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Sudden Weight Loss In Your Cat Could Mean They Have An Inflammatory Bowel Disease

The mucous membrane within your cat’s intestinal tract is subject to damage by bacteria, parasites or food allergies. If you notice that your cat is losing weight, it could be that their digestive tract has been compromised. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can keep your cat from getting the nutrition their body needs from their food. Here is how to spot the signs of IBD in your cat and how it’s diagnosed and treated.

Early Signs of IBD

Your cat may periodically vomit up their stomach contents because of a hairball. This is a normal behavior. If you notice them frequently vomiting a few minutes after eating, this can be a sign of gastrointestinal irritation. Other signs to look for that relate to IBD include:

  • frequent diarrhea
  • lack of interest in food
  • lethargy and weakness
  • weight loss

Diagnosing IBD

Irritable bowel disease prevents your cat’s intestines from absorbing the nutrients from their food. Since other diseases can display similar symptoms, your veterinarian needs to do a thorough examination to narrow in on the cause. Some of the tests they will do on your cat include:

  • Blood tests – A number of tests are done on your cat’s blood to look for parasites and bacterial infections that may originate in the intestines. Elevated white cell counts can mean an infection, and a low hemoglobin is a sign of anemia and malnutrition.
  • X-rays – Standard X-rays are done to detect changes in the intestine shape and size. They can also show signs of tissue masses in the intestines that could be tumors.
  • Ultrasound – Veterinary ultrasound is a non-invasive way that your veterinarian can see what’s going on in the cat’s intestines. A small area of your cat’s stomach is shaved. A gel is applied to the skin and a handheld probe is then guided along the abdomen as the doctor watches a monitor screen. The ultrasound probe sends sound waves into the abdomen and picks up the signals that bounce back. A computer interprets the return signals and allows the vet to see signs of:
    • enlarged intestinal walls
    • abnormal bending or folding of the intestines
    • tumors or polyps in the intestine
  • Surgical biopsy – When the non-invasive tests are not conclusive, a sample of tissue from the intestinal wall may be needed to identify the problem. A needle biopsy may be done. This involves anesthetizing an area of your cat’s skin and inserting a needle through the abdomen into the intestine to get a tissue sample. Your vet may need to make an incision in the abdomen to physically inspect the intestine and obtain a tissue sample.

Treating the IBD

Treatment of inflammatory bowel disease is to control the disease, as most causes cannot be cured. Your vet will attempt to reduce the bowel irritation so your cat’s system will absorb the nutrients from their food. The treatment will also decrease any painful symptoms your cat is having. Some of the treatment options include:

  • Dietary changes – If a food allergy is suspected, your vet will suggest a change in food to something containing higher proportions of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and probiotics.
  • Immunosuppressive drugs – Medications such as azathioprine and prednisolone prevent your cat’s intestines from having an allergic reaction to food.
  • Decreasing bacteria in the intestines – A medication called metronidazole may be used to reduce the number of bacteria in the intestine, when your vet suspects this is the cause of the IBD.
  • Antibiotics – This medication can also be used to decrease a bacterial infection in the intestines. This will be used with caution because it also kills good bacteria which keep the intestine healthy.

Your vet will try a combination of treatments and have you watch your cat carefully for signs of improved appetite, weight gain and fewer painful symptoms of an irritated bowel. You may have to continue these treatments for the rest of your cat’s life, but they will allow your cat to have a healthy and comfortable life, even with their IBD.