Cats with IBD or a history of IBD are at risk for Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is absorbed very slowly in the intestines via a carrier protein called intrinsic factor. The chronic inflammation caused by IBD interferes with or may completely block absorption of Vitamin B12. Since daily requirements for B12 are low, the body’s reserves can last for years even after absorption from the diet slows or stops, but eventually the reserves will be depleted and the cat will develop symptoms of B12 deficiency. Testing for serum B12 levels may not reveal cats at risk for B12 deficiency symptoms, because the levels in spinal fluid and at the cellular level may be much lower than serum levels. According to the Gastrointestinal Laboratory at Texas A&M University , cats with IBD and other gastrointestinal diseases are at high risk for tissue-level B12 deficiency even if serum levels are normal.
Even if you supplement your cat’s diet with B12 and the diet contains excess B12, your cat may still not be absorbing any of the vitamin. Even if your cat’s IBD symptoms have resolved due to a proper diet, some permanent damage to the villi of the intestines may have been done, inhibiting absorption of B12 even when regular digestion and absorption of other dietary nutrients has resumed.
TAMU recommends that all cats with gastrointestinal disease (or a history of gastrointestinal disease) are monitored for B12 status and supplemented with subcutaneous injections of B12. SInce B12 is a water soluble vitamin and there is no toxic dose, there is no risk to supplementing with this vitamin. If your cat has a gastrointestinal disease, talk to your vet about B12 shots and show your vet the website linked above explaining the B12 protocol recommended by TAMU.
What are the Symptoms of B12 Deficiency in Cats?
Cats with low or deficient levels of Vitamin B12 may display some or all of these symptoms:
- Weakness or peripheral nervous problems especially in the hind end. The cat may appear to walk on his hocks or hocks lower to the ground than usual and have difficulty jumping.
- Vomiting, Diarrhea
- Abnormal and/or low red blood cells
- Abnormal and/or lo white blood cells
What Causes B12 Deficiency?
- Gastrointestinal diseases that affect the absorption of B12 in the ileum.
- Genetic disorders in absorbing or converting B12 to the active form.
- Diseases that increase urination and thirst including diabetes, CRF, and hyperthyroidism.
- Causes of B12 deficiency are not all known and cats with the symptoms should have a full exam and blood tests to look for primary disease.
How Can I Prevent B12 Deficiency in my IBD Cat?
Don’t wait until your cat has symptoms! Some symptoms are reversible but it is best to prevent rather than to treat a deficiency.
- TAMU recommends subcutaneous injections of B12, rather than oral supplements which may not be readily absorbed by cats with gastrointestinal disease.
- B12 does not sting (give pure B12 not a B Vitamin complex injection which stings), the injection volume is tiny,and it is very easy for the cat owner to give injections at home.
- Follow the TAMU protocol for B12 injections.