Cat Digestive Disorders

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

This is actually a group of digestive system diseases that are recognized by certain persistent signs and by inflammation without a known cause. Signs are often long term and sometimes come and go. Vomiting, diarrhea, changes in appetite, and weight loss can be seen. IBD can be difficult to diagnose, because many of its signs can be seen in other diseases as well.

The goals of treatment are to reduce diarrhea, promote weight gain, and decrease intestinal inflammation. Modifying the diet may be effective in some cases. Feeding a source of protein that a cat has previously not eaten is recommended. Diets with these ingredients are usually available in pet food stores rather than your typical commercial grocery store. The diet should be the sole source of food for a minimum of 4 weeks. These types of diets are effective in controlling the symptoms, however IBD is rarely cured. Relapses may occur.


This is poor absorption of nutrients resulting from interference with the digestion, absorption, or both. Interference is typically due from a lack of certain enzymes. Absorption failure is caused by diseases in the small intestine. Signs typically include long term diarrhea, weight loss, and an altered appetite (either eating too little or eating too much). Determining if your cat is suffering from malabsorption can be difficult. The signs are common in several diseases associated with the digestive system.

Treatment involving dietary changes is an important aspect of managing malabsorption. Diets generally contain moderate levels of good quality protein sources, highly digestible carbohydrates, and moderate levels of fat (this is to reduce fatty diarrhea). Cats have a higher incidence of food sensitivity so it is important to not change up the diet on your own.

The most common signs and symptoms of digestive problems:


Vomiting can be caused by digestive system disease, kidney or liver failure, pancreatits, or nervous system disorders (including ingesting poisons). Short-term vomiting is not associated with other abnormalities. Long term vomiting can be associated with weakness, lethargy, weight loss, dehydration, and salt imbalance.


Constipation is a common problem. In most cases, the problem is easily corrected. In more severe cases, it can become a problem. The longer the feces remain in the colon, the drier, the harder, and more difficult to pass they become. Signs include straining to defecate and passing firm, dry feces.

Affected cats should receive plenty of water. Treatment includes switching to a high fiber diet, keeping the cat from eating bones or other objects (if they have that tendency), providing water at all times, and using appropriate laxatives.


This is the frequent passage of watery stools. The cause is an excessive amount of water in the feces. Diarrhea can be acute, which lasts about 2 weeks, or it can be chronic, which can last greater than 2 weeks. There are many reasons why diarrhea can be present, which is why diarrhea alone cannot diagnose any sort of disease or disorder.

Common causes include: a blockage (like a hairball), change in the diet, toxins, IBD, bacterial/parasitic/viral/etc infection, kidney disease, liver disease.

Loss of appetite:

This can become quite serious if left untreated. When cats do not eat, like humans, they use up their fat stored for energy. When the stored fat is used for energy, a lot of protein gets used up in the chemical reactions involved. When the cat stops eating, this protein will become depleted, the stored fat becomes depleted, and essential nutrients needed from both sources are not available. This causes a whole lot of problems. As with the other common signs listed above, a loss of appetite alone cannot diagnose any sort of disorder because it is associated with a lot of issues.

Common causes include: Changes in the diet, changes in living conditions, worms, IBD, hairballs, tooth infection.

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