One of the greatest things we can do for our pets is to provide them with the appropriate end-of-life care. Then, ultimately, we can make the final decision for them, to end any potential suffering. If you have an elderly cat you may be wondering about how to best care for them particularly if you believe the end of their life is on the horizon.

What conditions may limit my cat’s life?

There are many conditions that cats can suffer from which could affect their quality of life. In elderly cats, some of the common ones that we diagnose in practice are chronic kidney failure and cancer. These are both progressive conditions that will continue to get worse over time. Whilst there are medications we can give to slow the progression in the initial stages, these illnesses will deteriorate and ultimately your cat may start to struggle. Other conditions which your older cat could suffer from include arthritis, heart failure, hyperthyroidism, dental disease, liver disease, diabetes and hypertension. Many elderly cats have a combination of these making their management even more tricky. 

What can be done to make my cat comfortable?

If you think your cat’s end of life might be near, then speak to your veterinarian about their options. Ensuring your pet is kept out of pain is important. As is making sure they are still receiving adequate fluids and nutrition. This may mean exploring different pain relief and anti-nausea medications with your vet. It is important to be able to recognise and acknowledge when your cat is struggling and seek help.

How do I know if it is the right time?

It can be a very grey area as each case is different. But foremost in your mind should be your cat’s quality of life. Are they able to do all the things that they usually enjoy doing like grooming themselves, playing, and eating? Or are they now having more bad days than good ones?

If your cat is unwell with a condition that is only likely to worsen over time, then the knowledge that it is usually better to let your pet go a day too soon, than to hesitate and prolong their pain or discomfort, can be helpful for some people. When looking back, more people have regrets about not making the decision sooner than they ever do the other way.

Cats live in the moment and they are unable to look forward like we do. If all they feel at present, is pain, nausea, and lack of appetite then they will be starting to suffer.

It can sometimes be a burden emotionally for owners, as well as financially, to care for a cat with deteriorating health complaints. These factors are also taken into consideration when euthanasia is being decided.

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia is the act of humanely ending the life of an animal to prevent unnecessary suffering. A painless drug called pentobarbital will be administered to your cat which will act like an overdose of anaesthetic. This will cause him to go sleepy and drift away. Your vet will talk you through the process and answer any questions you may have. Some owners wish to be with their pet during this time whereas others may prefer not to be, there is no right or wrong, it is a personal choice.

Remembering your cat

There are many ways you can remember your cat. Some owners wish to have their pet cremated with their ashes returned, your vet should be able to organise this for you. Other owners may want to scatter these ashes in a favourite spot in the garden, others may keep them in an urn or ornament. Some companies will even incorporate ashes into jewellery or glasswork. 

You could alternatively choose to bury your pet at home in your garden if you prefer. Some people will plant a bush or small tree to mark their pet’s memory.

If you are struggling to come to terms with the loss of your cat then you should make sure you talk to your friends and family about how you feel. There are organisations and counselling available as well. For example, the Blue Cross offers a bereavement service which many people find helpful.

End-of-life care for our pets is an emotional time where we are trying to balance the best interests of our pets with our own emotions. Your veterinarian should be able to guide you as to the options available for your cat and answer any questions you may have. Hopefully, in time you will be able to look back on all the happy memories you have shared with your pet and feel comfortable with any final decisions that you make for them.

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