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Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Pets

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) in Pets

The term Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) refers to several inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases. They are usually chronic/recurring and idiopathic (cause unknown). Some thoughts on the possible underlying causes for IBD include factors relating to diet, environment, the immune system, and the intestinal microbiome. There may also be a hereditary component to the development of IBD. 

In IBD, abnormal immune function results in many inflammatory cells accumulating within the gastrointestinal tract. The overall effect of overactive inflammatory cells and their products leads to changes in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to malabsorption of nutrients through the intestinal walls, or leaking of fluids, proteins, and blood into the intestines. 


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Who is affected? 

IBD can affect both cats and dogs of any age, although according to PetSure claims data, is most prevalent in dogs and cats between 1 and 5 years of age. 

According to PetSure data over the 2020 calendar year, IBD was most prevalent in the following breeds: 



Birman Cat 


Shetland Sheepdog


Australian Silky Terrier 


Exotic Short Hair Cat


Devon Rex Cat


Persian Cat 


Siamese Cat 


Tenterfield Terrier


Standard Poodle


*Prevalence = Total number of unique claiming pets / total number of insured pets across 12-month period. Excludes breeds with less than 500 active pet insurance policies.

Signs of IBD

The signs of Inflammatory Bowel Disease are those signs commonly associated with gastrointestinal disease. This includes vomiting and diarrhoea sometimes with blood, flatulence, weight loss, decreased appetite, and signs of abdominal pain.

In severe cases pets may be dehydrated and in poor body condition. 

Diagnosing IBD 

To diagnose IBD, the Vet will take a thorough history including noting for how long and how frequent the gastrointestinal signs have been for as well as perform a thorough examination of the pet patient.

Diagnostic testing often includes blood tests, stool tests, abdominal ultrasound, and biopsies of the intestines. Further testing may be required to help rule out conditions like intestinal lymphoma. It is not unusual to find other conditions, such as pancreatitis in pet patients suffering from IBD. 

Management of IBD

Treatment of IBD often involves a combination of dietary and medical management. Commonly, a food trial is a first point of call. This may mean feeding the pet patient a hypoallergenic, hydrolysed protein or novel protein diet to try to discern whether there is an intolerance to a particular food or protein source. During a food trial it is important that the patient is fed the prescribed diet only, without additional foods or treats.

Medications that may be used in the treatment of IBD include antibiotics and immunosuppressing drugs such as steroids. It is also important to treat any concurrent diseases such as pancreatitis, and manage other issues that can arise from IBD, such as low vitamin B12, which is often low in pets with malabsorptive diseases.

Some vets may also recommend probiotics, such as The Balancing Act meal topper, which promotes good bacteria with the natural prebiotics found in inulin and psyllium husk to decrease gut inflammation and encourage the growth of healthy bacteria  

How much does it cost to treat IBD?

According to PetSure claims data from the 2020 calendar year, the average, single treatment cost relating to IBD was $328, with the highest, single treatment cost being $11,437.

It is important to highlight that IBD often requires ongoing management. The overall treatment cost of managing IBD will vary depending on the treatments that have been recommended and your pets response to those treatments.

Disclaimer: Reimbursement for these claims would be subject to limits, such as annual benefit limits or sub-limits, benefit percentage, applicable waiting periods and any applicable excess. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider.


  1. Cornell Feline Health Centre, “Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Accessed on 1 April 2021
  2. Nelson, R & Couto, 2003, Small animal internal medicine, 3rd edition, Mosby, USA. 
  3. Rothrock, K, 2019, Vincyclopedia of Diseases, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Accessed on 17/05/2021

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Kylie Mitchell is a veterinarian with over 17 years experience in animal health and welfare, including in the veterinary and pet insurance industries

She has three rescue cats (Noah, Bei Bei and Meeka), four very old cockatiels and a pond-full of fish.

Kylie's pets

Bei Bei
Bei Bei