Diarrhoea in cats: common causes and solutions | Vets & Clinics

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Diarrhoea in cats: common causes and solutions

Gastrointestinal disorders in cats are mainly caused by chronic enteropathies, above all inflammatory bowel disease. What other causes are there? What is the effect of hypocobalaminaemia?

Nutrition and illnesses

Gastrointestinal problems are among the main causes of morbidity in cats and one of the leading reasons for visits to the veterinary clinic. There are numerous disorders that course with vomiting and diarrhoea in cats, ranging from pancreatitis to food intolerance or even hairballs.

Why do they become chronic?

Vomiting and diarrhoea in cats often go unnoticed by owners due to the very nature of cats, as their behaviour is typically more private and independent than that of other pets. Some owners may even interpret this as a normal situation for their cat, especially if any episodes of vomiting are intermittent, which further aggravates the problem and can lead to the patient developing a chronic gastrointestinal disorder. In such cases, animals are taken to the clinic when the disease process is very advanced and much harder to resolve.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) as a diagnosis of diarrhoea in cats

IBD is one of the most frequent causes of gastroenteritis in cats. It includes the nonspecific signs of diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain and weight loss, either individually or in combination. It is characterised by chronic inflammation of the small intestine, which causes lymphoplasmacytic inflammation. The diagnosis of IBD is confirmed after ruling out lymphoma and other causes of chronic enteropathy.

Unlike lymphoma, which usually affects cats aged 8 years or older, IBD can affect cats of any age. The exact aetiology of feline IBD is unknown, but studies suggest a complex interaction of several factors that disrupt the mucosal immune system and cause chronic inflammation of the small intestine in genetically predisposed cats. Environmental factors such as diet, foreign bodies, exposure to pathogens or the administration of NSAIDs or antibiotics may trigger the onset or recurrence of the inflammatory process.

Treatment options for IBD

The therapeutic options available are aimed at reducing antigen stimulation and controlling the intestinal immune response.

They include treatment with drugs, dietary solutions and the use of prebiotics and probiotics.

As dietary factors are thought to be one of the causes of IBD, a nutritional strategy should be the first option to following the confirmed diagnosis of IBD.

Nutritional interventions are based on either hypoallergenic diets containing novel proteins or diets with hydrolysed proteins. They are intended to reduce the hypersensitivity threshold and prevent allergic reactions. The nutritional strategy should also consider the addition of specific nutrients that will counteract nutrient malabsorption secondary to the underlying disease process, for example, by supplementing the diet with cobalamin (vitamin B12).

Dietary interventions usually yield very good results, as most cats respond favourably within just a few days.

The role of vitamin B12 (cobalamin) in diarrhoea in cats

Cats with gastrointestinal disorders often have a cobalamin deficiency, which in turn will lead to more significant metabolic disorders. Cobalamin is a water soluble vitamin essential for many biochemical and enzymatic reactions, such as DNA and methionine synthesis, besides its participation as a cofactor in the citric acid cycle. 

Cobalamin absorption is particularly complex in cats and depends on pancreatic and small intestine function.

The cobalamin half-life in cats with a gastrointestinal disorder drops from the normal level of 13 days down to just 5 days, which is a very rapid turnover compared to other species.

Recent research by Affinity Petcare has shown that cobalamin administered orally for 1 week to cats with vomiting and diarrhoea is enough to restore cobalamin serum levels

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