Far too many cat parents accept occasional, or even chronic, vomiting and diarrhea as a fact of life with cats.  Cats just do that sometimes, don’t they?  Well, no.  Healthy cats don’t vomit on a regular basis, nor do they have diarrhea.  Chronic vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, and, if left untreated, can become life threatening.

The most common cause of gastrointestinal problems for cats is Inflammatory Bowel Disease.   Although cats of all ages can be affected, it is typically seen in middle-aged or older cats.  The term IBD is used for a number of chronic gastrointestinal disorders.  Physiologically, it is characterized by an infiltration of inflammatory cells into the lining of the digestive tract.   The location of the inflammation can help determine the specific type of IBD.

Symptoms of IBD

Symptoms most typically include chronic vomiting and diarrhea, but sometimes, constipation can also be a problem.  Some cats present with weight loss as the only clinical sign.

Diagnosis of IBD

To rule out other causes of gastrointestinal problems, your veterinarian will perform diagnostic tests that may include complete blood cell counts, blood chemistry, thyroid function tests, urinalysis, fecal analysis, abdominal x-rays, and ultrasound.  The most definitive way to diagnose IBD is through biopsies of small samples of the intestinal lining.  These samples can be obtained through endoscopy or abdominal surgery.  These procedures require general anesthesia.

Medical Treatment

IBD is usually treated with a combination of medical and dietary therapy.  Corticosteroids are used for their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant properties, and they can also serve as an appetite stimulant.  However, steroid therapy carries serious longterm side-effects.

The Diet Connection

There are commercially manufactured diets available for the treatment of IBD, most of them containing so-called “novel proteins,” ie., proteins that the cat may not have been exposed to before such as rabbit, venison, and duck.  (We used to call them the “Disney diets” when I still worked at a veterinary clinic – Thumper, Bambi and Donald…).

However, increasingly, holistically oriented veterinarians are seeing a connection between diet and IBD.  These vets believe that commercial pet foods, especially dry foods, are a contributing factor to the large numbers of cats with chronic IBD.  They also discovered that many cats improve by simply changing their diets to a balanced grain-free raw meat diet.  Similar results may be achieved with a grain-free canned diet, but a raw diet seems to lead to quicker and better results.

Vomiting and diarrhea are not something you, and your cat, should learn to live with.  Take your cat to a veterinarian for a thorough physical exam.  After ruling out other conditions or diseases as causes, the solution might just be something as simple as changing your cat’s diet.

Photo by Kim Newberg, Public Domain Pictures

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40 Comments on Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Diet

  1. Hi there,

    I have read your article and i can’t be more grateful for the straightforward, descriptive information that you have provided.

    Im in a pickle with my poor kitty, and any help and advice will do.

    I have a 9 year old gorgeous burmese. She is 9 years old and has always been a “vomiter”. Since she was little, she would be a little sensitive to some foods and would vomit some up if she ate too quickly.

    For the past year, she has been vomiting incredibly after meals. Last september things got VERY bad and she vomited after every meal. We took her to the vet, whom prayed her, and said that they couldn’t find anything wrong but some “extra fat around the liver”. They told us to pop her on a diet.

    She kept vomiting. The pet shop advised us to try to switch her to a high quality grain free food, so we switched her to kiwi peak, the ingredients are all meat. it actually looks amazing for her. Here are the ingredients. http://www.ziwipeak.com/ziwipeak-cat-nutrition/moist-cat-food/moist-venison-fish-cat-cuisine We also popped her on another grain free dry kibble food of a different brand. I don’t remember what this one was called.

    After about a month or maybe 1.5 months on this diet, we noticed that she didn’t make it to the litter box a few times. And there was some mucus in her stool.

    In your opinion, do you think that this “worsening” was the kiwi peek canned food, or the other kibble? Or were we not using these foods for long enough. And how could an IBD cat “worsen” in condition with a top quality food such as that?

    We took her to the vet again, they x-rayed her and advised that they found thickening in the abdomen. IBD is at the top of their list of “maybes”. We’ve been keeping a “poo diary”, and the poor little baby hasn’t had any solid stool for the three weeks that we’ve been keeping it. The vet recommended a hills z/d diet, so I have slowly switched her for a week, and she has now been on the z/d only for approximately 4.5 days, with no improvement to stool consistency. She is a little less bloated.

    In your article responses, you mention that you use a commercial raw food diet, i was wondering which one that is, and additionally, if you need to take any steps before the introduction of a raw food diet to heal the gut lining (to reduce the high risk of infection).

    Also, are probiotics often helpful with any type of IBD?

    Thank you very much in advance.

    • Hi! My cat suffered with IBD for over a year. I tried everything–steroids, prescription diet, probiotics–nothing worked. I took him to a holistic vet on May 15 and he recommended a raw food diet. I started feeding him instinct raw rabbit and chicken that day and it was like magic!! He misses the box at times, but it’s solid and he only goes twice a day–usually after he eats. I’m so happy for him!! He was going to the bathroom 5-6 times a day. If your vet isn’t informed on a raw diet (most are NOT) them find a new vet or simply give it a try. I wish you all the best of luck!!

  2. Hi Ingrid,
    Thank you so much for all the help you provide so many! My cat Oliver has been diagnosed with IBD / small intestine disease and we are still in the early phases starting with a diet change to Science Diet Z/D…making this change was hard for me since I have read your recommendations and wanted to move them to a raw diet or homemade diet. I did what my cat’s specialist (internal medicine) said though because I needed my cat to become stable and eat again. Oliver has been on this diet for about a month now (I’ve also recently added a probiotic) and although he is getting a lot better, he had a very large hairball today and 10 days ago. Before switching Oliver to the new prescription diet, I asked his specialist about a raw food diet and his response was that it was too new and they didn’t know enough about it. Is there anything I could send him in terms of medical research or “prof” or support that would potentially help sway him to being more open to a raw food diet. I do not want to miss the chance to resolve all of Oliver’s issues earlier with a diet change or have him get worse again due to the really bad hairballs, etc.
    Thank you for your time!!

    • I understand your reluctance of making any changes to Oliver’s diet. You can direct your vet to Dr. Lisa Pierson’s site, catinfo.org, but it may not be enough to open his mind to a raw diet. Sadly, far too many vets remain closeminded when it comes to raw feeding due to the lack of research. The reason there isn’t more research is because there is no funding. Most studies about pet food are funded by the large pet food companies.

  3. I adopted my cat, Neko, about four weeks ago. She had been having diarrhea for about a month before I adopted her and it has continued the whole time she’s been with me. She was on Royal Canin I/D (chicken and rice) while she was in the foster home. I switched her to a novel protein diet of venison. She’s been on it for about three weeks now (along with a probiotic) and I haven’t noticed a difference. I’m sure this is one of those things that just requires a lot of patience.

    I’ve been reading everything you’ve said about a raw diet, and I’m curious if you think I should stay with the venison wet food for now or if it’s okay to already switch to the raw. I bought freeze dried venison a few weeks ago and decided to hold off.

    Do you think switching her to the introduction diet would make things worse?

    • Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict how Neko will react to a diet change. Have you eliminated all other possible protein sources (treats, supplements, etc.)? A true elimination diet may needs to be fed for 8-12 weeks before you’ll see a change. Since the raw you’re thinking of switching to is venison as well (but double check the label to make sure there are no other proteins in the diet), it may be worth a try.

  4. Hi Ingrid,
    I’ll search your site for more advice on raw diets. Just curious if there is a raw diet you recommend that doesn’t involve a lot of preparation in the kitchen. Something that’s more ready-to-go. Kind of a thaw and serve sort of thing.

    The more I read about allergies and IBD, the more I’m thinking I should seriously consider getting Katie (and therefore Waffles too) on a raw diet.

    thank you so much!

  5. I bath a cat for a friend on a regular basis. The cat is getting diaper rash on his backside sometimes this can be sever. He will not let his owners touch his bum. He has seen a vet several times, and tests have been run. They have changed his diet to a grain free duck formula. This cat is very heavy and cannot clean his bum. The diarrhea sometimes has blood in it . This cat is very friendly and was originally a rescue. Does anyone have any suggestions. Is there anything i can put on his bum to protect it from the diarrhea. Hopefully the food change will help it is to early to tell.

    • It sounds like this cat needs further diagnostics. I would recommend a referral to an internal medicine specialist. If he is not already getting probiotics, that may help, too.

  6. My cat Misty was diagnosed with IBD last year. She was put on steroids right away. Is there another alternative to steroids that I can try? She is also on a dietary supplement called fortiflora. She will be 13 in October. I love her to death and I want to keep her alive as long as possible.

    Thank you so much for all your help.

    • I’m not aware of an alternative to steroids, Courtney. I would work with a holistic vet to adjust her diet and help you with determining whether there are any herbs or supplements that may help.

  7. My cat was just diagnosed with IBD a week ago and the vet put him on steriods and changed his diet to hypoallergenic cat food from royal crown which he absolutely hates. For the past few days it was hard to get him to eat the food but we tricked him with treats and baby food but now he refuses to eat it and with the steriods he needs to eat. My vet is on vacation and im out of tricks so does anyone have a good idea of what I can do to try to get him to eat?

    I also put a very very small amount of his normal food in a few times but when I do that he will only take a few licks and I cant put that much in because then he will get too sick

    • If the diet your vet put your cat on is based on the “novel protein” concept, you may be able to find a comparable, more palatable diet with the same type of protein.

      ZTo entice a finicky cat to eat, try sprinkling freeze dried chicken or salmon on top of the food. A little bit of tuna or clam juice drizzled over the canned food can also help. You can also try parmesan cheese (yes, the stuff in the green can). Try warming the food slightly before serving.

  8. Out of the 4 cats I own 3 of them have bowel issues. Muffin age 16 has had IBD for the last 4 years and was so bad her poop had jelly and blood. She was going all over the house. I also had a vet tell me cats throw up for a thousand reasons. Had bloodwork, abdominal xrays and she went on pred. She has been on pred every 3 days. If she goes to 5 days without it she has symptoms like blood and not using litter box. Tiger cat is about 17 and started throwing up every day and pudding poop. He is very difficult to medicate. Had bloodwork and xray. He has some thickening of the intestinal wall and had pancreatitis. I am now giving him pred everyday to get things under control. Vomiting has decreased, still pudding poop. Simon has only loose stools. He is about 9. Their main foods were Science Diet ID for GI problems, friskies turkey and fancy feast turkey. Today I am starting the switch to a grain free food, both wet and dry. Trying Holistic Select to see if it helps. I’ve read the posts and other choices for grain free and raw foods. This disease is truly a nightmare. Tiger cat lost 2lbs since June so that is my main concern. Muffin was at deaths door and is now doing great. If anyone can give me some advice on food and what has worked for them I would appreciate it.. Thank you

    • I’m sorry you’re dealing with tihs with all three of your cats, Diane. Let us know how they’re doing after you’ve had them on grain-free food for a little while. I’m not familiar with the Holistic Select brand. Two grain-free brands I recommend are Weruva and Nature’s Variety Instinct (they have a new Limited Ingredient line that is grain-free that may be worth a try).

  9. Sometimes I would swear you are inside my head!!! It almost never fails that whenever I am having an issue with a cat, within a week you will come out with an article about the very subject I am dealing with. As always, very informative.

  10. My cat has IBD and I just switched from Fancy Feast (after 12 yrs) to Nature’s Variety Instinct Lamb (canned). Can I immediately give her the raw food lamb by Nature’s Variety, or must I introduce it slowly?

    • Usually, switching from a grain-free canned to a raw diet doesn’t cause any problems, but going slow is always a good idea, Sharon. If you’re not already doing so, I’d also add a good probiotic to your cat’s food.

      • I think it was just about the next day or two that her stool was “fabulous”! I was amazed and overjoyed. I give both my cats now only Natures’ Variety Instinct canned in Lamb, Rabbit and Duck (which the other one doesn’t like). Eventually, I plan to start the raw diet, but for now, this is working out just great! I recommend this food highly. I tried all the other top companies, and this was the only one they like. If you go on their webiste, there are 80 reviews, and I believe it’s 98% are extremely happy with their products.

  11. One veterinarian told me, “Why do cats vomit? Because they do. Don’t worry.” Needless to say, I didn’t go back. It’s important for people to know this is not normal, and a change in diet is the first and best way to deal with it. Kitties should be the best they can be!

    • I had a vet tell me the same thing and I was done with her. Took her to another vet and she was diagnosed with IBD. Muffin has a very severe case. She has been on Prednisone for the last 4-5 years, it’s been so long, hard to remember. She does great on 5mg every third day and she has resigned herself to getting the meds. I am still trying to figure this disease out. I think it’s all the junk in the cat food.

  12. Welcome to The Conscious Cat, Nico, Simon and JayJay! It’s always nice to hear another raw food success story. Allegra loves rabbit, likes chicken, but is not too crazy about turkey. I haven’t tried lamb.

  13. Hi!! We came over from Sparkle’s blog to check your blog out & may we say AWESOME!! We were going to comment on your most recent post, but then we saw your post on IBD, (& encouraging a raw food diet! YAY!!) we HAD to comment on this one!!

    We have been raw fed (mostly rabbit & lamb – don’t like chicken & beef makes us vomit!) for almost four months now – just before Simon was adopted (from a bad situation). When he came home, his fur was greasy & his ears were mottled – he also had loose stool. A few months on raw (& a small addition of a digestive enzyme) has done him a WORLD of good – we’re sure you know what we mean by that!!

    So nice to find another raw food supporter – we’ll be back to read more of your blog!!

    ~Nico, Simon & JayJay 🙂

  14. You’re welcome, Mason – I’m glad you find my posts helpful.

    Marg, sometimes, steroids are what it takes to control IBD, and it becomes a quality of life decision. They may cause probolems down the road, but if it can’t be controlled any other way, then they are a good option.

    Gayle, it sounds like the EVO grain-free food is at least controlling the IBD in your cats. Have you tried raw food with them? It might be a bit of a stretch since they don’t like canned food, but it migth be worth a try.

  15. I wish this would work for my cats…about 4-5 months ago, I switched to EVO Grain-Free cat food but my two cats are still vomitting about twice a month or so; otherwise, they are healthy. I’m still feeding them this food. I’m feeding them the Dry Food because they don’t like the canned food.

  16. That was great information about this disease. I have had two cats with it and one poor thing had it while I was having chemo and didn’t know she was sick for 6 months. She also has thyroid problems. Anyway, she is takes the thyroid medicine and also some prednisolone and she is fine now. I know the steroids are not good for her, but it sure helps her quality of life and she has been on it for 3 years now and is still doing all right. Great post. Thanks

  17. Very helpful information. I just want to say thanks for all the great posts you do and the wonderful information you provide for cat lovers. Our cats are a part of the family and we have to pay attention to their health, as well as our own. Thanks again.

    Thoughts in Progress

    • Hi everyone who has a cat with IBD. One of my cats has been on Prednisone for about 4 years and she gets it orally every 3 or 4 days. She had IBD so bad her stools were jellied and she vomited daily. I now have her on Weruva canned food and she is doing great. My other cat Tiger lost almost half his body weight, had chronic pudding like stools. We tried the oral prednisone for him and it was a nightmare. At the vet’s one day a woman brought a dog in that got a pred injection. I asked the vet about it and after an ultrasound on his little belly we decided to do the injection as well as pancreatic enzymes. Tiger now has normal stools and is slowly putting weight back on. He went once a week for a B12 shot and every 3-4 weeks for a pred shot. We only do the pred when he starts vomiting again. By the way at first he ate the enzymes in his food but now he won’t touch it. He is pretty smart as the enzymes are supposed to be odorless and tasteless but cats know what’s up. I highly recommend the ultrasound to rule out any other problems that may appear as IBD. My cats are 16 abd 17 and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for them. IBD is a big problem and I highly recommend feeding a grain free product. Wishing everyone well… Love those kitties.

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