Did I Do the Right Thing by Euthanizing My Cat?

Euthanizing a cat is one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make. Grief and emptiness will inevitably accompany the judgment, and guilt is also likely. Have an open and honest dialog with your vet. Expert guidance from a professional who has been through this situation with other owners is invaluable during this sad situation.

If your cat was terminally ill and in discomfort, its time was almost up. Any cat would rather die with dignity, so forcing them to live on through chronic pain wouldn’t have been the right decision. If you’ve discussed the options with your vet and followed their advice, you did the right thing in having your cat euthanized.

Euthanizing a cat is a decision that can haunt you for a long time. We’ll look at how to cope and help you to grieve the sudden loss of your cat. Euthanasia is never an easy choice, but it’s usually the most humane decision, regardless of the feelings of guilt that you’re currently be experiencing.

What are the Criteria for Euthanizing Cats?

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers guidelines for vets on when euthanasia is appropriate. A vet can refuse to euthanize a healthy cat based on them.

Why would anybody want to do end a healthy cat’s life? You may be surprised. Heartbreaking as the experience is for most owners, some people seek euthanasia just for lifestyle or convenience.

Cats with behavioral problems are the most common example. In such an instance, a vet will likely contact a shelter. But some shelters are forced to euthanize cats due to a lack of facilities.

A vet will only suggest that euthanasia is the most humane choice when cats:

  • Cannot move comfortably
  • Lose interest in eating or drinking or are unable to eat or drink
  • No longer greet humans or show any interest
  • Are terminally ill and in constant pain
  • Are very sick and need constant, expensive, and intrusive treatments to prolong their life

Felines are proud, independent animals. When their quality of life drops below a certain standard, it hits them hard. It can be difficult to say goodbye and accept that your cat will not recover.

We must put our feelings and personal wishes aside. Put yourself in the shoes of your cat. The definition of the word euthanasia means “good death” when translated from the original Greek. Given a choice, would your cat prefer to pass quietly and comfortably, leaving you with a lifetime of special memories?

If euthanasia is recommended, your vet will discuss this with you in further detail. Discuss means just that: a vet will not enforce euthanasia, only recommend it to you. Your vet will explain the reality of your cat’s condition, and you’ll have to reach that conclusion together.

The decision will lie with you, which is why so many people struggle with animal euthanasia. Also, be aware that there is no such thing as the “right time” for euthanasia. You can certainly find the best time, but this won’t make the experience any easier.

As difficult as it may be, do your best to accept the reality and approach the conversation with an open mind. A vet will always have the interests of the animal in mind, and Euthanasia is never something that a vet will take lightly. If your vet advises this action, you can be assured that it’s a considered, professional opinion.

A vet cannot help with the emotional impact of the decision. You’ll need to separate your heart from your head to make a choice based on medical grounds.

Did I Euthanize My Cat Too Soon?

Feeling guilty about euthanizing your cat is a common reaction. Losing a family pet is painful enough, but playing a role in the decision to end your cat’s life makes the experience even more heartbreaking.

A vet will only consider euthanizing your cat if it’s necessary. Don’t rely upon your cat telling you that it’s the right time. That puts too much pressure on your cat, and it’s unlikely to happen anyway. Also, cats rarely display the full extent of their suffering.

Finding the right moment can be hard as even a very sick cat will have good days and bad days. In such a scenario, use this Quality of Life scale sourced from Veterinary Practice News.

The Quality of Life scale involves assigning a score from 0 to 10 on the following criteria. The more difficulty your pet experiences, the higher the score will be. Here are the questions:

  • Hurt – is your cat in visible pain, and can it comfortably breathe without assistance?
  • Hunger – is your cat still eating of its own accord? Does it need to be hand-fed or use external apparatus?
  • Hydration – is your cat drinking, or is it constantly dehydrated?
  • Hygiene – is your cat still grooming itself, especially after eliminating?
  • Happiness – does your pet take joy in company and playtime or spend more time hiding?
  • Mobility – can your pet get up, enter and exit its litter tray, and walk around?
  • Good Days vs. Bad Days – your cat has more bad days than good.

If your cat scores above 35, you may need to consider euthanasia. Vets have a mantra: “better a month too early than an hour too late.”

What Happens When a Cat is Euthanized?

There are concerns surrounding euthanasia. Will your cat know what is happening? Will it be scared? Will it hurt?

When the decision is made to euthanize your cat, pick the appropriate time and place. While many vets will not visit your home, they’ll make an exception for this procedure. If your cat would likely prefer to end its life in familiar surroundings, so be it.

This may be preferable to the procedure at a vet’s office. But, unfortunately, when euthanasia is necessary, it usually takes place after the working day. That could be a long, frightening wait for your cat.

When the time comes, a cat will be euthanized via an injection to the leg. This will not be painful. At worst, your cat will feel a sharp scratch when the injection is administered. If your cat is old and weak, a vet may not be able to find a vein. In these instances, they’ll inject the abdomen instead. The result will be the same, although it can take longer.

The drug that most vets use is pentobarbital. Your vet will administer an excess dosage. This means that your cat will lose consciousness almost immediately. Within a minute or two of this, its brain and heart will cease functioning. Your cat has passed over to the Rainbow Bridge.

There is nothing for you to do but grieve and decide what happens next. For example, you could have your cat cremated or buried in a pet cemetery, and many cities also offer pet funeral services.

did I euthanize my cat too soon?

Should I Be With My Cat While It Is Euthanized?

This is entirely your decision. Some owners consider it an opportunity to say one last goodbye, while others find the whole concept too upsetting and prefer to remember their cat at its healthiest.

If you intend to be present during the procedure, prepare yourself accordingly. You will be watching your beloved pet pass away, and this can be traumatic and on par with the loss of a human family member.

If you want to be present when your pet is euthanized, don’t stay alone afterward. Ensure that you have friends and family members around you to help manage your grief.

It’s one thing to return home to an empty cat bed and disused food bowl. It’s quite another to watch your cat take its last breath.

You should also be aware that the immediate aftermath of euthanasia can be very upsetting. The cat will often start to twitch and lose control of its bladder and bowels. It may even open its eyes. These are not signs of life or a suggestion that your cat is clinging to consciousness.

Everything that happens is natural and common when an animal passes away. But, unfortunately, this doesn’t make it any less painful for an owner to watch.

Your cat may take some comfort from your presence. You’ll need to think about your pet’s persona and how it has acted recently. If it gave the impression of preferring to be alone, this might be better.

Put yourself in this situation. You have thought about what’s best for your cat in making the decision. Now it’s time to think about how you will handle the event. If you feel that watching your cat die will be too traumatic, nobody will judge you. Therefore, you don’t have to attend.

My Pet Died Because of Me

This is a common refrain from an owner that loses their beloved cat. But, unfortunately, it’s human nature to blame ourselves when the worst happens to our pets.

We want to protect our pets from everything, but that ignores the tear-jerking truth. Animals do not live as long as humans. So, sooner or later, we will have to say goodbye to our cats.

Sickness and injury can strike any pet, of any age, at any time. Sure, older cats are more likely to develop terminal illnesses. Likewise, younger cats and kittens are more likely to have fatal accidents, such as running into cars. But, overall, there can be no rhyme or reason when our pets pass away.

Do you feel that you should have spotted signs of your cat’s illness earlier? Don’t beat yourself up. Felines are masters of disguising pain and discomfort. Unless they display unmistakable signs of sickness, it’s all too easy to miss something.

Did you let your cat roam outdoors, leading to contagious sickness or injury? Well, indoor cats do tend to live longer. However, there can be no stopping felines that are determined to wander. Therefore, it’s preferable that your cat lived how it wanted for less time than enduring a long, troubled lifespan.

Did you make a decision that went wrong? This could have been bringing your cat home overnight after surgery. Remember that you would only have done this following advice.

Unfortunately, when a vet says, “I don’t know what will happen,” they mean just that. Even the most skilled vet cannot see into the future. Sometimes you need to hope for the best.

Don’t blame yourself when your cat’s life comes to an end. Don’t blame your vet either. Medical professionals will do everything they can to keep your cat alive. But, unfortunately, bad things can and do happen.

Will My Cat Be Euthanized if I Can’t Afford the Vet Bill?

Vets are caring professionals who will do anything to save your cat. But, unfortunately, they also have a business to run. Vets need to charge for their services to cover their overheads. If you’re unable to pay for your cat’s treatment, your vet may be unable to help.

A vet will not euthanize your cat as punishment for an unpaid bill. However, when they provide a quote for treating an injury or sickness, you’ll have a crucial decision to make.

Are you able to cover the cost? If not, your vet may need to euthanize your pet as an act of compassion. Expecting a pet to live with a painful condition is unreasonable and unrealistic. For an idea of what treatment costs:

  • Cancer – $2,000 – $6,000
  • Broken Leg – $1,500 – $4,000
  • Spinal Trauma – $2,000 – $6,000
  • Head Trauma – $500 – $6,000
  • Heart Disease – $500 – $3,000
  • Organ Failure – $200 – $35,000
  • Dental Disease – $300 – $1,500
  • Arthritis – $100 – $1,500

The costs can quickly mount up. Even euthanasia comes with a bill, albeit a substantially smaller one. Unless you have a savings account or an empty credit card, you may struggle to find the money.

guilt over euthanizing cat

How to Get Over Putting Your Cat to Sleep

Guilt over euthanizing a cat is often the first emotion you’ll experience before the sorrow sets in. You’ll need to prepare yourself for the 5 stages of grief after the event:

  1. Denial – It probably will not sink in that your cat is gone at first. You’ll still expect them to wander into the room at any time.
  2. Bargaining – You’ll do anything to have your cat back. Maybe if you volunteer at a shelter, a miracle will happen?
  3. Anger – You may fly into random rages at the injustice of the loss of your cat. Your cat deserved better, and it’s not fair that it got sick.
  4. Depression – The overwhelming sadness of losing a cat is like a tunnel. You need to go through it – it can’t be walked around, dug under, or jumped over.
  5. Acceptance – It may seem impossible at first, but eventually, you’ll come to terms with what happened. Of course, you’ll never forget your cat, but you’ll take solace in happy memories.

Stay in the company of fellow animal lovers. Some humans cannot understand the bond between pets and their owners. Being told “it’s just a cat” will not be helpful.

You could write your cat a letter explaining why you made the choice you did. If you have a memorial site for your cat, leave the letter there. Just because your cat isn’t with you doesn’t mean they ever leave your heart.

Grieving the Loss of a Pet Cat

If you lose your cat, you will need to grieve. It’s no different from losing any other family member. Also, you’ll have the emotional burden of euthanasia to contend with. You must allow yourself to go through the grieving process. Tips for coping with the loss of a cat include:

  • Read the Rainbow Bridge. It will make you sad but also offer comfort.
  • Keep yourself busy, taking up new hobbies that would not have been shared with your cat.
  • Consider grief therapy or counseling. In addition, Pet-Loss has a list of support hotlines by state.
  • Memorialize your pet in some way. For example, donate to a shelter in its name or get a commemorative decoration.
  • Volunteer at a no-kill cat shelter or animal charity. Making a difference in other feline’s lives may ease your heartache.

Don’t rush into getting a new pet. All cats are different, and none will be able to ‘replace’ your previous companion. However, when your heart has healed, you’ll build a happy life with a new cat.

Euthanasia is never a welcome decision, but sadly, it’s sometimes the only choice. You’ll inevitably question yourself, and you may even feel that you killed your pet. Remember that this is NOT the case.

You did not end your cat’s life. Their sickness, injury, or the inevitable passing of time did that. You made a choice, under professional advice, to end its suffering. Many cats run away to die, so you have spared them from having to pass away alone.

No matter how you look at things, that was the best decision for your cat. It may not be able to verbalize this itself, but your cat would be grateful for your kindness and compassion if it were still with us.

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Richard Parker

I'm Richard, the lead writer for Senior Cat Wellness. I'm experienced in all cat health-related matters, behavioral issues, grooming techniques, and general pet care. I'm a proud owner of 5 adult cats (all adopted strays), including a senior cat who is now 20.

4 thoughts on “Did I Do the Right Thing by Euthanizing My Cat?”

  1. My cat daughter, Tuxeena’s memorial is approaching on 11-30-23. It will be three years. I miss Her dearly. Out of all of my children, she is the only one who laid close to me every night. I love You, my dear Tuxeena, and I will meet You at the rainbow bridge. Rest In that World with all of Your offsprings and friends and feline family and come back to the gate and meet me when GOD reunintes You and I together. I love You little Girl, forever. 💖🕊🤍🖤🌼💎

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  2. This article is very helpful. Last Thursday evening my husband and I made the decision to let our handsome, sweet 18-year-old “Max” go to sleep after several months of his not regularly using the litter box (hit-and miss), and a progressive noticible decline in congnition. Eventually, it appeared that Max did not know where the litter box was located. He became glassy-eyed which resulted in his not seeing very well, i.e., not being able to locate his food, wandering the house as though he was lost and frequently acting as though he did not know where he was. He even acted as though he did not know who we were toward the end days. Max would circle the furniture in a room and roam our two hallways. He would holler loudly whenever he was about to go to bed for a nap. The last couple of days of his life, he was restless and did not sleep, and would just sit on the rug in the dining room and stare into space. I coupled him in my arms and put him in bed with me three times during his last night at home and he would leave the bed and go back to the same spot on the dining room carpet, and sit and stare. Max ate a little bit the last couple of days, but would only sit and stare at the water bowl as though he did not know to drink the water or how to drink the water. He lost his bowels and it was a three-room clean up in addition to having to give him a complete bath. I felt so badly for him and these were the conditions that led us to letting him go. I had a long talk with our vet about what Max was experiencing. She is wonderful and was very supportive of our decision.

    Even with all of the above, I am experiencing the denial, guilt, sadness (depression) that you refer to in the article. Max was the 8th pet cat that we have had to let go and it is so hard. I know that we will accept his leaving eventually, however, I am so very sad. Max was precious. I pray that by my writing these words to help others know what to expect. Thank you for your article. Your words have helped me.

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    • Thank you Melanie for writing about Max. This is the first post I’ve seen that is so similar to what I went through with my “little girl” Midge (she was 16). She went downhill so rapidly over 2-3 months. She used to love sitting in the linen closet in a little bed, but it became the place she went all the time, only leaving to eat, use the litter, & wander. While lying in there, she started ‘pressing’ her head into the wall, until she finally fell alseep. Like Max, she starting missing her litter box – I put “pee pads” all around it & and Midge would often just stand beside her litter box and pee on the pad. She walked around the apartment, aimlessly, just walking the perimeter. She’d walk into corners, and back out. She’d walk right over her food bowls. I’d pick her up and hug her, but she’d want back down. She kept eating, but was having difficulty swallowing.. and I had to bring the food to her. She often just sat in front of her water fountain and stared at it, like she didn’t know how to drink anymore. Just like you described Max. Sometimes she’d just sit in front of her water fountain and meow very loudly. She used to sleep beside me all the time, but in the last month, she couldn’t jump up or down on the bed anymore. I’d pick her up and put her beside me, and gently push her down into a sleeping position. She’d stay for awhile, but would start wandering on the bed and I’d have to lift her down to the floor., where she’d start walking back and forth, and eventually either lie down in the closet or lie down beside her water fountain, with her chin resting in the water, and fall asleep. It seemed like she was only peaceful or “okay” when she was asleep. So I euthanized my little Midge, I stayed with her and held her to the very end. I’m feeling so heartbroken, and so guilty. I know she was ‘sick’ in her mind, because of all the changes, but she was eating… and wasn’t outwardly ‘in pain’. And it happened so fast! She was fine, and then in 2 months, she was like this. I feel like I should have given her a little more time. When I read your story about Max, I cried, and it’s helping me to believe that I did the right thing. Things were only going to get worse. Thank you so much for your story, it has helped me more than you can know. I love my Midge as much as you love your Max, and hopefully one day, we will both be able to smile and remember them without all this pain.

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  3. Thank you, Melanie. Your message was helpful. I am in the throes of the excess guilt and pain of deciding to euthanize after a year of four trips to the vet with no definitive diagnosis and still a declining cat. My girl displayed some of the same behaviors that you mentioned. It’s such a painful decision, but I’m sure I will come to terms with it in time. Thank you, again. Your message made my first day after euthanasia a bit easier. We certainly love our furry kids. Take good care. Lauren

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