Do domestic cats feel betrayed for an instant when you instruct a veterinarian to euthanise them?

The question is philosophical. When you decide to take your cat companion to a veterinarian to have them euthanized because of chronic health reasons, does he or she feel betrayed that you are killing them? Yes, you are killing your cat but for humane and moral reasons.

Blue, a much-loved family cat was rescued from a woodpile and was euthanised after developing cancer. The owner asks whether he betrayed her in having her euthanised too late causing her to suffer unnecessarily.
Blue. Her story is further down the page. Photo: C. Stuart Hardwick.
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Euthanasia when carried out to relieve a cat from chronic suffering at the end of their life is a humane procedure and the right thing to do. Many people believe that the same rules should apply to people and there is a movement in some Western countries including the UK today to allow euthanasia of people under certain strict conditions in new legislation.

So, if you do this properly and for good and moral reasons, does your cat still feel betrayed by your actions? Does your cat understand that they have a chronic illness and are dying and that in the human world we consider this good reason to euthanise them. We mustn’t humanise cats in discussing the topic.

It is plausible to believe that the cat might understand that they are being killed by their owner. And therefore, what do they think about it? And it is also plausible to believe that cats don’t understand that they are dying of an illness or – importantly – that they are being euthanized at the vets. That’s the key point I think: they don’t know that they are being killed.

The answer to all these difficult philosophical questions is that we don’t know. We cannot mind read. We don’t know as yet what is in the mind of a domestic cat in terms of these sorts of thoughts. And we have to face up to this lack of knowledge.

However, if I were to speculate, I do not believe that a cat will feel betrayed when euthanised. That’s because I don’t think they think about these issues in that way – as humans do. The question really is a human question posed for humans to answer. If we were able to communicate in human language to our cat companion to ask them whether they felt betrayed, they wouldn’t understand the question.

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The reason why I have asked the question is because of a posting by C. Stuart Hardwick (an author) who had adopted a beautiful gray female cat after discovering her in a neighbour’s junk pile. Yes, she was a stray or feral cat but she became a very much-loved member of the family. They named her Blue. Her picture is on this page.

In old age she became ill with cancer. The tumours were removed which extended her life. One day she wasn’t at the door when he arrived home. He found her in the back room “lying paralysed in a puddle of urine, pleading with her eyes for help. I had waited too long.”

He took her to the veterinarian and held her as she was being euthanised. He comforted her and “she snuggled against my hand, the fear and the pain left her eyes, and just for a moment, she was herself again.”

He said that he “held her till she stopped breathing, then went outside and cried a good long time”. He said that he cried not for the loss of a great friend but because he thought that he had failed her in letting her suffer. He believes that she should have euthanised sooner to prevent her suffering.

And that ending to the story begs another question about when you should utilise your cat because of chronic illness. I have written about that many years ago and it is a decision which is made in a very businesslike manner without being swayed by your emotions, your bond and connection with your cat. It simply has to be businesslike. And you will probably need the advice of a good and experienced veterinarian to see you through this most difficult of moments.

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