What to feed cats with feline IBS, diarrhea, or frequent hairballs

file000545729422 What to feed cats with feline IBS, diarrhea, or frequent hairballs hairballs feline ibs feline IBD feline diarrhea cat throwing up

UPDATED 2021 (Answers raw food added; minor updates)

I’m hearing from more and more cat lovers who are desperate to help their cats resolve colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or disease (IBD) symptoms, such as:

  • diarrhea or loose stools
  • constipation
  • frequent hairballs or vomiting
  • digestive reactions to certain foods (e.g., food allergies)

If you can relate, I’ve got good news to share.

I just saw a terribly stubborn case of feline irritable bowel symptoms healed through natural means. In a series of posts starting with this one, I’ll share everything helpful I learned from that case and other research.

I’ll start by doing my best to answer: “What natural food options might help my cat with these symptoms?”

But first, important: I am not a vet. Get a vet involved in your cat’s condition. Sometimes these are symptoms of intestinal or gastrointestinal cancer – and you want to catch that early.

What are feline IBD and IBS?

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is an inflammatory immune-reaction syndrome in the gastrointestinal tract. We know healing has been possible for many humans and cats, but the roots of the condition have not been well understood, so doctors have not had reliable solutions.

The symptoms are regular bouts of diarrhea, constipation, or vomiting. You may also see mucous or blood in the stool. In some cats the only symptom is weight loss. Some may stop using the litter box because it reminds them painful experiences.

IBS has similar symptoms to IBD, and I believe it’s a precursor to IBD. The difference is that IBD is so inflammatory that it causes damage to the intestines. Besides making everyone miserable, the scary thing about IBD is it can be deadly because:

  • a cat can actually starve from a very serious case of IBD
  • some experts believe the inflammation it causes can lead to the intestinal lymphoma which has become so common in cats 

By the way, sometimes what you think are frequent hairballs are actually IBD symptoms. If you have a cat who gags or throws up hairballs more than once a month, consider it suspicious.

Natural cat food picks for cats with IBS/IBD symptoms

Mainstream vet medicine often puts cats with IBS/IBD symptoms on manufactured “hypoallergenic” foods like Hill’s Z/D, but these foods are often high in carbohydrates (fattening) and low in quality protein. And according to expert Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, these foods don’t always work either – at least not for long.

In her book, Your Cat: Simple New Secrets for a Longer, Stronger Life, Dr. Hodgkins explains that for mild cases of IBD, grain-free canned diets are helpful.

For tougher cases, she prescribes a grain-free raw diet of ground meat with cat-appropriate vitamin and essential-fatty-acid supplements mixed in – she refers to this as a “the most complete cure.”

I agree with her on both accounts. And I have also noticed (and know as a human nutritionist)  that simple foods are the best for digestive issues. I have seen cats that do not do well with foods that have a lot of ingredients, even fruits and vegetables. (More on those in a moment.)

For more on grains and the feline digestive track, please see this post by Fern Crist, DVM and this article by Dr. Becker

Therefore…

First choice 

My first choice of natural cat foods from my “Best” list with the most simple, digestive-friendly formulas are:

  • Radcatraw*. This one is my (and our cats’) personal favorite because it doesn’t include ground bones, which are difficult for some cats (like ours) to digest. Very high quality UPDATE: Rad Cat no longer in business : (
  • NEW Answers Raw Cat Food, Detailed Formula, fermented with whey. Great clean ingredients and the food is is easy to digest because the whey helps break down the proteins. Plus, the whey also helps product against bacteria risk. This food has made a HUGE difference for our GI-lymphoma-surviving IBD cat.
  • Hound & Gatos canned. Good quality, simple ingredients. Several different formulas. Also available at Pet Food Express stores.
  • Pure Vita canned. Simple ingredients, grain-free, low carb.
  • Tiki Cat Koolina Luau canned and Puka Puka Luau. Very simple recipes.
  • Life’s Abundance Instinctive Choice canned. Again, simple and our cats love it. Because Life’s Abundance only sells by the case, online, I suggest getting their trial size first, but most cats seem to love it.

Primal’s raw cat foodhas also significantly helped some cats with IBD. The formulas are not as simple (it has vegetables, fiber, and ground bones), but Primal is easier to buy locally, so if it works for your cat, great!

*Note that, due to slightly higher bacteria risk, raw may not be ideal for cats with cancer or otherwise severely weakened immunity. 

Often IBD cats develop an intolerance for common meats they eat regularly, like chicken. 

They may do better with less common ones like duck and venison. Feline Pride offers some helpful options there because they have a variety of meats to choose from. Hound & Gatos have a variety as well. Primal now has a Pheasant formula.

In a pinch

If those foods don’t work for you for some reason, you could dip into the 2nd choice brands that offer other types of meats in the most simple formulas.

With some cats, constipation is made worse by foods with ground bones – most raw recipes have ground bones in them. When that’s the case, then you could make homemade raw food with one of these complete supplements.

Please keep in mind that cats can die without enough of certain key nutrients so you need to follow very specific instructions if you want to start a homemade raw diet.

My current supplement favorites for making homemade cat food:

  • Feline Instincts Supplement: They provide a recipe and nutrient supplement, which makes it easy to make sure your cat gets what they need. For constipated cats, I recommend the “No Bones About It” version.
  • Alnutrin Supplement: A good supplement and recipe for bone-free homemade cat food. You can request a free sample here, and they include the simple recipe.

Homemade food caveats: Other than getting the nutrients wrong, the other risk with making bone-free food you don’t grind yourself is that the meat may have unhealthy bacteria. I’ve been told not to use packaged meat raw, and that even fresh ground meat from a butcher may not be pure enough. Fresh unground meat is a safer choice. You could also cook the meat and then add supplement afterward. (You have to add the supplement after cooking, otherwise cooking will degrade critical nutrients, like taurine.) Alas, cooked meat is less digestible than raw meat.

What about vegetables? Do cats need some fiber?

For many IBS or IBD cats, the fiber in vegetables only causes more trouble—with one exception: for constipated cats who respond well to cooked pumpkin or squash, a little pumpkin or squash are good to add to their food because it prevents constipation.

I also like pumpkin and squash because they don’t contain disaccharides, which feed the bad bacteria.

Disacchar-what? Basically, vegetables that are high in disaccharides much more readily feed the bad bacteria at the root of inflammatory bowel conditions. This means cats with digestive trouble should avoid high-disaccharide ingredients like:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • FOS (fructooligosaccharides) – a fiber “prebiotic”

What if no food on earth is working out?!

Sometimes a new food works for a while, and then the symptoms flare up again. Such was the case with my friend’s cat.

This happens with tough cases of IBS or IBD.  First, I would stick with whatever simple foods cause the least reaction. Secondly, I’d assume a deeper healing of the gut is needed – that was the missing piece that solved my friend’s cat’s problems!

Stay tuned for that story in an upcoming post (update: it’s here). In the mean time, here’s a hint: seek help from customer service at Vitality Science. They are amazing and will get your cat on the gut healing path I’m talking about.

What’s your experience? 

I welcome your cat’s story here – we can all learn from each other!

Love to hear your thoughtful thoughts! Leave a reply...

305 Comments

  1. My 3 year old is constipated daily has decent appetite and only likes wet food. Drinks water. Er vet took X-ray and colon was full. It had been 8 days since I’ve observed a stool. Has been taking lactulose and miralax daily which I have seen no results. I have 4 cats and five litter boxes and check multiple times day and nite. Had ultrasound and no stool observed? I’ve ckd all over for stool with nothing found. Dx ibd what can I do she has another vet visit wed.

  2. Hi , I was reading your story about your cat . Our cat had this all of a sudden start with vomiting and diarrhea, all his blood work and X-rays were normal it’s been a long exhausting 18 days ! They put him on the Hill’s I/d prescription food and it was helping along with the fortiflora , until I had to use a slightly different Hill’s food when the prescription food was on back order , then the diarrhea cam back … I bet it’s IBD as well . If your cat better ? And do you still have to continue to feed your the prescription Hill’s

  3. after struggling with chronic diahrea (14 years , female, indoor) i tried everything , did all the tests, poo, blood, xray etc etc etc changed food and back, tried feeding all sorts of wet food, renal food, etc, then pumpkin, and probiotic (spoiler alert – they can smell it and often refuse them even in the best food) but FINALLY i am getting things under control with cooked chicken with fortiflora on it, mixed with a tiny bit of brown rice, and she is starting to heal. also i do not let her eat dry food at all, as it causes diarhea. i will next move onto homemade cat food (wet) but keep it super simple while her tract improves

    DONT LOSE HOPE, AND SIMPLIFY!!!!!

    1. Thanks for the info!
      I finally got the diarrhea under control after I transitioned my kitten to raw food and freeze dried raw food(when I go on a business trip) The diarrhea just stopped completely!! Healthy poop and he’s no longer underweight!!
      There are commercial raw food with minimal ingredients that work for my kitten. Primal and Vital Essential freeze dried raw food all work. I also buy raw food from a local raw pet food store and sometimes I order pre made grinds from Raw Feeding Miami. Hope that helps!

    1. I did – it was good results – mine came from animalbiome.com
      I also HUGHLY suggest this Facebook page and website
      IBDkitties
      Indkitties.net
      A WEALTH OF INFORMATION

      1. I have the fecal pills from animal biome actualy! Just been nervous to try them. My girl has little to no teeth so I would have to put it in her wet food and I worry she could choke. Maybe I am over thinking it. Animalbiome staff has been so helpful! Right now starting my girl on slippery elm syrup to calm the cramps down that she has after bms. We tried the Saccharomyces boulardii they recomended but it gave her diarrhea. Going on 6 months of this and on 3rd food change. Any advice would be greatly appriciated!

        1. Casey – Can you pill her? That’s how my girl got hers.
          Slippery elm make sure you give 30 + mins before or after food pills since it coats the digestive track and nothing can get thru.
          Did animalboime say you could open the pill and put it on her food?
          Have you tried a raw diet? That helped my girl. I tried all the novelty proteins and expensive food with no luck. My girl was also on PREDnisolne to reduce inflammation. Also what about a human probiotic?
          You really should look at ibdkitties.net. This is where I found all this info, as well as their facebook page.

          1. Thank you. I have been to that site and many others. The probiotic was recomended by animalbiome. I cant pill her because that stresses her out and we are avoiding triggering the inflammation to get worse. They did not recomend opening the pills because it wont work as well. As for the slippery elm I am considering giving it with every small meal throughout the day to possibly relive these cramps after she poops. So heartbreaking to watch. She is on a decent diet at this time. I think we are battling the campylobacter and unbalance of bacteria right now. I have a 3rd dr appoinement at a cat only vet Tuesday and I really hope they know what they are doing. I dont wamt to give steroids. I want to heal her gut. Raw possibly in the future but it submits her to more campylobacter expossure so I dont think her system could fight that at this time. Everyday is a struggle though. I’ll just keep giving her the slippery elm and rx clay for now I guess.

  4. One of my cats has similar symptoms. He’s currently eating Hill’s prescription gastrointestinal biome and gets a daily envelope of Fortiflora. The combination has dealt with the diarrhea but hasn’t identified the cause. He had an ultrasound this week and they found a thickening in the muscularis layer of his small intestines which could be related to IBS. Next is a GI blood panel to check his folate levels and something else I can’t remember before formulating a treatment plan for the IBS.