Colitis in Cats: Colitis refers to inflammation of the colon, the lower part of the digestive tract. In cats, colitis can cause diarrhea, often with mucus or blood, as well as straining to defecate, loss of appetite, and lethargy. The colon is responsible for absorbing water and nutrients from digested food before waste is excreted. When it’s inflamed, it has trouble doing its job properly.
There are several possible causes of colitis in cats. Stress or dietary indiscretion, like eating table scraps or getting into the trash, are common triggers. Parasites, infections, or allergies can also lead to colon inflammation. In some cases, colitis arises from other underlying conditions like irritable bowel disease or gastrointestinal cancer.
To diagnose colitis, your vet will review your cat’s symptoms and medical history. They may order blood tests, fecal tests to check for parasites, infections or other abnormalities, endoscopy to view the colon, and biopsies to determine if there are any underlying diseases.
Treatment focuses on addressing the underlying cause, reducing inflammation, and managing symptoms. This may include:
- Dietary changes or probiotics to improve gut health
- Antibiotics or antiparasitics if there is an infection
- Corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling
- Additional medications for nausea or pain
- IV fluids if your cat is dehydrated from diarrhea
With treatment and time, many cats with colitis recover well and do not have recurring episodes. However, some may require ongoing or intermittent treatment to keep symptoms at bay and prevent flare-ups. Close monitoring by your vet is important, especially for chronic or severe cases.
Common Symptoms of Colitis in Cats
If your cat is experiencing colitis, you may notice some of the following symptoms:
- Diarrhea: The most common symptom of colitis is loose, watery stools. Your cat may have frequent bowel movements, often with mucus or blood in the stool.
- Lethargy: Cats with colitis may seem tired and less active. The inflammation and frequent trips to the litter box can sap their energy.
- Decreased appetite: Some cats may lose their appetite when they have colitis. The nausea or cramping from the inflammation may make them not want to eat.
- Vomiting: In some cases, a cat may vomit in addition to having diarrhea. The inflammation can also affect the stomach and upper intestines.
- Straining to defecate: Your cat may strain, cry out, or spend a long time in the litter box trying to pass stools. The inflammation makes it difficult and painful to defecate.
- Abdominal pain: Colitis causes cramping and discomfort in the abdomen. Your cat may meow or cry when you touch their belly, or assume an abnormal posture to relieve pressure on the abdomen.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, especially diarrhea that lasts more than a couple of days, it’s a good idea to have your vet examine them. Colitis can usually be diagnosed through a physical exam, stool sample test, and blood work. The sooner your cat receives treatment, the sooner they can get back to feeling like themselves again. Treatment typically includes diet changes, probiotics, anti-diarrheal medication, and in some cases steroids or other drugs to reduce inflammation.
Potential Causes and Risk Factors for Feline Colitis
Feline colitis can be caused by several factors, including:
The most common cause of colitis in cats is dietary insensitivity or allergy. Commercial cat foods containing artificial additives, byproducts, and fillers may irritate the colon. Switching to a high-quality, grain-free diet or novel protein source can help determine if diet is contributing to the problem. You may need to try different diets to find one that agrees with your cat. Homemade bland diets like boiled chicken and rice can also help settle the colon during flare-ups.
An overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut, known as dysbiosis, can lead to inflammation of the colon. Antibiotic use, stress, and diet changes can disrupt the normal balance of good and bad bacteria in the intestines. Probiotics or fecal transplants may help repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria.
Intestinal parasites such as giardia, cryptosporidium or tritrichomonas foetus can damage the lining of the colon and cause colitis. Diagnosing and treating any parasites present is important for managing symptoms.
4. Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract is known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and can cause recurrent bouts of colitis. The exact cause of IBD is unknown but may involve a combination of genetic, dietary, and environmental factors. Diagnosing IBD requires biopsies of the intestines to look for changes in the lining. Treatment options include diet change, probiotics, antibiotics, steroids, and other immunosuppressants.
5. Other Causes
Additional triggers for colitis include stress, foreign bodies, toxin exposure, and certain medications like NSAIDs. In some cases, the underlying cause of feline colitis is never fully determined. By managing diet, reducing stress, restoring gut health, and controlling inflammation, symptoms can often still be kept in remission.
The key to determining the cause of your cat’s colitis is through diagnostics like blood tests, stool samples, intestinal biopsies, and elimination trials. Discuss a logical and gradual diagnostic plan with your vet to get your cat’s gut back to good health.
Treatment Options for Cats With Colitis
If your cat has been diagnosed with colitis, the good news is there are several treatment options available. The course of treatment will depend on the severity and cause of your cat’s colitis. Your vet may recommend one or more of the following:
1. Dietary changes
Switching your cat to a high-fiber, hypoallergenic diet can help reduce inflammation in the colon and promote healing. Your vet may prescribe a hydrolyzed protein diet, where the proteins have been broken down to very small sizes to reduce the chance of an allergic reaction. You should also avoid giving your cat any treats, table scraps or new foods during treatment.
Supplements containing good bacteria, known as probiotics, can help restore balance to the gut flora. Probiotics may be recommended especially if your cat recently took antibiotics. You can give probiotic powder or paste as directed by your vet.
3. Anti-inflammatory medication
To reduce inflammation in the colon, your vet may prescribe corticosteroids, like prednisone, or other anti-inflammatory drugs. These are often given orally but may also be administered by injection or enema for more severe cases.
If an infection is suspected or diagnosed, a course of antibiotics will be necessary to clear the infection. Metronidazole is commonly used to treat inflammation associated with colitis.
5. IV fluids
For cats with severe colitis, hospitalization and intravenous fluids may be needed to prevent dehydration and restore electrolyte balance. In severe cases, your cat may need to stay at the vet hospital for several days until stabilized.
With proper treatment and care, most cats recover well from colitis. However, recurrence is possible so follow-up vet checks and any recommended diet or medication is important. By being attentive to your cat’s symptoms and getting them treatment right away, you’re giving them the best chance of overcoming this condition and living comfortably again.