Euthanasia: To Be With Your Cat, or Not?

Buckley in front of the maple tree

Making a decision about whether or when the time is right for euthanasia is one of the hardest things cat guardians will ever go through. I’ve previously written about what can help a cat guardian make this difficult decision. But once you have made the decision, there are still more things to consider.

One is location. 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.

Another decision you will need to make is 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. This is a highly personal decision, and there is no right or wrong answer. 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, and I can’t imagine not having been with them during those final moments. But I also understand why a cat guardian wouldn’t want to be present.

I believe that knowing what to expect during a euthanasia can help cat guardians decide whether they want to be present, or whether they would rather say their good byes before the vet gives the final injection.

What happens during 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.

For most cats, going to the vet’s is a stressful experience, which is yet another reason why I advocate for in home euthanasias. However, regardless of whether the euthanasia is performed in your home or at your vet’s office, it is helpful to understand what happens during euthanasia.

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.

What happens after euthanasia

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.

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.

During my years of working in veterinary clinics. I’ve heard far more people say they regretted not being with their pet during her final moments, than people who were present but wished they had not been.

That being said, this is a deeply personal decision. Only you can know what’s right for you and your cat, and nobody should judge you for the choice you made. In the end, all that matters is that your cat knows she was loved by your throughout her life.

176 Comments on Euthanasia: To Be With Your Cat, or Not?

  1. Christina
    October 15, 2020 at 3:13 pm (2 weeks ago)

    I just put my cat, Taddy, to sleep yesterday. I can’t stop thinking about the process. The dr gave her the first injectio, ketamine. After the first injection, her pupils were so dilated and became stiff but was able to blink. I called the dr and asked if this is normal if she is feeling any kind of pain while we wait till she us completely “sedated”. The dr said no, the stiffness meant that she was completely relaxed. I also asked, if this injection is causing paralysis instead of being asleep because the looks of it did not “relaxing”. Fast forward, my question is, is ketamine normally used before the euthanasia injection? Do stiffness mean that she is relaxed? I’m so bothered and sad because the whole process looked painful. It look like the first injection paralyzed her. I’ve been through this before with my other babies and they went at peace without being stiff and their pupils being dilated.

  2. Sue Gordon
    September 11, 2020 at 11:11 am (2 months ago)

    My cat, Weezy, was 18 years old. A couple of weeks ago I noticed a small lump on one of her breasts. She had just been to the vet the month before for her yearly exam and shots, and my vet was very impressed with how well she was doing at her age, and he was very upset about the lump, which was very tiny, and was confident he could remove it and she would probably live 2 or 3 more years. I made an appointment to bring her in the following week for the surgery. When I took her in and dropped her off for the surgery, he called me shortly after I got home (maybe 15 minutes later) and said her kidney function wasn’t what it should be to go through the surgery. He gave her some IV fluids and I brought her home, and we decided to reschedule the surgery for the next week. She was sleeping a lot more than usual, and not as active, but other than that she seemed to be okay (for a cat of 18 years). So I took her back in for her second attempt at surgery, dropped her off and again, I got a call from my vet, saying the mass had gotten bigger and her kidney function was worse. He said if the cancer didn’t get her, the kidney failure would, and gave her a timeline of maybe a couple months. I had been so close to Weezy for 18 years and probably even moreso in the past few months, as I had been laid off from my job and was home a lot more. I didn’t want to watch her decline knowing the outcome, so I asked the vet if could put her to sleep. I didn’t go in to watch –I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to put her through suffering in her remaining days especially at her age, so I went back to the vet to pay the bill, crying my eyes out, and I am still crying. I know it is a personal choice whether to stay or not stay, and at the time I thought I was doing the right thing by sparing her the suffering she was certainly going to endure with her issues, but after reading all these posts, now I feel horrible. I do not handle death well at all, and I thought I was doing the right thing by not letting her deteriorate due to how much she had declined in just a week’s time. I will always love her and I am relieved she is at peace and didn’t have to suffer, but I think I will always second guess my decision. Please don’t judge me– I just didn’t want that to be my last memory of her.

    • Ingrid
      September 14, 2020 at 4:49 am (1 month ago)

      I’m so sorry about your Wheezy, Sue. Second guessing the euthanasia is almost inevitable, no matter what the circumstances are. I hope eventually your memories of your time with Wheezy will replace the pain of missing her.

    • Carol
      September 14, 2020 at 12:55 pm (1 month ago)

      Dear Sue, I may be repeating myself from former letters to Conscious Cat, to grieving caregivers, but it is so very brave to love and leg go. My dear, you get a medal for 18 years of caring for Wheezy for 18 years, and obviously loving her enough to keep watch on her failing health. What a blessing to Wheezy that you were brave enough to let her go when the signs were so clear that she needed to be released from Earthly cares. Hugs to you in this time of sorrow, especially during a time of widespread stress in all our lives, being at home so much of the time, and it is time that heals this grief, Sue. We caregivers who have loved and had to lose sympathize from the bottom of our hearts. Love and healing thoughts are coming your way today, from many directions. Carol

  3. Chris Webster
    June 6, 2020 at 6:32 am (5 months ago)

    My sympathies Esther. It’s a difficult decision to make ,and you made the right one. It will get better. I’ve been there, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

  4. esther silver
    June 6, 2020 at 1:31 am (5 months ago)

    My little beloved cat Tigger passed over the rainbow bridge this week. She had been losing weight for weeks, and the vet said “she’s just old”. Turns out he is “just inept” as she was declining and a second vet diagnosed TRIADITIS (cholangitis, liver, pancreatitis). She had been still her loving self but not eating ordrinking much… so I hospitalized her and within 24 hours she was deteriorating, had a bit of a rally next morning, but then the following night could not hold her head up, wet her bed, avoided my petting and holding her, hypoglycemic, hypothermic, could not eat or drink. They wanted to do more invasive procedures… I looked at her, suffering, and asked myself: why would I want to make her suffer more? Is she asking for all this? or is for me? and I realized I had to be brave and make that decision…and I did. It was midnight, the vet was amazing and empathic. I held Tigger, took her out one last time to smell the grass outside, then we sat together, she in my arms, and the vet injected the meds…. Tigger went limp, and lifeless, and passed over. I also struggled with Guilt, maybe if……. I had just wanted this sweet loving cuddling cat back next to me for more…..months, years… but it is not meant to be. A life of 15 years of safety, loving, caring, being together every night…. it was a good life for her and I was a loving mother for her…I will treasure her memory… just have to get all those ugly visions of her suffering out of my head. Each day is a bit better… still crying though.

    • Ingrid
      June 6, 2020 at 5:15 am (5 months ago)

      I’m so sorry about Tigger, Esther. It sounds like you made the right decision, and I’m glad her passing was peaceful. Be gentle with yourself as you mourn your beautiful girl.

    • Carol Galat
      June 7, 2020 at 11:05 am (5 months ago)

      Dear Esther, as a fellow cat guardian, I commend you for realizing you had to be brave. We who have lost one or several dear little feline friends over the years understand what you are going through. We have to be brave to love, and then one day be brave enough to say goodbye. Although it is always heart-wrenching and takes a while for us to heal. Tigger was blessed to have your friendship, as you were with hers. Our mackeral tabby Mia is 11 years old today, and just starting to decline. When they meet somewhere over the rainbow bridge someday, Mia and Tigger, they will agree that it was wonderful to be so loved and cared for as they were by us, here on earth. Love and healing thoughts, from Carol


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