Apologies in advance for the longer and more serious than usual post today. As you may have gathered, a huge part of my inspiration for fundraising for Cats Protection this year are my gorgeous boys Rory and Mac, both adopted from CP West Lothian branch. Rory in particular was very poorly last year, making me think about how important he is to me and my family and giving me that push to try and do more for all of those other cats out there who need the care of forever homes.
Rory suffers from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), something which is actually fairly common in cats but which I was not aware of prior to owning Rory. I’m not a vet so please don’t take anything here as medical advice for your cat, but wanted to write something to raise awareness of the condition, give cat owners a view on they symptoms and behaviours Rory experienced and also talk about Rory’s treatment.
What is IBD?
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is the presentation of chronic (long term) vomiting and/or diarrhoea, often accompanied by loss of appetite, as a result of inflammation in the bowel. It can be caused by an immune response, leading to the cats immune system acting to fight an infection in the bowel that isn’t actually there. This in turn causes thickening of the bowel and can eventually result in permanent damage. From what I understand the condition is similar to chronic inflammatory conditions of the bowel that human’s experience, such as Crohn’s disease.
In summary – it’s not pleasant, can be difficult to diagnose and can’t be cured – only controlled.
Rory’s symptoms and behaviours
Rory’s main symptoms from IBD are loss of appetite and chronic diarrhoea. His weight reduces rapidly when we are not able to control this, which is pretty frightening. When this first started happening, before we knew what the problem was, we took Rory into our vets and they accused us of not feeding him enough. This was absolutely heartbreaking because we’d tried so hard to get him to eat – everything from trying a range of different cat foods to cooking chicken for him. Fortunately at this point in time I transferred Rory to another vet who would actually listen to me when I said he wasn’t eating, whatever we tried.
With Rory, there are some early warning indicators, which help us know when he is experiencing a bout of IBD and prompt us to take him to the vet before he stops eating. Many of these are general indicators that something is not right with your cat or that they are in pain. Cats are very good at hiding illness so it’s been useful for us to observe these things.
When Rory isn’t well he:
- Makes a mess when he eats – a strange one but when he’s not feeling good he chews his food at an angle and it sprays everywhere. This particular behaviour led us down a bit of a side-track as it was initial thought that he might not be eating because of a mechanical problem with his jaw. It’s probably actually because the poor soul is hungry and also feeling sore and doesn’t want to eat either.
- Chews random stuff, normally really hard stuff such as metal taps and wood.
- Is more lethargic in general and stays in the house more. He looks more hunched up than usual when he is sitting down.
- In later stages, when he already isn’t really eating cat food, Rory starts eating strange things, such as cat litter.
Rory started having bouts of IBD from around 9 months old. The vet couldn’t say conclusively that this was what he suffered from but other tests hadn’t found signs of anything else that could be causing his symptoms. The treatment strategy for Rory was a combination of special diet (Purina HA) and steroids (Prednicare). On the steroids Rory puts weight on very rapidly so is an entirely different shaped cat to when he is unwell! In the past we have tapered down the steroids in between bouts of IBD to manage his condition through diet alone.
In 2016, when Rory was 4, he just stopped eating. This was different from before because it wasn’t as gradual and it wasn’t accompanied by diarrhoea. The steroids had no effect on his condition and so our vets referred him to the small animal hospital in Edinburgh. They performed an ultrasound on Rory’s bowl, which highlighted inflamed and thickened areas. They told us that this could either be very severe IBD or lymphoma. It is very common for IBD cats to progress to lymphoma, which is fatal in cats.
The only way to check this was to perform a biopsy surgery on Rory’s bowel. This turned into a larger surgery than first anticipated as it became immediately apparent that sections of Rory’s bowel where so badly damaged that they needed to be removed entirely. It was so upsetting when to see him when he came home after a short stint in the hospital. I couldn’t help but ask myself if I’d done the right thing, especially as if he was diagnosed with lymphoma I’d have put him through all that without any benefit to him. Fortunately the diagnosis came back as severe IBD, the lesser of two evils but we still had to treat it.
Immediately after surgery Rory started eating again – he must have really needed those bits of bowel removed. We are still working with the vet on a long term treatment strategy but at present he is on:
- A special diet – still Purina HA
- Prednicare – a corticosteroid, which decreased inflammation. At the dose Rory is on it also acts as an immunosuppressant.
- Metronidazole – an antibiotic, kills harmful bacteria that could be impacting Rory’s condition. He is currently being tapered off this.
It is likely that Rory will need to stay on steroids for the rest of his life but the dose that he is on today is not sustainable for long term use. As we taper down steroid use in future, Rory will also start taking Chlorambucil, a powerful immunosuppressant, often used in the treatment of lymphomas.
This sounds like a lot, but I’m sure you can see from the photos and stories that I have been posting that Rory is a much happier boy this year and is putting back on the weight that he has lost. We know what we’re dealing with and have a supportive vet who is knowledgable about Rory’s condition.
If anyone else has an IBD cat and would like to chat about anything here, please get in touch or add a comment. I’m happy to share my experiences or just lend an ear because having gone through this I know it’s a lot to take in and deal with.
If you want more information on IBD in chats the following websites are good sources of information:
- 2nd Chance (http://www.2ndchance.info/inflambowelcat.htm) – A really comprehensive overview of what IBD in cats is, symptoms, diagnosis and potential treatment options.
- Cat’s Protection guide on digestive disorders in cats (http://www.cats.org.uk/uploads/documents/cat-care-leaflets-2013/VG18_Digestive_disorders,_vomiting_and_diarrhoea.pdf) A more general overview on what could be causing a range of digestive conditions in cats.