Irritable Bowel Syndrome

A lot of what I've written on the main Bowel problems page is relevant to IBS - the only remedy that should never be used with IBS or suspected IBS is anything with charcoal in it, as the grittiness will irritate the gut and make it worse. The content here is still being written, but I've put up what I have so far in case it is of any help. Check the remedy list for more details about anything mentioned here.

Dealing with, or even curing IBS is a SLOW process: the results won't be quick, and you have to be patient - think in terms of months, not days or weeks. I have started a Yahoo group as a support for people dealing with this, because results can be very slow and the process can be demoralising if you’re having to deal with this on your own, particularly if your vet is unable to help. Please join by going to

Apart from treating the symptoms it is important to try and trace the cause of IBS in a cat. You need to consider all of the following:

  • Genes - is there a history of IBS in the bloodline or any near relatives of the cat?
  • Allergies - is the cat eating 'normal' cat food, or have you considered changing to a hypo-allergenic diet?
  • Stress - is there anything about your environment and the way the cat is living that might be causing it stress?
  • Feeding habits - not all cats can cope with the sort of eating regime that the majority of cats follow.

Unfortunately IBS can run in families, and you should never breed from a male or female cat with IBS. Even if the condition is being caused by external factors, a propensity to IBS will be passed on to the descendants of your cat, and the next owner will be faced with the problems you are having to deal with. It is certainly worth investigating the background of your cat - it won't cure the IBS, but it might give you a bit more information. It can come apparently 'out of nowhere', but your cat can still pass it on even if neither of its parents has had it.

This can probably be whittled down to what might be in food:
Food dyes
Food flavourings
Other food additives - all of which could be irritating your cat
On the other hand non-food allergens may be upsetting the cat's metabolism. Check out things like:
Washing powder
Fabric softener (some cats lick freshly-washed bedding, or get the detergent residue into their stomachs because it is deposited on their coats when they lie on their bedding and they lick it off when grooming.
Other apparently harmless household cleaners or items can be ingested by the same route, including carpet cleaners or other cleaning materials.
Cat litter: change to something as harmless as possible such as newspaper-based litter, or something that leaves no residue on the cat's feet. Clumping litter is NOT good! Even clay litters or sawdst have some dressing in, and could be causing problems for a sensitised cat.
Plants both indoor and out - a cat I saw had developed a terrible skin condition where all its hair fell out at a particular time of year. It was clear that the heather in the garden was irritating the cat's skin and causing it terrible distress. Sadly, rather than remove the heather from her garden, the owner preferred to let the cat go through this annual agony, and mitigate it with steroids, which would shorten the cat's life.

I had a cat who got close to death before I realised what was slowly killing her. She loved Whiskas cat milk, and as it was the only thing she would take while she was so ill, I let her have as much as she wanted. I realised at last that it was the milk that she was allergic to. The minute I stopped she started to recover - even though the poor thing was skeletal by this point. She recovered completely, but I've never bought cat milk of any description again! There are a number of cat treats that have also caused very bad reactions in cats, one of which was Whiskas Crunch (my cats loved it), which caused a kitten I had bred and sold to a friend to develop running eyes and symptoms like bad hay-fever.

The problem with allergies is that it may start with just one, but once sensitised the cat will gradually become allergic to increasing numbers of potential allergens surrounding it.

Stress is recognised as a major contributory factor in human IBS. Many people aren't aware of factors which can contribute to stress in the life of their cat. There are all sorts of things that could be stressing your cat, and you need to try and look at your cat and your environment from the outside - as if you are not living there. Ask these questions:
Are there other cats in the house? Is it possible that relationships with other cats or animals could be upsetting the cat, even slightly?
Is my cat getting as much of my attention as it wants (this is not the same as what it needs!)? Is the cat over-dependent on you? If it is, being left alone, seeing other cats getting the attention the dependent cat wants, or even just sharing attention with other cats or other human family members, can be a stress factor.
Could anything be upsetting the cat while you are out of the house: bullying from other cats, or loneliness if the cat is left alone?
If the cat goes out, could there be other cats stressing it, or could it be eating food or other things at another house?

Feeding habits
Basic ingredients: bananas are good for most of us, but for some people they are poison; the same with nuts and lots of other things. So even if you're feeding your cat good cat food, you may actually be feeding an allergen.


Many cats do not in fact have permanent IBS. The probably have a sensitive stomach, which has been irritated, and then diarrhoea has prevented the gut from returning to normal function. The gut lining is coated with hair-like cilia, which increase the surface area and therefore improve absorption. In a cat who has had chronic diarrhoea, the food etc has been passing through the gut so fast that the cilia have been worn off, and even if there is no illness there, the cat cannot recover because the gut lining is too smooth, and the food continues to rush past it, preventing the cilia from regrowing.

You need to
  1. Give the gut only easily digestible and non-irritating foods
  2. Slow down the movement of food through the gut (Peridale)
  3. Enhance the natural gut flora so that the bacteria needed to break down and digest food are supported (pro-Biotic)
  4. Support the cat's immune system and enhance the speed of tissue regeneration (Aloe Vera)
  5. Protect the gut to allow it to recover (Slippery Elm)

Before you start, worm with a GENTLE wormer such as panacur paste or panacur liquid mixed up by your vet for your cat's bodyweight. Do this over several days - usually 5 days is ideal, even though the recommendation to 'clear' worms is usually only 3 days. Once you've done this, you know that worms cannot be the irritant and you have eliminated them from the gut. Cut out all 'treat' foods, as they are usually rich and filled with tasty chemicals, and may be the root cause of your problems. No silly foods any more: only serious stuff from now on! Cut out rich oily fish foods, and anything that might have a suspicion of a bone in it. That means (unfortunately) that Hi-Life fish menus are out of the question for the moment. Raw meat is difficult to digest so, although it's a very good source of nutrition, it's not good for a cat with chronic diarrhoea.

  1. Get a large tub of probiotic and mix it with every meal. You can use things like natural yogurt, but oriental cats are lactose intolerant, and this may make your cat worse.
  2. Put the cat on a large dose of Peridale - this is not a 'drug', it is a silicon-based food supplement which absorbs excess moisture in the gut and swells to hold it. Because it's inorganic it can't be absorbed and is eliminated in faeces. It's not possible to overdose your cat with this. Give as much as necessary to slow down the activity of the gut, and give it at frequent intervals, but particularly before and with food. You can gradually wean the cat off this. Keep increasing the dose until you see a result. Once things start to slow down (i.e. what comes out the back end is less liquid and less frequent), increase the dose slightly and maintain that dosage.
  3. This is absolutely KEY to recovery: Feed only tiny quantities (a tablespoon or two at a time) at frequent intervals a day. Do not feed any food with additives (e.g. Whiskas, Science plan normal food), so change to a 'natural' diet, and if possible try to feed only moist food, as biscuits will be an irritant. If your cat only likes the taste of biscuits, soak them to softness before feeding, either with water or a mixture of water and aloe vera. Hills a/d or i/d are good foods, for this condition, but they are rich, and need to be fed in very small quantities.
  4. Mix all food with high-quality, high-concentration aloe vera liquid, such as Aloe Gold. Cats like this taste so you won't have to force it down them.
  5. Buy either Dorwest Tree-Barks Powder, or slippery elm from any health food store or online (The Dorwest powder is the best as it also contains White Poplar bark, but it is not in capsules, so may be less convenient). Either mix it with food or put the capsules down the cat's throat at regular intervals during the day. If you get it from a health-food store this must be pure slippery elm, and not slippery elm mixed with anything else. The human-size capsules are rather large, but with practice and a reasonably co-operative cat, it is easy to get these down. Again, this cannot be given in overdose. It is nutritious (apparently one of the armies in the American war of independence survived on it alone for a week!) and is slimy: it's purpose is to coat the gut lining and reduce inflammation.

All your other cats can eat all these things without any harm to them, regardless of whether they have IBS or not.

Your cat may be on steroids to help this condition, and you should not discontinue this medication. None of the above items will interact badly with a steroid, or even with an antibiotic. However if you are also giving an antibiotic try to arrange with your vet to discontinue the antibiotic and also to very gradually cut down the steroids to wean your cat off, but only once you have the 5-point protocol above in place.

if you see no improvement *at all* within 10 days maybe you haven't been giving a high enough dose of Peridale! Once stabilised it may be many months before the cat can be weaned off the things above, and you may never be able to go back to a normal feeding regime. However, even if the cat has to have slippery elm for the rest of its life, you know that it is much better than it could have been before. The key is patience, and not to try and wean the cat off the treatments too soon, or you may just undo all the good you have done. If you stabilise the cat, and it begins to lead a normal life, do NOT immediately attempt to go back to normal feeding routines. Once stabilised the cat needs many months for the gut to repair itself, and I would recommend a minimum of 6-8 months on the stable dosage before you attempt to make any changes to diet or feeding habits. The longer you wait before changing anything, the better the chances that you cat will recover completely.

If your cat improves at first, but cannot be stabilised on a fixed dose of Peridale, you may be dealing with an allergic sensitivity:

Change to a Hypo-allergenic diet in addition to everything above:
  • Cooked white fish (pour aloe vera over it before serving)
  • Chicken breast boiled with rice until mushy (some cats are sensitive to chicken though, turkey is better, or even better still, stick to the fish or venison - see below). The starch is good to slow things down and soothe an irritated gut
  • There are three major biscuit food manufacturers who do a prescription sensitivity diet - unfortunately none of them is particularly palatable, and biscuits being gritty could in themselves cause irritation
  • Hypoallergenic foods are usually made from potatoes and venison, with the vitamins destroyed by cooking added back. You can do this yourself if your cat won't eat the pre-made ones, but make sure that at the very least you add Taurine to your mix - you can get Taurine tablets from your vet.

Give it another 10 days AT LEAST.

NOTE: we have managed to cure MANY cats with apparently intractable IBS simply by changing them onto a raw minced rabbit (bone ground in) diet. The results are usually instantaneous - in one case for a a cat who had had a runny tummy for 11 years. If you would like to try this I recommend for a really good source of bone-in minced rabbit. Phone up or email and ask for double-minced plain farmed rabbit. There are other options with things like Ox heart included, but most cats find this too rich and throw it up.

Being on a bland home-made diet for several months won't hurt your cat, though in the long term you may find that you have to supplement with vitamins and immune boosters. It can take a VERY long time to repair the damage done by IBS, so be patient, and don't give up if you don't get instant results.

You can try any number of the things I've listed one or two at a time, and you may find a solution that works for your cat, but you have the best chance if you follow the 5-point protocol. if you've tried all these things, and still have had no success, and you believe this could be allergy-related, try the following protocol. This will probably only work if your cat does not suffer from stress caused by separation anxiety, or if it is not over-dependent on you. If the cat is needy for company and is attached to another cat, then isolating the two together could be a good move, and it won't harm the other one to follow this regime as well. It is best to start this on the Friday of a Bank Holiday weekend, when you can be there for the next three days to get this system started.

  • Isolate the cat in one room so that you can be sure it is not eating anything except what you give it and that you can control the environment very carefully.
  • In case this is allergy-caused, you need to wipe out everything that might be triggering the allergic reaction - even if it was only one thing originally, there could be dozens of things now upsetting the system, so you need to eliminate contact with everything you possibly can.
  • Wash everything it sleeps, walks or sits on, and toys, in a small-quantity of hypo-allergenic washing powder, then rinse it again in clean water.
  • Wipe down all the hard surfaces and floor with a weak solution of vinegar and water, let it dry then wipe it down again with clean hot water. It should not smell of vinegar when you have finished.
  • Make sure that your cat is not going to be stressed by being shut into this room, and if necessary include a companion cat to keep the sick cat happy.
  • Make sure there are warm places for the cat to sleep: include a heat pad under a washed fleece if possible, even if it is summer, as this is a comfort for the cat.
  • Replace your cat litter with something that has absolutely no residue or dressing: you can get plastic-bobble litter from most vets which simply needs to be washed when it is dirty. It is normally used to collect urine samples, but you need quite a lot of it if you're going to use it in place of your normal litter.
  • Limit the cat's food to lightly- (but properly) cooked organic venison and boiled potatoes. Mix the potatoes with the venison so that the meat is not too rich. Douse the water in Aloe Vera juice - the best quality you can find. Vary the diet with cooked coley: use only the bricks of coley that you can get in the frozen section of the supermarket, as this is the only form that is genuinely free of bones.
  • Cut out all biscuits for now, as they may be too gritty.
  • Feed tiny quantities at a time - maybe only a table-spoonful of food once an hour
  • Put the cat on large doses of slippery elm and Peridale, administered half an hour before each meal, and at intervals between meals.

IBS is not insurmountable. However it takes a huge amount of patience and an iron will: your cat will be hungry for more each time you feed it, but you have to be firm and only let it have a tiny amount at a time (remember it will get more in a very short time). As the gut heals, the cat may demand more food, but remember: if you increase its intake too soon, you could undo all your good work. When you start to increase meal sizes, make each increase absolutely tiny, and only gradually increase the intervals between feeding.

Depending on the length of time the cat has had IBS, and the severity of its condition, recovery could take as little as a few weeks, or as much as several months.

I appreciate that it's often not possible for working people to be able to do this for their cat. It may be possible to enlist the help of a neighbour or friend, or even to foster the cat to someone who will stick to the regime and not 'feel sorry' for the cat and wreck its chances of recovery by slipping it the odd treat. It's a complicated regime in some ways, and if you don't feel you can follow it, you might need to think seriously about rehoming the cat to someone who can deal with the condition. It doesn't need to be expensive to treat it, just time-consuming in the early weeks/months. Rehoming may seem drastic, but it's a lot better than having to have the cat put to sleep.