What Every Cat Parent Should Know Before Euthanasia

cat-euthanasia

Making a decision about whether or when the time is right for euthanasia is one of the hardest things cat parents will ever go through. I’ve previously written about what can help a cat guardian make this difficult decision. But even once you’ve made the decision for your beloved cat, there are some things you should know that will help make yours and your cat’s final journey as smooth as something so difficult can possibly be.

At home or at the veterinary clinic?

I am a firm advocate of in home euthanasia. I’m always surprised when I hear from my readers that, until they read Buckley’s Story, they had no idea that having a pet euthanized at home was even an option. There are few veterinarians who offer home euthanasia. Those that do generally don’t advertise the fact, but some will come to your home when asked. Housecall veterinarians can be a good option for in home euthanasias. The In Home Pet Euthanasia Directory can help you locate a veterinarian who performs in home euthanasia in your area.

Be with your cat, if you can

Deciding whether you want to be with your cat during the euthanasia, or whether you simply can’t bear to see the final moment of your beloved cat’s passing, is a highly personal choice. There is no right or wrong answer. Personally, I couldn’t image not wanting to be with my cat at the end; in fact, one of my worst fears is that one of my cats will die without me being there to comfort her during her final moments. I have been fortunate that I have been able to be with all of my cats at the end. They all died in my arms.

Understand what happens during and after euthanasia

If a euthanasia is done the right way, it can be a a peaceful, and sometimes even beautiful, experience. Unfortunately, not all vets are good at this task, and there is nothing more upsetting for a cat guardian than to have a beloved cat’s final moments be a struggle rather than the gentle death it should be.

Normally, the euthanasia solution is injected into a leg vein, often through a catheter that is placed in the vein. This requires that the cat be restrained, and for most cats, this will be stressful. In order to facilitate placement of a catheter, the veterinarian should first give a sedative injection subcutaneously (under the skin.) Most cats will tolerate that type of injection better than an intravenous one. The sedative will allow the cat to quietly fall asleep. Once the cat is asleep, the veterinarian will give the final injection into a leg vein. However, depending on the cat’s condition at that stage, finding a viable leg vein may be difficult, and sometimes, the final injection is giving into the abdomen or heart. This is not painful for the cat. With abdominal injections, it can take up to 20 minutes for the cat’s heart to stop beating. Heart injections stop the heart almost immediately.

Once the final injection is given, the cat will usually take a deeper than normal breath, and,typically within six to twelve seconds, go limp and into what looks like a deep sleep. Your cat’s veterinarian will place his stethoscope on your cat’s heart to verify that the cat’s heart has stopped. In some cases, you may see what is known as “agonal breathing,” a series of sudden, convulsive breaths. This can be very disturbing to witness, but your cat is already unconscious at that point, and will not feel any pain.

Being aware of what happens to the body physically after death can help make this time a peaceful rather than distressing experience. Unless your veterinarian closed your cat’s eyes immediately after she died, her eyes may remain open. Body fluids and gas may leak out, so be prepared if you want to hold your cat, and wrap her in a blanket or towel. Blood tinted fluid may leak from your cat’s nose or mouth. Your cat’s body will gradually become colder and stiffer.

Make preparations for your cat’s body

Arrangements for your cat’s body should be made prior to the euthanasia. Regardless of whether you choose burial or cremation, if you’ve chosen to be with your cat during euthanasia, make sure that your veterinarian allows you plenty of time to be with your cat’s body so you can say your final good-bye at your own pace.

Every euthanasia is a unique experience for each person and each cat. Some may be planned, others happen as a result of a sudden illness, injury or other veterinary emergency. There’s no way to completely prepare for the shock, sadness and grief that will inevitably follow. Knowing what to expect can help make a devastating experience more bearable.

Embrace banner with seal

25 Comments on What Every Cat Parent Should Know Before Euthanasia

  1. Steven Howard
    July 13, 2017 at 11:54 pm (1 week ago)

    The mere thought of a pet’s passing makes me tear up. I was present for one cat friend’s final moments but not when my beloved Widget was put down… She was all alone with strangers because I couldn’t get a ride to the emergency veterinarian I took her to. It was an hour away and they told me they would give her the best care only to call me when i was almost home to say that it was her only option. It’s been two and a half years and I still cry over it and have nightmares. I probably won’t ever forgive myself and I definitely won’t forgive that hospital. Being there to say goodbye for the last time is difficult, but not as difficult as never getting to say goodbye. I feel like I abandoned her.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 14, 2017 at 5:21 am (7 days ago)

      I’m so sorry Steven – I remember how hard it was for you when you lost Widget. Even if you may know in your heart you didn’t abandon her, but rather, circumstances prevent you from being with her, it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with this kind of grief.

      Reply
  2. kate p
    August 22, 2016 at 2:51 pm (11 months ago)

    I had an in home euthanasia for my dog and would definitely do it for cat. They are so traumatized by going to vet’s office. It can be a very peaceful experience. Vet and tech cried with me.

    Reply
  3. Sherri
    August 21, 2016 at 4:58 pm (11 months ago)

    Hello, your article couldn’t have come at a better time. My Lucy has been sick for a couple of months now. I taken her to the vet and they have done the best they could. Just this weekend she has eaten little and drank barely any water. Your article has helped me tremendously but this is something hard to bear. She is over fifteen and has been my joy. I am very close to deciding in home euthanasia. This is very hard.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 21, 2016 at 5:08 pm (11 months ago)

      I’m so sorry, Sherri. I’m glad my article helped at least some. It’s such a hard time, and my heart goes out to you.

      Reply
  4. Antonieta G
    August 15, 2016 at 7:25 pm (11 months ago)

    I feel guilty because the veterinarian put the injection to my cat directly to the heart, awake. I need to know if he suffer because he was in my arms and moved and look at me, i think he do it wrong… it is the worst and most painfull thing in my live i still have nightmares with that… the vet said that he didn´t suffer but i dont believe him because i think that the cat must be sedated. Please help me to know.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 16, 2016 at 5:51 am (11 months ago)

      I’m so sorry you had to experience that, Antonieta. Cats should always receive a sedative prior to getting the final injection, regardless of where that injection is administered. I do believe that your cat knew you were with him at the end, and that you loved him. My heart goes out to you. I hope in time, you can find peace.

      Reply
  5. Dr. Lynn Bahr
    August 15, 2016 at 6:50 pm (11 months ago)

    I am a feline veterinarian who also works for an in-home euthanasia service and agree that it is much better for cats not to have to travel to a clinic. Ideally, and when possible, it is a lot less stressful for them to have a vet come to the house instead. Your articles are very informative and helpful to owners and you shed light on many important topics. Euthanasia is a difficult subject and you presented it well.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 16, 2016 at 5:44 am (11 months ago)

      Thanks, Lynn!

      Reply
  6. Ann
    August 15, 2016 at 12:03 pm (11 months ago)

    After having to choose to let one of my early FeLV cats be euthanized on an emergency basis while I was away, I’ve always made sure that I stay with my buddies at the end. This last time, in March, I’d recently heard of in-home euthanasia. It was a relief to know that I wouldn’t have to take my poor sick 18 year old boy to the vet’s. It was an expensive event, but never was money more well spent. He got to fall asleep on the couch with me, with his two friends nearby. The vet was very sensitive and compassionate about every aspect of the visit, including knowing enough to knock at the door, instead of ringing the doorbell, to avoid startling the cats. We had already emailed and talked by phone, so I knew that my decision was the right one at that point. If it’s affordable for people, I strongly recommend the in-home option.

    Reply
  7. JaneA
    August 15, 2016 at 9:34 am (11 months ago)

    Thank you for sharing this information, Ingrid. I only experienced one truly traumatic euthanasia, and it was very long ago before they did the catheterization and double injection. I cried long and hard after that because of what my beloved cat went through at the end of his life.

    Subsequent euthanasias were heartbreaking, but nowhere near as traumatic because of the pre-euthanasia sedation and the leg catheter. When I had my beloved Dahlia and Siouxsie euthanized, they didn’t do the agonal breathing and fluids and feces didn’t leak out, so I was incredibly fortunate in that regard because I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were gone.

    I thought about in-home euthanasia for Siouxsie, but in the end I chose to go to the vet’s office because the idea of a beloved companion dying in my home was too much to bear. I did consult with an animal communicator the night before Siouxsie’s euthanasia, and she explained to Thomas and Bella what was going to happen and reassured me that Siouxsie was indeed ready to be free of her body. My vet is incredibly compassionate, and the people at the clinic made sure the exam room was as homey as possible. They even dimmed the lights a little bit so it wasn’t as bright as exam rooms usually are.

    I did as you suggested and took care of the business part of the euthanasia before the actual procedure, and I’m glad I did because I certainly was not in an emotional place where I could handle handing over my credit card and filling out the form for cremation after the euthanasia was done.

    One other thing I’d recommend is to have a trusted and compassionate friend with you when you’re going to have your cat euthanized, because having a shoulder to cry on after the death of a beloved animal companion is so much better than having to go through it alone, no matter how compassionate the vet is. Also, if you’re driving to the clinic, it’s better to have someone to drive you because you’re not going to be in an emotional place to drive well afterwards. I had to go through Dahlia’s euthanasia alone because it was an emergency and I took her to the emergency clinic to have it done (she was having severe respiratory distress due to lymphoma with a very poor prognosis, so I couldn’t wait, and I was new in town so I didn’t have a social network there yet), and it was hard as hell to be alone and crying even with loving Facebook friends, family and Paws and Effect fans offering their condolences from a distance.

    Reply
  8. Nancy Faulkner
    August 15, 2016 at 8:32 am (11 months ago)

    Ingrid,

    Have been with my cats in the end. Was very hard. But could not just drop them off at vet. Each was a part of my life. My vets were as gentle as possible. Can be hard to find a vet who is gentle.

    Once they cross the rainbow bridge, all is well for the kids. It is us on the other side that…..

    A day does not go by without my thoughts going to my kids, and glad they went out as gentle as possible.

    Reply
  9. Marie
    August 15, 2016 at 8:25 am (11 months ago)

    I highly recommend Lap of Love in-home euthanasia. They also offer hospice. Extremely sensitive, gentle, respectful.
    A very dignified passing in the cat’s own home. Go to lapoflove.com. Use the full web site to see the memorials with pictures and “candles” that can be lit by loved ones. It was started by women vets in Tampa, and is now national.

    Reply
  10. Nancy Faulkner
    August 15, 2016 at 8:20 am (11 months ago)

    Ingrid,

    Have had 6 cats in my life so far. Have been with all of them in the end. Was very hard. But glad I was.

    Miss each and every one. They are cremated and are on my book shelf. Touch their wooden urn and let them know how much I miss them.

    Never knew vets could come to your home. Good to know. The hard part is finding a vet to help cross the rainbow bridge.

    Reply
  11. Sue Brandes
    August 15, 2016 at 7:36 am (11 months ago)

    Thanks for the post. I have been with my kitties at the end.

    Reply
  12. Janine
    August 15, 2016 at 7:31 am (11 months ago)

    Just reading this caused me to tear up thinking of my sweet Nani when her time came. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. I have have to put other cats to sleep, but Nani was the hardest because she was my soul cat.

    Reply
  13. Khakie Jones
    August 15, 2016 at 5:46 am (11 months ago)

    Thank you. Your article was helpful to me in preparing me for an event all responsible pet owners must face. I am better prepared.

    Reply
  14. Les
    August 15, 2016 at 4:22 am (11 months ago)

    Oops, I doubled up! Please delete one comment 🙂

    Reply
  15. Leslyn
    August 15, 2016 at 4:18 am (11 months ago)

    Ingrid, I value and respect your opinion so just wondering if it really is completely painless and humane? The gasping & breathing, defecating/urinating, twitching and blood stained fluids from the nose have me wondering otherwise. My gut tells me something else. What are your thoughts?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 15, 2016 at 5:22 am (11 months ago)

      Leslyn, it is absolutely painfree and humane. The body’s cells don’t die all at once when the heart stops. The gasping for breath, also known as agonal breathing, is a brainstem reflex. Voiding of the bladder and colon are the result of the muscles relaxing after death. The twitching comes from muscle reflexes, and the fluid draining from the nose is usually the result of gravity (it drains from the side closest to the table.)

      Reply
      • Les
        August 15, 2016 at 7:56 am (11 months ago)

        Thank you Ingrid… are they definitely unconscious (unaware) once the 2nd injection is administered?

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          August 15, 2016 at 8:06 am (11 months ago)

          Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing for sure, Les, but between the initial sedative injection, and the fact that the euthanasia solution acts very quickly, I suspect that there is minimal to no awareness of the final injection.

          Reply
          • Les
            August 16, 2016 at 8:27 am (11 months ago)

            Thank you

  16. Diane Ricciardi Stewart
    August 15, 2016 at 4:04 am (11 months ago)

    Ingrid, excellent post! Most folks are unaware of what truly happens. I, fortunately, have a great vet that truly understands my cat’s needs as well as mine for euthanasia. I never have to worry — when it’s time, he is by my side and will put my kitty to sleep in my arms — and it is VERY gentle. The majority of my cats have gone *on their own*, but I have had a couple that I had to *make that decision*, and Dr. Karl was wonderful. I am truly blessed to have a great friend as my vet as well. . . ♥♥♥

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 15, 2016 at 5:31 am (11 months ago)

      Your vet sounds wonderful, Diane.

      Reply

Leave a comment

First time visitors: please read our Comment Guidelines.