Ageing cat – how to tell if ready to put to sleep?

Moe, a cat, after euthanasia
Moe after euthanasia –Photo: John Ziomek/Staff Photographer
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

This is one of the most challenging decisions a concerned cat owner has to make. There are no easy answers and you’ll probably get it wrong the first time. You might delay euthanasia because of personal reasons or are unsure or have underestimated the severity of your cat’s ill-health. You might delay to be sure but that in itself will be an incorrect decision as it may extend your cat’s pain. You might do it too soon because the decision is tricky, the moment unclear and you can’t bear to see your cat in discomfort.

When your cat’s life ceases to be a pleasure and when your cat suffers from a painful, chronic and degenerative condition without hope of improvement such as advanced kidney disease in old age (very common), then perhaps the best decision is euthanasia.

Firstly I would ensure that I obtained a second opinion from an experienced veterinarian (at least ten years experience or longer) on this most critical and difficult of decisions. You need wisdom and sensitivity to make the right decision. Also if children are emotionally attached to the family cat, they should be involved too. It is probably unwise to refer to “putting to sleep” when discussing euthanasia with children as they might expect their cat to wake up. I’d spell it out truthfully and not dress it up with an adult euphemism.

Then ask the following questions:

  • Is your cat having a lot of bad days?
  • Can your cat do the things she likes to do?
  • Are there signs that she is in pain? See this page for assistance on detecting pain in cats and this page.
  • Has she lost the desire to eat and drink. For me this is an important one. When my cat stopped eating I knew it was time. In fact it was beyond the time.

A cat owner has to ask what is best for their cat and disconnect from personal preferences. It should be an objective, business-like decision in the cat’s best interests.

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