What is it? Euthanasia is the technical term used when we help an animal to pass away peacefully and humanely. It is sometimes also known as “putting an animal to sleep”. In cats this is usually because they are suffering from some form of illness/injury which is causing them pain or distress that is interfering with their quality of life and cannot be resolved.
Why is it important Knowing when it’s the right time to say goodbye to your cat is extremely difficult but very important. No-one ever wants to say goodbye too soon but saying goodbye too late can cause unnecessary suffering. It is essential that both vets and owners put the needs of the cat first.
What's the risk? Sadly not all cats will pass away on their own which is why owners seek out help from their vet. Cats of any age may require euthanasia for a variety of reasons, although it is more common in older cats.
What happens to the cat? When it’s time to say goodbye to your cat, the vet will give an injection of anaesthetic which causes them to fall asleep, but by giving them a high dose so that after they become unconscious their heart stops beating, allowing them to pass away humanely. This injection is normally given into a vein (typically on the front leg) and the vet will need to clip a small patch of fur to be able to see it and sometimes they may place a catheter (a small tube into the leg vein). A nurse will usually cuddle your cat and raise the vein to help the vet. In cats who do not want to be restrained or with poor veins the injection can be given directly into the kidney and this may be easier in some cases and less stressful for your cat. There is always the option to sedate your cat to make them sleepy and less aware of what’s going on if they get distressed and you think that may be better for them. If you know in advance that you would like your cat sedating let your vet know and they will happily allow extra time for you. After the injection your vet will check that your cat has passed away peacefully. Afterwards you can take your cat home and bury them or have them cremated communally or privately (where you get the ashes back). If you cannot decide at that time your vet should be happy to take care of your cat until you can make a decision.
How do you know what's going on? Knowing when the correct time is to say goodbye is very difficult and there are no specific rules. In general to assess your cats quality of life ask yourself, what does your cat enjoy doing and can they still do it? It is vital that cats can eat, drink, go to the toilet, sleep and move around but there are other health factors to consider which your vet can help you with. Owners are advised to have a discussion with their vet about their cat to understand what disease/injury is affecting their quality of life and what may be done to help. If you and/or your vet feel your cats quality of life is too poor and there is no way to easily remedy the situation then this is when euthanasia is recommended.
What can be done? Treatment and management options exist for many cat illnesses but sadly not all. Have a discussion with your vet about what else may be possible to help your cat. However, if your cat is suffering and there are no realistic options to help them then it is kinder to put them to sleep.
How can I protect my pet? Sadly, just like us, our pets will die eventually and there is nothing to prevent it from happening. However, there are things to promote good health and longevity to maximise your time with your cat which you can speak to your vet about.