IBD, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease, is when a cat’s GI tract becomes chronically inflamed. To help your cat’s symptoms improve, it’s important to feed your kitty the best food for cats with IBD.
This is cat food designed for animals with chronic diarrhea and vomiting. Many cats with IBD are responsive to diet changes.
Today we’ll dive into what this IBD is, how it affects your cat, and what you can do to help. You’ll also learn which are the best foods for cats with IBD.
Our top 7 cat food recommendations for IBD:
- Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Dinner Morsels for Cats
- Instinct Limited Ingredient Grain-Free Recipe
- Blue Buffalo Basics Limited Ingredient Grain-Free
- Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein Formula Dry Cat Food
- Dr. Elsey’s Clean Protein Grain-Free Canned Cat Food
- Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet Grain-Free Wet Cat Food
- Weruva Cats in The Kitchen Grain-Free Natural Wet Cat Food
What is IBD in cats?
Feline inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affects the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. When a cat has IBD, their GI tract (part of or all the intestines) becomes chronically inflamed and irritated.
IBD happens when inflammatory cells penetrate the GI tract’s walls. The walls begin to thicken, disrupting the GI tract’s ability to digest and absorb food properly.
This disease can affect cats of any age, but it’s most common in middle-aged and senior cats. Inflammatory Bowel Disease can also create different problems. This depends on which part of the GI tract it affects and the type of cells involved.
When the inflammatory cells affect the stomach, it’s called gastritis. When inflammation affects the large intestine, we refer to it as colitis. When there is inflammation of the mouth in cats, it’s called stomatitis, which causes terrible oral pain and poor appetite.
The most common type of IBD is lymphocytic plasmacytic enteritis. This involves inflammatory plasma cells and lymphocytes invading the small intestine.
Sometimes, IBD leads to inflammation in other abdominal organs. Most commonly, the liver and pancreas.
What are the causes of IBD in cats?
The exact cause of IBD is still unknown. Experts suggest it’s an effect of several factors.
Current evidence suggests that inflammation may be a reaction to an underlying cause related to:
- The immune system
- Bacterial populations
- Environmental factors
There’s also a possible link between IBD and genetic deformities of the immune system. This was first discovered in dogs and people, but it’s possible in cats too.
Other causes of IBD may include:
- A bacterial infection or imbalance, for example, E. coli or salmonella
- Allergies or food intolerance
- Parasitic infection with single-celled parasites or worms
Many cats can be helped through alternative care with minimal long-term pharmaceuticals.
Symptoms of IBD in cats
Cats with IBD may show different symptoms, which are often a clue to the underlying problem. IBD symptoms may also vary in frequency and severity. Here are a few common signs:
- General physical condition may be ‘off’
- Weight loss
- Bloody stools
- Decreased appetite
Is IBD in cats painful?
Cats with IBD produce excessive amounts of gas. This leads to abdominal discomfort.
Inflammatory bowel disease can also cause cramping and muscle spasms. You might notice your cat sitting hunched over, unusually quiet, or licking their belly to ‘relieve’ the pain.
The most common signs are vomiting and diarrhea. Both are a sign of nausea.
How is inflammatory bowel disease treated in cats?
The first step to treating cats with IBD is to determine the underlying cause. Most of the time, the exact cause is unknown. In such cases, the vet labels IBD as “idiopathic.” This means that the disease is there, but without an identifiable trigger.
Here are a few ways veterinarians may treat cats with IBD:
For some cats with IBD, changing their diet can help. Some cats may need a prescription diet or a veterinary diet. Consult your vet about the best approach, but there are generally three ways of accomplishing this if a prescription diet isn’t necessary.
- Bland diet: Switching to a bland, easily digestible diet may be an option. The diet will need to be nutritionally balanced for long-term feeding.
- Limited-ingredient diets (novel diets): This is also known as a novel protein diet. The thought is that a cat is unlikely to have an inflammatory reaction to ingredients they’ve never had before.
- Hydrolyzed diets: With your vet’s help, try switching to a commercial cat food containing a novel protein source. Your vet may recommend a novel protein like rabbit, venison, or duck. Essentially, something your cat wouldn’t usually eat. If successful, the IBD symptoms will disappear.
While on a food trial diet, avoid giving your cat treats or other foods. Food trials take time, lasting anywhere between 6 to 12 weeks.
If your cat has a parasite, a dewormer might help. Vets generally recommend broad-spectrum deworming, as it’s not always precisely known what parasite moved into the GI tract.
Supplementing with vitamin B12 is a conventional treatment for IBD in cats. Many cats with IBD can’t absorb B12, so your vet may give your cat an injection of this vital nutrient.
Treating IBD with medications is usually a last resort. Vets might recommend it when the dietary therapy you tried was unsuccessful. Or, if they couldn’t detect an underlying cause.
Medications to treat cats with IBD are mostly used to suppress the reaction. For this, vets usually prescribe steroids like prednisone first. They may try other medicines, like antibiotics, if that fails. Your cat could be on a short-term or longer-term antibiotic therapy.
After a month or so, your vet may examine your cat and perhaps discontinue the medication. If symptoms recur, you need to resume the medicine. However, with many cats, long-term treatment with steroids is required.
IBD and hairballs
Cats vomit up hairballs for a variety of reasons. It’s usually a result of your cat’s grooming routine, or they can’t pass the hair through their intestines.
If your cat has IBD, the hair must pass through the digestive tract with no problems. If you suspect your cat’s hairballs aren’t a result of excessive grooming, you’ll want to contact your vet.
Sometimes, finding the best cat food for hairballs and vomiting may help.
Keep an eye on your cat and consult your vet if the hairballs are excessive.
Worst foods for cats with sensitive stomachs
Giving certain foods to a kitty with a sensitive stomach could be a trigger. (If your cat has a particularly sensitive stomach check out our roundup for the best sensitive stomach cat foods). Research tells us that the worst foods to feed a cat with a sensitive stomach include:
- Fat: Offering your cat fat can lead to intestinal distress, causing vomiting and diarrhea.
- Raw eggs: The biggest issue with raw eggs is the risk of food poisoning. Bacteria, like salmonella and E. coli, are even possible causes of IBD. Another problem with raw eggs is a protein called avidin. Although rare, this can interfere with how your cat’s body absorbs vitamin B.
- Raw meat, poultry, and fish: Like eggs, these can contain both salmonella and E. coli bacteria. Additionally, raw fish holds an enzyme that destroys thiamine—a vital vitamin. Thiamine deficiency can lead to severe neurological problems, even a coma.
Can cats with IBD eat dry food?
Cats with IBD can easily consume dry cat food. However, you may have to add a little chicken or meat-based broth. IBD can lead to dehydration, so adding a little moisture can help your cat quickly digest their dry food
Your vet will help you identify the proper dry food diet if you’re switching to a limited-ingredient diet or a novel protein diet.
Canned cat food might be easier on their digestive system. It’s rich in moisture and doesn’t expand as much in the stomach.
Choosing the best food for cats with IBD
Here are some key factors and criteria we used when researching the best cat food for IBD. Please note that it’s best to consult your vet for initial guidance on how best to approach your cat’s condition after a diagnosis has been made.
Because food allergies are often to blame for IBD, it’s essential to eliminate some ingredients.
Plenty of brands offer limited-ingredient diets. These foods are often free of the usual proteins, such as pork, chicken, beef, and fish. Instead, they may include novel protein, like rabbit, duck, turkey, or venison.
You can find this type of food in both dry and canned options.
Reading the label for the food’s nutritional value is essential. Cats require a complete and balanced diet to thrive.
Animal protein is vital in their diet and should be one of the first on the list. In addition to this, there should be some fat and minimal carbohydrates. Lastly, look for essential vitamins and minerals, even in limited-ingredient diets.
Looking at cat food labels can be confusing! Fortunately, the AAFCO now has guidelines on what brands must include and what claims they can’t make.
- Always read the cat food label: There is a system for listing the ingredients on your cat’s food label, and understanding it will help you pick the best ingredients.
- The FDA mandates that ingredients must be listed from most to least based on their weight.
- The majority of your cat’s food is made from the first few ingredients listed, so you want to be sure they aren’t fillers. Instead, look for whole foods.
Avoid inflammation-triggering ingredients
For cats with IBD, it’s crucial to avoid ingredients that may trigger inflammation in their GI tract. Some elements that can cause allergies you should look for on food labels are:
- Artificial colors and preservatives
Moisture-rich foods are generally best since they help prevent dehydration. Canned cat foods are always the best choice.
Since we’re all well aware of how picky cats can be, it isn’t always possible to switch from dry to canned.
Add moisture to the dry kibble using a poultry broth or a little warm water. You can also microwave it for 30-seconds to make the food more palatable.
7 Best foods for cats with IBD
Here is the best food for cats with a sensitive stomach and those that are vomiting.
1. Best overall: Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Dinner Morsels for Cats
This option consists of only the good stuff like cage-free chicken morsels. The pieces are minimally processed and compose of 98 percent chicken, bone, and organs. The last two percent are essential nutrients, including probiotics.
Probiotics support dietary health alongside the essential ingredient taurine.
It’s free of any additives, like hormones, antibiotics, fillers, or grains. Instead, it’s raw nutrition that’s easy on your cat’s digestive system.
Stella & Chewy produces all its cat food in the U.S. Every ingredient is responsibly sourced and made in small batches. The freeze-dried process ensures that the morsels are safe to consume. It also preserves nutrients and flavor.
How does a cat with IBD benefit from this diet? Raw, freeze-dried food can improve appetite and digestion. It also relieves allergies, increases stamina, vitality, and supports the immune system.
You can offer this cat food as their meal or topper.
- High protein morsels
- Raw, freeze-dried pieces
- Fortified with essential vitamins and minerals
- Made with probiotics for digestive health
- Made in the U.S.
- It doesn’t have a strong scent, so not all cats feel intrigued to try it.
- All freeze-dried diets will need water added, so pet owners will need to follow the label’s specific instructions.
Another cat food for IBD is the Instinct Limited Ingredient Diet. This is a minimalistic option, containing only one protein and one vegetable. The formula is free of grains, chicken, fish, beef, dairy, eggs, and corn.
It’s natural dry cat food, made with farm-raised rabbit, and formulated for cat allergies. It’s hearty and healthy, plus, rabbit is a highly digestible protein, packed with amino acids.
Every morsel comes in a shell of freeze-dried raw protein. This is the best way to preserve nutrients.
Instinct has been producing raw recipes for over 15 years, and every recipe comes from its kitchens in Lincoln, Nebraska. The Limited Ingredient Diet is also minimally processed and made in the U.S.
- Limited ingredients—excellent for food-sensitive cats
- Free of chicken, beef, fish, dairy, and eggs
- Made with real, farm-raised rabbit
- High in amino acid and protein
- Raw, freeze-dried coated kibble
- Made in the U.S.
- The formula contains peas, which sometimes are not suitable for all cats.
- Includes synthetic vitamins that don’t come from natural ingredients.
Besides whitefish, you’ll see ingredients, including potatoes, pumpkin, and peas. These help to support digestion and are excellent for cats with sensitive stomachs. This diet doesn’t have any grains and gluten.
Blue Buffalo formulated this dry food to meet the needs of indoor adult cats.
A great addition to this kibble is Blue’s exclusive LifeSource Bits. These are a precise blend of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, specially selected by holistic vets and animal nutritionists.
The LifeSource Bits work to support the immune system. It includes flaxseed and fish oil, providing a dose of omega fatty acids. Your cat’s coat and skin may improve significantly.
- Contains only one main protein
- Supports gentle digestion
- Suitable for cats with sensitivities
- Includes carbohydrates to aid digestion
- High in omega fatty acids
- May cause a urinary tract infection (UTI) in some cats
- Contains fish oil, which some cats are allergic to and cannot digest easily
The recipe consists of 90 percent animal-based protein. There’s this chicken option, or it’s also available with salmon.
To support your cat’s skin and coat, it contains omega fatty acids. It’s completely free of grains and gluten making it one of the best cat food for IBD.
- High protein content
- Suitable for all life stages
- Veterinarian formulated recipe
- Free of grains and gluten
- The high protein count may not be highly digestible
- May cause stools that smell bad
Dr. Elsey also has a substantial collection of wet cat foods suitable for cats with sensitive stomachs. This is one of the best cat foods for older cats that vomit. It’s a veterinarian-formulated recipe, compatible with all life stages.
This wet cat food consists of balanced nutrition with added moisture. It incorporates high-quality animal proteins or fish as the first ingredients.
In this variety pack, you’ll receive nine different flavors. Among these are whitefish, beef, chicken, rabbit, pork, and salmon. Included are also two combos: duck & turkey and rabbit & turkey.
The recipes all work to promote an active, healthy lifestyle for your cat. They contain no fillers, by-products, or artificial additives.
- Veterinarian-formulated recipe
- Variety pack with nine different flavors
- High protein wet cat food
- High in moisture
- No fillers, by-products, or artificial ingredients
- Contains a lot of liquid
- Cats who prefer paté styles might not find this appetizing
For the main protein, Instinct uses farm-raised rabbits. It’s high in amino acids and similar to what cats eat in the wild.
You’ll find vitamins and minerals, plus natural omega fatty acids. It’s suitable for all life stages.
The formula doesn’t contain any potential triggers such as dairy, eggs, beef, chicken, fish, soy, or wheat. You also won’t find any artificial colors or preservatives.
In the can, you’ll find a paté texture with a tonne of flavor. It promotes healthy, lean muscles and supports overall health.
Instinct produces all its recipes in the U.S; ensuring quality.
- Contains limited ingredients
- Made with real farm-raised rabbit
- Paté texture and lots of flavors
- Fortified with vitamins, minerals, and omega fatty acids
- Free of dairy, eggs, and artificial fillers
- Supports lean muscles and overall health
- Made in the U.S.
- The formula contains pea protein and peas
- May not be palatable for some cats
The formula is free of grains, corn, GMOs, and wheat. It also doesn’t contain any artificial flavors or colors.
The tender chicken morsels sit in an “Au Jus,” made from chicken broth. It provides lots of moisture and nutrients. All ingredients are sustainably sourced and food produced in human food facilities.
If your cat isn’t crazy for chicken, Weruva offers other options, including turkey, chicken and pumpkin, wild salmon, and lamb. Weruva has one of the best canned cat foods for IBD that we’ve seen.
- Made with cage-free chicken
- Chicken broth-based gravy
- Sustainably sourced ingredients
- High in moisture
- Fortified with essential nutrients
- Free of grain, GMOs, and artificial additives
- Some cats don’t like the texture
What best food for cats with IBD? Cat food designed to help with chronic diarrhea and vomiting is what your vet will help you identify for your feline. The goal is to find a diet your cat can do well on!
Inflammatory bowel disease is when the GI tract becomes inflamed. It can be quite painful and uncomfortable. Fortunately, a change in diet generally helps alleviate symptoms.
Our favorite best food for cats with IBD is the Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Dinner Morsels for Cats. Consisting of raw, freeze-dried chicken, it’s high in protein yet gentle on the stomach. It’s suitable for all life stages but requires pet owners to add a little water before serving.