Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: October 9, 2022 by Crystal Uys
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.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
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