When You Need to Make a Decision About Your Sick or Injured Cat

Get help with making the difficult decision to say goodbye to your cat.

When You Need to Make a Decision About Your Sick or Injured Cat

Your decision to euthanize your cat might be influenced by a number of factors, which you will need to consider in order to make the right choice for your cat, yourself, and your family.

Your cat's health is the most important factor. Barring the presence of severe, acute pain, you'll have some time to decide. Discuss your cat's condition, treatment options, and chance for recovery with your veterinarian.

Realistically, cost might be a factor. Medical treatment can be extremely expensive, for cats as well as for people, and most of us have financial limits. Don't feel guilty or embarrassed if you simply cannot afford the recommended treatment.

Long-term care for a chronically ill animal can also be emotionally taxing for you and other family members, including other pets. If your cat becomes incontinent or needs frequent treatments or medications, care can become a physical challenge for the caretaker, too.

Be honest with yourself and your vet if you feel unable to manage the financial, physical, and emotional costs of long-term care for your cat. Knowing your limits doesn't make you a bad person and doesn't mean you've let your cat down. What would be right for someone else might not be for you and your cat.

Cat Nip

The American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians offers information on home hospice care for terminally ill animals on its website at www.aahabv.org/Hospice.htm.

If your cat is terminally ill but you're not ready to let go, you might be interested to know that some veterinary hospitals and organizations offer home hospice care designed to keep terminally ill pets comfortable at home until family members come to terms with their impending loss. If hospice care is an option you'd like to explore, ask your vet or closest veterinary school about options in your area.

If you decide that euthanization is the right choice, you and your family should talk about where and when the procedure will take place. Some vets will come to your home, especially if you're a long-time client and the cat is very ill. If you plan to go to the veterinarian's office, try to arrange a time when the clinic is less busy and when you don't have to hurry back to work or other obligations. This is an emotional experience. You'll need time to grieve your loss and perhaps reflect on the time you had with your feline friend.

Decide ahead of time who will be present. Most family members will want to say good-bye, and each may have different needs. Be sure everyone has a chance, before and after euthanasia has been performed, to make his or her farewells. Talking about it in advance will make it easier for everyone when the time comes.

Knowing what to expect will also ease the process. Many people are afraid that euthanization will be frightening or painful for their cat. Over the years, I've said farewell to quite a few cats and dogs, and I can tell you that every one of them went gently and quietly and with the dignity and security of having people who loved them there even at the end.

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The process is fast and virtually painless. Usually a concentrated solution of pentobarbital is injected directly into a vein, causing the heart to stop in a matter of seconds. Certain physiological reactions sometimes occur after the heart stops. Be sure you and anyone else who is present understand that the animal doesn't feel any pain. He's already gone. One such post-mortem reaction is movement, caused by contraction or relaxation of muscles. This relaxation may cause the animal to pass urine and feces, and sometimes air escapes the lungs. Knowing what to expect will help you decide who should be present and make it easier for everyone to be prepared.


Creating a scrapbook or photo album, framing a favorite photo, creating a memorial web page, or keeping a bit of hair, a collar, or a name tag as a memento helps many people deal with the loss of a beloved cat.

Some people simply cannot face being there, but if you can, your cat will probably be more at ease if you hold him and stroke him while the injection is given. You'll probably get lots of advice, but in the end you have to decide what's best for you and your cat. If you can't face being present, that's okay. You're not abandoning your kitty; you're -placing him in gentle hands that will guide him on his way.

Young children should probably not witness the euthanization process, but you do need to prepare them for the loss of their pet. Be sure each child has a chance to say farewell before and maybe after your cat is gone.

If you or members of your family feel a need for time alone with your cat afterward, tell your vet. Many people want time alone with their cat after the procedure to say a final farewell.

It's a good idea to speak to your veterinarian in advance about how you want the body handled. There are several options, depending on services offered where you live and your preferences. You might want to have your cat cremated and the ashes returned to you to keep, bury, or scatter in your cat's favorite spot. Or you might want to have your cat cremated with other pets, in which case the ashes won't be returned to you. Burial is also possible. If you want to bury your pet at home, be sure it's legal where you live. Many communities have pet cemeteries. Whatever you decide, your veterinarian can help you make the arrangements.

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