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Inflammatory bowel disease in cats

Q: My veterinarian thinks my cat has IBD. Is that the same as the IBS I suffer when I’m stressed? My cat has a great life and doesn’t seem stressed.

A: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are very different disorders. While your IBS is a functional, stress-related condition, your cat’s IBD is a structural disease. In IBD, white blood cells, referred to as inflammatory cells, invade the walls of the stomach and/or intestines (bowel), thickening them.

Although the precise cause is unknown, veterinary scientists believe certain food ingredients, intestinal parasites or intestinal bacteria may trigger the immune system to deposit inflammatory cells in the gastrointestinal tract, causing enough damage to interfere with movement of food and absorption of nutrients.

When the inflammatory cells invade the stomach or upper intestine, cats experience recurrent vomiting. Inflammation of the lower small intestine or the large intestine produces diarrhea. Many cats suffer from both vomiting and diarrhea. 

In fact, the most common cause of chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea in cats is IBD. IBD is usually diagnosed by biopsy, though a presumptive diagnosis can be made when the cat responds to standard IBD treatment. The most effective treatments are dietary modification, probiotics and medication.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at

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