HomeEuthanasiaWhat is the ultimate test for deciding when to euthanize your cat?


What is the ultimate test for deciding when to euthanize your cat? — 16 Comments

  1. If you know your cats well and are not constrained by cost of palliative care, then you will know from their body language when it is time. I wrote some of the original guidelines for CPL & FAB publications back in the 1990s, but saying goodbye is never easy. The cat’s needs come first.

    • Yes, I agree that a cat owner who is very in tune with their cat can make the decision more easily and more accurately. Personally, I am not sure they can be certain to make the right decision. Too much emotion involved. It is hard to remain highly objective.

  2. Knowing just how stoic cats are, I rely on the vet’s diagnosis and professional opinion to assist me with deciding when is the “right” time to euthanise.

    When 17 year old Blackie was diagnosed with oral cancer, the vet simply told me to spoil him and bring him back when he stopped eating. On-line research into this aggressive form of cancer revealed most cats are euthanised within 3 months of diagnosis 🙁

    Blackie loved his food and carried on eating well, but he was becoming visibly distressed at times. He would suddenly start growling or mewling to himself. When the frequency of his ‘distressed’ moments increased, I took the decision to have him put to sleep. This was just 3 weeks after he was initially diagnosed. I knew that he would only stop eating when he was physically unable to, but I didn’t want his final day to be one where he was hungry but unable to swallow.

    If the vet told me the cat was dying, then I would ask them to euthanise the cat there and then. (Just as I did when Sophie was diagnosed with end stage liver cancer.) I appreciate that some people want to take their pet home to have more time for themselves or family members to say goodbye. That’s a personal choice, but it wouldn’t be right for me. I’ve experienced having a cat euthanised too late and her final day still haunts me. I now live by the motto, better a week too early than a day too late.

    • So sorry to disagree; but, I can’t rely on even the best vet clinic, which I have, to tell me when it is time. They only see my cats twice a year.

      I am the one who spends every minute of every day with them and have no doubt that my interest in them is the best. Don’t get me wrong… I am not an arrogant Ken S with an answer for everything. I don’t know it all.

      But, I am observant and just have a feel for what is right. All in all, it’s hard.

      • What I meant by ‘relying’ on the vet, is that they are the ones who make the medical diagnosis, but I am the one who ultimately decides when euthansia happens because I know my cats better than anyone. I know when they are happy, but I also know when they are feeling miserable. Sadly I also know when they’ve given up the fight, but that’s the downside of loving them so much.

        I’ve been with my current vet for 25+ years and he’s lovely. He’s great with my cats, never runs unecessary tests and always takes the time to explain everything and the options. He’s always very supportive of my decisions and I respect him for that.

        • You have a good vet who understands cats and you. This is vitally important in decisions on euthanasia.

          You make an interesting remark: you know when you cat has given up the fight. I wonder whether you’d like to expand on that, Michele.

          • I knew Sophie wasn’t feeling good when she suddenly stopped eating, so I took her to the vet the following morning. He immediately recognised there was a problem with her liver, but Sophie was too fractious for them to perform x-rays and ultrasound that day. Due to her condition, sedation was considered too risky, so they kept her in for the day and stabilised her with fluids and antibiotics. I took her home that evening and managed to persuade her to eat a little and she seemed to perk up a little.

            I dropped her off at the vet the next morning for testing, hopeful they would be able to treat her once they’d been able to accurately diagnose the problem. When I returned several hours later to collect her, it had been a busy Saturday morning at the clinic with 2 emergency cases brought in. Sophie had not yet been tested. The vet warned me that he was very concerned about her and invited me to remain with her while they carried out the x-rays and ultrasound. As soon as I saw her, my heart sank. She was laying lifeless on the consulting table and when the vet explained they had not sedated her, I knew it was not looking good. She did perk up when she heard me say her name, and managed to crawl across the table to greet me. My once feisty girl, put up no resistance as they shaved her belly and carried out the tests. As I stroked her she continued to purr, but I felt her body temperature dropping rapidly and I knew then she was dying. (It just seemed that her body was shutting down.) The ultrasound revealed massive tumours in her liver. The vet agreed with me that euthanasia was the only option to prevent further suffering. I’m grateful that he allowed me remain with Sophie while he worked. I’ll always be thankful that I got to spend her final hours with her and she knew I had not abandoned her.

            She was only 10 and had appeared in good health (was physically active) right up until the day she stopped eating, so her sudden, rapid decline was completely unexpected. She’d undergone a routine health check just 3 months earlier and nothing unusual had been noted. I like to think I know my cats very well and I always take them to the vets at the first sign of anything not quite right about them, but it troubles me how well Sophie hid her illness. As she’d shown none of the classic symptoms such as vomiting, weight loss etc., I’m hoping that she did not begin to feel unwell until near the very end.

            • So sorry about Sophie, Michele.

              Sadly, liver cancer, in humans too, is insidious until near end stage.

              At her earlier checkup, unless the vet performed specific liver blood tests, it could be easily missed. And, without symptoms, the vet had no reason to perform those tests.

              If the liver was the primary site of the cancer, without metastases, it may be of some comfort to know that the pain was minimal. There are no nerve endings within the liver itself, only on the outer covering.

              • Dee, thank you for the kind words. It was primary liver cancer, which the vet explained was rare in cats and that the cause was thought to be environmental toxins.

                It IS a great comfort to know that she may only have suffered minimal pain towards the end. I would hate to think she’d been putting on a brave face for longer than I’d realised.

                • Environmental toxins as a cause makes sense, since everything that is consumed, inhaled, or somehow enters the system is processed through the liver.

                  It’s so hard for us to know what exposures our cats have. But, we can’t keep them in a bubble. I know that our “thing” is to have indoor cats here; but, I have ferals that I can’t monitor every minute of every day. There’s always a risk.

                  • A few years ago Sophie was diagnosed with eosinophilic granuloma complex. At the time the vet explained that the condition was thought to be a form of allergic (hypersensitivity) disorder. He said that trying to determine the exact environmental trigger, would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

                    Fortunately the small plaque she had on the roof of her mouth, never seemed to trouble her and it didn’t grow any larger so steroid treatment was not required.

                    I’m now wondering if having ESG meant that Sophie had a genetic disposition for developing liver cancer? If anyone knows the answer to that question I’d be grateful for any info, but if not, I’ll try to remember to ask my vet when I’m next there.

                    • I spent 30 minutes trying to decide if I should comment, Michele.
                      EGC is, most often, attributed to environmental allergies.
                      In some cases, it is, actually, squamous cell carcinoma. Without a biopsy, there is no way to determine that. Should that be the case, and because it has a slow progression, there seems to be no alarm. It could take years before a serious problem arises. And, there is very little discomfort from EGC.
                      But, it metastasizes, eventually and firstly, to the liver which makes the liver the secondary site.
                      It’s torment to mull it all over. What is important is that EGC and liver cancer, both, cause very little discomfort. I doubt that Sophie suffered much at all.
                      You were wise to help her before the cancer moved into another major organ, especially, to the bones/spine.
                      Please remember that you loved her and she loved you.

    • Are you letting your personal emotions about a difficult past experience affect you decision making for the future? I know what you mean though. I still have a sense of guilt in not acting earlier in euthanising my cat Binnie. I think I waited too long. This can push us in the other direction.

      • Michael, I’m definitely influenced by past experiences, but the situation with each cat is different, so I try not to let one bad experience cloud my judgement.

  3. For me, it’s the degree of suffering.
    As caretakers, we don’t need anyone else to determine that, least of all a vet who spends 20 minutes with them twice a year. We have been with them year in and year out. We are the best judges as to whether treatments are helping or not and whether they seem to have quality of life.

    • Agreed but you need a good vet to provide information about the seriousness of any illness and the prognosis. These aspects are in the decision making equation. Also even the best cat caretaker cannot be certain about the degree of suffering. Knowing the illness and the prognosis helps in assessing how much pain the cat is in.

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