The hardest decision any of us have to make as owners is when to say goodbye - when to put a much loved cat to sleep. These euphemisms help us to deal with it, but in the end, we have the terrible responsibility of deciding when the pain and suffering is too much, and it’s time for our pets to leave this world.
How do I decide?
Sometimes it’s straightforward (although no less heart wrenching) - if a cat’s been so severely injured that they cannot survive. Most of the time there isn’t an easy, clear-cut answer. A lot of cats are living with chronic degenerative conditions at the end of their lives – much like us humans - arthritis, kidney failure, heart disease, thyroid problems, diabetes and so on. These conditions are often manageable, but not curable, and cats may have both good and bad days.
Perhaps the most helpful way forward is to make two lists for your cat, ideally while they’re still healthy:
● Things they love to do
● Things they really hate doing/having done
Then, if and when you’re concerned about their quality of life, you can get those lists out and compare them to your cat’s current life, using them to help you answer three questions:
1. Are they still able to do some of the things they love?
2. Are they able to avoid doing most of the things they hate?
3. All in all, are there more good days than bad ones?
If the answers to all of those questions are “yes”, then it probably isn’t time yet. If the answer is “maybe”, then you really need to think - do you think it’s fair to keep going until the answer is a definite “no”?
What other reasons might there be to have my cat put to sleep?
The three questions above are really useful in most situations, but not all. Other - perfectly good - reasons to call make the decision to put your cat to sleep might include:
● Your cat having a deteriorating condition and there being no treatment available.
● The full treatment is unaffordable (some treatments can be really expensive, and none of us have inexhaustible finances). Sometimes it’s kinder to call it a day than attempt less than optimal or incomplete treatment.
● The cat is coping with life well in the current circumstances but will not be following a major change (for example, moving house, or the only person in the household who’s able to give medication no longer being around or able to do so).
We see all of these situations, and more, in practice on a regular basis so don’t think we won’t be receptive to your concerns - we’ll understand!
Can you make the decision for me?
In most cases, no. There are a (very) few specific, and generally very sad, situations where we can, or where we will strongly advise you one way or the other; but in most cases, this is a decision you as the cat’s owner must make. After all, you know your cat much better than we ever could! As vets, it’s our role to find out what’s wrong with them, and then provide you with the options as to what can be done, so that you can make an informed decision as to what is best for that particular cat.
Remember, though, whatever your decision, we won’t judge you on it - you know them and you’re more likely to know what they would want than we are.
When I do make the decision, what will happen?
You’ll make an appointment for one of the vets to see you and your cat. We’ll ask you to sign a short form, and then, if your cat is nervous or stressed, we may give them a sedative first to help them relax. If you want to stay with them, please do, but if you’d rather not, that’s fine too. After that we’ll give an injection of a very powerful anaesthetic - they’ll go peacefully to sleep; the sleep will get deeper and deeper until they just stop, and they’re gone. Usually, we’ll give the injection into a vein in the front leg, and one of our nurses will give them a cuddle.
Afterwards, you have a number of options for their remains - you can:
● Take them home to be buried
● Allow them to be buried with other cats and dogs by the Municipality
● Send them for cremation with their ashes returned in a casket, to be kept, buried or scattered.
Always remember, when the time comes, you’re doing it for their benefit - to stop the pain or end the suffering. We look after our pets throughout their lives, and at the end, we have a responsibility to them.
If you’re concerned about your cat’s quality of life, please give us a call so we can talk about it.