When to Euthanize a Cat With IBD?

Discussing when to euthanize a cat with inflammatory bowel disease can be difficult. Many cats with IBD continue to enjoy life despite their disease. For others, however, the suffering that accompanies their illness is so severe that a decision has to be made about whether the cat should be allowed to die naturally or if euthanasia is the only humane choice.

When to Euthanize a Cat With IBD

When is it time to euthanize a cat with IBD?

Feline inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic, progressive and incurable condition that’s common among older cats. Cats with IBD typically experience periods of remission and exacerbation throughout their lives, and the overall course of the disease is unpredictable. Some cats live with IBD for many years before succumbing to other causes. Others develop complications that are life-threatening or difficult to manage.

A cat with IBD may be euthanized for several reasons, including:

  • The owner can’t afford the ongoing costs of treatment
  • The cat experiences significant weight loss and malnutrition
  • The cat has uncontrollable diarrhea
  • The cat experiences significant abdominal pain
  • The cat develops liver disease or pancreatitis as a complication of IBD
  • The cat develops cancerous tumors in the intestines

Many cats with IBD enjoy a good quality of life. They can be cared for with medication, special diets, and sometimes even surgery. However, some cats do not respond to treatment and continue to suffer from chronic vomiting and diarrhea despite all efforts.

You should consider euthanasia if your cat’s quality of life is poor. Your cat might be suffering from constant pain and discomfort. Euthanasia is the most humane option that would end your pet’s suffering. You should talk with a vet about this option if you think it is best for your cat.

How is feline IBD treated?

Once a diagnosis of IBD has been made, and your vet starts your cat on a course of treatment, you may see an immediate improvement. The weight loss will stop and the cat will become more energetic. If your cat has been vomiting and diarrhea, the symptoms will stop. This is good news! But this improvement may only be temporary. As long as the underlying cause of the IBD is not discovered and treated, the symptoms will return and your cat’s health will deteriorate again.

Treatment for your cat’s condition depends on the severity of the symptoms. If your cat is not severely ill and has no other underlying problems, your veterinarian may recommend a trial of dietary therapy. You may need to choose an over-the-counter or prescription food that contains a novel (unusual) protein source and/or hydrolyzed protein (protein in a form that the GI tract finds easy to digest). A dietary trial usually lasts eight to 12 weeks. If it doesn’t help within this time frame, more diagnostic testing will likely be recommended.

If your cat is severely ill with IBD or if dietary therapy doesn’t improve symptoms after several weeks, medications are typically necessary. Medications used in cats most often include prednisone or other steroids, and antibiotics such as metronidazole.

How long do cats live with inflammatory bowel disease?

According to VCA Hospitals, many cats with IBD can live a normal lifespan if they respond well to treatment, provided that the cause of their condition can be identified and treated. However, as there is no cure for IBD and treatment for this disorder is life-long, some cats may eventually develop complications from their condition.

Cats with IBD may be more susceptible to developing other intestinal problems such as intestinal lymphoma or intestinal adenocarcinoma. Lymphoma is a type of cancer that involves white blood cells called lymphocytes, while adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that affects epithelial tissues such as those found in organs or glands. Cats can also develop chronic kidney disease or diabetes mellitus as a complication of their IBD.

How can I help my cat with IBD?

IBD is a chronic condition that requires treatment for life. However, with the right treatments, your cat can enjoy a normal life expectancy.

Here are some things you can do to help your cat with IBD:

  • A high-fiber diet has been shown to help many cats with IBD. This is thought to be because fiber slows stomach emptying, which means the food stays in the stomach longer. This allows more time for digestion before the food passes into the small intestine, where the inflammation in IBD occurs. High-fiber diets also absorb water in the gut and make stool less runny. Your vet can advise on whether a high-fiber diet would be suitable for your cat.
  • Closely follow your veterinarian’s instructions for feeding and medication. This includes keeping to a regular schedule of meals, as well as keeping the food and water bowls in the same place.
  • Avoid “people food” and table scraps. Cats with IBD have delicate digestive systems, so avoid foods that are high in fat or spices. The only exception is when your veterinarian recommends a special diet for cats with IBD (such as Hill’s Prescription Diet ID).
  • Provide plenty of fresh water at all times. Encourage drinking by using two or more water dishes placed in different locations. Some cats find running water more palatable, so consider a pet fountain or dripping faucet.
  • Pay attention to your cat’s litterbox habits. If you notice diarrhea or frequent large volumes of urine, talk to your veterinarian right away. It could mean that it’s time to adjust the treatment plan again.
  • Take note of any changes in behavior or appetite, since these could be signs of stress or depression caused by chronic illness.
  • For cats that do not respond to dietary management alone, there are several medications that can be used alone or in combination with dietary therapy to minimize symptoms of IBD.

What is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)?

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a common term for a group of diseases that cause inflammation in the intestines. These diseases can be caused by bacteria, parasites or other inflammatory conditions in the body.

The most common signs are vomiting and diarrhea, although some cats may not show signs of vomiting or diarrhea. Blood work and urinalysis can help diagnose IBD, but the gold standard is an intestinal biopsy.

If your cat has been diagnosed with IBD, your veterinarian might recommend several treatments including:

  • Antibiotics if there is evidence of bacterial infections
  • Medications to soothe the gastrointestinal tract
  • Changes in diet that can help alleviate symptoms
  • Frequent follow-up visits to monitor your cat, possibly including blood work and weight checks

Unfortunately, no treatment works for every patient. Some cats will have lifelong problems with their gastrointestinal tract and will require frequent monitoring by your veterinarian. In these cases, it’s important to watch for signs that indicate your cat is suffering.

Conclusion of euthanizing a cat with IBD

Cats with IBD have a varied prognosis. Most cats will do very well with the correct diagnosis and treatment. Others may need lifelong treatment, while some cats may not respond to therapy and can decline rapidly.

If you think your cat has IBD, get him to a veterinarian right away. The quicker you can get him diagnosed and on a therapeutic plan, the better his outcome will be.

If your cat has been diagnosed with IBD and is not responding to therapy, it is time to reach out to your veterinarian for guidance. Your veterinarian should perform periodic bloodwork and diagnostic tests to assess how your cat is doing clinically. If your cat’s condition continues to decline, he may recommend that you consider euthanasia.

Your veterinarian can give you guidelines on what signs would indicate that euthanasia may be appropriate for your cat. You also can discuss the effects of IBD on quality of life with your veterinarian and what signs would tell you that treatment is no longer making enough of an improvement in your cat’s health for it to continue.

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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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