Death is such a taboo subject for people. This dark shroud of the unspoken also  extends for many to what happens with their cat, when a decision is made to proceed with euthanasia. This can lead to a lot of anxiety and we hope to try and shine some light on what can occur and what to expect.

Any considerations for booking the appointment?

When you book your cat to be put to sleep, let the staff know what the appointment is for. Even if you think euthanasia might be a possibility then it is worth raising the point with staff. This will allow for the clinic to plan for a longer appointment, giving you more time to say goodbye. This appointment is often booked for a quieter point of the day when there are fewer people in the clinic.

What is the process when I arrive?

The vet will take you through to a consult room, and if you have any questions or want to discuss whether or not euthanasia is appropriate, your vet will be happy to discuss this with you. You will be asked to sign a consent form giving permission to perform the euthanasia procedure. 

Giving the injection

The euthanasia drug is called phenobarbital. Phenobarbital is a barbiturate medication, used to treat seizures. In higher doses it causes animals to lose consciousness very quickly and then after they are asleep, it shuts down their heart and brain function within a few minutes.

This is usually given intravenously (directly into your cat’s bloodstream). Your vet will clip a patch of fur on your cat’s front leg. Some vets will place an IV catheter. Alternatively, they may give the injection directly into your cat’s vein with a needle and syringe. If your cat is particularly unwell, it is not always possible for the injection to be given in a vein as these may be too small or delicate. Instead, the injection will be given into an alternative location (often a kidney). This is equally as quick and painless as the injection given into the vein. 

Sometimes your cat will be given a sedative injection prior to the phenobarbital injection, particularly if they are very stressed by being in the clinic. This is often given into their muscle, and will relax them. 

After the injection

After the injection has been given, your cat will drift off to sleep and gradually their heart and breathing will slow then stop. This typically takes under a minute, but in particularly unwell cats it can take slightly longer for the medication to be carried around their body. The process is quiet, peaceful and pain free.

Be prepared that often cats do not close their eyes after they have passed away. They may take a few breaths or go to the toilet. The vet will use their stethoscope to confirm that their heart has stopped. Some people choose to spend some time with their cat after they have passed away and if you want to stay please let the vet know your wishes. 

Should I stay with my cat?

Some people choose to be with their cat while the injection is given. Others would prefer to say goodbye to their pet before the injection is given. There is no right or wrong decision. If you choose not to be with your pet, a nurse will hold them while the injection is given. 

Where is it carried out?

Often euthanasia is carried out at the vet clinic. However, some vets will come to the house for your pet to be put to sleep at home. This can be preferable if your pet gets stressed coming into the clinic or travelling in the car, and can allow other animal members of the family to say goodbye. 

Some planning in advance is often needed if you would like your pet to be put to sleep at home as the clinic will need to arrange for two members of staff to be available to leave the clinic. It may not always be possible for your vet to visit your home with limited notice.

What happens afterwards?

Some people choose to bury their pet at home. Alternatively, your vet can arrange for your cat to be cremated. You may choose for your pet to have a ‘routine cremation’ where their ashes remain at the crematorium. 

Alternatively, some people may prefer an ‘individual cremation’, allowing your cat’s ashes to be returned to you. This allows you to either keep their ashes in a casket, or scatter them in a place that is personal to your cat. Your vet can give more specific details and costs.

What support is available?

Cats are a big part of the family, and leave a void after they are gone. There is support available to help bereaved pet owners. The Pet Bereavement Service is a free and confidential service that operates a telephone and email helpline managed by a network of trained volunteers. Another avenue of support for owners who find themselves alone and in need of help when they lose a family pet is the Samaritans.

We are unable to cover all eventualities and situations for specific veterinary clinics in this article so if you have any questions please speak to your vets. Remember, you are not alone. Your vet clinic is there to help guide you through your pet’s end of life journey.

Other posts in this series;