Euthanasia and End of Life Care for Your Cat

Hospice care for cats has come to the forefront in recent years. Hospice care can be chosen when your cat has a terminal illness and you don't want to pursue more extensive medical care, but would like to provide comfort care for as long as possible. The goals of hospice are to control pain, keep the cat comfortable and provide a decent quality of life for as long as possible.

Hospice care is a big commitment. Although your veterinarian will draw up a care plan for the cat, you will be administering virtually all of the care. Some training may be required to enable you to safely give medications and to detect signs of problems. Some hospice programs involve occasional home visits by a veterinarian or a veterinary technician to assist with care and evaluations. A few hospitals provide hospice care on-site with owners visiting or staying for the duration.

Talk to your veterinarian about home care that will ease this final transition for your cat.

Euthanasia

The time may come when you are faced with the prospect of having to end your pet's life. This is a difficult decision to make-both for you and for your veterinarian. Many old and infirm cats can be made quite comfortable with just a little more thoughtfulness and tender loving care than the average healthy cat needs. Old cats can still enjoy months or years of happiness in the company of loved ones.

But when life ceases to be a joy and a pleasure, when the cat suffers from a painful and progressive condition for which there is no hope of betterment, then perhaps at this time we owe the cat the final kindness of helping her to die easily and painlessly. Quality of life issues are always difficult, but questions to ask yourself include the following:

  • Is she having more good days than bad days?
  • Can she still do the things she loves to do best?
  • Is she in pain or discomfort that can't be relieved?
  • Is she eating and drinking?

When it is clear that comfort is no longer possible, it is time for euthanasia. This is accomplished by an intravenous injection of an anesthetic agent in a sufficient amount to cause immediate loss of consciousness and cardiac arrest. Some cats will vocalize at the last instant or appear to take a deep breath after death; this is normal, as is the loss of urine and/or stool. Although adults must make the final decisions, children often handle all of this better than adults suspect, and should be involved in the decisions following the death of the cat.

How involved children will be in this process will depend on their age and emotional maturity. Euthanasia should not be referred to as “putting to sleep,” as this may frighten children at bedtime and/or lead to expectations that the cat will “wake up” and return.

Grieving for a cat may involve different stages. These include denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and acceptance. Not everyone will go through all these stages, and the length of time and order for each stage is individual. There are pet loss hotlines available and grief counselors are now better equipped to deal with pet loss.

Almost all veterinary colleges offer some grief counseling. Your veterinarian can guide you to local groups and resources such as helpful books.