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 and is republished with permission.

25 Comments on Euthanasia: Knowing When to Say Goodbye

  1. I had to put down my sweet Garfield last Tuesday. In such a short and fast decision making. I decided we needed to put him down because of how much pain and sufferings he was in and how with whatever we could of done that there was a chance it wouldn’t work and it would just come back. I didn’t know that I’d be making a decision like that so soon and saying goodbye so early without actually saying a proper goodbye in a timely matter. It’s been so hard to know he is gone and knowing the decision I made was right. feeling guilty and my heart feels empty and I feel lost. at fault. Wanting to know I did make the right decision and he’s happy now and thankful that I did that for him. I miss my sweet boy. he was gone too quick and too soon.

  2. There should be more support for pain management options so owners do not feel obligated to decide when their cat’s life is over. We all know it’s not legal for humans and if it were me sick with no hope I’d still want to live life until the end. I lost a cat at a time when no emergency clinic was willing to see her without an upfront payment in an amount I could not come up with being unemployed long term. I comforted my girl in my arms as she got weaker and then passed at her time. I feel more at peace with the way she died than I do for a cat that was climbing stairs and interacting the day the owner insisted on euthanizing her to “get it over with.” When different family members don’t agree on ending a life feline or human (DNR, etc), it can create lifelong pain, regret, and ruin relationships permanently. As a strong pro-life believer and cat lover, I feel that euthanasia should not be forced on everyone. Up until the second half of the last century, most pets died when nature took them.

  3. Thank you for your site. I’m really hurting right now. I know I did the right thing at the right time but it’s still so hard. Thanks for being here.

  4. Just had to say goodbye to our Jackie kitty last Tuesday, she was suffering from both lymphoma and advanced kidney disease. We were able to treat her for two years which is about what her vet told us to expect. As you say it just got where her quality of life was not what it needed to be and it was time to let her go.

  5. Just took my beloved Alex., aka Chunk in. First vet could not figure out what problem was(or they did and just wanted to keep getting money out of me. Second vet know right away without test our beloved Chunk had CHF. H stopp d eatting, lost a ton of weight, and by that time we caught it too late and had to do the hard thing and put him in his final res. We miss you so much buddy.

  6. Taking my 17 year old boy Dick in tomorrow morning. He’s been the best cat. He lost his Sister Jane a year and a half ago. They were kittens of a barn cat who wouldn’t nurse or care for them. So I was their mom.

  7. My family vet always said that the pet had been good to you and that it was time to be good to the pet. No animal should suffer. If someone waited too long to bring the pet in for PTS , they were told ! I have a very compassionate clinic now and choose them by the way they handled Little, when the time came. He had multiple problems and was incontinent. The tech took him in her arms wet towel and all… With GoldD I stayed, we did our night routine which ncluded cuddles and prayers aloud, he settled in my arms… I am crying now , but it was time….. N

  8. This brought back so many memories. We have not had to make this decision since Buddy went so suddenly, but we still agonized over how we would know it was time. Thanks again for all your support. I still shudder to think what we would’ve done if you had not been there!

  9. I’ve had to make the painful decision twice with my dogs & its not any easier then with kitties.. In 2006 my ShihTzu rescue Casper (11 y/o) was in his last stages of CHF & while it was a hard decision the decision happened so quickly I didn’t have time to think about it.. Just took that death so hard I couldn’t leave the house for months & quit my job so I wouldn’t have to face people.. In 2013 my ShihTzu rescue Angel (12y/o) had been suffering through an illness which to this day I don’t know what it was the specialists & vets never told me.. In the final months I knew what had to be done but just could not make the decision which was made harder because I am a senior living alone.. While I watched my baby get worse I started the prep’s for his final stages with me, ordering his special urn to match his brother Casper’s & more importantly finding a facility where I would NOT have to leave him at all.. With Casper even though his was a private cremation I still had to wait a week for his ashes & urn to come back mainly because I hadn’t ordered his urn beforehand.. Once I had ordered Angel’s matching urn some of the decision process became clearer & easier since I could see he was uncomfortable & I couldn’t face that any longer.. I found a special veterinarian about an hour away that did a different type of euthanasia (anesthesia first) so much easier on the pet & they had a crematory on premises.. While I held both of my pets during the euthanasia process with my Angel I was able to carry him back to the crematory & wait for him.. Never to be alone without me.. That was in June 2013 & until last week I still had all of Angel’s things out & kept having dreams of him then I suddenly packed up many of Angel & Casper’s many things in memory boxes & donated the rest of their many, many things to a no kill shelter which I know my Casper would approve of.. If I thought the pain of Casper’s death was hard the death of my Angel was much harder since he was a much more needy pet from the first day I rescued him (at 6mths old) until his last day with me.. Until we all meet again.♥ I will continue to do animal rescue work but will never have another pet again, too old & the end of their life decision too hard.. I too have it in my will that my boys ashes are to go with me to my burial site but some cemeteries forbid it so my son knows what to do.. Sorry for being so wordy a throw back from my former life.. Peace

  10. The hardest thing isn’t it… and we have all been there more than once I’m sure. I would always wish to be with my cat(s) when they go on to better things, but it isn’t always possible. The first time I had to do this I wondered if I COULD actually stay with the cat but found that I could. It is a “beautiful” (if that’s right) and peaceful ending, the last thing you can do for a much loved animal, and to me once the soul has gone, only the shell is left. I truly believe animals have souls and that we all shall meet up again in a far better place than this one.
    I think one DOES know when it’s time to say goodbye, and I am fortunate in having a vet who is caring, brilliant, very very kind and sympathetic, I have total faith in him and I know he would always give me the best advice, although at the end of the day of course one does have to make the decision. Awful to have to play God – and sometimes the cat decides for itself. Each case is different perhaps, I can only speak from my own experience

    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Margaret. I agree that when we really connect with our animals, we do “just know,” it’s just sometimes hard to do when we’re scared of losing them.

  11. I have had to make the euthanasia decision many times. I have had cats since I was a child, then as a young adult, now as an old adult (70) and have been in rescue for many years. All the things you said in your article come into play — prognosis, quality versus quantity, pain and suffering, which I am quick to end. I tend to err on the side of “better sooner than later” so that the animal doesn’t end up dying in a terrible way. If it’s a beloved pet,we are in tune with them, I think, and can recognize when all our tender care is simply getting in the way of their natural dying process. It helps so much to have experience with your vet, in home or not in home, and know the procedure ahead of time because all vets are NOT alike or in agreement, especially the emergency hospitals, who usually insist on taking your poor cat into the other room and inserting a catheter into a vein and then bringing it back to you for euthanasia if you choose to be with your cat during the process; otherwise they take the cat away and do it out of your sight! My vets use a ketamine injection in the butt (quick sting, then all over) and leave me alone to hold the cat as it gently purrs its way off to sleep in a happy ketamine cloud, then vet comes back in 10-15 minutes when the cat is completely pre-op level sedated to do the vein stick. (And I ALWAYS take a tranquilizer before taking a cat for euthanasia so I will be projecting calm and peaceful vibes to the cat. I can cry later. (I do not usually take tranquilizers but keep them around in case I have to fly on a plane or put a cat to sleep, both of which are infrequent, fortunately.)

    There is an in-home euthanasia group called “Sweet Dreams” and on their excellent site they explain everything you could ever need to know about their services and exactly what to expect. I have not used them yet as most of my cats are comfortable travelers and my vet is only about 7 miles away, but I do have one cat who does not travel well at all, and it would be worth the extra expense for him when his time comes. Here is the link to Sweet Dreams for your information.

    • Thank you for the link, Kaia. I think it is important to understand what happens during euthanasia. It takes some of the fear surrounding the process out of the experience, and it also allows you to ask the right kinds of questions of your vet to ensure that the procedure is done right. Some vets, unfortunately, still cut corners, which leads to a “bad death” and horrible memories for the cat’s guardian.

      This article provides more information:

  12. As my cats get older, I always dread the day when I may have to make that decision. I have found that many vets will not or can not help with this, although I think they should. My last experience was horrible, mostly due to Convenia, but also the vet kept telling me that my Cholla “could get better”. I brought him in 3 times within the week before I was leaving for a special birthday cruise. I knew in my heart his quality of life was declining rapidly, but I didn’t want to end his life for my convenience. I also thought, because it was what the vet advised me, that he’d make it at least until I got home. Turned out my poor baby died the night I left, on my birthday. I am still so sorry I was not here to be with him. My sister, who was taking care of him and my other cat, had to deal with his death alone. She didn’t tell me he had died until I was on my flight home.

  13. I have been in this situation quite a bit. When I was little it was up to my dad, but it hurt all the same. I have had a harder time with a couple of kitties more than the rest because I had a stronger bond with them. I cried for 2 weeks straight at bedtime when it was my Bebe’s time. I had one of my kitties cremated when I actually found out that you could do that. I kept the ashes. I would like to have the four I have now cremated too if I have the finances to do it. I told both my kids I want their ashes put with me when I pass. I want them to be right with me. I hope that I don’t have to make the decision for these ones. I would like them to go in their sleep, which I know we can’t always have the perfect scenario, but that is my wish.

  14. I have been there… more than once.
    At home we have been fortunate to live with long-life pets… but by loving them and knowing them it becomes an act of love to help them in that final step.

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