Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Cats

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in cats has a set of symptoms that can help your veterinarian narrow down the possible causes of your cat’s gastrointestinal problems. Let’s look at what those symptoms are, how your veterinarian can diagnose feline IBS and what treatment options are available for cats with the condition.

Feline IBS Symptoms Affect a Cat's Digestive System

Feline IBS is a chronic condition without a specific cause. Possible causes for the condition include food intolerances, a fiber-deficient diet and problems within the cat’s colon.

An often-overlooked factor that causes feline IBS is stress. Like people, cats can sometimes internalize stress, which can result in digestive symptoms. Although your cat may look relaxed as she stretches out in the sun, she may feel stress from changes within your home that you may not think are affecting her.

As the name suggests, feline IBS affects your cat’s digestive system. She may have some or all of the following symptoms:

  • appetite loss
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • flatulence
  • lethargy
  • vomiting
  • weight loss

Let’s look at these symptoms in a little more detail. Although the most common symptoms of feline IBS are diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss, some cats only show less-obvious symptoms, such as bloody stools or eliminating outside their litter boxes. Still other cats will act depressed or develop fevers.

Symptoms may be sporadic, which may prolong diagnosing the condition. Some cats may attempt to eliminate more frequently, but they produce smaller stools. Other cats eliminate hard stools that indicate constipation.

The symptoms your cat shows may depend on what part of her digestive system is affected by feline IBS. Cats that have the disease in the upper portion of their small intestines or stomachs are more likely to vomit than a cat that has feline IBS in her colon, where diarrhea is a more common symptoms.

How Feline IBS Is Diagnosed

To diagnose feline IBS, your veterinarian will use a variety of tests after he or she completes a thorough physical examination of your pet. These tests can include:

  • bacterial cultures
  • biopsies
  • blood chemistry
  • a complete blood count
  • fecal examinations
  • x-rays

A large part of the diagnostic process for your veterinarian will be to rule out other possible causes for your cat’s symptoms, such as parasite infestation, bacterial infection or other disease processes.

Treatment Options for Cats with IBS

Your veterinarian may use a combination of treatment options to help resolve your cat’s feline IBS. These can include dietary management to include an easily digested, high-fiber diet to reduce the chances of your cat developing either diarrhea or constipation.

If stress is a problem, you’ll need to find ways to make your cat’s life less stressful. If your cat is left alone during the day, she may need a feline playmate, or she may need to have the radio left on an easy-listening station to keep her company.

Finally, your veterinarian may prescribe medication for  your cat. Different types of medications can be used to treat feline IBS, including:

  • antibiotics
  • antidiarrheals
  • immunosuppressants
  • prebiotic and probiotic treatments
  • vitamin and fatty acid supplements
  • worm medications

Over time, feline IBS can be controlled and managed, but not cured. You and your veterinarian can work together to develop a treatment plan that will control your cat’s symptoms and give her the best quality of life possible.