Monday, May 6, 2013
How To Care For a Cat With IBS
If you're not brand new to this blog, you know that my younger cat, Peach, has feline Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It took over a year of distress and hundreds of dollars in vet bills to reach this conclusion (which, like most autoimmune disorders, is more a guess by elimination than a definitive diagnosis). I've written about her "journey" before, but today I want to talk about long-term treatment for an IBS cat. This post won't apply to many people, but I hope it really helps those who need the information!
Disclaimer: I am not a vet. The following is based on amateur research and LOTS of trial and error. What works for my cat might not work for yours. Also, some say that the proper term for chronic stomach upset in cats is Irritable Bowel Disease, but I'm sticking with IBS for simplicity, so please don't attack me on semantics.
Medication. The most crucial need of your IBS cat is a regular dose of prednisolone. The vet will start her on a fairly high dose to get the vomiting, etc. under control. Once she's eating and keeping food down consistently, you can slowly begin to scale back the dosage. The idea is to get her to the lowest dose that will keep her healthy. Peach was diagnosed in January and started on a whole pill twice a day. Over six-week intervals, I've cut that back to a quarter-pill twice a day. I'm currently trying to wean her to one daily dose instead of two, but I can tell she starts to feel puny around day three. So the experiment is ongoing. My vet says some animals only need medicine a few times a week, but it doesn't look like Peach is one of them. We'll see how it goes over time.
Happily, prednisolone is super cheap AND your vet can call it in to a regular pharmacy for convenience. I get mine at the corner CVS for $8 a bottle (which now lasts two or three months!). My first pickup there was hilarious: "Um, I'm picking up medicine for my cat?" Then I had to set up an account with her name and date of birth. It was fun for everyone.
I give Peach her medicine in a pill pocket treat and have never had any problems. She loves the treats and will actually remind me when it's time. The only kind I've found is Feline Greenies pill pockets, and they're fairly expensive – $10 for a bag of 45 (which lasts a month at most) – and only available at pet stores. I alternate the chicken and salmon flavors so she won't get bored. I also split the pills all at once and keep them in an old Tic Tac container. It's easier than digging the fragments out of a deep bottle.
I've read that natural enzyme supplements are good for even healthy cats' digestion. So most days, I sprinkle a little onto the cats' wet food. It dissolves and has no flavor. One large bottle costs about $10, and since you only need a tiny bit, it lasts forever (as in, probably years). I keep it in a salt shaker. The verdict is still out on whether it's really helping Peach, but it can't hurt.
Food. Your IBS cat should be on a high-protein, grain-free, varied diet. I actually switched both of my cats to grain-free food last fall, before I knew what was wrong with Peach, in case her problem was a grain allergy. That switch might have saved her life.
I provide dry food to my cats constantly (about half a cup in each dish per day) and give them each half a can of wet food in the evenings. I started with Nature's Variety Instinct wet and dry food, but after a few months, both cats refused to eat it anymore. I think it was too healthy. :) So now I get a variety of canned foods. They love Halo Spot's Stew, Canyon Creek Ranch, and Merrick Before Grain CAT (only certain flavors). Their current favorite canned brand is Avoderm, which has a lot of seafood options, but of course is the most expensive. For dry food, the cats like Innova, but I just found out it's been recalled. YIKES. So now I'm trying Blue Buffalo.
Again, I'm not a vet, but one key to feline IBS is to keep the stomach guessing. The more varied your cat's diet, the healthier she'll be. Your cat might be intolerant of certain common meats. I've noticed that beef and some brands of lamb make Peach sick instantly, but she does fine with chicken, especially in combination with other meats (like Before Grain's Quail and Chicken). She also eats fish, shellfish, and venison with no problem. If you're a hunter and have a lot of wild game on hand, giving some to your cat is a really healthy option!
A lot of cat owners swear by raw diets for managing or curing their cats' IBS, but I haven't tried it. If you're interested, there's plenty of information out there (and plenty of judgment, because people on the internet will rip each other to shreds over anything).
I wistfully remember my days of picking up a cheap bag of Purina One and a few cans of tuna while at Target. Now I make special trips to the pet store and spend around $75 monthly just on cat food. It's rough... but she's worth it! I recommend getting a loyalty card and sticking with one store for all your purchases. I chose Petco because it's closest to my house. They give me a $5 off coupon for every $50 I spend, and offer semi-regular 10% off deals on cans. Also, you can set up an order on their website and get automatic deliveries. That would make my life much easier, but they currently only offer canned food by the case. Petco, if you're listening, a mix-and-match option would be GREAT.
In summary, feline IBS isn't curable, but you can manage it easily with food and medication. Since Peach was SO sick for SO long, her quick response to treatment is still miraculous to me. I don't know how much weight she's gained since her all-time low of six pounds, but she started filling out immediately and looks much healthier. She may still have a shorter life, but it'll be of a higher quality than she had before. I'm thankful for every extra day of wellness!