IBD (Inflammatory or Infiltrative Bowel Disease) in Cats and Dogs

IBD (Inflammatory or Infiltrative Bowel Disease) in Cats and Dogs

Animals Affected

Cats and dogs


IBD is a common syndrome in which the stomach, intestines, or colon (or a combination of the three) becomes chronically irritated.  This results in chronic or intermittent diarrhea, vomiting, or both.

IBD may be triggered by abnormal reactions to components of food or bacteria in the bodies of affected individuals.  Treatment for IBD usually involves dietary modification. Many cases of IBD also require antibiotics or medications to reduce irritation of the bowels.

IBD is an acronym. Some veterinarians refer to the full name as inflammatory bowel disease.  Others call it infiltrative bowel disease.


  • Diarrhea is a common symptom of IBD.  Diarrhea may be chronic (long-term) or intermittent.  Mucus or blood may be present in the diarrhea.
  • Vomiting occurs frequently in IBD.  Like IBD-based diarrhea, vomiting may be chronic or intermittent.  Many pets experience either vomiting or diarrhea; some suffer from both.
  • Weight loss occurs in some cases of IBD.
  • The gastrointestinal upset of IBD may be accompanied by poor appetite.
  • Some pets with IBD will have a dull or unkempt coat of hair.

Risk Factors

  • Individual susceptibility is the main risk factor.  Most cases of IBD appear to be genetic or hereditary.
  • Certain breeds of dogs may be predisposed to IBD.  These include Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Basenjis, and Shar Peis.  However, IBD can strike any cat or dog.


Most cases of IBD are manageable, but sporadic vomiting and diarrhea may occur for the rest of the animal’s life.

In IBD that is poorly controlled, chronic vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite can lead to weight loss and emaciation.  In severe cases, intense vomiting and diarrhea may lead to dehydration and severe illness.

Basenjis are susceptible to a breed-specific form of IBD that is hard to manage and often leads to premature death.


Most cases of IBD are diagnosed by exclusion.  This means that tests for other diseases with similar symptoms must be run.  IBD is suspected if the tests do not show another cause for the symptoms.  Blood tests, urine tests, X-rays, ultrasound examinations, and stool tests for parasites may be performed before making a tentative diagnosis of IBD.

In some cases, pets are treated for IBD before all of the above tests are run.  If the symptoms respond favorably, then IBD is considered the most likely diagnosis.

To definitively diagnose IBD an intestinal biopsy must be performed.   In practice, this test is not common because it is invasive and expensive.


Dietary modification is the mainstay of treatment because it has the lowest likelihood of causing side effects.  Dietary modification also is the safest form of long-term treatment.

  • Special diets (called elimination diets) may be prescribed.  These diets are low in specific components (called allergens) that may trigger IBD.  Most elimination diets are available only through veterinarians.
  • Dietary fiber supplementation may help alleviate symptoms in some cases of IBD.
  • Vitamin B supplements may be of benefit to some cats with IBD.  These supplements should be used only under the direction of a veterinarian.

A variety of medications may be used when dietary modification alone does not sufficiently manage IBD.

  • Deworming medications are frequently prescribed to ensure that intestinal parasites are not contributing to symptoms.
  • Metronidazole helps to reduce the symptoms of IBD in most cases.
  • Other antibiotics, such as amoxicillin or tetracycline may be prescribed if bacteria are suspected to be playing a role in the syndrome.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications such as prednisone are commonly used in severe or resistant cases of IBD.
  • Some veterinarians believe that fleas may contribute to IBD.   Although this is idea is not universally accepted, high quality flea preventatives will reduce the many other adverse effects of flea allergies.
  • Some veterinarians believe that acupuncture may help treat resistant cases of IBD. The use of acupuncture for this purpose is controversial and not accepted by all veterinarians.


Several weeks of therapy may be required before symptoms start to resolve.  This is especially true when dietary modification is the sole treatment employed.

There is no cure for IBD.  Most pets with IBD require long-term treatment.  If effective, minimally invasive treatments such as dietary modification and fiber supplementation are the preferred methods for long-term therapy.

Even in cases of well-managed IBD, occasional episodes of diarrhea or vomiting may occur.

Pets that receive long-term medications may benefit from periodic blood or urine testing to ensure that their liver and kidneys are functioning properly.


Dietary modification can be complicated if multiple pets share food in the house. In such cases, the simplest option may be to offer the elimination diet to all of the pets.  Owners should discuss this option with their veterinarian to ensure that the elimination diet is safe for all of the animals that will be consuming it.

The term IBD is used to describe a number of individual syndromes that have similar characteristics. These syndromes include lymphocytic-plasmacytic enteritis, lymphocytic-plasmacytic colitis, eosinophilic gastroenteritis, eosinophilic enteritis, granulomatous enteritis, and granulomatous gastritis.

In cats, IBD may in certain instances be a precursor to a type of cancer called lymphoma.  Although the two syndromes previously were thought to be distinct from each other,  many experts currently believe that they occur on a continuum in cats.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM. All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.