Euthanising a cat
When the time comes in your cat’s life to have him put to sleep, traditionally, the pet owner would take their cat to the veterinary surgery and have a veterinarian perform the euthanasia. I have covered the euthanasia process in another article, so won’t go over it detail again. Suffice to say; the veterinarian will examine your cat to determine if it is time. As your pet’s owner and carer, I have found in most cases, we know when the time has come to say goodbye. Your cat will typically display signs, some of which may include:
- Loss of interest in surroundings, no longer playing, interacting, wanting to go outside
- Loss of appetite
- Drinking a lot
- Sleeping more than usual
- Obvious signs of pain and discomfort
- Loss of bodily functions (urinating and defecating uncontrollably)
- Breathing difficulty
- Changes in behaviour, wanting to be alone in a quiet spot or wanting to be with you all the time
I have lost three cats over recent years. One to kidney failure, he would either hide under the bed or sit in front of the water bowl. Another cat, who had cancer spent the majority of her last day sleeping on a chair, and a third one developed fecal incontinence and lost a great deal of weight.
Having a cat euthanised at home?
There is no right or wrong way; we do what we feel is best for our cat and ourselves and must weight up the pros and cons of each situation. Some reasons you may choose at-home euthanasia:
- It avoids the need to transport a very sick cat to the veterinary practice.
- Most cats dislike visiting the veterinary surgery at the best of times.
- It is more comfortable for your cat; he is in a familiar environment, so less stressed. He can gently pass away on his favourite blanket or bed instead of in a clinical room.
- It is easier on the pet owner, who doesn’t have to sit in the waiting room. They can say goodbye in the comfort and privacy of their home and once the cat has been euthanised, don’t have to face the journey home while distressed.
- You can have loved ones, including other pets with your cat.
Please be aware that at-home euthanasia is for cats who have chronic and terminal medical conditions. If your cat is in a sudden accident, please take him to a veterinary surgery.
Not all veterinarians perform euthanasia at home, so do check with your own vet before the time comes. You don’t need the stress of trying to find a vet who will help you at the last minute. Please do have this discussion with your vet ahead of time and if he can’t help you, he may be able to recommend somebody who can. There are now a number of veterinarians who specialise in mobile euthanasia services. Your veterinarian may also have instructions of what he needs from you before arriving at your home.
Does euthanasia hurt?
The only pain your cat will feel during the entire procedure is the first needle prick from the sedative.
What happens during euthanasia?
Before your veterinarian arrives, please confine the cat to one room, so you don’t have to hunt for him. Most cats are severely ill, and this shouldn’t be a problem.
Most veterinarians will schedule the euthanasia out of surgery hours. You can expect your veterinarian to be at your home for around an hour. When the veterinarian arrives, he will examine your cat to determine if euthanasia is the only option.
During the euthanasia process, the veterinarians will give your cat an injection with a sedative to relax and sedate him, once the sedative has taken effect, a barbiturate will be administered via intravenous injection into the leg. In some cases, it may be difficult to insert the needle into the vein (for example if the cat is extremely dehydrated), and your veterinarian may have to insert the needle directly into the abdomen or heart as an alternative. As your cat is already heavily sedated, this will not cause him pain or discomfort.
Once the euthanasia drug has been administered, death will occur within 15-30 seconds. Sometimes upon death, your cat will pass feces and urine. So you will need to be prepared and place some puppy pads underneath him. Your cat may twitch, arch and breathe heavily momentarily, these are reflexes and shouldn’t be mistaken for signs of discomfort. The eyes will remain open after death.
Your veterinarian will confirm your cat has passed by listening for a heartbeat.
What you should do
Try to be with your cat during the euthanasia process if you feel strong enough; it will offer him some comfort having you there.
If your cat wears a collar, do not remove it before the euthanasia, the collar has been with him all this time, don’t make sudden changes that may confuse your cat.
Should children be present?
This is up to you and your child. If they are likely to become traumatised or disruptive, it is better for the child and the cat that the child not be present. Some children are fine with euthanasia, and it is important for them to be present. My daughter has been with every cat we’ve had euthanised, my son was there for one and has chosen not to be present for future euthanasias.
The same goes for having other household pets in the room. Some pets have a close bond with one another, and it can be comforting for them to be in the same room. One veterinarian shows other pets the body of the euthanised cat so that they can say their last goodbyes. But once again, do what you are comfortable with and what you feel is best for your cat.
What happens once the cat is euthanised?
- You can keep your cat and bury him on your property. Please check with your council that this is permitted.
- You or your veterinarian can take your cat away for cremation. The ashes will be returned to you at a later date.
- You may decide to have your pet buried at a pet cemetery.
I wish you luck. Saying goodbye to a pet is never an easy decision to make, but it is the right one. Once their quality of life has gone, and they are suffering, the kindest thing we can do is give them a pain-free goodbye. Be it in our home or at the veterinary surgery.