IBD in Older Cats

Pete Wedderburn
7th January 2020 - 3 min read

Maisey was a fourteen year old long haired tortoiseshell cat who had become thin and irritable. She was more likely to be heard hissing or spitting rather than miaowing or purring. 

Maisey’s owner, Donna, blamed her grumpy temperament on old age – and thought no more about it. However, when Maisey became a finicky eater and began to vomit several times a month, Donna became worried.  Vomiting and weight loss are two of the most visible symptoms of kidney failure, a disease which had already claimed the lives of two of her elderly cats.

She took Maisey to see me. Donna expected a physical examination, perhaps followed by a blood test, which would confirm that Maisey’s kidneys were ceasing to function properly. She was surprised when I  asked her to sit down, and proceeded to ask her questions for a full ten minutes before I even laid a hand on Maisey.

‘What does she eat?’ ‘How much does she drink?’ Does she use a litter tray?  ‘Does she have any peculiar habits?’  Donna described Maisey’s entire lifestyle in great detail. I listened to her account carefully, jotting down notes from time to time.

Symptoms Of IBD

Maisey had been a social, friendly cat when she was young, but in recent years she had become reclusive, avoiding the other cats in the household.  If she was sleeping, she would sometimes wake up with a start, and sit upright, looking disconcerted. At feeding time, she would eat a few mouthfuls of the usual tinned food, then she would walk away, glancing angrily at the bowl. Maisey was not drinking any more water than usual, and she had never had any accidents in the house. However, she had developed an unusual urgency whenever she did need to go outside. 

The rest of the cats strolled calmly and casually in and out of the cat flap, whereas Maisey seemed to need to get outside very rapidly, all of a sudden. She would be resting in a corner of the room, and then without warning, she would run full tilt to the cat flap and hurl herself outside before vanishing into the bushes to do her business. Donna had never seen exactly what Maisey was passing, because she was always such a clean creature, burying her stools carefully, as cats do. 

By the time Donna had finished, I had a very clear mental picture of Maisey’s lifestyle. I then examined her thoroughly and explained my interpretation of the problem.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

‘I think that Maisey has a digestive problem. Many cats suffer from a condition called Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The intestines react in an allergic way to a protein in the diet, becoming irritated and uncomfortable. Humans with this type of illness complain of stomach cramps and indigestion, but cats cannot tell us about these symptoms. However, I think that Missy may be trying to tell us about her problem with her unusual behaviour!’ 

Treatment Of IBD

It is normal to confirm this condition with intestinal biopsies, but in view of Maisey’s advancing age, I  decided to proceed directly to a period of trial treatment. Maisey was put onto a special diet of steamed chicken, and anti-inflammatory drugs were given, to calm down any inflammation of her intestines.

Within a week, Maisey had begun to improve. A month later, Donna telephoned me  – ‘Maisey is a kitty-cat again. No more moods. No more hissing. She purrs and plays with the other cats. And I have never seen her stroll so slowly and calmly through the cat flap when she needs to go outside!’