All pet lovers will eventually have to face the dreaded day when we have to say goodbye to our cat due to longstanding diseases. Knowing when the time is right to say goodbye will be the most difficult decision you make as a pet owner, but it is the price of admission.
Most cat lovers will struggle with the decision to euthanise a cat. After all, they’re so loved, and choosing to end their life goes against everything we feel. But we cannot prolong a cat’s suffering, knowing when should be a joint decision between you and the cat’s veterinarian, but first and foremost, it should be about what is best for the cat.
Questions to ask
- Is my cat having more bad days than good?
- Does the cat still enjoy their favourite things? Sleeping in the sun, chasing flies, greeting you at the door?
- Is the cat in pain or discomfort that can no longer be managed?
- Is the cat still eating and drinking?
- Are you keeping the cat alive for you or the cat?
The kindest thing we can do is let go when the cat no longer has a quality of life. Remember, a day or even week too early are better than a minute too late.
Many pet owners decide to spend the final day giving the cat his or her ‘best day’, with treats, quality time and even visits from friends.
Related: Dying cat – signs a cat is dying
Scheduling the appointment
If you and your cat’s veterinarian have determined that nothing more can be done and euthanasia is in the cat’s best interests, try to schedule the latest appointment with the veterinarian. This will give you both time to spend the day together.
Where possible, at-home euthanasia is preferable to euthanasia in the veterinary hospital, as it eliminates travel which most cats dislike, and the cat can pass away in the comfort of home with loved ones.
How to spend the final day together
I recommend taking the following day off work or scheduling the euthanasia to coincide with days off, unless the cat is really suffering. This will give you the opportunity to grieve at home, and deal with the practicalities, such as burying your cat or organising cremation.
Remember, this day is all about the cat, no matter how hard it is for you, and saying goodbye to a family member is hard.
1. Make your cat as comfortable as possible
By the time a cat is nearing the end of life, they are often significantly uncomfortable. A warm, soft bed with a heating pad or hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, and an item of your clothing can make the cat feel much more comfortable.
2. Feed your cat his or her favourite treats
Now is not the time to worry about dietary restrictions. Let your cat eat what he or she wants on their final day on the proviso that it doesn’t add to their suffering. Cats with a terminal illness don’t always have a fully functional gastrointestinal tract, and certain foods may cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Warmed tuna or cooked chicken breast is ideal, they’re highly appealing but won’t make the cat feel unwell.
Remember, most cats will have lost their appetite by the end of their life, so don’t force your cat to eat if he or she doesn’t want to. But it may be possible to tempt them a little with tasty foods and hand feeding.
3. Take photos
I know it’s painful, especially when a pet’s health has declined significantly, and they are showing outward signs such as loss of appetite. But do take photos. They may be painful to see in the immediate days, weeks or months after losing your cat, but you will look back on this special time with fondness.
Our Singapura, Levi became very sick, very fast. He was hospitalised on Thursday and by Sunday it was determined he had aggressive cancer and we were called in to say our final goodbyes. I asked my husband to take one last photo of us together, a photo that I have not shared with anybody. But it gives me comfort when I look at it.
4. Spend time together
Days can be taken up with chores and other day to day activities, but the final day should be all about quality time with your cat. Some cats want to be on their chosen human, others may prefer to be on their own bed. Let the cat guide you. Have everything you need such as a phone, snacks and drinks close to avoid disturbing the cat by having to get up.
Place a low-sided litter tray close to where the cat’s bed is set up, so if he or she needs to go to the toilet, it’s within easy access. Cats in late-stage kidney failure will have an insatiable thirst, make sure there’s plenty of clean, fresh water close.
Keep noises to a minimum, talk quietly, keep the television off and avoid bright overhead lights. Most cats will spend the bulk of their last days asleep, so we need to do what we can to make them comfortable.
5. Let the cat sleep where he or she pleases
Some households restrict where their cats can sleep, the last day should be about giving the cat what he or she wants. If your cat wants to sleep in the bedroom, stay in the bedroom too, if the cat chooses to sleep in the living room, set up camp there. Don’t leave the cat alone in another part of the house on this final day.
6. Make moulds or images of paw and noseprints
Paw and noseprints can be a sweet memento after your cat has passed. These can be used for jewellery or put in a frame on the wall.
Obviously, some of this requires advanced planning, and we don’t always know that a cat is terminal. Some simple child’s paint and plain paper will do at a pinch for paw prints.
7. Allow the cat’s favourite people to say goodbye
While generally, I advocate for a quiet and peaceful last day for the terminally ill cat, allowing close family members such as adult children who may no longer live at home to spend time with your cat can provide comfort and closure. Do consider inviting close friends or family if the cat had a particularly special bond with that person or people.
Euthanasia is an overdose of a barbiturate anaesthetic that is given by intravenous injection. The animal immediately becomes unconscious, the heart stops beating and death follows. This usually takes around 10 – 15 seconds. If your pet is nervous, he may be given a sedative first, to help him relax. It usually takes around 15 minutes for the sedative to take effect.
If possible, at least one member of the family should be with the cat during the euthanasia. It’s heartwrenching, but it’s the kindest thing we can do, to hold their paw as they pass. To be held, and comforted in their final moments is the greatest gift we can give to our pets who have brought so much joy.