Making a decision about whether or when the time is right for euthanasia is one of the hardest things a cat guardian will ever go through. Unlike human medicine, veterinary medicine is fortunate to be able to legally offer the option of gently ending suffering when there seems to be no hope for recovery. However, making this decision for a beloved cat can be agonizing.
A number of guidelines can help with the decision process.
Quality of life
There are several markers that can be used to determine whether your cat still has good quality of life. Pain is usually the first one cat guardians consider. No cat guardian wants to see a beloved cat suffer. Cats are masters at masking pain, so this can be difficult to detect. Adequate pain control is one of the most important concerns in a terminally ill cat. Another marker is appetite. Is the cat still eating enough? Can she eat on her own, or does she need assistance, such as a feeding tube? Another important marker is dignity. Is the pet still able to relieve herself on her own, or does she need assistance with urination and defecation?
A terminally ill cat will have good days and bad days. Do the good days still outweigh the bad? Does the cat still express joy and interest in her surroundings? Does she respond to family members?
Work closely with your cat’s veterinarian
Your cat’s veterinarian will be one of your most valuable resources when it comes to making this difficult decision. He or she can advise you on what your medical options are for your terminally ill cat, and how to provide hospice and palliative care. Few veterinarians will come right out and tell you when it’s time to euthanize, but they will be able to help you assess quality of life and guide you through the decision process.
Emotional aspects of the euthanasia decision
Fear of losing a beloved cat, and not being able to imagine life without her, can influence the decision. A cat guardian’s prior experience with illness and death, be it of a pet or a human, will be a factor. Difficult as it may be, the euthanasia decision should not be based on our own discomfort with the dying process. Religious beliefs may also impact the decision.
Denial can play a significant role in the decision process. Denial is a defense mechanism that initially saves the person from anxiety or pain, but it can become paralyzing. When it comes to dealing with a terminally ill pet, love and denial can be intricately linked, and it can sometimes be difficult to separate one from the other.
“You will just know”
Cat guardians are often told that “they will just know” when the time is right. When cat guardian and human are closely bonded, this may be true. However, it requires setting aside fear and worry and really tune in to the cat’s essence, and this can be very difficult when faced with imminent loss.
Making the euthanasia decision is a very personal and individual process, and the sad reality is that there is probably no way for cat guardians to ever be completely at peace with it.
This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.