Euthanizing a cat is one of the hardest decisions that you’ll ever have to make. Grief and emotional pain 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 uncomfortable, its time on this earth was almost up. Any cat would prefer to die with dignity, so forcing a cat to live on through chronic pain and suffering is fundamentally selfish. If you 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 feeling of guilt that you may currently be experiencing.
What are the Criteria for Euthanizing Cats?
The American Veterinary Medical Association offers guidelines for vets on when euthanasia is appropriate. Based on these guidelines, a vet can refuse to euthanize a healthy cat.
Why would anybody want to do end a healthy cat’s life? You may be surprised. Heartbreaking as the experience is for most cat 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 own 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. This 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 at all times. 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.
What a vet cannot help with is the emotional impact of the decision. You’ll need to separate your heart from your head to make a choice that’s 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 is placing 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 her 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 her litter tray, and walk around?
- Good Days vs. Bad Days – your cat has more bad days than good.
If your cat scores below 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, too. 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 a little 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.
From there, 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. Many cities also offer pet funeral services.
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. Others find the whole concept too upsetting and prefer to remember their cat at its healthiest.
If you are going to be present during the procedure, prepare yourself accordingly. You will be watching your beloved pet pass away. 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 be 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 the better option.
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 owners that lose 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 are going to 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 some 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, for example. 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 that will do anything they can 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.
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:
- 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.
- Bargaining – You’ll do anything to have your cat back. Maybe if you volunteer at a shelter, a miracle will happen?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 is not with you, it 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 unavoidable 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 what way 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 definitely be grateful for your kindness and compassion if it were still with us.