Premature Euthanasia: A Terminal Solution Should Never Be Taken Lightly

sad-cat

Making a decision about whether or when the time is right for euthanasia is one of the hardest things a cat parent will ever go through. Unlike human medicine, veterinary medicine offers 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.

I have previously addressed the topic about making the euthanasia decision here and here. Sarah Chauncey, the author of an upcoming book on losing a cat, P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna, shared her decision process in a three part series about losing her beloved cat Hedda.

A week too early rather than a day too late?

Most veterinarians, in my experience, tend to suggest that it’s better to euthanize a week too early rather than an hour too late. My own experience has supported this stance for the most part. My first cat Feebee died in my arms while my vet was on her way to my house to put him to sleep. I probably waited a few days too long with Buckley. I didn’t have much of a choice with Amber: she was so critically ill with such a poor prognosis, continuing treatment would have only prolonged her suffering. I probably could have kept Ruby with me for a few more days, but it wouldn’t have changed anything, and I made the decision to let her go in the comfort of her home, rather than taken the chance of ending up in a crisis with her and having to rush her to an emergency clinic.

No matter when you make the euthanasia decision, I think it’s almost impossible to not second guess yourself, or to feel guilty. I also think that in most cases, cat parents tend to err on the side of waiting too long rather than euthanizing too soon. But no cat parent should ever feel rushed by a veterinarian’s recommendation to euthanize prematurely.

Premature euthanasia based on lab results?

Which is why a recent comment on one of Dr. Lynn Bahr’s Ask the Cat Doc column shook me to my core. I felt that the question was so important, it needed to be addressed in a separate post rather than as part of her regular column.

“Today one of my Facebook friends posted that her cat was diagnosed as FIV positive and heartworm positive. The vet recommended immediate euthanasia because there is no treatment for heartworms in cats. I asked if the cat was acting sick and she said that it was not. I know that FIV+ cats can live a good long life. And I’ve also read that many cats can fight off heartworm disease. Is it necessary to euthanize because of a snap test result?”

My immediate reaction was utter shock that a veterinarian would recommend euthanasia in this situation. For starters, it is incorrect that there is no treatment for heartworm disease in cats. FIV positive cats can live long and happy lives. Neither condition is a reason for immediate euthanasia.

Feline veterinarian Dr. Lynn Bahr addresses this issue

Here is Dr. Bahr’s answer, and I whole-heartedly agree with everything she wrote:

It has been a month since the question about the FIV+/heartworm+ cat was posted. He was unnecessarily euthanized, and it is my hope that his death did not occur in vain.

Only in emergency situations should the decision to end a life be done hastily, and then only to help eliminate pain or suffering.

Euthanasia is a terminal solution that should never be undertaken lightly. Only in emergency situations should the decision to end a life be done hastily, and then only to help eliminate pain or suffering. Otherwise, there is no rush or immediate need to euthanize an otherwise healthy cat based on test results alone.

While we don’t know all of the details of this particular story, we can use it to educate ourselves and our veterinarians to do better.

I recommend owners ask more questions when they don’t understand what they are being told. No one should make quick, rash, decisions about medical procedures unless it is an emergency. Otherwise, take time to think things through and do your own research. Don’t be afraid to ask for second or third opinions. If you don’t agree with your veterinarian about a treatment plan, let them know that and see if you can’t find a better solution together. If not, go somewhere else. Don’t hesitate to share with your veterinarian any research you have found that may be beneficial. These are all ways in which pet lovers can insure their pet is getting excellent medical care.

If you don’t agree with your veterinarian about a treatment plan, let them know that and see if you can’t find a better solution together. If not, go somewhere else.

Veterinarians are smart, caring, well educated, compassionate beings, but not all are cat lovers or focused on caring specifically for cats. Keeping current with the latest and greatest medical care for multiple species is not easy. It can be difficult for general practitioners that treat dogs, cats, and exotics to be experts in all of the conditions that affect them. That is likely the reason the system failed this owner and her cat.

Whenever possible, cat owners would be better served seeking veterinarians that stay current on feline medicine. For example, since I am a no-declaw vet and strongly against mutilating cats by amputation, I wouldn’t take my cat to any veterinarian who performs declaw surgeries, even if they are part of a feline-only practice. With all that we know about how harmful declawing is to cats, this is a clear dividing line to me as to whether or not they are really looking out for a cat’s best interest.

Whenever possible, cat owners would be better served seeking veterinarians that stay current on feline medicine.

So the bottom line is that as owners, we are responsible for the health and well-being of our feline charges. At the end of the day, it is our duty to our cats that we seek competent, compassionate, and quality care that makes the best sense for them.

It is my hope that discussing this awful experience will save another cat from facing the same unfortunate fate.

About Dr. Lynn Bahr

Dr. Bahr is our resident veterinarian. She answers reader questions in her monthly column, Ask the Cat Doc.  She graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991. Unlike most veterinarians, she did not grow up knowing that she would become a veterinarian. “It was a cat who got me interested in the practice and I am forever grateful to him,” said Dr. Bahr. Over the course of her veterinary career, Dr. Bahr found that the lifestyle of cats has changed dramatically. As the lifestyle of cats has changed, so did Dr. Bahr’s client education. In addition to finding medical solutions, she also encourages owners to enrich their home environments so that their cats can live long, happy, and healthy lives.

This new understanding led Dr. Bahr to combine her passion for strengthening the human-animal bond with her veterinary background and knowledge of what animals need and want to start her own solution-based cat product company, Dezi & Roo, inspired by two cats of the same names.

For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit Dezi and Roo on Etsy.*

*FTC Disclosure: The Conscious Cat is a participant in Etsy’s affiliate program. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission.

24 Comments on Premature Euthanasia: A Terminal Solution Should Never Be Taken Lightly

  1. Timmy Tomcat
    February 19, 2020 at 4:07 pm (5 months ago)

    We just had our vet come to our home to assist our dear Buddy Budd over the Bridge. He was a very big, strong cat in his prime and was still quite strong as he become what in a human would have been called the old old at 20 years. We could have held on for another week but the decision was that he had stopped drinking. It was a decline over his last month but on his last day he just stared at his beloved fountain. He was a prodigious consumer of water and we believe that led to his long life. Our Mr Buttons was here a few days too long so when Buddy said so I agreed. I was amazed he had some treats the last day but, that was Big Blue Buddy Budd. Our vet was very helpful and there was no rush. It was sad and I miss him terribly but our wonderful time together was not marred by last days of pain. A very timely post for our family

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 20, 2020 at 6:20 am (5 months ago)

      I’m so sorry about Buddy Budd. I’m glad he had a peaceful passing.

      Reply
  2. Sue Brandes
    February 18, 2020 at 7:34 pm (5 months ago)

    I had to make that decision with Charlie. He was really sick and 18 years old and we weren’t sure he would make it through the weekend. It was hard to do.

    Reply
  3. Erica
    February 18, 2020 at 11:45 am (5 months ago)

    For most of my cats over the past 40+ years, I have had crisis situations where the cat took a very bad turn without warning and I had to take them to emergency vets in the middle of the night on weekends. I now have a cat who is asymptomatic who was diagnosed with mast cell cancer of the intestines with lymph node involvement. Everyday I wake up in a panic hoping that he is not in distress. Vet does not know when decline will happen, but he said, it will be very rapid when it does. Iggy has a great appetite now and he is on Prednisolone and pepsid – I decided not to proceed with chemo as he is a very skittish cat and takes days to weeks to recover from a vet visit. I have read many articles on when to know, but I am concerned it will come on suddenly and he will suffer. I would like to be able to have a mobile vet assist him in his home. How do you know when the time is coming and how long do you wait? I do not want him to suffer. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 19, 2020 at 6:10 am (5 months ago)

      I link to a couple of different articles on making the euthanasia decision in this article, Erica. They should answer your questions, as much as it is possible to answer it. Ultimately, each cat and each situation is different. All my best to you and your Iggy.

      Reply
  4. NB
    February 17, 2020 at 9:17 pm (5 months ago)

    One of my cats was diagnosed with end stage kidney failure. I got a second opinion, and they did a blood transfusion. He was fine for a month, but then got an ulcer on his tongue and couldn’t eat. I spent about 45 min. at the vet saying goodbye to him. However, some cats I have taken home, and they have passed away in their sleep or with me holding them. So I recommend getting a second opinion, and ask the vet if you can say goodbye to the kitty if you are going to euthanize. Most will put you in one of their rooms, or even let you visit with them in an oxygen crate. Either one might make you feel guilty, but I’m sure your cat will know you love them, and forgive you.

    Reply
  5. Nancy West
    February 17, 2020 at 9:06 pm (5 months ago)

    Thank you for this post. After working with feral cat populations for eleven years, I have come to deeply appreciate veterinarians who have both wisdom and are up-to-date on feline medical treatments. Often with feral cats you get only one chance (one vet visit) to make that life/death call. A vet who can devise solutions and interventions to provide quality of life for a feral cat–as well as knowing when the best choice is to help a feral out of suffering through euthanizing–is so important. Whether it’s a beloved pet cat or a beloved colony cat, we all agonize over these decisions and suffer from “guilt” if we decide to let a cat cross-over. A good and trusted vet is critical in making these decisions.

    Reply
  6. Patty
    February 17, 2020 at 9:02 pm (5 months ago)

    Everyone always has the option of having an animal communicator talk to your fur children to see if they are ready to leave their physical bodies. One of my dogs, Cooper, was MIS-diagnosed, and early in his struggle, I had animal communicator Val Heart talk to him to see how he was feeling about it all. He told her he was not ready to leave. As things progressed and I had discovered what the REAL issue was, we both knew things weren’t going to get better. I love(d) him dearly, and didn’t want to lose him, but the next time Val talked to him, the conversation led her to tell him about euthanasia. He started asking questions about “how would that work?” She explained the procedure to him, and before she was finished, he said “I want that!!” With very mixed emotions, I made an appointment with the vet to make it happen for him. I held him close to me both physically and mentally, and told him what was about to happen. He was very calm the entire time. When it came time for the shot, I was sitting on the floor with him with his head on my lap. Just before she gave him the shot, he laid his head on the blanket as I sat beside him and stroked his fur, telling I would love him forever. He left in peace, and although I still miss him terribly, I feel good that I did what he wanted. There are a lot of good animal communicators available to all of us. Actually, we all have that gift, we just need to learn how to use it.

    Reply
    • Rachel
      February 18, 2020 at 6:11 pm (5 months ago)

      I talked to an animal communicator about my beloved Charlie. She told me he wanted to go at home. While I tried to arrange for a mobile vet when I knew it was time, he passed alone in my bedroom. I feel a lot of guilt, but I knew he wanted to be at home. I wish I had taken him back to the vet like the communicator told me I should, but they weren’t helping. They had no idea what was going on.

      Reply
      • Jason
        February 19, 2020 at 10:27 am (5 months ago)

        Please don’t feel guilty, the fact you used an animal communicator shows the depth of love you had for Charlie. I would always suggest having pets euthanised at home as it is a much more familiar and relaxed environment for them.

        Reply
      • Patty
        February 19, 2020 at 10:20 pm (5 months ago)

        Rachel, don’t beat yourself up over this, please. Charlie wanted to be at home, which he was. A lot of animals choose to do their crossing while their person is not with them, for whatever reasons. Good for you having an animal communicator talk to him to find out what he wanted. You did for him what he asked, after all, right? Give yourself a big hug! Charlie is still with you, you can still communicate with him, either yourself, or via a communicator. He’s just not in that physical body anymore.

        Reply
  7. Christie
    February 17, 2020 at 5:36 pm (5 months ago)

    I had the unexpected tragedy of waiting too long only last week. My cat was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, but was not at the point of ready to cross. She was still acting pretty normal, eating, purring, etc., but last Tues night after our regular vet was already closed, she had a seizure (never had seizures before), so rushed her to the animal ER where she had two more. It was my worse nightmare. If she had to cross, I wanted it to done by our regular vet, someone who knew my sweet, forever kitten of a cat and cared for many of her over 15 years on earth. Instead, I got a heartless excuse of vet without an ounce of empathy. No sorry for your loss, no compassion, no anyway. I’ll never forget those last moments, and that vet made it that much more painful.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 18, 2020 at 6:28 am (5 months ago)

      Oh Christie, I’m so sorry. That has always been my worst nightmare, too, and you had to live it. My heart is breaking for you. It is very very difficult to cope with such a negative euthanasia experience. I wish I had words of wisdom for you, but all I can is that my heart hurts for you.

      Reply
      • Christie
        February 18, 2020 at 6:11 pm (5 months ago)

        Thank you so much, Ingrid. It was emotionally devastating and something I’ll never get over. I pray no one ever has to deal with a vet like that, and especially in a situation like that. I’m currently in the process of setting up my sweet girl’s memorial. Thank you again for your reply and for your kind words.

        Reply
  8. Mary McNeil
    February 17, 2020 at 5:25 pm (5 months ago)

    Such a terriblle decision to have to male. Are you putting them out of their misery, or out of your misery ? Do they feel they are suffering ? Most of y cats have let me know, or the vet has confirmed the end is due.
    We have no such discretion in our own lives.

    Reply
  9. James Bownan
    February 17, 2020 at 2:24 pm (5 months ago)

    I had to make that awful decision back in 2016 with my cat Rudy. He went to vets for a kidney stone and also found he had crystals. Vet said couldnt do anything for stones, sliced him open from one end to the other for crystals, had him a week and never told me he hadnt eaten all week. Never would talk with me about his outcome/recovery, and i made the decision based on his pain with the stone and how bad he became under her care. Later she chewed me out on a review and threatend me not to mud sling her name. Still wonder if i made right decision. Kick myself all of the time.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 18, 2020 at 6:30 am (5 months ago)

      What a horrible experience, James, I’m so sorry.

      Reply
      • Rachel
        February 19, 2020 at 3:12 pm (5 months ago)

        Thank you! I’m going through it again right now. I’m much more in tune with my female because I had her since she was a kitten. She’s almost 18 and she’s struggling.

        Reply
  10. Aldona Birmantas
    February 17, 2020 at 9:40 am (5 months ago)

    I’ve only once had no second guessing on this topic – my feline soul mate Lucky. He let me know in no uncertain terms that he was ready to go. I truly believe our pets will tell us if we are open to listening (and no, they don’t just open their mouths and say it – they have their own unique ways that differs from cat to cat).

    As for vet suggesting euthanasia prematurely, I hear about this all the time. Sometimes their own personal feelings get into the picture. Some don’t believe in doing certain things (like subcutaneous fluids at home) so they don’t even suggest it. I hear about cats being in Stage 2 CKD getting suggestions of euthanasia with no options for treatment. I’ve known of cats who have lived with CKD for years at Stage 3/4.

    Reply
  11. Janine
    February 17, 2020 at 8:30 am (5 months ago)

    I have always waited until I know they are struggling with doing daily things. I never wanted one of my cats to be in severe pain or showing signs of having trouble breathing. I never wanted one to suffer. I think if someone has a good vet they will answer the question of when the right time is and if someone is making a too quick decision.

    Reply
  12. Gail
    February 17, 2020 at 7:56 am (5 months ago)

    Each time, I’ve decided a week earlier. The answer does not change (cat will die) so why let it suffer then die. Avoid the suffering is the best love I can give my kitty

    Reply
  13. Sue
    February 17, 2020 at 5:30 am (5 months ago)

    My cat Spicy had COPD and we were at the vets about every 2-3 weeks. She hated having a mask on her face to get the inhaler but knew it helped her.
    The specialist finally mentioned euthanasia but he also gave her a prednisone shot.
    She acted like a kitten afterwards but I knew it was short term. I felt so guilty doing it while she felt good. But I also felt guilty because I smoked around her for her first 7 years. Her last 8 years was smoke free but it was too late.

    Reply
  14. Pam
    February 17, 2020 at 2:26 am (5 months ago)

    For two of my cats, when I was worried that their time had come, my regular vet was not in. (She was on a two-weeks on, one-week off schedule.)
    Both times these “substitute vets” advised immediate euthanasia, with no examination at all.
    I can’t help but think my regular vet would have spent more time, examined them carefully, and perhaps have determined a solution that would have helped for a time longer. Perhaps they were not at death’s door at all, but just needed some sort of treatment for something unexpected. I’ll never know.
    That had happened twice … and will not happen again.

    Reply
  15. Bernadette
    February 17, 2020 at 1:17 am (5 months ago)

    I have had “immediate” diagnoses from veterinarians in emergency hospitals, but I brought Lucy home with FIP and she lived well for three months, and Namir with CHF for four years. My regular veterinarian has een me through many cats in 25 years, and would euthanize me if I waited too long, and I have always been grateful for her guidance in how to recognize when the time approaches.

    I especially dislike and distrust innaccurate information such as that by the veterinarian above concerning heartworm and FIV.

    Reply

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