Feline Irritable Bowel Syndrome

"Feline irritable bowel syndrome is a general term for gastrointestinal problems in cats. It can be difficult to diagnose since the symptoms match many other diseases. Food is the cause approximately 50% of the time with treatment involving dietary change. Other causes include food intolerance, stress (such as changes at home), or a disease that is affecting the gastrointestinal tract. The condition is rare in cats. There are several natural approaches that can help such as probiotics that can help support the digestive system."

If you bring a cat to your veterinarian that has diarrhea and you are observing other symptoms such as vomiting and is losing weight, your veterinarian will probably suspect irritable bowel disease (IBD). The term stands for several intestinal diseases with most residing in the small intestine. The disease can be seen in cats of any age, breed or sex.

Clinical Signs of Feline Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The most common signs associated with irritable bowel in cats includes:


Approximately 80% of cats with irritable bowel vomit. Most cats (80%) vomit 1x per day or less. If it common that the vomiting of hairballs is a sign of IBD.

Anorexia and Weight Loss

About 65% of cats suffer some form of weight loss. 40% of cats have anorexia which is a loss of the desire to eat. In some cats anorexia is the only symptom of IBD.

Increased Appetite

20% of cats have an increase in appetite.


40% of cats get diarrhea which gets worse as the condition progresses. The color and consistency of the diarrhea could help determine if the IBD is caused by a problem with the small intestine or large intestine:

Small Intestine: Large amount of soft bulky feces. Sometimes watery. It is possible that weight loss is the only symptom. Cats with a problem in the small intestine might also be depressed and act tired (lethargic).

Large Intestine: Normal looking feces. It may contain mucus or bleed. You might notice your cat defecating more than normal. Your cat might make sounds when defecating. On rare occasions your cat might vomit blood (Hematemesis) or you will see blood in the feces (hematochezia).


A cat may experience abdominal pain.


As mentioned above, there are several potential causes of irritable bowel syndrome in cats. These include:


Your veterinarian will do a series of tests to help narrow down the cause of feline irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. Since many of the conditions listed below have similar symptoms, several tests are conducted including blood tests, urine test (urinalysis) and X-rays.

Conditions that look like cat irritable bowel include:

Your veterinarian in particular will be looking for signs of liver disease and inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).

Serum cobalamin (vitamin B12) should be evaluated


Your veterinarian will start by simplifying your cat's diet to make it easier for the body to digest food. An elimination diet works by paring a diet back to the basics and then seeing if there is any improvement. Foods are gradually added back to the diet until the problem is seen again. Most elimination diets start with a simple protein such as cooked chicken and a carbohydrate such as rice.

Your veterinarian may suggest a hypoallergenic diet for feline irritabel bowel syndrome such as:

Diets designed for easy digestion may also be tried:

Not every commercial diet food is formulated the same so one may need to be tried for several weeks before moving on to the next.

Prescription Corticosteroids - Feline Irritable Bowel Syndrome Medicine

Anti inflammatory steroids are sometimes used (also called immunosuppressive drugs). Approximately 85% of cats will be helped with these types of medications and 20% will be completely cured. The most common type is called prednisone.dexamethasone and methylprednisolone. Other immunosuppressive medicines include azathioprine, chlorambucil and budesonide. These types of drugs are typically used for 3 to 4 months or longer depending on the severity of the condition.

Prescription Antibiotics for Feline Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Bacteria may be a route cause of IBD. If this is suspected then your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics. Commonly prescribed antibiotics are metronidazole or azithromycin. Possible side effects usually impact the nervous system such as causing tremors.

Dietary Supplements and Vitamins for Irritable Bowl

Recent clinical studies in humans show that probiotcs can help regulate the digestive system. In humans probiotics are now available in many forms of yogurt. For cats, it is preferred to provide probiotics in the form of capsules. Brands such as NaturVet Enzymes.

Another approach is to try a supplement that combines several natural and homeopathic remedies designed for digestive support. Despite the silly name RuniPoo Relief  can help to provide firmer stools and some digestive relief.

Omega 3 Fatty Acid as a Supplement for Feline Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Fatty acids help the body with inflammation and help with how cells function. Some of the drugs mentioned above such as steroids block the body's inflammation response to whatever is causing the irritable bowel. The problem with these drugs is that they may have side effects that work against normal digestive function leading to more stomach upset.

Omega 3 fatty acids such as the kind of fat in fish oil has been shown to help to reduce inflammation without a high probability of side effects and without some of the negatives that come from medication. Clinical trials on cats have not been done, however, there are some reports of Omega 3 helping. There is also mixed evidence in humans.

There is enough support to say that there may in fact be a benefit to try this approach (called grade 3 and 4 evidence). This supplement has been shown to help with other conditions such as skin issues, arthritis and heart problems.

Overall, this is an option with a low risk of side effects it is worth discussing with your veterinarian. Only purchase Omega 3 that comes from fish oil and avoid products that are made from plants. One brand to consider is Only Natural Pet Salmon Oil.


A cat can benefit from more physical activity. This helps to restore normal colon function and reduces stress. Consider more play toys and owner interaction.

Followup Veterinary Visits

A veterinarian will continue to monitor a feline irritable bowel syndrome patient for stool consistency and signs of gastrointestinal distress. If medications are prescribed, improvement can be seen in 1 to 2 days.

References Feline Irritable Bowel Syndrome:

The Use of Long Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Inflammatory Bowel Disease
C.A. Kirk
College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, US

Feline gastrointestinal disease and inflammatory bowel disease
Kit Sturgess MA, VetMB, PhD, CertVR, DSAM, CertVC, MRCVS, RCVS

Update on the Medical Management of Feline Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Alex J. German, BVSc, PhD, CertSAM, MRCVS
Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences
University of Liverpool, United Kingdom


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