No one wants to think about the time they’ll have to say goodbye to their cat. For some, that may come after a long and happy life; for others, it may be sooner than expected. Making the decision to let them go is always hard. Especially since cats, at the best of times, dislike the vets. Here are some helpful tips to make that final visit as peaceful as possible.

Be prepared

Being well prepared goes a long way to making the euthanasia process more peaceful for you and your cat. Knowing what to expect and having made the important decisions ahead of the time will help you stay calm and in control when the time eventually comes, allowing you to focus on your cat’s well-being.

Deciding to have your cat put to sleep is never easy and you need to feel confident you’re making the right decision. 

At these times, our head and our heart often tell us different things. Your vet will guide you through all the stages of euthanasia. From choosing the right time, explaining how the process works, to making all the necessary arrangements before and after the event. They will be able to answer all of your questions so you know you are doing the right thing.

One decision best made ahead of time is whether to have your cat put to sleep at home or at the veterinary practice. 

Most vets can arrange a home visit for this. But having your cat put to sleep at home isn’t always more peaceful. Although cats will be more relaxed at home. Some may be more upset by strangers coming into their home than by visiting the vets. Losing a pet is also a very emotional experience. You may find it easier not to have a sad memory forever associated with your home.

You might also want to discuss what kind of arrangements you would like to make after your cat has been put to sleep. A range of options are available, from home burial to a personalised cremation. Your vet will usually arrange the cremation for you. But they can also advise you if you prefer to make your own arrangements.

Know what to expect

Even if you’ve been through it before, having your cat put to sleep may seem daunting or intimidating. Speaking to your vet ahead of time will allow them to explain the euthanasia process and answer your questions. They can also guide you to the right time to say goodbye. And put you at ease about what happens during and after your cat has been put to sleep.

Euthanasia, (‘putting to sleep’), is a swift, painless and dignified way to release a cat from untreatable suffering. Your vet will do all they can to make the process as peaceful as possible. Every vet has their own personal approach to euthanasia, but the basic procedure is similar. Your vet will ask you to sign a form giving them permission to carry out the euthanasia. They will then use a powerful injectable anaesthetic to firstly send your cat into a deep sleep; soon after this will stop its heart and breathing. The injection is usually given into a vein in one of the legs (usually a front one). But if your cat is very ill your vet may give it into your cat’s tummy instead; this will take longer to send them to sleep but will be less stressful for them than trying to inject into a collapsed vein. 

As the anaesthetic takes effect, your cat may breathe a little heavier. This is quite normal and not a sign of distress. After they’re gone, they may also give a few deep intakes of breath or twitch some of their muscles; the bladder may also leak as the body relaxes. These are all completely normal unconscious actions that your cat will not be aware of. Your vet will confirm that your cat has passed by carefully checking for the absence of a heartbeat.

Will they need sedation?

Most cats won’t need sedation before euthanasia. If your cat normally gets upset visiting the vets, your vet can prescribe something to help calm them before and during their visit. Although euthanasia is painless, some cats may not be comfortable being gently held for the injection. This tends to be more common in old, arthritic cats, or cats with serious illness, such as breathing difficulties. In these cases, your vet may administer an appropriate sedative to help them relax. Some vets also prefer to do this in every case, to pre-empt any problems. This sedation takes effect gradually over about ten minutes and puts cats into a light sleep. You will normally be able to hold or cuddle them during this time. But once they are sedated they may not be aware of your presence. 

If you feel you would rather your cat was sedated prior to euthanasia, speak to your vet as they will be keen to accommodate your wishes to do what they can to make the process as peaceful as possible.

Choose the right time

It’s not easy to make the decision to put your cat to sleep, and the choice of timing is sometimes out of your hands, but choosing the right time to let your cat go can make a big difference to how peaceful it is. In general, it’s best to err on the side of caution. Letting terminally ill cats go a few days early is better than leaving it a little bit late as a couple of days can make a big difference to how comfortable they are and how well they will tolerate the euthanasia process.

The time of day you choose to have your cat put to sleep can also influence the peacefulness. Ask your vet for an appointment at a quiet time, such as first thing, or at the end of the day. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the vets but if you arrive early, it’s best to wait in the car until the vet is ready for you. This minimises time in the waiting room which will reduce stress for you and your cat.

Should I be there or not?

Many people want to be with their cat during the final moments, but some will prefer to remember different memories and periods of their life. We’re all different, so there’s no ‘right or wrong’ way to approach having your cat put to sleep – only the way that’s right for you. The process of euthanasia will be exactly the same as just as peaceful whether you’re there or not so don’t feel under pressure to attend if you feel you might be overwhelmed by emotion.

If you decide you would like to attend, it is best for your cat if only one or two family members are with you. Cats are very sensitive to their owner’s emotions and they may get stressed or anxious if there are lots of emotional people around them. If possible, arrange for other members of the family to say goodbye at home, or in small groups.

Let yourself grieve

Cats may be small but they leave a big hole in our lives after they’re gone. They’re loved and special family members and it’s normal to experience feelings of loss and grief after their passing. We all deal with these feelings at our own pace and in our own ways. But some people may feel regret or remorse for deciding to euthanise their cat rather than letting them die naturally. This is understandable, but you do not need to feel this way. Your vet will only advise euthanasia when all other treatment options have been exhausted, but they cannot make the decision for you. Your cat trusts and relies on you to make the right choice for them. 

Euthanasia is a brave and final act of love, compassion, and caring. In choosing to let your cat go, you are not depriving them of life but releasing them from untreatable pain and suffering. Talking with friends and family will help with these feelings. But if you are struggling to come to terms with your loss, your veterinary practice team can help direct you to an appropriate bereavement support service.

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