cat_euthanasia

Guest post by Elizabeth Colleran, DVM

The software we use in my practices will color code appointments by “reason for visit.” The one for euthanasia is, as one would expect, a very dark color. A few weeks ago, I came to work. As usual, I looked at the schedule before rounds to see any issues that needed to be covered before we convened. My heart sank. The first two appointments of the day were euthanasias.

While in many respects, I think of euthanasia as a privilege to perform when suffering is the alternative, nevertheless, it is always hard on me. Not as hard as it is for clients who don’t want to give up, but emotionally trying. I watched my Dad suffer to death for 3 months in an ICU so I know how important it is to assist in ending suffering.

“We veterinarians think of ourselves as healers.”

We veterinarians think of ourselves as healers, capable of diagnosing, curing or managing illness and injury. When we can no longer do so, our role in the pet’s and family’s life changes. We are not allies in the fight any longer. We must advise the course to prevent suffering; sometimes that means death.

In that same week, my brother called from 3000 miles away to talk to me about his 11 year old Clumber Spaniel, Hattie, who was in the hospital. He needed me to help him make decisions. She was very sick and it was Friday afternoon. One plan was to stabilize her through the weekend and perform surgery on Monday, a course that may or may not have improved her condition. I reviewed the diagnostics with her doctor. We had a long conversation about likely outcomes. Her odds of getting better were poor but not impossible.

I told my brother that he should take it one day at a time. Give the doctors permission to provide all the supportive care she needed, including a blood transfusion and see how she was the next day. On Saturday, her condition was no better, maybe even a bit worse. My brother was so sad. He loved her and wanted her home and healthy. My job as sister and veterinarian was to tell him to stop, to let her go because it was clear if he did not that her decline would be terrible for her.

He did as I advised and knew that he had made the right choice. It still makes my cry as I write this to have to break his heart.

“The choice to break our own hearts to save another
from suffering is true compassion.”

The choice to break our own hearts to save another from suffering is true compassion. Everyone wishes to have the decisions disappear by circumstance. To have a beloved pet die a “natural” death, without suffering, is often not possible.

Every euthanasia is a little piece of heartbreak. We hug our clients if they need it. Help them make choices. Tell them how much we honor them. Try to make it as quiet and peaceful as we can. We include whomever they wish and try to provide comfort and closure. There is no harder task in my profession, nor one so important.

Dr. Elizabeth Colleran is a 1990 graduate of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. She holds a Masters of Science in Animals and Public Policy, also from Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. In 2011, she was the President of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, Specialty in Feline Practice. As the spokesperson for the AAFP initiative Cat Friendly Practice, she speaks at major conferences around the country. Dr. Colleran owns the Chico Hospital for Cats in Chico, CA and the Cat Hospital of Portland in Portland, OR.

127 Comments on Euthanasia: A Vet’s Perspective

  1. I recently had to have Felix one of my rescue cats euthanized, he was 24 years old and had been with me for 19 of them. The vet was wonderful, he sedated him first before he put him to sleep. When he gave him the first injection to make him sleepy he left me alone with him for 10 minutes to say my goodbyes. As he euthanized him I could not hold back my sobs and I was glad that he had been sedated first so he would not hear my distress. I would recommend this to anyone who has the awful task of having their pet put to sleep.

  2. My cat was diagnosed with feline leukemia when he was just three years old. We battled it into remission with blood transfusions and for the next NINE YEARS he lived a normal, healthy cat life. In his last year, he developed a secondary bone cancer related to the FeLeuk and by the time he died he had several bone tumors. He was in a great deal of pain and euthanizing him was a difficult decision to come to but it was the truly for the best. He was in a great deal of pain. The last night before I took him to the vet, I sat up on the couch the entire night, holding him wrapped in a blanket in my arms.
    When I took him to the vet, my daughter drove me so I could hold him on the trip. The doctor gave him a sedative while I held him and when he was asleep, she had me lay him on the table while she put the other needle into his heart. Even then, she let me keep my arms around him and I laid my cheek on his. He died with my scent on him and his on me.
    My vet (who is board certified as a feline specialist) was one of the most wonderful people I have ever met; caring and compassionate. She and I both knew this would be his ultimate end. She never gave me false hope. But together, we gave him a long and loving and loved life.
    Bless your profession.

  3. Hardest times of my life – knowingly ending the life of one that I love so much. Huge shoutout to Dr Norm Stillman at Court Street Vets in Plymouth MA who made the journey with Turtle the cat positive and one that I regret only in emotion but not in logic.

  4. I had a wonderful vet in Utah, who wasn’t in the best health himself, and probably should’ve retired years before. But he was just too dedicated to his patients and their caregivers. When my beloved dog Bandit, who was my gentle giant, was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, my vet even performed surgery free of charge to see if there was a chance of saving him. The day before, we were going to euthanize him, as his chances of survival seemed minimal. Bandit was a large 11 year old dog, who in all likelyhood, wouldn’t respond to the cancer treatments, that were heartbreakingly beyond my financial means at the time. So my vet told me to take him home, give him one last night of cuddles and treats, and bring him back the next day for our final goodbye. So I did, but got a call from the vet at 10:30 that night. He apologized for calling so late, but told me,
    “Linda, 90 % of the dogs I treat are good dogs. 10% are…a challenge. The other 10% are extraordinary. Bandit is in that catagory. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do all in my power first to at least see if he has a fighting chance. Don’t feed him or give him water after midnight. I want to open him up to see how bad the cancer really is, and if he can be saved. I know you can’t afford the surgery. I won’t charge you. Just let me do this for him.”
    What a giving and compassionate man! Sadly, the surgery confirmed the fear that Bandit wouldn’t respond to treatments, it was too advanced. After a couple of days with him at home, I brought him back for our final goodbye. I didn’t want Bandit’s last moments to be on the metal examing table top. Being a big dog, he was always afraid when he was up there. I asked the doctor if we could do it on the floor, but because of his own health problems, he couldn’t get down to the floor. Instead, he asked me how Bandit liked the car. Bandit LOVED the car, I told him. My vet had me bring the car to the back door. With an extension cord to shave his leg for the needle, he performed the euthanasia in the back seat of my car, while I cradled a contented and fearless Bandit as he crossed ovef to the Rainbow Bridge. I wish everyone was blessed with the kind of compassionate vet I had in Dr. Hullinger. He went over and beyond what most vets could be expected to do, a d shared my grief ovef the loss of my sweet Bandit.

  5. I had a very hard time a couple of months ago. I lost two of my precious furbabies within 5 weeks of each other. My Digger boy was only 6 years old when he was diagnosed with diabetes. We spent $4000 in just over a year trying to get his sugars under control. Then in March of this year, we discovered that we couldnt get them under control because he had cancer 🙁 He was suffering by this time and would moan in pain if i even tried to pet him. So we made the decision to end his suffering, even though, it completely broke my heart in two. My vet was very understanding and caring. She let me hold him during his last moments on earth so i could tell him how much i loved him and that i tried everything i could for him. During my time mourning my Digger boy, my 17 yr old cat had taken a seizure of some sort and started to have issues with her eye. It was starting to bulge out of her pretty little face. So away we went to the Dr. I was hoping it was just a side effect of the seizure, but it turns out that she had developed a brain tumor and surgery to remove the eye and tumor would have killed her on the table due to her age. So instead of watching my beautiful Baby suffer or start to be in pain, i made the decision to let her go. I had Baby from the time she was 5 weeks old. So 5 weeks after saying goodbye to my Digger, i had to make the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to my Baby. I also held her while she passed over Rainbow Bridge. Again, my vet was heartbroken just as i was, as she knew exactly what my furbabies meant to me and could not believe that i was going thru this again, just 5 weeks after losing my Digger. The hole in my heart will never heal, they will always hold that place. I cant imagine a vet saying no that you cannot hold your beloved pet during their last moments on earth. I have an awesome vet and wouldnt trade her for the world. My heart is still broken as it has only been a couple of months, but having their ashes with me helps to deal with the pain of losing them so close together 🙁

  6. I have had two cats euthanized at home. Both had kidney failure, but ultimately stroked. There were two different vets involved and the events were separated by 25 years. Both times, the vet was the major reasons we were able to accept the inevitable and participate in the last moments in the lives of our furbabies. While it broke our hearts to have to make this decision, we couldn’t let them suffer any longer. The greatest comfort for me was listening to the vet talk gently, quietly, and reassuringly to the animals who never budged when the syringe was inserted into their back legs. They left this life, as we all do, peacefully, gently, and without pain. Both of these vets were women and I think women have a slightly different perspective on death than the men do. At any rate, I love both of these vets for the kindness and compassion they showed not only a dying pet but the pained pet parents.

  7. I had to put my 18 month old baby to sleep last year – he had a peri-nephric cyst and was dying in front of my eyes. My vet, who has a special place in heaven, knew he hated cars and when I asked her to come to my house, did so. He was lying in his favorite spot in the lounge in the sun and we didn’t even move him. It is indeed a privilege to end their suffering, but it broke my heart that we had such a short time with him.

  8. I got my first cat in 1976. He was a rescued cat and he was my baby for 21 1/2 years. The Vet I took him to was also the place a friend of mine worked at, and it was she who offered this piece of advise. She said, “I never leave my pets alone with strangers when I have to make this decision”, land neither have I. Sadly, I have had to watch 4 other fur babies cross that rainbow bridge in the years since. Each Vet and staff members have been kind, considerate and compassionate to me. As noted before in one of the posts, it never gets easier but I know it is the kindest thing to do when an animal is suffering or past a quality of life that is what’s best for them. Thanks to all the wonderful loving Vets and staff members out there!

  9. In my 58 years I have had to let go of quite a few pets. It had always been what is best for them, not so much me. I have found that for me, those are the ones I miss the most. It is one of the greatest gifts to be given, the unconditional love from an animal/pet. It makes life so much better….Nice work Doc <3

  10. The best decisions seek to honor the animal’s desires. They do have them. Ask as you go along, they will hear. Actually, it’s usually harder for us to hear them, especially if we are upset. But love and devotion will see you threw.

  11. I have a particularly strong memory of one of the vets I called upon to release a beloved companion from her suffering. He came into the examining room that morning, with as much of a smile as he ever had and asked what we would be doing. My answer that we would be putting Matilda to sleep clearly shocked him. Although I had told the staff member who made my appointment that morning the purpose of our visit, she hadn’t prepared him. He was obviously upset that his manner had been out of keeping with the solemnity of the occasion. This vet had never been one of my favorites, and still isn’t, but his humanity was laid bare in that sadly awkward moment. My heart goes out to him and all the compassionate veterinarians who share the end of life with us and our pets.

  12. Many years ago, I had to have my black cat put to sleep when he had feline leukemia. It was when the vaccine was in its final testing stages. The vet sent a donation in his name to the fe-leuk cause. Many years later, I had to have my torti cat PTS because of sudden onset cancer. The vet let me hold her when it was time for her to go.

  13. I always stay with my cats as their lives end! It never gets easier! Making the decision is a terrible choice. I feel like I play God for them and sometimes I don’t know if my decision is wrong or right! Thank god I am not a vet!

  14. Our sweet kitty Freeway was our “baby”. My girlfriend and I caught him under the freeway, a feral kitten, hungry, dirty and fiesty. We brought him to my vet, Dr. Larry King, to be checked out, given shots and see if he was healthy enough to come home with me. Dr. King lifted him out of the trap we brought him in with big thick gloves and this little darling started purring right away. Needless to say he won the Dr’s heart immediately. He got his shots, was quarentined from other cats for a week and then declared disease free and ready to come home. My husband and I had him (or he had us) for 18 years. He was strictly an inside kitty, so he remained very healthy and so loving .. he went everywhere with us. Then came the day he started yowling and walking down the hall leaning against the wall. I scooped him up and called my sister to drive me to Dr Kings as I couldn’t see through my tears and he only settled down if I held him tightly. Dr King examined him and found that he had a brain tumor, a very large one, that had not presented itself before that moment. I took him home with medications and infused fluids to give myself and my husband time to say goodby. Within a 1/2 hour of getting home he started yowling wildly and only settled down if I held him tightly .. so my sister came back and off to the vets we went again. Unfortunately the tumor had caused a major stroke and he was mostly paralized and blinded just like that. I called my husband at work and he headed immediately to the vets so we could hold our little guy and say our goodby’s .. all to fast … too soon .. too final. Larry (the vet) let us hold him and soothe him as he administered the med’s that gave our little Freeway peace and release. He left us with him for as long as we wanted and as he had been Freeway’s doctor for 18 years he was visibly teary too. We opted for cremation so we could scatter his ashes on our property in the mountains. The clinic was always so good and so caring .. they sent us condolence cards and called to check on us too. I can’t say enough about Dr King and his clinic .. they are fabulous. Sorry this is so long, but it actually felt good to be able to share a little piece of Freeway’s story.

  15. I’ve had to do this 3 times in this past year. I needed to share my stories. It’s the most loving act of kindness that we can give
    them. It breaks hearts but the empty ache in our broken hearts will ease and heal. :~)
    Molly was first. My husband was her “person”. She was 11 when it was time to let her go. She was fine….happy, eating & drinking well and playful. Within2 days the dying process hit her quickly. She lost control of bowel & bladder, wouldn’t eat or drink and couldn’t walk more than 5 ft without needing to rest for 10 or 15 min to go 5 ft more.
    The heart-breaking part was that my husband was away for that day (week) on business and
    couldn’t be with her. I took her to the vet and loved on her in final seconds.
    Austin was next. We adopted him from a rescue shelter when he was 8. My,12 year old,son adored him as much as we did. Austin was the most loving and gentle soul. His favorite game was fetch…. His favorite toy was one of little mice covered in rabbit fur. Each time you through it he would bring it right back he would do this endlessly. I noticed that he would watch us throw his beloved toy but he no longer had the energy to bring it back.trip to the vet confirmed what I suspected….he was very I’ll with cancer that could be treated but it wouldn’t make him better. We went to the vet once again….
    My son came with me & my husband….my son desperately wanted to be with him when Austin
    passed and watching Austin pass, as the 3 of us lovingly all held him helped heal my son’s emptiness a , the loss and ache in his heart…it was good closure for my son to see the process and see that
    they each went to the bridge peacefully and with no more pain.
    Our final one to leave us last year, at the age of 14, was a petite little silver tabby ,a real chatter
    box with always something to tell us about. He was the first cat my husband and I adopted shortly after Jon and I moved in together….just before Christmas day one morning, I was playing with
    him and in the very next second he began to seize. Symba suffered 3 strokes within 1 1/2 hr….
    quite quickly he was weakening by the minute until he could no longer support his body and sit
    up. I made the final trip of the last year, cradling him in my arms as we drove yet again to our
    vet.
    We have 4 ther cats, all of whom grew up with the three the majority moved on to the Bridge.
    Our cat angels have been cremated. Once the remaining 3 leave this world and join the others,
    all of their ashes will be put together and sprinkled onto the area, just outside my fenced in back
    yard, where all loved to get to go out to and enjoy a supervised half hour of delightful play time
    each day.
    For those who know this day of bittersweet parting will be something each of us will have to do
    for the first or 10th time, I have shared my stories with you in hope of giving all peace,comfort,
    and pure unselfish love to give you the strength to face that.
    Thank you for allowing my stories with all of you.
    Cathy

    • Thank you for sharing your stories, Cathy. I think it is a great comfort for others to know that none of us who love cats are alone when it comes to this difficult decision.

  16. 7 days ago my husband and I had to make the decision to put down our cat Clyde — he had a mucus obstruction, and as a result the kidneys became toxic. This one was had to make for 2 reasons: 6 months prior we had to put Bonnie to sleep when the stage renal failure became terminal. She had let us know when she no longer wanted the IVs and meds, so to make her final moments, we had her put to sleep. The very first cat my husband and I had was a male maine coon mix (Seamus). He got a mucus obstruction when he was 8, and within 2 days of the obstruction occuring, he became so ill that we had to make the decision to let him go. I always thought we didn’t notice soon enough with Seamus, and failed him in getting treatment soon enough. After this incident with Clyde, I realize that as long as you do what you can as soon as you realize something needs to be done, that is all you can do. Thinking you failed because the end result was death undermines the facts — facts which can point out that even if a problem occurred in the hospital, the end result will still be death. We really hated to make the decision, but if there was no good quality of life to look forward to, then it really is time to let go. None of these pets that pass will ever be forgotten, but at least we know we didn’t extend their pain and suffering.

  17. I am very fortunate to have Dr.Colleran as my 13+ yr. old Felix’s vet. He has had good care even if he is a porker! To hear her perspective on euthanasia is very comforting as Felix is advancing in age far more rapidly than I can believe. Thank you for printing this article. I do hope this has helped others as much as it has me.

    • Susan, you are, indeed, fortunate that you have Dr. Colleran as your vet! All my best to your Felix, and I hope he has many more good years with you.

  18. Making me think back. Never did I ever have a cat for its whole life until Tigger. She and a sister, Ocelet, came to me after my family moved from a house. I was living by myself and took in two of the kittens that had been born a month before the move. That was during a really bad couple of years for Texas sand fleas. I bathed them again after I got them, but couldn’t get all the fleas out. I took them to a vet and had them wash them. The vet said it took a lot of scrubbing to get the eggs out of their skin and transfusions for each, but they got it done. Unfortunately, ocelot died, so it was just Tigger and me.

    We lived together for years. She greeted me with a loud chorus at two in the morning when I came home from late shifts. We played tag around the furniture and she would chase the reflections of my ring around the apartment. When I joined the Navy I had to turn her over to my parents. They took care of her for 5 years while I bounced from one end of the country to the other. Never any place I could keep her.

    Then my husband and I were stationed in New Orleans and I brought her to live with us. It was great having her with me again. my husband made a cat door for her to exact belly and head height measurements. He played puppet attack with her and made her a wall scratching pad. Then at 12 she had to go back to my mom’s when we were stationed at GTMO Cuba.

    When we returned to the States, Tigger wasn’t doing so well. She had had problems for a while, but mom said she seemed to be getting sicker very fast. I came home to find her slowed down and having bouts where she couldn’t breathe. A visit with her vet showed she was eaten up with cancer. The x-ray was so cloudy, you couldn’t see her heart in it. So, at 14 I had to make the decision with little warning. My mom and I held her on the table. It was instantaneous. One moment she was there and the next she was gone.

    The vet was sympathetic and assured me I had made the right decision. I know it too.

    I can understand the Vet’s point of view. They are there to heal, not kill. Yet, when healing is no longer a hope, they have to advise against prolonging suffering. I am just grateful they can offer that alternative.

  19. My cat Pretty who was 15 suddenly became very ill. I took her to her vet and he helped me to understand when the right time would be. I wasn’t sure I really understood when “you will know when she is ready” meant, but when that time came time, I knew without a doubt. Unfortunately that time came on the 4th of July last year, so I had to take her to the emergency vet to have her put down. When we left the house to go to the vet, I carried her to the car. That was the first time in her life she let me carry her to the car and it broke my heart. I cried all the way there and while we were waiting in the waiting room.

    I talked to the vet and told him I wanted to hold her and then when he knew she was gone, to leave me alone with her. He took her away for a few minutes to put a catheter in her arm and brought her back and gave me a few more minutes. Then he came in and made sure I was ready. I asked for him to wait for a minute and told Pretty how much I love her and how much I was going to miss her and that I would be okay without her and that it was okay to go and then nodded for him to do it as I was hugging her to me. Just as he was starting, she reached out and put her left paw over my arm as though she was reassuring me she was going to be okay too.. It meant so much to me. I must have sat in that room holding my angel for 15 minutes crying. It was the worst day of my life and I still can’t think of it without crying. The kindness of that vet really helped though.

    A few days later, I got a card from that vet that said even though he didn’t know me, it was obvious to him that I had provided Pretty a loving home for a very long time. That was above and beyond and I really appreciated that.

  20. We once had to put a young kitten to sleep It was hard but she was so ill! After a couple of days we received a sympathy card from our vet in the mail. We thought that was so sweet. I wish all vets did that!

  21. Earlier this year I had to put a foster cat down. She had been spayed 10 days before and had been fine the entire time until the morning of the 10th day. She seemed under the weather we checked on her in the morning, but in a matter of hours she had trouble breathing and couldn’t maintain her body temperature. I rushed her to the emergency vet, where after many blood tests and other exams, we still were uncertain about what had happened. When told that she likely wouldn’t fare well with surgery, I made the tough decision to euthanize her.

    Callie had only been with us for a month. She was a neighborhood cast-off we took into foster, and she was always my shadow during the month we had her. I felt so horrible that I couldn’t do more for her. I ended up running into the same emergency vet a week later…turns out she was one of the regular vets for the shelter I fostered with. She told me how much she had thought about Callie over the past week and how frustrated she had felt at being unable to do more for her. I felt better knowing that she understood my feelings.

    I took Callie’s body home and buried her under our azaleas. I hope she’s in a better place, and I truly hope that we made a difference for her during her short stay with us.

  22. I had my tuxedo cat, Nigel, PTS a year and a half ago. He was almost 12 years old when he stopped eating. We took him to our vet, who diagnosed an abdominal tumor. Our vet was so compassionate and awesome. Letting Nigel go was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I was so grateful to have such a supportive vet. Shortly after losing Nigel, I got Seamus, a creamy orange tabby; I still have him, and he’s dozing beside me as I write this. Seamus made me laugh again. And he has such a laid-back temperament that this past winter, we decided to get our first puppy to keep him company. What a ride that has been! Since Chewie is our first dog, we’ve called our vet repeatedly with questions and problems. Typical first-time puppy parents, we are! And our vet has never lost patience with us. She has made our foray into both puppy and multi- pet ownership a great experience. And for that, I’ll always be grateful!

  23. My vets have been absolutely wonderful and it just seems that when it comes to euthanasia they go above and beyond with their compassion and empathy. I have a bunny that is being treated for a chronic infection that may very well one day be the reason I have to make that call for her. Honestly I am worried how it will affect them worse than it will me. Victoria is a special girl that has endeared herself to the staff. They even bought her a special carrying case and bring her special treats.

  24. My wife & I recently went on a trip up north to see family & on our 3rd day, our cat sitter, who is a wonderful lady called to say my BOY, Tigger hadn’t been eating & was hiding. I immediately knew something was wrong and asked her to take him to our vet. The dr called to tell me he was in renal failure. He was only 10 so I figured immediate treatment with IV to help flush his kidneys was going to save him, alas he had to go to the overnight ER, and I called every 2 hours all night, while he steadily worsened. I hung on to hope, but the vet called me at 7:30 in the morning to tell me it was time to make the tough choice. I immediately asked him to put Tigger down & my wife & I cried, and our cat sitter, a pure angel was there, with my boy Tigger in his final moments. And it will haunt me to the rest of my days that I wasn’t there with my BOY, to comfort him in his time when he needed me most. I know that it wasn’t my fault & it is what it is, but I can’t help but see his beautiful face, waiting to see his daddy one last time. He was one of a kind, and I have a hole in my heart to go along with all the other holes that my past babies have left there. Yet it is like how my mother used to tell me, people have to suffer, but animals don’t. So I take solace in the fact that I was a wonderful daddy to my boy Tigger & he had an awesome life as my cat. I rejoice in having 10 great years with a one of a kind animal who made us so happy each and every day he was with us.

    • I’m so sorry about Tigger, Jim. Losing a cat is always hard, but to not be able to be there with him had to have been devastating. My heart goes out to you.

      • Thank You Ingrid, He was one of a kind, the way he would look up at me, as if to say “I love you & appreciate you for rescuing me”. I could pick him up whenever I wanted & he would just look at me, never once would he squirm or try to get away. He also loved his pat down, here is a video of my Tigger gettign his pat down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQJssXHdeDk

  25. Upon arriving home from a week-long trip, I discovered my 14 year old Persian had a well-rounded belly. At first we thought our pet sitter had spoiled her with treats and goodies, but as the week went on and she was on a more normal diet, her belly continued to get larger. A trip to the vet uncovered a lump in her belly, the vet guessed it was on her liver, causing liver failure, and the reason for the bloating. He drained the fluid from her abdomen, but recommended we have her PTS that afternoon. This cat was my baby… we rescued her from a shelter and she was the first real gift my husband had given me for my birthday after our wedding. She picked me. So, I was heartbroken and just decided, as long as she wasn’t in pain, to just bring her home. The next week, we returned to the vet and saw a different doctor, this one believed that Tika’s liver function could be helped with oral medication. We saw a huge difference in her once the medication began to work, and over the next six months, the vets bonded with my Tika as they drained fluid from her abdomen every 4-6 weeks.

    Toward the end of her life, we knew we had to make this horrible, but compassionate decision, so we called the vet that morning and made the appointment for her final visit. When we arrived, the vet peeked her head out of the door with a sad, teary face and just said, “Oh no!” The two vets who had cared for her, and loved her, tried as hard as they could to be “the one”… after Tika had passed, the vet who administered the medication told me she had cried for her, too. They were so sweet, and so wonderful. They later admitted to us that she had been their favorite little patient, and their most difficult euthanasia. The fact that they loved her too is a testament to them, and to Tika’s ability to win hearts over wherever she went.

  26. I had to put my 17 yr old cat down last fall. She was barely breathing, but she just would not die on her own. It was the first time I’d ever done that and hopefully the last. I was very impressed that the vet office sent a sympathy card, with the date and her paw print on it. It was touching, but didn’t really make it any easier, still I was glad to have that memento.

  27. We had to euthanize our 8 year old cat, Gus about 4 months ago. He had two tumors — one on his cheek and one on his neck. Early on in the progression of the illness, Gus told us that he didn’t want treatment. I know you wonder about that, but he would get extremely upset whenever we took him into the vet for treatment. One day, we asked him if he wanted to continue and he told us no. We told him he did not have to go back, and the relief on his face was palpable.

    Knowing it would cost us time with him, we also knew that the time we’d have with him would be more comfortable for him. He was relaxed and happier; he was not stressed.

    When we took him in for his visit, it was hard. It was awful making the appointment because the poor receptionist couldn’t understand me (I was crying). When she finally understood I was calling to make an appointment for euthanasia, she put the head vet assistant on the phone. While my vet’s office has two examination rooms, there are usually people in the lobby. For euthanasia procedures, they try to clear the calendar completely for an hour so that you can come straight in and not encounter anyone there with their pets. They don’t want you to have to walk past other people, knowing you’re at a very vulnerable point. Gus’s appointment was at 11:30, but at 9 in the morning, he scratch one of his tumors off…and was completely bleeding. We went from a relaxed (but awful) euthanasia where we’d spend time at home saying good bye, and then packing up one of the other cats to come with us as the cats’ representative to tell Gus good bye….to an emergency situation. We called them and told them what happened. They were not able to clear the waiting room, but they did clear one of the exam rooms for us.

    And when we were ready to go, I went to pay and they told me this was no charge.

    We do love our vet. They knew it was a rough time, and they were busy — but they did not rush us out of the room. They told us to stay as long as we needed to.

    • wow. my heart goes out to you, but my hats off to your vet clinic. sounds like very good people. and to not charge you at the end is an amazing gesture. i feel like Gus was an incredible pet.

  28. Very moving post. Making the decision to euthanize and then carry out the plan is, without question, the hardest thing I have ever done in all my life. But one line stands out in this piece: The choice to break our own hearts to save another from suffering is true compassion.

    I have often thought how sad it is that we cannot help our fellow humans in the same way. That humans must endure suffering because it’s the law seems like a great injustice.

  29. I have had to go through this heart wrenching experience a few times and it never gets easier. As there is good and bad to everything, I had some terrible vets that euthanized a perfectly healthy cat with possible ear mites, but the clueless vet thought it could be sarcoptic mange (no way as this was a minor ear thing)
    Also about the private cremation. We all know ashes are for ourselves and closure but when i had a cat with a metal plate holding his coyote-shattered shoulder together, I asked to have it back and the crematory agreed. Nope, and when I called them about it, they mumbled something like “oh yeah, I think I remember seeing something but I don’t know what happened to it.” I had spoken live to the place the day before and it makes one wonder whose ashes you are getting. It’s not as relevant as the fact our blessed pets are always with us in our hearts and minds and yet I wish there were more competent people out there in every profession that we can count on. Thanks to those who are!

    • Some crematories offer what is usually called a “witnessed cremation,” Lani. The pet guardian can be present at the actual cremation if they wish to do so.

    • I have heard of creatories doing multiple cremations at once and then dispense the ashes. I always take mine to a crematory that does one at a time so you know you are getting your own pet’s ashes

  30. My vet was amazing with my two cats. My 18 year old boy Casper was euthanised in June 2012 due to terminal colorectal cancer that had reduced him from a huge healthy time cat to something you’d see in a animal cruelty starvation case. Even though they did the act with compassion, care and dignity, I still wanted to grab that needs and syringe and throw it at the wall. It was heartbreaking.
    I then lost my little black kitty Munchkin on 27th January this year through Acute kidney injury and liver failure. She had been missing for three weeks after escaping on Christmas Day 2013. I trawled the streets for weeks, all hours day and night. She was found in the middle of the road not 100 metres from my front door. She was so far gone that we had to say goodbye to her 3 hours later. Again my vets were compassionate, respectful and brilliant. I was absolutely devastated. I didn’t eat, drink or sleep for days. To all those amazing veterinarians, thank you for what you do for our animals. Your all angels. Laura and family. – Over the rainbow bridge now Casper and Mini Munchkin. I love you both so much. It was an honour to have been you cat mummy and human. Xxx

  31. Our wonderful vet offers home euthanasia. We were able to spend the whole day with our kitty who’d been suffering from kidney failure for two years in our home. We didn’t have to take her out of her home and our other cats were also by her side through the process. That way they knew what had happened and though they missed her, there was no confusion about what had happened so there was no searching for her. Our vet said she feels it is easier on other family pets to have a chance to understand that a companion has passed not simply disappeared.

    • I’m a big proponent of in home euthanasias. I’ve been fortunate (I know, it’s an odd word to use in this context, but I think you know what I mean) that all of my cats have died at home, with the compassionate and gentle assistance of my vet. Most vets don’t advertise that they offer this service, but many will do it if asked. You can find a directory of vets who will perform in home euthanasias here: http://www.inhomepeteuthanasia.com/home.html

  32. We recently had our beloved orange tabby, Ceasar, euthanizzed. Ceasar was diagnosed with small cell lymphoma 5 years ago. Our vet, Dr. Martinez explained that we might be able to stabilize him for a while with prednisone and a human anti-cancer drug called leukuran, and advised us we probably would only have 2-3 years with him, however he made it 5 years. We took Ceasar in twice yearly for blood draws and check ups and he did quite well. In the spring of this year, Ceasar began losing weight and Dr. Martinez said we should prepare ourselves that the lymphoma was progressing. A month or so later, we noticed he had become listless, was continuing to lose weight and he began spending more and more time sitting quietly in our closet instead of being with us. We called Dr. Martinez and told him we thought it was time. I just knew Ceasar was telling us he was tired of fighting and wanted peace. So we took him to Dr. Martinez and this incredible man placed an IV, and while my husband held Ceasar, Dr. Martinez scratched Ceasar’s cheek and told him what a good boy he was as he injected the drug. I commented that it must be hard to euthanize pets (this vet hospital works primarily with severely ill and injured animals). He replied that he could do it because he knew we had all worked hard to give Ceasar a good quality of life as long as we could and now both Ceasar and we deserved a gentle death. I just can’t get over how unhurried, kind and respectful he was toward Ceasar and us.

    One of the things I discovered in the aftermath of Ceasar’s death is that often others would change the subject when I started talking about Ceasar. I think they perhaps were afraid I would cry or they were trying to avoid feeling grief themselves. But I have vowed here and now if anyone ever tries to talk to me abut losing a pet, I will not only listen, I’ll cry with them if need be. It’s hard enough to grieve; not being able to talk about it is just plain lonely.

    • Your story brought tears to my eyes for so many reasons, Fran – thank you for sharing it here. I’m so sorry about Ceasar. Five years is an amazing amount of time after a lymphoma diagnosis, but of course, it’s never long enough. Dr. Martinez sounds like a wonderful vet.

      You are so right that people are often uncomfortable with another’s grief, especially when it comes to pet loss. People either don’t say anything at all, or, without meaning to, say the wrong thing that makes the bereaved person hurt even more. I wrote about this topic a while back: http://consciouscat.net/2010/06/09/what-not-to-say-to-someone-who-is-grieving-the-loss-of-a-pet/

  33. I would have liked to read euthanasia from the perspective of someone who has to do it to perfectly healthy animals, just because there is overcrowding in shelters. I cant even imagine the feelings one must go through in order to have that task.

  34. When we conferred with our vet about putting my dog Buster down, he stopped just before leaving and said “If it means anything to you, I agree with you.”

    I was upset and distracted at the time, so I just said “Thank you.” But I would like all veterinarians everywhere to know that YES, IT MEANS A GREAT DEAL TO US. Making the decision to put an animal down is so hard, and you feel so guilty, and knowing that a vet who knows and loves animals would make the same call that we are making, is actually really, really comforting.

      • It helps SO very much; it is such a hard decision to make and it makes such a difference for the veterinarian to share his/her opinion. I am closer to one of my vets in particular and a number of people I know go to the same vet; recently one of my friends was trying to decide whether it was time for her dog or not – I said ask Liz; she will tell you. And she did – not that day, but within a couple of weeks. My son’s cat had a terrible accident and I doubted he could be saved from what he told me on the phone; she tried briefly but then said no, we are NOT going to do this to him. And we all feel so very lucky to have her in our lives for that, besides her wonderful everyday care for our animals.

  35. It helps enormously when you have to leave a pet for medical problems and the vet discovers that there is nothing that can be done, that he/she call and say beforehand that this is an euthanasia decision so that one can prepare before going. To hear it when you go to pick up your pet or see how the pet is doing, is awful. To be able to hold your pet is a huge heartbreaking relief.

  36. Our old vet has now retired – he wasn’t universally popular because he had a lousy bedside manner with humans but was SO good with the animals, always ready to give them a hug and a kiss. He’d been caring for one of our cats (Henry) for a while and the deterioration had been slow but steady. We knew Henry was coming to the end. I took him to one vet appointment and told the vet I didn’t fully expect to take Henry home with me. The vet told me we weren’t there yet – Henry wasn’t in pain and was still enjoying life. A month later my daughter took Henry back. The vet examined Henry and then told my daughter “What we have here is a dead cat!” Although expected, my daughter was devastated. She knew Henry was likely to be euthanised at that visit, she just didn’t expect to be told so bluntly. It may partly be due to the vet being German and he just couldn’t say in English what might have been tactful in German. I can’t fault him for his treatment of any of our animals but I’ll never be able to forgive him for what he said.

    • That’s terrible, Tammy. And as someone who was born in Germany, I can tell you that these words would not have been tactful in German, either!

      • Thank you Ingrid. I really don’t think he meant any harm when he spoke so bluntly, it was just unfortunate that he was dealing with my daughter (Henry was her cat) whereas it had usually been me to take Henry to appointments. As an emergency nurse I know that there isn’t always time to find the words to be tactful (although I DO try) and this man’s skill and compassion with animals usually allowed me to see through his tactlessness when it came to human interraction.

  37. We went through this a week ago. Bear was a longhaired tuxedo cat, my best friend for 17 years and the pet of a lifetime. He had been in decline due to pancreatic failure for a year, then suddenly had a stroke. My vet of 20 years was out of town; his partner in the veterinary practice has NO bedside manner and lacks empathy dealing with pets (he prefers livestock). Thankfully, via text, my vet provided a stand-in/substitute who was compassionate and respectful. I will miss my boy forever, but his peaceful passing is a comfort.

  38. I wish more vets were as sensitive. When I had to put my sweet doggie to sleep, he made it seem like a heartless decision on my part. He said, this is how it is, what do you want us to do? No hug when I was trying to hold back on the tears, no, you’re doing the right thing..I felt so alone and helpless. I know now I made the right decision, but it took me a long time to get over it (still hurts when I mention it). Thanks to all the sensitive, caring vets out there.

  39. Thank you Ingrid….you know my Roxanne is in her very senior years…..we have good days and not so good days. I cherish every moment I have with her and I know without doubt what is coming. The quote, “The choice to break our own hearts to save another from suffering is true compassion” if so very fitting and comforting.

    • I hope you still have a lot of time with your sweet girl, Toni. I first heard Dr. Colleran say this at a conference earlier this year, and it touched my heart, because it so perfectly captures what making the euthanasia decision is like.

  40. We count on our vets to help us with this major decision. Twice now I have been let down by a vet either not wanting to or not being able to help. I guess we as guardians know in our hearts when it’s time, but we need reassurance. I went to the vet fully expecting to be told just that, yet both times I was told to “give it more time”. My sweet kitties suffered because of that. One many years ago from FELV and one just over a year ago from a Convenia injection.

    We all need much strength to make this decision. But we also need the help of a skilled and compassionate vet.

    • Unfortunately no one has a crystal ball to know what is going to happen and vets can only advise based ml their knowledge and experience. I don’t think any vet wants an animal to suffer. More likely they had seen another bounce back or expected to have more time. It’s difficult though. Do you let them suffer a little because there is a good chance they will be ok after a day or after a few days? It’s hard to know. And then others seem sorry that they acted with finality too quickly. Not easy. For anyone.

      I am so sorry for your losses.

  41. Amazing article as always! so touching. Euthenizing a pet is one of the hardest decisions we have to make in life. As most of us do feel so much love for our furbabies, they are part of our Family. Sometimes the only Family for some people.

    “The choice to break our own hearts to save another
    from suffering is true compassion.”

    In loving Memory of Perry Stanley Winkle & Lil Mama <3

  42. Thank you so much for this post!!! I also watched my Dad’s slow and painful decline and will remember this any time I have to make this most painful decision possible. I was very fortunate to have been with him when he passed, just as I was with my little tiger girl, Snafu, when she left us… Peaceful, present and then gone… Cherish the ones you love!!!

  43. What a beautiful and heart-tugging post. It helps so much to see this through the veterinarian’s eyes. Bless them for the compassion and understanding they show the pets in their care and their guardians. I can’t help but let the tears roll down my face just thinking about the times I have had to say goodbye to my own…and knowing that someday, hopefully not for many years though, it will come again.
    GG

  44. Ten days ago, I trapped one of my friendly ferals, to take him in for a dental exam. The vet said he was too full of infection and he tested positive for FIV. She recommended euthanasia. I was stunned (still am!) but I swallowed the heart in my mouth and agreed. He died in my arms, with my tears on his fur, and I hope he knew how much I loved him and had always done so. The vet cried too, although she tried very hard not to let on. Carrying the empty trap out of the office was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The vet sent me a personal card, and her office called to see how I was doing. I truly value the kindness the entire office gave me…my first euthanasia, and it was 99% unexpected. I meant to sprinkle his ashes under his favorite shrubs, but I now find I just want to keep him close to me. Ending his suffering was the key; not my feelings or the cost. The vet was so kind, that I am stronly considering changing to her as my permanent vet.

  45. This made me cry, because we have been through it twice with our dogs.

    Our vet is so much more than a vet to us, she is part of our family. She was honest with us about the outlook for both dogs, she answered all our questions and was so empathetic. And she sat on the floor with us and cried with us as our sweet dog left us. Those tears showed us just how much she cared.

    I am a nurse, and know that sometimes dying is what should happen, and that sometimes our interference adds to suffering. I hope I said that right, because helping people be well is my passion and my job. I think it is the ultimate expression of love and caring to help a person or pet through their final journey on this earth.

    I am so glad that there are so many vets (and techs) out there willing to give a piece of themselves. May God bless you all.

  46. As I have shared here before I was faced w the very sudden decision to put my beautiful 2 year old kittie furbaby Simon to sleep on 8/11/11 from FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis). I had to call my regular vet , Dr. Stacy after hours because I could not make there office hrs and was @ local major pet Hospital Red Bank Veterinary. She said to make sure the senior doctor agreed w the dx
    but that it was incurable & to PTS. Was the loving thing to do. RBVAH put an IV preciously in Simon’s RA. We took some pics. They had a special quiet room where I held him for a bit purring sweetly in my arms. He was not afraid as they put the 2 drugs in and peacefully past. I was sobbing and calling his name & the young vet stayed w me and then gave me time alone to say goodbye. They gave me his paw print and a lock of his hair. I was given options as what to do w his little body after. I chose for him to be cremated alone and about 1 month later I receives a beautiful box w Simon’s ashes. The hospital also sent me a condolence card and I also went to the Pet Loss support group for months. Dr. Stacy at my vet also supported me emotionally at vet visits w my other 3 cats. I was having little panic attacks w Simon’s bro Garfunkel because I was afraid he was going to die too. She told me if he was OK 1 year from now he would not get sick & let me bring Gar in free of charge for ckups a few x that year to help me cope. She also took the guilt away as I was blaming myself for his death. When I finally got my new kitty Fila she made such a fuss and put his pic on the website @ Little Silver Animal hospital and had all the vet techs come in & see him. I apologize for the long post but I really want to honor these vets and their staff for the tx my Simon & I received. They really did it right & I believe it is why I gave peace in my heart today. Tku to all the vets out there that have to deal w this sadness on a daily basis. Namaste

    • Thank you for writing this. The attitude of the vet and his/her staff can make it a terrible experience or hep relieve any grief and blame you are feeling. I have been blessed most of the time with very caring, comforting vets and staff, and for them all I can say is how much I appreciate it and may God bless them for their gentle hands and caring spirit. FIP is awful and you saved your precious Simon from a lot of suffering. Bless you for doing what was best for him, even though it was terribly hard.

    • I had experiences at RBVAH and they were amazing. Very helpful and sensitive to the times when us humans can’t bear to do make the call for our furbabys.

  47. Our vet did a lovely thing for us when we had our last cat PTS.
    To avoid the danger of us being too near to needles she put a catheter in our ladies leg so that she could just plug a syringe in to it to administer the euthanasia dose.
    That way we were able to hold our precious lady in our arms as the deed was done.

      • I agree. It broke my heart into a million pieces when I had to make the decision to put my kitty KoKo down, but the alternative was watch her suffer while trying to fight death from her belly riddled with tumors. The vet let me wrap her in her favorite blankie and hold her like a baby. Still makes me sad 7 years later but I just couldn’t watch her suffer :(.

      • I have insisted on holding two of my fur babies when nothing else could be done. I didn’t want them to have that cold metal table be the last thing they touched.
        Last August when my 17 year old was loosing her battle with kidney failure I was using a new Vet and he would not let me hold her…I still feel awful about not being able to hold her.

        • I’m so sorry, Susan. In all my years in the veterinary profession, I’ve never run into a vet who would not allow the client to hold their cat during those final moments. That’s simply inexcusable.

        • any vet that won’t let you hold your fur baby is NOT a good vet at all. It’s the least they can do for any of us!

    • I have a 16 year old calico named Blinky. I adopted her from North Shore Animal League while I was working there. I was looking for a playmate my other cat, (RIP Selena Kyle) since she was always around other cats her entire life. The last few months, she was hiding in my closet, stopped eating and just seemed depressed. I adopted a kitten this past Oct and all he wants to do is play and pounces through the air on top of her. She tolerates him, but they are not bbfs to say the least. I took Blinky for blood work to figure out whats going on.She was losing weight and became really thin. test results came back as hypothyroidism. She was doing ok, gained a few pounds sine her last visit. Her numbers were 7.5 and then went down to 6.5.Still trying to get the numbers down, but she is still really thin. Her personality and sweet nature is still there, but her health is declining. I guess I am in denial and I know I have delay the outcome. I am just trying to give her the best quality of life for the short time she may have left. Its a really hard decision to make, but its whats best for my baby.

      • I recently said goodbye to my elder cat of 20 yrs who’s health was failing in the same way. She was 5.6 # when I said goodbye, down from 11.5 # in her prime. I delayed her leaving as long as possible but when she was not eating and mostly sleeping and restless, I had to make the call. My vet does “farm calls” for this purpose so she could pass on in peace in her bed.
        Sharing this with you is helping me as I hope it will help you say goodbye to our longtime companions who offer unconditional love and friendship.
        Peace be with you.
        Dan

      • I had a cat with HYPERthyroidism. She was getting thin because her thyroid was overactive. After about 1-1/2 years of giving a daily pill, I opted to have her go through a radio-iodine type procedure to destroy her thyroid. (I had the same procedure myself years earlier.) She lived several years after that with no daily pills. Good luck to you.

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