Colitis in Cats
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Colitis is an inflammation or irritation of the colon or large intestine and, you guessed it: it commonly causes diarrhea in our furry friends.
Colitis can be acute (meaning it comes on suddenly) or chronic (lasting several days to weeks, or recurring). There are several potential causes of colitis.
- Intestinal parasites such as roundworms, Coccidia, or Giardia
- Viral infections, particularly feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), or feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
- A secondary reaction to antibiotics and other medications
- Dietary intolerance or allergy
- Dietary indiscretion (e.g., ingesting table food)
- Bacterial infection
- Foreign body
- Inflammatory or irritable bowel disease (IBD)
- Bowel cancer (in older cats or cats infected with FeLV or FIV)
- Idiopathies (underlying cause is unknown)
Cats with colitis often have fresh, red blood and/or mucus in their stools. They may strain to defecate, go more often than normal, or miss the litter pan. In some cases, your cat may seem constipated and strain with no results. With acute colitis, your cat might show no other signs of being sick except, possibly, diarrhea or straining to defecate. With chronic colitis, you could notice poor appetite, weight loss, and general lethargy.
Because there are so many potential causes of colitis, be sure to provide your veterinarian with a complete history of your pet, including:
- Recent exposure to other cats
- If your cat roams/has free, unsupervised access to your yard
- If your cat has eaten something he shouldn’t have eaten
- If your cat has recently gotten into the garbage or was given people food
- If you have recently changed your cat’s food
If your veterinarian suspects colitis, they will want to identify the underlying cause.
In order to do this, they may recommend a combination of the following tests:
- Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic disease and dysfunction, as well as sugar levels
- A complete blood count (CBC) to look for infection, inflammation, anemia, and other blood-related conditions
- Electrolyte tests to ensure your cat isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
- X-rays of the abdomen to evaluate the gastrointestinal tract and other major organs, and to check for abnormalities such as tumors and fluid
- Ultrasound to image your cat’s digestive tract and other abdominal organs
- Endoscopy to evaluate the lining of the stomach and intestinal tract
- Tests to rule out viral infections, such as FeLV and FIV
- Pancreas-specific tests to rule out or confirm pancreatitis
- Fecal tests
- Special fecal tests, such as cultures and PCR testing
Depending on the severity of the colitis, your cat may be hospitalized to better control his diarrhea. In less severe cases, your veterinarian may give you medications and instructions on how to care for your four-legged friend at home. It is very important that you follow the treatment instructions from your veterinarian carefully, to reduce the chance of the diarrhea returning.
Some of the best ways to keep your pet healthy are to watch what he eats, keep him free of parasites by giving him monthly preventives, and submitting his fecal samples to your veterinarian—especially if he goes outdoors. Also, make sure your cat is current on all recommended vaccines. Keeping him away from trash and other unfamiliar (if yummy) items, such as people food, and restricting his contact with other cats will also protect her from becoming sick.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Mucosal Immune System and Immune Responses
The mucosal immune system, immune tolerance, and other innate and adaptive immune processes also play roles in the development of chronic inflammation of the GI tract.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA), important in the mucosal defense system, provides a barrier to keep luminal bacteria from crossing the luminal epithelial cells. Loosely and tightly adherent mucus produced by goblet cells and tight junctions between luminal epithelial cells also provide an immediate barrier. Any irregularity in these barriers can lead to the transposition of GI pathogens and commensals and result in chronic inflammation.
The focus of inflammation can exacerbate the degradation of tight junctions. T helper 1 cells and complementary T cell subsets are involved in the secretion of proinflammatory cytokines, whereas T regulatory cells antagonize proinflammatory states for appropriate homeostasis of the gut adaptive immune system. In IBD, this balance is lost. 29
Intensive and hyperresponsive states of inflammation result from aggressive T-cell responses to antigens and pathogens with upregulation of inflammatory mediators, as well as defects in microbial extermination and downregulation of inflammatory control mediators. 13,23
Colitis in Dogs
What Is Colitis in Dogs?
Although you or someone you know may suffer from colitis, humans aren’t the only species that can experience this painful and unpleasant condition.
It occurs in several animal species as well, including dogs. Colitis is a condition in which the colon becomes inflamed, which can cause several problems including diarrhea, pain and discomfort and difficulty defecating.
Causes of Colitis
Colitis in dogs can be caused by several factors, just like with humans. One of the most common causes of colitis in dogs is stress. Although stress is not a direct cause of colitis, stress can put added pressure on a dog’s immune system, which can make your dog more susceptible to a colitis flare-up.
Other causes of colitis in dogs include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Intestinal worms or parasites
- Food allergies
- Algae or fungal infections
- Gastro-intestinal infections
- Injury or damage to the colon
- Eating things that are not intended for dogs or poor eating habits
How to Prevent Colitis
Although you can’t guarantee that your dog will never get colitis, there are several measures you can take to help prevent it.
- Have your veterinarian check for worms and parasites annually. Although stress is unavoidable, do your best to minimize the stress in your dog’s life.
- Make sure your dog eats a well-balanced diet and don’t feed your pooch unhealthy food and treats.
- Train Fido to “leave” anything he is tempted to eat off the ground when you take him for a walk.
- Consistently feed your dog the same well-balanced diet and avoid sudden changes.
Colitis Symptoms in Dogs
Colitis symptoms in dogs can vary, but these are the typical signs:
- Soft, runny feces or feces with bright flecks of blood
- Pain while defecating
- Irregular eating habits
- Weight loss
- Increased defecating or flatulence
- Inflammation or pain in the lower regions
Diagnosing Colitis in Dogs
To diagnose colitis, your veterinarian will need to perform an examination. Bring with you your dog’s most recent stool sample to be checked for worms and parasites. Your veterinarian may take an X-ray or order a biopsy of your dog’s colon, if needed.
If your veterinarian determines that your dog has colitis, there are several treatment options. In most cases, your veterinarian will recommend that your dog not eat anything at all for about two days to “rest” his intestinal tract. After this period of fasting, you will begin to re-introduce high fiber foods.
Antibiotics may also be needed to help fight any infection that may be causing your dog’s colitis.
Your Veterinarian Can Help
In most cases, your veterinarian will suggest your dog be treated at home under your watchful care. But if your dog is very ill, he or she may need to be admitted to the hospital and treated through an IV.
The good news is that colitis is generally treatable in dogs, although it can reoccur after the initial bout of illness. However, if you take extra care to watch what your dog eats and make sure he or she has routine checkups with the veterinarian, you will be helping to prevent future flare-ups.
The location within the digestive tract and the severity of inflammation affect symptoms of IBD in dogs.
Chronic vomiting. If your dog’s stomach is inflamed, it can lead to chronic vomiting. While their symptoms may not seem to have any identifiable cause, there may be a pattern in certain food or treats that irritate the condition.
Chronic diarrhea. If inflammation is primarily located in the small intestine, your dog may have diarrhea or the presence of blood and mucus in their poop. While occasional diarrhea and mucus are normal, blood is always considered an emergency.
Weight Loss. If your dog has unexplained weight loss, they may not be eating because of their IBD symptoms. If you notice a decrease in your dog’s appetite that is causing weight loss, talk to your veterinarian.
They may seem lethargic or have a slight change in appetite if their inflammation is mild or in beginning stages of the condition. Early intervention is key for addressing IBD in dogs. Any changes in your dog’s bowel habits or appetite that persist for more than a couple of days are cause for concern and should be addressed with your veterinarian.