Euthanasia....when is the right time? Thoughts, Guidelines
Since our feline friends all have a shorter lifespans than us, sooner or later you will need to make decisions for your cat that we all find difficult. Our cats spend their lives enriching ours so we should be prepared to make decisions that relieve any pain or suffering that may occur at the end of life. But when is it the “right time” to make that decision? THERE ARE NO SIMPLE ANSWERS!
Let’s start by explaining how we go about performing this procedure in what we believe is the most humane way we can. Once we have all arrived at the decision that it is time to end one of our friends suffering, we first administer a combination of drugs that are sedatives, painkillers, and an anesthetic. This is done via an intramuscular injection. Depending on how sick a patient may be, it can take anywhere from 1-7 minutes for your cat to fall “asleep”, or be anesthetized by the drugs and not feel any pain or be aware of the rest of the procedures. We then shave a small area on either a front or back leg and administer an intravenous injection of an overdose of pentobarbital and an anti seizure drug. This will cause the heart to stop beating and end any brain function almost instantly. Your cat will not know or feel any of this final step. At that time you will need to decide what to do with your kitties remains. Many of our clients have them cremated and the ashes returned. You can bury your kitty in your yard if you prefer.
So now, when is it the proper time to make this decision? Cats with severe injuries are a little easier to make make the decision. If there is no hope of a functional life following an injury then the decision should be made immediately. However with chronic disease such as kidney failure, cancer, or just old age, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact proper time.
I would like to offer some of the things that we consider when we are making recommendations to cat owners. First, are the basics of being a cat still in place. That is, is your cat eating enough to sustain life. Is there chronic nausea or vomiting, or is there chronic diarrhea that we cannot control with medication. Is your cat drinking to maintain hydration? Being dehydrated is unpleasant to painful in all species, so this must be easily controlled or it is time. Is your cat using the litter box? If we have made the litter area “handicapped accessible”, and your cat still cannot make it to the box, then it is time.
Finally, and I think most important, is your cat enjoying it’s life still. That is, if your cat always greeted you when you came home, is it still doing that? Is it still coming to you at dinner time and asking for food? Does it play with it’s toys? Does it enjoy sitting in your lap and being petted and /or groomed. If it does not interact with you on it’s own, or if it is hiding all the time, not coming out for food, does not enjoy being touched or petted, or could care less if you are present or not, then it is time.
Often, cat owners will make an appointment to end their kitties’ life and just before, the kitty seems to rally some. This always make the decision tougher, but if there are more “bad” days than “good” days, then I usually suggest we call it quits because there will probably be many more “bad” days to come.
The decision is always a painful one for all cat owners, but remember we are more concerned about your cat’s pain, than yours. We will always make the decision based on your cat’s quality of life and the expectations for improvement or not. Remember that each patient has a unique situation of disease and personal strength, so we try to treat each patient with care and compassion. What would we want if this was me? Would I want to continue to live like this..........