My cat has Irritable Bowel Disease. How can I help him?

Dear Sinéad and Siouxsie:
Please help me! My beloved kitty has just been diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It's not fatal, but it is a chronic condition. I'm kind of worried because my vet has prescribed steroids to treat the inflammation, and I don't know if that's the best idea. Do you know of any other treatments for cats with IBD?

Thanks,
Mel

Sinéad: Good question, Mel. And we have some information for you that might help.

Siouxsie: Inflammatory bowel disease is what's called an autoimmune disease. It's kind of like an allergic reaction, and veterinarians don't know what causes it. However, some of our research has revealed that a long course of treatment with strong antibiotics can cause flare-ups.

Sinéad: As you probably know, the symptoms of IBD in cats are very similar to those in humans. They include diarrhea and/or constipation, cramping, and gas. This condition is very uncomfortable for your cat.

Siouxsie: Stress tends to make the condition worse, as does a low-quality diet with a lot of chemical additives. Milk products give even healthy cats diarrhea, so they are even harder on cats with IBD.

Sinéad: Conventional veterinary medicine doesn't have a lot to offer in terms of curing the disease or sending it into remission, but they can help with the treatment of acute symptoms. Veterinarians usually prescribe steroids, as you mentioned, to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the intestines. Depending on your cat's symptoms, your vet may also give you an antispasmodic drug to help with the cramping. We found an article at petplace.com which describes the basic symptoms of IBD and gives a bit more detail on the standard veterinary treatments for the disease.

Siouxsie: Holistic veterinary practitioners, such as homeopaths, acupuncturists, nutritionists, herbalists and the like, have had good results with managing the condition on a long-term basis. On the web site holisticat.com, we found an archive featuring selected posts and replies about holistic management of IBD in cats.

Sinéad: We also found an article on how a cat breeder used a combination of veterinary and holistic medicine to treat IBD in her Maine Coon cats.

Siouxsie: If you choose to work with a holistic practitioner, do not stop going to your regular vet!

Sinéad: A holistic vet will be able to help you make changes in your cat's diet and overall energy pattern that will help your cat have a better quality of life in the long run, but your cat's regular vet is like your primary care doctor--he or she has the "big picture," knows the cat's overall history, and can refer you to specialists when needed. He or she can also help you manage acute health crises. If you had a broken leg, you wouldn't go to a homeopath for treatment, and you shouldn't do that with your cat, either.

Siouxsie: We hope your regular vet will be open to working and sharing information with a holistic vet to help all of you treat your cat's condition. Our vet is pretty open-minded about holistic medicine, and we're all happy about that.

Sinéad: There are some resources on the Internet that will help you find a holistic veterinarian in your area. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association has a practitioner database for the US and Canada. In addition, the Association of Veterinary Homeopathy also maintains a practitioner referral database--theirs covers England, Australia and New Zealand as well as the US and Canada.

Siouxsie: The most important thing you can do is to make sure your cat is getting a high-quality organic diet. If you minimize the amount of artificial colors, preservatives, flavorings and stuff, your cat's intestines will be able to handle the food better.

Sinéad: Some people recommend a raw-food diet, but we're not sure that's a good idea for every cat--especially those with IBD. If you want to feed your cat a raw-food or homemade diet, work him into it gradually. Also, make sure you follow recipes made specifically for cats with their nutritional needs in mind. The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier and Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats by Dr. Richard Pitcairn are two well-respected sources for tested and proven natural diet recipes.

Siouxsie: There are a number of other good books on natural care for cats. We found a list of one expert's favorites at About.com.

Sinéad: If you're not ready to go all the way there, we found a good article by Dr. Jean C. Hofve, D.V.M., on how to select the best commercial food for your cat.

Siouxsie: Adding fiber to your kitty's diet will help his intestines work better. A good (and totally natural) source of fiber is psyllium, and any book or online resource on natural health care will tell you how to use psyllium for your cat's benefit. Do not use any laxatives or anti-diarrhea medications designed for humans on your cat!

Sinéad: There are some herbal and homeopathic remedies you can use to treat diarrhea in cats. We found a list of these at holisticat.com.

Siouxsie: If you are new to homeopathy or herbalism, we strongly recommend that you do not pursue these treatments on your own.

Sinéad: These medicines may not come from a drugstore, but they are medicines. If you intend to treat your cat using any of these remedies, you need to have a good understanding of cat anatomy, and you need to understand the principles and theories of homeopathy or herbs before using them to manage a chronic condition.

Siouxsie: A good holistic practitioner will want you to take an active part in your cat's care. He or she may lend you books or literature, refer you to web sites, or tell you about workshops that can help you.

Sinéad: We do want to say one more thing. Holistic care can be expensive. Mama says a lot of humans are annoyed at the idea of having to pay what they think of as "too much" money for holistic treatment.

Siouxsie: But think about it...these people are highly trained professionals, and they deserve to be paid for the fair value of the service they offer.

JaneA: That's right. Holistic care providers have undertaken years of study in their chosen subject--often at their own expense, since college or continuing-education loans will not pay for "alternative health care" education. Many states and provinces have licensing procedures for holistic practitioners as well as "regular" doctors. And there are a variety of other expenses involved in practicing, including rental of office space, insurance, and so on.

Siouxsie: So, Mel, our recommendation to you is that you find a homeopathic practitioner in your area--one who both you and your cat are comfortable with. Talk to your veterinarian. Maybe he or she knows a homeopath, acupuncturist or other holistic healer.

Sinéad: If your vet is open-minded about the idea of you working with a holistic health care provider, ask if the provider you find can talk to your vet about your cat's condition. If your vet is not open-minded about holistic care, you may wish to find another vet.

Siouxsie: Feed your cat top-quality food, keep his stress level as low as possible, and talk to your holistic practitioner about how to manage periodic episodes of diarrhea or constipation.

Sinéad: Good luck, Mel, and please keep us informed about how your kitty is doing.

Got a question? Need some advice? E-mail Sinéad and Siouxsie at advice@paws-and-effect.com. None of the advice in this column is meant to be a substitute for regular veterinary care.