Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 22, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Making a decision about whether or when the time is right for euthanasia is one of the hardest things cat guardians will ever go through. I’ve previously written about what can help a cat guardian make this difficult decision. But once you have made the decision, there are still more things to consider.
One is location. I am a firm advocate of in home euthanasia. I’m always surprised when I hear from my readers that, until they read Buckley’s Story, they had no idea that having a pet euthanized at home was even an option. There are few veterinarians who offer home euthanasia. Those that do generally don’t advertise the fact, but some will come to your home when asked. Housecall veterinarians can be a good option for in home euthanasias. The In Home Pet Euthanasia Directory can help you locate a veterinarian who performs in home euthanasia in your area.
Another decision you will need to make is whether you want to be with your cat during the euthanasia, or whether you simply can’t bear to see the final moment of your beloved cat’s passing. This is a highly personal decision, and there is no right or wrong answer. I have been fortunate that I have been able to be with all of my cats at the end. They all died in my arms, and I can’t imagine not having been with them during those final moments. But I also understand why a cat guardian wouldn’t want to be present.
I believe that knowing what to expect during a euthanasia can help cat guardians decide whether they want to be present, or whether they would rather say their good byes before the vet gives the final injection.
What happens during euthanasia
If a euthanasia is done the right way, it can be a a peaceful, and sometimes even beautiful, experience. Unfortunately, not all vets are good at this task, and there is nothing more upsetting for a cat guardian than to have a beloved cat’s final moments be a struggle rather than the gentle death it should be.
For most cats, going to the vet’s is a stressful experience, which is yet another reason why I advocate for in home euthanasias. However, regardless of whether the euthanasia is performed in your home or at your vet’s office, it is helpful to understand what happens during euthanasia.
Normally, the euthanasia solution is injected into a leg vein, often through a catheter that is placed in the vein. This requires that the cat be restrained, and for most cats, this will be stressful. In order to facilitate placement of a catheter, the veterinarian should first give a sedative injection subcutaneously (under the skin.) Most cats will tolerate that type of injection better than an intravenous one. The sedative will allow the cat to quietly fall asleep. Once the cat is asleep, the veterinarian will give the final injection into a leg vein. However, depending on the cat’s condition at that stage, finding a viable leg vein may be difficult, and sometimes, the final injection is giving into the abdomen or heart. This is not painful for the cat. With abdominal injections, it can take up to 20 minutes for the cat’s heart to stop beating. Heart injections stop the heart almost immediately.
Once the final injection is given, the cat will usually take a deeper than normal breath, and,typically within six to twelve seconds, go limp and into what looks like a deep sleep. Your cat’s veterinarian will place his stethoscope on your cat’s heart to verify that the cat’s heart has stopped. In some cases, you may see what is known as “agonal breathing,” a series of sudden, convulsive breaths. This can be very disturbing to witness, but your cat is already unconscious at that point, and will not feel any pain.
What happens after euthanasia
Arrangements for your cat’s body should be made prior to the euthanasia. Regardless of whether you choose burial or cremation, if you’ve chosen to be with your cat during euthanasia, make sure that your veterinarian allows you plenty of time to be with your cat’s body so you can say your final good-bye at your own pace.
Being aware of what happens to the body physically after death can help make this time a peaceful rather than distressing experience. Unless your veterinarian closed your cat’s eyes immediately after she died, her eyes may remain open. Body fluids and gas may leak out, so be prepared if you want to hold your cat, and wrap her in a blanket or towel. Blood tinted fluid may leak from your cat’s nose or mouth. Your cat’s body will gradually become colder and stiffer.
During my years of working in veterinary clinics. I’ve heard far more people say they regretted not being with their pet during her final moments, than people who were present but wished they had not been.
That being said, this is a deeply personal decision. Only you can know what’s right for you and your cat, and nobody should judge you for the choice you made. In the end, all that matters is that your cat knows she was loved by your throughout her life.
Featured Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.