One of the burdens of having a cat is knowing that even with the best of care, their lifespan is shorter than ours. In many cases, a chronic health concern or increasing frailty draws our attention to the need to periodically evaluate quality of life and consider euthanasia.
Quality of Life is an umbrella phrase for many intangibles and it is tempting to say “I’ll know it when I see it,” but when it comes time to make tough decisions, a checklist can help make sure we are taking a global outlook and can also serve as touchstones for family members who need to reach a consensus.
- Pain: we can all agree that we want our cats to be comfortable, but are we good at recognizing pain? While a cat will cry from sudden pain such as someone stepping on a tail, chronic pain is more subtle. The Feline Grimace Scale is an excellent tool for both home and hospital To use, we evaluate five postures and facial features and add up a total score of 0-10. A free app assists learning the scale and tracking scores. In general cats with scores 1-4 can be managed with home medication and nursing care, while 5 and greater requires veterinary intervention and advanced modalities.
- Bodily Functions: Can the cat breathe, drink, urinate, and have bowel movements productively? Can the patient accomplish these on its own or with assistance, such as cleaning after BMs? Is the cat maintaining a normal body temperature? Can the cat move around?
- Eating: Is the cat able to seek food and water as needed? Can the cat chew and swallow? Is the diet meeting nutritional needs and calories required? Does the cat get satisfaction from meals? Is the cat staying hydrated?
- Signs of Illness: can we control coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, or seizures? Is the cat weak or confused?
- Activities and Interaction: Does the cat still seek out and enjoy the activities it once did? That might be finding sunny windows, curling up with another pet, snuggling with favorite people, grooming self, and even playing, clawing scratching posts, and responding to the activities of the household.
- The Budget of Effort and Money: care of geriatric or infirm pets may take more time, energy, or money than a household can give due to other It is important that we are honest with ourselves about our limitations when we are making care decisions.
We are here to help you answer these questions and to show you the medical and nursing care techniques that can ease many of these issues. In addition to medical appointments with the veterinarian, we offer telemedicine consultations and in-office nursing care instruction and consultation with our licensed veterinary technicians. At some point, the answers to these questions will tell us it is time to say goodbye. Please avoid the temptation to wait until after your cat’s last good day.
Many pet owners want to know what to expect with a euthanasia appointment. There will be a consultation with the veterinarian, then a heavy sedative is administered. Once your cat has drifted into sleepy, relaxed state, a second injection is administered that stops brain and heart function. It is your choice to be present for the entire process or to leave after the sedative takes effect. Either way, we will make sure that your cat’s final moments are as calm and comfortable as possible.
We offer cremation services or can prepare remains for home burial. The cremation provider offers a variety of services, including basic options and individual cremation with a variety of urns. If you want a home euthanasia, we can provide referral to veterinarians who offer this service.
If you have closely bonded pets, the loss of a housemate can be jarring. The use of Feliway pheromones for cats and Adaptil for dogs is very helpful. Housemates viewing of the deceased pet is not helpful for cats and is not recommended.
When explaining euthanasia to children, use plain terms and avoid euphemisms such as “put to sleep” that may confuse young children and make bedtime scary. I like to explain that every life has a beginning and an end. We can’t choose if our cats will die, but we can decide when and help make it as easy and painless as possible. Encourage children to talk about their feelings and plan a memorial activity such as a shadow box or planting a memorial tree. It is natural for children to want to talk about other losses such as other pets or family members.
Adults can also struggle with loss. Many find comfort from scrapbooking, journaling, or having memorial art made such as paintings or framed photos. If you need help processing loss, we can refer you to a variety of community and telephone support services. Our cremation partner also hosts a quarterly memorial event.