When To Euthanize A Cat With IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease in cats is an uncomfortable condition that can lead to lifelong struggles. While this syndrome can be managed in many cats, some cats can suffer more than others. So how do you know when it is time to say goodbye to your cat with IBD?

In this article we will dive into the details of IBD in cats, and help you understand when it may be time to discuss quality of life with your veterinarian.

What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease In Cats?

When To Euthanize A Cat With IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in cats is an uncomfortable syndrome that impacts the stomach or intestines. Inflammatory cells will invade the walls of the GI tract in cats with IBD, thickening the lining and making it difficult for nutrients to be absorbed.

Once the initial irritation of IBD begins, this makes it more challenging for the GI tract to fight off foreign invaders. The compromise in the GI tract will then trigger an immune response, leading to even more inflammation in the area. This constant cycle is what makes IBD so challenging to manage, and why it can impact cats for a long period of time.

The exact cause of inflammatory bowel disease in cats is unknown, but it is thought to be triggered by the body’s reaction to a few potential factors.

IBD in cats can be triggered by:

  • bacterial infections
  • diet changes
  • intestinal parasites
  • or even food allergies

These triggers could cause initial irritation in the GI tract, leading to an inflammatory response in the area. There are different forms of IBD in cats based on the part of the GI tract that is affected, but each can result in serious gastrointestinal symptoms going forward.

Symptoms Of IBD In Cats

Symptoms of IBD in cats will vary based on which part of the GI tract is involved. Because IBD can impact a cat’s ability to absorb nutrients, you may also notice some systemic changes as well. Some of the most common signs of IBD in cats include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloody stool
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Change in appetite
  • Passing multiple hairballs a month

Diagnosing IBD In Cats

The most important part of treating or managing IBD in cats is by addressing the underlying cause that led to the initial inflammation. If the irritant is still present in the GI tract, your cat will be unable to escape the vicious cycle of inflammation. To do this, your veterinarian will likely perform a few diagnostics.

These test will often include:

  • Fecal test to search for intestinal parasites and bacteria
  • Full panel of diagnostic blood work
  • Ultrasound of the stomach and intestines
  • Diagnostics for other chronic medical concerns such as Feline Leukemia, hyperthyroidism, cancer, and more
  • Hypoallergenic food trial to rule out a food allergy

The only way to definitively diagnose IBD in your feline friend is through a biopsy of the tissue affected. This will involve examining the tissue under a microscope, and measuring the amount of inflammatory cells that are present.

Treatment Options For IBD In Cats

Treatment options for cats with IBD will vary a bit based on the underlying cause. While some cases may require specific treatment if an initial trigger is detected, you can expect your veterinarian to follow a general treatment guideline.


Even if your cat has tested negative for any intestinal parasites on a fecal float, your vet will likely prescribe broad spectrum dewormers for safe measure. Not all intestinal parasites show up on a fecal exam, and some protozoans can be extremely challenging to detect. Due to this, it is always safe to deworm just in case. Dewormers are not harmful for cats when given as directed, even if they do not have any intestinal invaders. 


Recommended medication for cats with IBD will vary based on where they are in their care. There are a few drugs that are used as a first line of defense, while others are pulled out when other drugs have failed to work. To help you understand all of the options available to your feline friend, let’s discuss each medication.

The first medication that may be used in cats with IBD is metronidazole. Metronidazole is an antibiotic with anti-inflammatory properties, and seems to be well tolerated in cats with GI upset. This medication can also target protozoa in the GI tract, which helps to cover your bases if they are missed during routine diagnostics.

If metronidazole is not effective in relieving a cat’s symptoms, the next step may include corticosteroids. Corticosteroids will offer anti-inflammatory and immune suppressing benefits, hopefully aiding in relief of their IBD symptoms. This medication may be given on its own or in conjunction with metronidazole. Cats taking corticosteroids will need to be monitored closely by their veterinarian, as long term use can lead to other medical complications.

Some veterinarians are beginning to explore the addition of prebiotics, probiotics, and vitamin B12 for cats that suffer from IBD. This combination can help to promote GI health in cats that struggle with gut health, as well as promote ideal bacterial populations.

If none of the above options help your feline friend, your veterinarian may discuss the use of stronger immunosuppressants. While these medications can be tolerated in cats, they will need to be monitored closely by their veterinarian.

Diet Changes

Your veterinarian may recommend a diet change in conjunction with a medication trial. Dietary allergens are a potential trigger in cats with IBD, making a hypoallergenic food trial ideal in some situations. These hypoallergenic diets often include a protein that your cat has never eaten before, along with ingredients that are easy to digest. Your vet will also recommend that you eliminate any unapproved treats from their diet, as well as any table scraps.

Signs Of Unmanaged IBD In Cats

While many cats will have significant improvement with dietary and medical management, other cats will struggle to find relief. Some cats will experience flare ups throughout their entire lives, while others will struggle to get a hold on it completely. Every cat is different, making it so important to be aware of the signs of unmanaged IBD in cats.

A few signs of a cat that is struggling in their IBD includes:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Diarrhea that is unmanaged
  • Anorexia or significantly decreased appetite
  • Ongoing lethargy

Not only is chronic IBD painful for cats that are unmanaged, but it can lead to other GI complications as well. Chronic inflammation in the intestines has been linked to GI lymphoma, meaning their severe symptoms could be pointing to something more. If your cat’s IBD seems to be making their life difficult, it may be time to discuss quality of life with your veterinarian. 

When To Euthanize A Cat With IBD

If your cat is experiencing chronic symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease that can no longer be managed, you may be struggling with the decision of when to say goodbye. While we want to do everything we can to help our furry friends, some situations make it impossible.

If you have explored multiple treatment options for your cat without any long term success, it may be time to speak with your veterinarian about letting go. This also stands true if you are unable to afford or consider more aggressive treatments, as this will just result in suffering on your cat’s end.

If your cat’s symptoms have been plaguing them for months on end without any relief, their IBD may be too severe to manage without aggressive care, or may have progressed to something more serious. If you ever feel like your cat is beginning to suffer, it may be time to consider saying goodbye.

Inflammatory bowel disease is an irritating condition that can vary from cat to cat. Only you will know when your cat is suffer and know when it is time to say goodbye.

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