy for cats with IBD? 

The life expectancy for cats with IBD can vary widely based on factors such as the severity of the condition, the cat's overall health, and the effectiveness of the treatment plan. With proper management, including appropriate veterinary care, medication, and a tailored diet, many cats with IBD can lead fulfilling lives. 

Regular check-ups with a veterinarian are essential to monitor the cat's health and adjust the treatment plan as needed.

What can I feed my cat with IBD? 

Feeding a cat with IBD requires careful consideration of its dietary needs. Veterinarians often recommend highly digestible, limited ingredient diets that minimize potential allergens. Wet food with novel protein sources, such as rabbit or duck, may be suitable. 

Consult with a veterinarian to determine the best diet for your cat's specific condition.

Can cats with IBD eat eggs? 

Eggs can be a good protein source for cats with IBD, but it's crucial to introduce new foods gradually and monitor the cat's response. Eggs are easily digestible and may be well-tolerated by some cats with IBD. 

However, individual cats may have different dietary sensitivities, so it's advisable to consult with a veterinarian before incorporating eggs or any new food into the cat's diet.

Can cats with IBD eat tuna? 

Tuna, while often a favorite among cats, should be approached with caution for those with IBD. Some cats may develop sensitivities to fish, and the high mercury content in tuna can be a concern. It's advisable to consult with a veterinarian before introducing tuna into the diet. 

Can you make homemade food for cats with IBD?

Homemade food for cats with IBD can be an option, but it requires careful planning to ensure nutritional balance. A well-formulated homemade diet may include easily digestible proteins, limited ingredients, and essential nutrients. 

However, creating a balanced homemade diet for a cat with IBD should be done under the guidance of a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist. They can provide guidance on ingredient selection, portion sizes, and necessary supplements to meet the cat's specific nutritional needs.


What is the Best Cat Food for IBD?

When it comes to providing the best cat and dog food for IBD, KOHA's commitment to limited ingredients, easily digestible recipes, and high-quality nutrition sets it apart.

Prioritize your cat's digestive health, and explore the diverse range of KOHA cat food options to find the perfect fit for your cat's unique needs.

Browse KOHA Cat Food now.


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.

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