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The best cat food for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) helps to heal the gut lining, reduce inflammation, and restore healthy gut flora without stressing the digestive system.
That’s why we recommend Stella & Chewy’s Absolutely Rabbit freeze-dried morsels as the overall best cat food for IBD. Our top pick is minimally processed and features a single protein source, promising better digestibility and reduced inflammation.
Based on both veterinary research and anecdotal evidence, we’ve identified the top 5 cat foods that appear to have the best chance of controlling IBD symptoms and putting your cat on the road to optimal digestive health.
At a Glance: Best Cat Food for IBD To Buy
Want a quick look at the products reviewed in this article? In the comparison table below, we’ve highlighted some of the most important features of each product. You’ll find more detailed information about each product later in the article.
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Table of Contents:
Before we talk about how food can help your cat, let’s talk about the cause of IBD and its diagnosis.
No one knows exactly why cats develop IBD. Most cases are idiopathic, meaning that the root cause is unknown. In idiopathic cases of IBD, veterinarians often point to a rift in the relationship between the natural microbiota (normal microorganisms found in the body) and the GI immune system. For unknown reasons, the gut starts to fight against itself, interpreting normal microbiota and dietary components as threats.
When inflammatory cells enter your cat’s GI tract, they cause serious damage. Friendly gut bacteria populations dwindle. Injured, thickened, and flattened, the intestinal lining has an increasingly hard time doing its job. This means that cats with IBD have a harder time digesting and absorbing nutrients.
As a result of this intestinal damage, IBD patients often develop leaky gut, a condition that permits toxins and bacteria to leach into the bloodstream. Between chronic inflammation and a leaky gut, we’re looking at a recipe for a cat who constantly feels unwell.
IBD symptoms include chronic vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and bloody stools. In contrast to those with acute digestive problems, cats with IBD experience these GI issues for three weeks or more.
This kind of chronic digestive distress could point to a range of conditions, so diagnosing IBD requires extensive testing.
Once your veterinarian has established that your cat has IBD, you have a couple of options for treatment—dietary management and medication.
The right diet is the most powerful treatment for IBD.
Graig Ruaux, BVSc (Hons), Ph.D., MACVSc, DACVIM-SA tells Hills Pet Nutrition that 60% of cats with chronic GI problems improve with nutritional therapy alone.
That’s right—for most cats, diet alone is enough to ease IBD symptoms. No drugs necessary.
While there’s no arguing that diet can help, there is definitely debate on how much it can help.
Some say that IBD is incurable. Others disagree, saying that diet is both the cause of and the cure for IBD.
We know that dietary management can help, but what are the qualities of the best cat food for IBD?
Anne Jablonski, a feline nutrition advocate who claims to have cured her own cat’s IBD with a raw diet, describes cats with IBD as “the feline nutritional equivalent of the proverbial ‘canary in a coal mine,’ among the first to exhibit dietary sensitivity to ingredients that are inappropriate for their species.”
Cats with IBD have the same nutritional needs as any other feline. They’re just less tolerant of anything that falls outside of that carnivore-oriented blueprint.
In other words, they need plenty of readily-digestible protein from animal sources. They need animal-sourced fat that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. And they should avoid inflammatory additives like artificial colors, flavors, sugar, and other ingredients that could make things worse.
To nourish your cat with minimal waste and digestive strain, choose a highly-digestible food with healthy doses of animal protein. It’s recommended that cats with IBD consume a diet with at least 87% highly-digestible protein.
Though we still don’t fully understand which proteins are the most digestible for cats, we do know that minimally-processed animal flesh appears to be the most efficient protein source for an obligate carnivore.
This rules out foods that contain a lot of plant protein from ingredients like corn gluten meal, pea protein, potato protein, and soy protein.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to foods featuring animal protein sources, look for foods that are free of animal by-products and generically-named animal meals. The vagueness of these labels allows for a lot of variability in protein quality. By-products may be composed of digestible protein sources, or they may primarily contain indigestible animal parts that weigh your cat down.
Look for limited ingredient lists and novel proteins.
Since food allergies and intolerances play a part in IBD, it’s a good idea to avoid allergenic ingredients. A few of the most common cat food allergens are chicken, pork, beef, fish, dairy, and eggs.
Because meat or animal by-products may contain any variety of allergenic meats, avoid foods that include them. Instead, opt for novel proteins.
If you don’t know which proteins your cat is sensitive to, select novel proteins that are new to your cat’s diet. For example, if your cat has always eaten chicken-based foods, choose turkey, lamb, venison, or rabbit instead.
Make sure that your cat’s food is rich in moisture.
Feeding a high-moisture diet is the easiest way to combat the dehydration that is so common among cats with IBD. Instead of feeding kibble, opt for a canned, freshly-cooked, raw, or rehydrated diet.
Choose foods that control inflammation.
Cut out potentially-inflammatory additives like lactose, artificial colors and flavors, carrageenan, and certain preservatives like BHA, BHT, TBHQ, and ethoxyquin. Instead, look for foods that contain guaranteed levels of probiotics and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These ingredients can help to fight inflammation and support overall health.
Choose a species-appropriate diet that honors your cat’s nutritional needs.
Cats are obligate carnivores. They thrive on animal-based diets. From corn gluten meal to organic butternut squash, fruits and vegetables are neither necessary nor beneficial for any cat. For those with IBD, a species-appropriate diet is even more important.
The digestive system works best when you’re eating a species-appropriate and highly-digestible diet. For cats, that type of diet consists of raw meat, organs, and bones. A cat can meet all of his dietary requirements by eating raw, fresh prey alone.
Anything else—a plant-based diet full of fillers and excess—requires alteration and supplementation before it can come close to satisfying your cat’s needs. A raw diet is the simplest, most straightforward match for your cat’s body.
Raw feeding has benefits for cats with IBD, but you should be aware of the risks.
While most cats never get sick from the bacteria found in raw meat, it may be a risk for severely immunocompromised cats. Also, handling raw meat can expose you to that same disease-causing bacteria. If this worries you, you might opt for home cooked food as a less pathogenic middle ground.
Most commercially-available raw foods contain a considerable amount of bone. If your cat has constipation, excessive bone content could make the situation worse. One alternative is to make your own raw food instead, controlling everything that goes into the recipe. This requires careful planning, research, and adherence to well-formulated recipes. A veterinary nutritionist who is experienced in developing raw food diets for cats can help you with this.
Should you feed your cat a prescription cat food for IBD?
By eliminating or hydrolyzing the components most often implicated in feline food allergies and sensitivities, prescription foods omit common inflammation triggers and give the digestive tract a chance to heal.
Some cats thrive on prescription foods, but it’s important to remember that every case of IBD is unique. Also recall that cats with IBD are still carnivores and, like every other cat on the planet, should receive a species-appropriate, meat-based diet.
This means that regardless of veterinarian endorsement, prescription dry foods are still dry foods and seldom offer anything near species-appropriate nutrition. For example, here are the first 5 ingredients in two of the most popular IBD-focused prescription foods on the market:
- Hill’s Prescription Diet I/D: Chicken, Cracked Pearled Barley, Corn Gluten Meal, Brewers Rice, Pork Fat
- Royal Canin Feline Digestive Care: Brewers Rice, Wheat Gluten, Chicken Meal, Chicken Fat, Corn Gluten Meal
Neither of these dry foods offer species-appropriate nutrition for an obligate carnivore. Minimally nourishing plant ingredients dwarf the animal inclusions on the list. To add to the oddness of it all, both foods contain chicken, one of the top cat allergens.
Best Cat Foods for IBD Reviewed
#1 Premium Pick: Nom Nom Flavorful Fish Feast Cat Food Review
First 5 Ingredients: Tilapia, Salmon, Beef Fat, Yuca, Carrot
If you’re looking for something irresistible for a cat with an inconsistent appetite, this homemade-style food from Nom Nom may be a good option. It delivers species-appropriate nutrition in a minimally-processed format, helping to ensure easy digestion.
Ingredient quality is another area where this food excels. Nom Nom sources ingredients from restaurant suppliers and prepares each meal in human-grade kitchens.
This recipe features flaked tilapia and salmon mixed with a variety of vegetables. Though the food isn’t plant-free, it manages to remain low in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates constitute 5% of the recipe’s calorie content.
This food is available only if you opt into Nom Nom’s meal delivery service, which allows you to receive custom-portioned bags of food according to a schedule of your choice. You can test out a few sample packets before you start your subscription.
Another perk of buying Nom Nom is that subscribers gain access to a team of nutrition experts. The team is willing to review your cat’s latest bloodwork and can even communicate with your veterinarian about choosing the right food for your cat.
Tilapia, Salmon, Beef Fat, Cassava Root, Carrot, Dicalcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Salt, Taurine, Choline Bitartrate, Zinc Gluconate, Ferrous Sulfate, Vitamin E Supplement, Copper Gluconate, Manganese Gluconate, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Selenium Yeast, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Cholecalciferol (Source Of Vitamin D3), Potassium Iodide.
|Crude Protein||18% Min|
|Crude Fat||6% Min|
|Crude Fiber||0.5% Max|
What We Liked
- Primarily made from readily-digestible protein from minimally-processed fish
- Shipped to your home according to a weekly, biweekly, or monthly schedule
- Tilapia and salmon are good sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3s
What We Didn’t Like
- Fish should be alternated with other protein sources
- Price is above the market average
#2 Top Pick: Stella & Chewy’s Freeze-Dried Raw Absolutely Rabbit Dinner Morsels Cat Food Review
First 5 Ingredients: Rabbit with Ground Bone, Olive Oil, Pumpkin Seed, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Phosphate Monobasic
The internet is full of stories from people who say that after trying “everything” on the market, raw food was the only thing that relieved their cat’s IBD symptoms. As the closest approximation of your cat’s natural ancestral diet, a raw diet is a highly-digestible choice that honors your cat’s biological needs.
These freeze-dried morsels from Stella & Chewy’s are made primarily from rabbit, which is a novel protein for most cats and unlikely to worsen inflammation.
The recipe is free from grains, potatoes, and other high-carbohydrate, minimally-nutritious plant ingredients.
It’s supplemented with probiotics, which can help to fortify the good bacteria in your cat’s gut, thus improving digestion and potentially reducing inflammation.
Rabbit with ground bone, Rabbit Liver, Olive Oil, Pumpkin Seed, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Phosphate, Choline Chloride, Dried Pediococcus acidilactici Fermentation Product, Dried Lactobacillus acidophilus Fermentation Product, Dried Bifidobacterium longum Fermentation Product, Dried Bacilius coagulans Fermentation Product, Taurine, Tocopherols (Preservative), Dandelion, Dried Kelp, Zinc Proteinate, Iron Proteinate, etc…
|Crude Protein||44% Min|
|Crude Fat||30% Min|
|Crude Fiber||5% Max|
What We Liked
- Rabbit is usually a novel protein
- Raw food has a good reputation among cats with IBD
- Supplemented with probiotics
- Primarily made from highly-digestible animal protein sources
What We Didn’t Like
- This food takes a few minutes to rehydrate, so it may not be convenient for every schedule
#3 Best Dry: Dr. Elsey’s cleanprotein Chicken Recipe Dry Cat Food
First 5 Ingredients: Chicken, Dried Egg Product, Pork Protein Isolate, Gelatin, Chicken Fat
Did you remember that high-moisture food is best for cats with IBD? That means that dry food, with its moisture content often lower than 10%, is seldom a good option for cats with IBD. On top of the moisture issue, dry food is more likely to contain starch and plant ingredients your cat doesn’t need.
But if your cat refuses to eat anything else, dry food might be your only option. If you’re going to feed your cat kibble, this food from Dr. Elsey’s is about as good as it gets.
In contrast to your typical dry food, this food emphasizes high-quality protein, with chicken, dried egg product, and pork protein isolate dominating the ingredient list. The food doesn’t contain a lot of plant ingredients. Instead of containing high-carbohydrate binders like most dry foods, this recipe uses gelatin as its kibble binder. It contains salmon oil as a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
All of this translates to an efficient food that nourishes your cat without a lot of waste or inflammatory ingredients. Aside from the moisture factor, this food fits our description of a great diet for cats with IBD.
Chicken, dried egg product, pork protein isolate, gelatin, chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols), flaxseed, natural flavor, salmon oil, potassium citrate, calcium carbonate, fructooligosaccharide, calcium carbonate, choline chloride, vitamins (vitamin E supplement, niacin supplement, d-calcium pantothenate, vitamin A acetate, thiamine mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, vitamin D3 supplement, biotin, etc…
|Crude Protein||59% Min|
|Crude Fat||18% Min|
|Crude Fiber||4% Max|
What We Liked:
- Features highly-digestible animal proteins
- Significantly lower carbohydrate content than the typical dry food
- Contains salmon oil as a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids
What We Didn’t Like:
- Dry food doesn’t provide enough moisture
#4 Best Hypoallergenic Cat Food: Vital Essentials Rabbit Mini Patties Grain Free Limited Ingredient Freeze-Dried Cat Food Review
First 5 Ingredients: Rabbit, Rabbit Liver, Rabbit Heart, Rabbit Kidney, Goat’s Milk
This straightforward, rabbit-centric recipe is a winning option for cats with food allergies. It contains nothing but rabbit meat, organs, and bones with water, goat’s milk, herring oil, and tocopherols as preservatives.
Raw goat’s milk contains enzymes that help to digest lactose, eliminating concerns about lactose intolerance.
The benefits of raw goat’s milk aren’t clear, but proponents name several benefits for cats with allergies. Raw goat’s milk is a source of caprylic acid, which may help fight yeast buildup as a symptom of allergies.
While advocates of raw milk claim that it’s a natural antihistamine, it doesn’t appear that its benefits go quite that far. It does appear, however, that people who drink raw milk as children have a lower risk of developing allergies or asthma later in life.
Herring oil is added as a species-appropriate source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids can reduce inflammation and promote skin and coat health, helping to soothe and heal itchy skin.
Rabbit and bone, rabbit, rabbit liver, rabbit heart, rabbit kidney, goat’s milk, herring oil, mixed tocopherols (preservative), vitamin E supplement
|Crude Protein||54% Min|
|Crude Fat||20% Min|
|Crude Fiber||3% Max|
What We Liked:
- Made with a single source of animal protein
- Very straightforward, simple ingredient list minimizes exposure to potential allergens
- Contains raw goat’s milk, which may help reduce inflammation
- Features herring oil as a source of soothing omega-3 fatty acids
What We Didn’t Like:
- Not all cats enjoy the rabbit taste
#5 Best for Diabetes and IBD: Hound & Gatos Turkey & Turkey Liver Canned Cat Food Review
First 5 Ingredients: Duck, Duck Broth, Duck Liver, Agar-Agar, Potassium Chloride
With just one novel protein source and no additives that could aggravate your cat’s gut, this food is an outstanding choice for cats with IBD. In fact, Hound & Gatos company founder Will Post says that “the IBD cats are our largest customers.”
This recipe is 98% duck, duck broth, and duck liver. All Hound & Gatos foods are DNA tested, helping to ensure that what’s inside of the can is what’s on the label. In addition to nourishing animal protein sources, the food contains salmon oil as a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Thanks to its lack of carbohydrate matter, this food is also a good choice for cats who’ve developed diabetes secondary to IBD.
Turkey, Turkey Broth, Turkey Liver, Calcium Carbonate, Potassium Chloride, Agar-Agar, Choline Chloride, Salmon Oil, Taurine, Salt, Iron Proteinate, Zinc Proteinate, Manganese Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Magnesium Proteinate, Sodium Selenite, Calcium Iodate, Thiamine Mononitrate, Niacin Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Vitamin A Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid
|Crude Protein||10% Min|
|Crude Fat||8.5% Min|
|Crude Fiber||1% Max|
What We Liked:
- Made from duck, which is a less-allergenic alternative to more common protein sources
- Free from commonly inflammatory ingredients
- Limited ingredient list minimizes potential inflammation
- Highly digestible
- Zero carbohydrate content
What We Didn’t Like
- One of the most expensive foods on the market
#6 Ziwi Peak Venison Canned Cat Cuisine Review
First 5 Ingredients: Venison, Venison Broth, Venison Liver, Venison Lung, Venison Heart
For most cats, venison is a novel protein source and unlikely to spark an allergic reaction. This venison-based food is all about meat, organs, and bones, and doesn’t leave much room for things that could be hard on your cat’s digestion.
Note, however, that this food does contain chickpeas, which aren’t a nourishing inclusion for cats and might be difficult for some to digest.
In addition to necessary vitamins and minerals, the food is supplemented with dried kelp and New Zealand green-lipped mussel.
It’s free from potentially inflammatory artificial colors, flavors, or added sweeteners.
Venison, Venison Broth, Venison Liver, Venison Lung, Venison Heart, Venison Kidney, Venison Tripe, Chick Peas, New Zealand Green Mussel, Venison Bone, Dried Kelp, Minerals (Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Copper Amino Acid Complex, Manganese Amino Acid Complex), Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B1 Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement)
|Crude Protein||10% Min|
|Crude Fat||4% Min|
|Crude Fiber||2% Max|
What We Liked
- A limited-ingredient diet
- Made with a single novel protein
- Highly digestible
- Free from binders, which could inflame the gut
What We Didn’t Like
- One of the most expensive foods on the market
- Contains chickpeas
In addition to a superb diet, cats with IBD can benefit from certain supplements.
Here’s a quick overview of the supplements that can help your cat to feel better.
Probiotic Supplementation for Cats with IBD
Remember that the relationship between bacteria and its host is profound, affecting almost every area of your cat’s health. Bacteria is a crucial immunoregulatory agent and can help to control inflammation. Because IBD is fundamentally an inflammatory disease and a condition of dysbiosis (microbial imbalance), supplementation with “good” bacteria touches at the root of the problem.
B12 Supplementation for Cats with IBD
Because cats with IBD are unable to properly absorb nutrients, most are deficient in vitamin B12. This vitamin can be supplemented via subcutaneous injection.
Broths for Cats with IBD
Meat and fish stocks provide the building blocks that can heal the gut lining. Bone broth is mineral-rich and a good source of collagen, which contains two important amino acids (proline and glycine). These help to heal the lining of the gut and reduce intestinal inflammation. Broths also contain glycosaminoglycans, which are building blocks for tissue repair. Provide an unseasoned, salt-free broth made from joints, bones, and meat.
Because IBD affects so many cats and their humans, the web is full of resources for anyone struggling to treat their cat’s chronic GI inflammation.
Here are a few resources to help you further your understanding of IBD in cats:
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease – Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: This comprehensive page is a good starting point for those who want to understand IBD in cats. It explains the causes, symptoms, treatment, and prognosis of feline IBD.
- IBDKitties: This site is a tremendous resource for anyone who has a cat suffering from IBD. The site features case studies, medication advice, instructions for making your own cat food, and a wealth of information on the condition.
Raw Feeding for IBD Cats: If you’re interested in taking the raw route, this website is the GPS that will keep you from getting lost. In addition to a strong foundation of personal experience and passion, the site is thick with references to research on IBD in both cats and humans.
This article has been reviewed by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM.
About the author
Mallory Crusta is a writer and adventurecat enthusiast on a mission to make cats’ lives extraordinary. She’s one of the founders of Wildernesscat – a site for happy, healthy, and adventurous cats who are fueled by nature. Visit Wildernesscat for radically natural cat nutrition, home remedies, and lifestyle inspiration.