Colitis in cats: Dealing with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Colitis in cats is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can be quite hard to manage. A colitis diagnosis can be incredibly worrisome but once the underlying cause is pinpointed, effective treatment can be administered. Here, we cover the symptoms, causes, and types of treatment and options available to manage this disease. 

healthy cat
Photo by Zeke Tucker on Unsplash

What is colitis in cats?

Colitis in cats, or feline colitis is a bowel disease caused by inflammation in the colon. The colon, or large intestine is located at the lower part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It plays a large role in the end stages of digestion. The colon is responsible for storing and removing water from the cat’s faeces before the bowel movement occurs. 

When the colon becomes inflamed and irritated, water cannot be absorbed from the faeces. This causes loose, and watery stools. In severe cases, faeces can present with blood. 

Colitis in cats can generally  be divided into three types. Acute colitis happens suddenly and lasts only for a few days. Chronic colitis lasts for a minimum two to three weeks. Chronic feline colitis usually occurs in older cats and is often related to a primary medical condition. Episodic colitis comes and goes over time. 

It is  quite normal for cats to have the occasional bouts of colitis and it usually settles down by itself. However, if symptoms of colitis is frequent and seems to worsen, a visit to the vet is in order. 

What causes IBD in cats? 

Knowing the causes of colitis in cats can help to prevent it from occurring. It will also help you to prevent future flare ups if your cat is prone to colitis. Common causes include:

Stress and anxiety

Cats are routine creatures who do not deal well with stressful events. Moving house, getting a new pet, and even changes in their diet can cause stress in cats. If colitis in your cat is caused by stress, establishing a new routine will help tremendously. Also make sure that your cat’s environment is comfortable. 

Food intolerances and allergies

Colitis can result from a dietary intolerance and dietary allergies. For example, some cats may not respond well to preservatives or food coloring. It is not uncommon for cats to be allergic to foods such as beef, wheat and corn. Additionally, colitis can also be triggered by consuming unsuitable foods such as a plant, garbage or spoiled food. A reaction to medications such as antibiotics have also been known to cause colitis in cats. 

Illnesses 

Colitis can be a symptom of a major medical issue. Your cat may be suffering from primary gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory or irritable bowel disease (IBD), acute infectious enteritis or specific inflammatory disorder of the colon. Colonic and bowel cancers, diabetes, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, pancreatitis and intussusception are also primary diseases that can cause colitis or colitis-like symptoms in cats. 

Infectious agents

Infectious agents that can cause colitis in cats include:

  • Bacterial infections such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli. 
  • Intestinal parasites such as roundworms, giardia, coccidia, tritrichomonas foetus, and protozoal infections
  • Viral infections such as Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)

Signs and symptoms of colitis in cats

Sign and symptoms of colitis in cats can range from mild to severe. Here’s what you should look out for if you suspect that your cat has colitis. 

Cats with acute, chronic and episodic colitis will present with the following faeces-related symptoms:

  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Frequent bowel movements but little is passed
  • Straining to defecate
  • Appears to be constipated
  • Painful or difficult bowel movements
  • Fresh blood in faeces
  • Mucus in the faeces
  • Defecating outside the litter box/unable to get to the litter box in time

Cats with chronic and episodic colitis have the following symptoms:

  • Progressive weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy and sleeping more than normal
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Poor coat condition
  • Shying away from people and other pets

How is colitis in cats diagnosed? 

Colitis is a condition that will require an accurate diagnosis before effective treatment can be prescribed. You vet will likely consider other illnesses with similar symptoms when evaluating your cat. 

To help your vet diagnose your cat, you will need to provide your vet with your cat’s history. As there are many causes of colitis, your vet will probably ask you about:

  • Reoccurring symptoms that you have noticed
  • Your cat’s diet and whether there has been changes to it
  • Anything that your cat might have eaten other than its usual cat food (people food, garbage)
  • Your cat’s exposure to other cats
  • Places out of the ordinary that your cat might have gone to

If indeed the signs and symptoms all point to colitis, several tests will be performed to identify the underlying cause in order to prescribe the most effective treatment. Tests include:

  • A complement blood count to check for inflammation, infections, anaemia and other blood related issues
  • A chemistry profile to check for illnesses such as diabetes mellitus and kidney, liver and pancreatitis. 
  • Tests on faecal samples to check for parasites and bacteria
  • X-rays to evaluate the GI tract and intestines as well as to check for tumors and other abnormalities. 
  • Ultrasound on the GI tract and abdominal organs
  • Urinalysis to check kidney function
  • Tests to check for viral infections
  • Electrolyte tests to check on electrolyte balance and dehydration
  • Test for thyroid hormone levels to evaluate for hyperthyroidism

You vet may carry out additional tests if the usual tests are inconclusive or if the colitis does not seem to resolve with the treatment prescribed. These include:

  • A colonoscopy will allow the vet to have a look at the colon lining. This will help determine the type of inflammatory cells, as well as to check for polyps and tumors. Your vet will also be able to take biopsies of the colon lining for further examination. A flexible fiberoptic endoscope is used for colonoscopies. 
  • A proctoscopy, which is an endoscopic examination of the recturm may also be performed to evaluate and biopsy the terminal end of your cat’s colon. 

Treatment for colitis in cats

Treatment for feline colitis aims to restore normal bowel function as well as to relieve pain and discomfort. Most of the time acute colitis will resolve without treatment in a few days. However, chronic and episodic colitis usually need medical intervention. Feline colitis is usually managed with medication and dietary changes. 

Dietary changes

Many times, symptoms of colitis resolve within a week of dietary modifications. Your vet might suggest fasting to rest the digestive system. A bland diet, novel protein diet, hydrolysed diet or prebiotic diet can also help manage colitis. 

Soluble fibre can make bowel movements easier and fatty acid supplements can help soothe the inflamed colon linings. An elimination diet may also be carried out if the suspected cause of colitis is food allergies and intolerances. 

Medication

Medication is prescribed based on the underlying cause of colitis. It can be prescribed concurrently with dietary modifications or if the diet changes are not working. Anti-inflammatory medication, anti-parasitic medication, antibiotics, probiotics and immunosuppressive drugs are all among the medications that can help with colitis in cats.

Additionally, hospitalization may also be needed in severe cases of colitis. If your cat has diarrhoea due to colitis, it might need intravenous fluid and electrolyte replacement to ensure that it stays hydrated.

Environment

If the colitis is due to stress and anxiety, make sure to provide your cat with a calm and quiet environment. Your cat will also benefit from a routine. For example, feeding it at the same time, same place every day.

How to prevent colitis in cats?

As colitis can be caused by your cat ingesting intolerable food, one of the best ways to ensure that your pet stays healthy is to provide it with a healthy and balanced diet such as Petcubes’ raw diets that are carefully crafted with the right amount of proteins for your cat to thrive. Also make sure to keep your cat away from garbage and food that it might be allergic to. Monthly preventives are also important to keep parasites at bay, especially if you allow your cat to roam free. 

Conclusion

Cats with colitis can have a great life if the condition is managed properly. In fact, if the underlying cause is eliminated, the long-term prognosis is very good. It is important to resolve feline colitis as soon as possible so that other serious illnesses such as colon cancer do not arise. If you suspect that your cat has colitis, head to the vet immediately.

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