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IBD In Cats

IBD in cats
Photo by Max Baskakov on Unsplash

What exactly is IBD in cats?

IBD in cats seems to be more and more prevalent these days leaving many cat parents wondering how this disease manifests itself and how to fully restore their cat’s health. IBD, or irritable bowel disease, is an inflammatory condition of the intestines. There are several types, and the type depends on the kind of white blood cells that are present.  The most common types are lymphocytic-plasmacyticenteritis, gastritis, and colitis.

Other factors that are present with IBD include:

  • Leaky gut—a condition where inflammation weakens the tight junctions the gastrointestinal tract.  As a result, the body can develop an immune reaction that leads to allergies or even autoimmune disease
  • Secondary infections
  • Organ degeneration—most commonly in liver and kidneys
  • Nutritional deficiencies are common because the inflammation disrupts the ability to absorb and use nutrients

Common symptoms of IBD

There are numerous symptoms can point to IBD which include:

  • Diarrhea 
  • Constipation and diarrhea fluctuation
  • Vomiting
  • Hairballs
  • Regurgitation
  • Gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Discolored lips or gums

Common causes

There are many causes of IBD, many of which may be easily overlooked:

  • Parasites
  • Antibiotics
  • Steroids
  • Food sensitivity (most common can include chicken, beef, fish, grains and eggs
  • Emotional stress with increased cortisol levels
  • Genetics
  • Poor nutrition at a young age
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) conditions affecting the body’s Qi (energy) in the spleen, stomach, liver and gallbladder

Microbiome disruption

Disruption in the microbiome plays a huge role in the development of IBD in cats. Cats N Dogs Naturally has an article covering a couple of studies that show surprising results.

In 2008, there was a study that looked into whether there was a difference between the gut flora of a cat with IBD vs a cat with a healthy microbiome. And what they found was a large imbalance in intestinal flora. Cats with IBD had a total of 66% of Enterobactericeae spp in the gut, compared to a healthy cat that had less than 0.3%. The healthy gut also showed more variety of bacteria: e.g., streptococcus spp., bacteroides spp., clostridium spp., E.coli, and other bacteria.

Diet plays a huge role

Another consideration is food. Therefore, when it comes to developing conditions like IBD cat parents may wonder if it makes a difference whether your cats eats wet or dry food. Apparently, yes it does! Studies are now shedding light on this:

In one study, cats were divided into two groups and were either fed a processed wet or dry diet. After five weeks, they discovered a dramatic shift in fecal bacterial communities. Bifidobacteria were not present in either the dry food or wet food group of cats. In this study, fecal Lactobacillus population was much greater in dry-food fed cats. These results demonstrated that short-term dietary exposure to processed dry or wet food leads to large shifts in fecal bacterial populations that can affect the ability for the cat to process macronutrients in the diet. Therefore, this is one of the reasons you see diarrhea in cats when you suddenly change their diet, it’s because you’re changing the microbiome.

Additional causes of inflammation

In addition to food, we must take a closer look at other food-related causes of inflammation in the GI tract. Two in particular may be unfamiliar by most cat parents:

  • Carrageenan—a common thickener found in canned pet food, is made from a seaweed that has been alkalized in the processing procedure and forms into sulphate polygalactan.  It is a known cause of GI inflammation in humans and causes ulcers and tumors. 
  • Maillard reactions are by-products from heat processing used to manufacture pet food.  When sugar and amino acids are combined under high heat it creates a browning effect similar to toast.  

An additional study in Dogs N Cats Naturally’s article discusses this Maillard by product further, stating:

In 2014, a study took a look at how much Maillard by-products were present in pet food. They found the content was 129 times higher in dog food, and 40 times higher in cat food, compared to the average intake in human consumption. The thing is nobody knows the long term effect of our pets eating these by-products. But what we do know is that rat studies have shown that 5-hydroxymethylfurfural by-product of thermally processed foods (like French Fries) are carcinogenic. The only problem is they don’t know exactly how much Maillard by-product it takes to cause cancer in humans, or in our pets.

Testing cats for IBD

In order to determine if your cat has IBD Dr. Karen Becker recommends three tests you can ask your vet to run.

  1. Biopsy of the intestinal tissue.  This is more expensive and risky so do tests #2 and #3 first.
  2. Functional GI test.  This test checks for the levels of folate and cobalamin (both B vitamins) and whether they are being absorbed or not.  If the folate levels are too high there’s a problem with SIBO, small intestine bacterial overgrowth. Alternatively, if they are too low there’s a disease of the small intestine. If cobalamin levels are too low there is a digestion problem in the small intestine.
  3. Pancreas function assessment with two tests:  TLI and PLI.  It’s not uncommon for pets with IBD to have pancreatitis.

Holistic Solutions for Cats With IBD

Once it’s been determined that your cat has IBD, or even if you suspect your cat has IBD, there are many measures that can be taken to provide a holistic approach to healing and potentially reversing the disease state.

Feed a species appropriate diet

Fundamentally, a species appropriate diet is by far the most important change to make.  

  • Raw food or freeze dried adds high quality, highly digestible sources of animal protein.
  • No rendered products, no dry products.
  • Moisture rich—add water or bone broth.  Bone broth is a great source of collagen and minerals which aid in repairing tissue.  
  • In some cases where there is pancreatitis or sluggish gallbladder not producing enough bile, choose a lower fat protein like rabbit, venison, chicken breast*, turkey, bison, pork tenderloin.
  • Low fiber to help motility and provide a food source for the healthy gut flora.  Example:  plantain, psyllium husk powder, coconut oil, aloe juice, acacia fiber, canned pumpkin and prebiotic-rich veggies like pureed asparagus, sun chokes, dark green leafy greens
  • Food therapy using what TCM considers neutral and cooling proteins:  beef, bison, pork, herring, mackerel, turkey, rabbit, duck.  
  • Novel protein choices if food sensitivity is a possibility

Balancing healthy gut flora for IBD situations

  • Saccharomyces Boulardii (S. Boulardii) is a supplement with very special properties. It is a non-colonizing yeast that is anti-inflammatory and supports healthy gut flora.  “During its passage through the intestine, S Boulardii mimics the physiological effects of the digestive flora, stimulating healthy immune response and reducing inflammation. The research demonstrates its ability to mimic healthy intestinal walls, which attracts many pathogens (reviewed in the research, below) and results in excretion rather than colonization. This is why it must be given a minimum of twice a day.”(—review-of-the-science.html).  Jarrow brand S. Boulardii also contains MOS, Mannan oligosaccharides.  MOS is a “prebiotic that stimulates growth of beneficial bacteria, however in contrast to other popular prebiotics like inulin / fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), MOS has a direct impact on pathogenic gut bacteria colonization (as does S boulardii. There is cross-over, but they both also specialize in different pathogens, which is why they are so effective when used together).”
  • Probiotics—help reduce pathogenic bacteria and intestinal pH. “Probiotics produce antimicrobials, antivirals, and antibacterial products to fight against bacteria which competes with and/or deplete nutrients, and can occupy binding sites of bacteria.” (Catsanddogsnaturally)
  • Raw goats milk or kefir products are a great food source of probiotics.  Choose a plain, low sugar product. 
  • Note:   When it comes to probiotics, integrative vets recommend rotating brands in order to get a variety of strains and quantities.  Therefore, when you finish one brand, try another.
  • In some cases a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) may be a great option for cats with severely compromised microbiomes. An FMT uses fecal material from a healthy donor to restore healthy gut flora in the sick animal’s microbiome. To learn more go to or

Repair/restore integrity of the intestinal walls

Another factor to address with IBD cats is leaky gut or dysbiosis. This occurs when the tight junctions in the cells of the intestinal wall start to open up.  Toxins, chemicals, drugs, heavy metals, and inflammation create this condition.  This allows things like undigested food and proteins, viruses, bacteria, fungus, and other microorganisms to enter the blood stream.  As a result the body develops allergies or even auto-immune conditions as the immune system attacks the body itself.  

Using a soil-based product with fulvic or humic acid can repair these tight junctions.  My favorite supplement for this is Ion Gut Support for Pets by Ion Biome.  Developed by Dr. Zach Bush, Ion Gut Support for Pets restores the integrity of the tight junctions that line the intestinal walls.  Tight junctions create a multi-layer protein network that functions as an intelligent gateway for the entry or blockage of nutrients, toxins, and microbes.  IGS is a liquid, soil-derived, carbon-based supplement that encourages cell to cell communication, promote immune function and gives the gut a terrain where the microbiome can thrive.  In addition, it also benefits kidneys as they have the same type of epithelial layer of cells.  This product looks like tinted water, is tasteless, and can be added to food.  

Improving digestion and absorption of nutrients

For cats struggling with IBD it’s important that their bodies are able to absorb the nutrients they take in. This is why weight loss is very common with this condition. Several suggestions for improving absorption and digestion include:

  • Adding digestive enzymes provide protease, amylase and lipase to help break down and assimilate food.
  • Raw food provides naturally occurring living enzymes; heat processing kills living enzymes which are necessary for all the biochemical processes in the body.
  • B12 or B vitamin supplement can help if there is an issue with absorption in the intestines.  Additionally, it is also helpful as an immune and energy booster.

Reducing inflammation from IBD in cats

Inflammation along the digestive tract can be very uncomfortable and painful. Therefore, it’s important to provide it with herbs and antioxidants that can reduce the inflammation and soothe the GI tract. Once again, nature provides us with many such tools:

  • Slippery elm
  • Marshmallow root
  • Licorice root
  • Boswellia Serrata (frankincense), a traditional Ayurvedic remedy
  • L-glutamine amino acid—protects the mucosal lining of the GI tract
  • Curcumin
  • Omega 3 oils—marine animal sources are the only kind cats can absorb.  Fish, krill, salmon, sardine, anchovy, etc.  Cooked salmon or sardines are options, too. 

Other herbs

  • Bitter herbs.

“Bitter herbs are the key treatment for IBD. They help to stimulate function and motility of the gastro-intestinal tract, increase gastric secretions, normalize digestive function, balance intestinal flora, increase bile secretions, and are antimicrobials.“ (catsanddogsnaturally)

  • Withania herbs relieve gas and pain; they include aromatic herbs & spices including fennel, ginger, black pepper, clove, cinnamon, coriander, peppermint
  • Berberine herbs play a significant role in regulating metabolism.  Examples include barberry, Oregan grape, goldenseal, phellodendron, tree turmeric (not the same as Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

GI Support for Pets by Mercola includes a combination of many of the recommended herbs and spices listed above in one supplement, and because of this it’s one of my favorite go-to’s.

Other modalities to use with IBD cats

Often overlooked and disregarded as a valid tool simply because of ignorance of how powerful and effective it can be is energy medicine. Therefore, consider using it as a complementary tool. Below are a couple of examples.

  • Donna Kelleher, DVM, has successfully used NAET (Namburipad’s Allergy Elimination Technique) in eliminating allergies and sensitivities
  • Energy healing techniques can eliminate physical, emotional and spiritual stressors/imbalances
  • Quantum muscle testing can be used to identify stressors, imbalances, sensitivities that are physical, emotional, or spiritual


Homeopathy uses symptoms to match remedies and can be effective in bringing the body back into balance. It’s inexpensive and very easy to use with cats. To learn more about using homeopathy with pet check out this article.

  • Homeopathic remedies can address specific symptoms of IBD; Phosphorus, Arsenicum album, Mercurius Corrosivus, Nux Vomica, Lycopodium, Bryonia, Podophyllum

For acute IBD conditions in cats

If your kitty is struggling with acute IBD symptoms, Dr. Karen Becker recommends the following:

  • A bland diet of cooked turkey with pumpkin or sweet potato
  • Feed a novel protein source for awhile.  This gives the GI tract and immune system time to calm down and recover
  • Introduce a new fiber source.

In addition to feeding a bland diet for a short time, electrolytes may be necessary due to vomiting or diarrhea.  Bone broth or plain Pedialyte are good options. 

Disclaimer: Many vets prescribe steroids and other meds in IBD cases.  I am not a vet and don’t have a working knowledge of such drugs; therefore, so I cannot speak about those.  This article focuses more on getting to the root cause of IBD issues and using a more holistic approach to healing and recovery.  As a reminder, this information is not meant to replace regular veterinary care but can be a great complement to it. 


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