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Our Cat Has IBD

We've learned to deal with human IBD--so how do we handle the feline variety?

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Updated January 27, 2014

It's often said that pets and owners come to resemble one another over time. This is usually meant in reference to appearance. However, my cat, Maya, and I have taken our resemblance to a new level.

My cat has IBD.

My husband and I adopted Maya several years ago from another couple who were expecting their first child. They lived in a big, one-room apartment and just did not feel they would be able to accommodate the baby and their two cats in the space. We met Maya, a petite tuxedo cat with soft, medium-length hair, and immediately fell in love with her.

She was a very shy cat at first, and preferred to hide in our closets (or, occasionally, under the refrigerator). She adjusted slowly and through our persistence, she became an affectionate lap-cat who is as attached to us as we are to her.

Maya can also be finicky, demanding, and stubborn (attributes which some people may feel that she has in common with her owner). However, she has an immense capacity to learn and will respond to some voice and/or hand commands.

For the past several years Maya has exhibited periods of sporadic vomiting and/or diarrhea along with infrequent inappropriate elimination (i.e., outside of the litter box). On a few occasions in the past we have noted small amounts of blood or mucus in her stool.

She received regular check-ups with her veterinarian, and no reason could ever be given to explain these episodes, aside from the theory that she had eaten a non-food item and was having difficulty in passing it. Her gastrointestinal symptoms were never accompanied by any lethargy, significant weight loss, or a dull coat, so they did not appear to be cause for immediate concern.

However, on Maya's yearly visit to the vet in 2005, he noted that she did have a downward trend in weight loss. Small weight losses were noted between her visits over the years, despite her voracious appetite, which concerned her veterinarian. He recommended a multivitamin to combat any malnutrition, and offered the theory that hyperthyroidism may have developed. We watched her food and water intake, switched her to a higher-calorie food, and offered her daily vitamins (which, typically, she began refusing almost immediately). In about one month we were to bring her back to have her weight recorded again and see if it had improved.

She initially rebounded, but then started to take a downward turn in which she became lethargic, had diarrhea about twice a day, and seemed to lose more weight. Upon bringing her back to the veterinarian, she had lost weight again. She was given fluids, and blood was taken. The next day we were told the blood work did not indicate that she had hyperthyroidism at all. All her levels were good, aside from a higher than usual level of amylase. The veterinarian thought she may have an infection or inflammation of some type, possibly pancreatitis. Maya was given a prescription for Flagyl, prednisone, and amoxicillin with instructions to follow-up again in one week.

In one week, indeed almost immediately after she received the IV fluids, she began to improve. She had more energy, no longer appeared depressed, and began to have more regular, formed stools (in the litter box, to the delight of her owners). The veterinarian then gave us his impression of the problem: Maya has feline infiltrative or inflammatory bowel disease.

I told him about my own problems with human IBD, and he assured me that the feline version is not the same. The word “infiltrative” is used because we are not sure what inflammatory process is causing her gastrointestinal symptoms. Inflammatory bowel disease in cats is really a blanket term for many conditions that can cause the inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. They could perform endoscopy to find out more detail, but that could be harmful to the then 12-year old Maya (that's about 65 in human years). She should not become as sick as, for instance, I was with ulcerative colitis, but we can expect her to have intermittent bouts of diarrhea and other symptoms such as vomiting.

Since the prednisone worked so well to combat Maya's symptoms initially, we decided to continue her therapy. She started by taking (in liberal amounts of food) 5 mg once per day. After a few months, the veterinarian agreed that we could taper her down to 5 mg every other day. When she experiences a return of symptoms, we bump her back up to 5 mg once a day until she feels better.

It has been difficult to watch our little furry member of the family be so sick, and not know how to help her. Feline gastrointestinal disorders seem as murky and as difficult to diagnose and treat as the human varieties. We may never know exactly what it is that is causing her symptoms, but for now we know how to treat it successfully. As I type this, she is sleeping contentedly on her chair, happily anticipating a brushing and a can of cat food (unbeknownst to her, laced with prednisone, of course).

Amber J. Tresca

Amber J. Tresca
About.com Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

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