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One of the most difficult decisions as a cat parent is knowing when it's time to say goodbye. Whether you've had your cat since they were a kitten or you've only been together a few years, knowing when it's time to put them to sleep is crucial for preventing serious pain while providing them with compassionate end of life care.

How to know when to put your cat down depends on your cat's age and overall health. Ultimately, if you're asking yourself, "is it time to put my cat down?", you should talk to your vet to make the best decision for your feline friend. Only you and your vet can decide when is the right time to say goodbye to your pet.

That said, your vet can't make this decision for you, so with all the information they give you about your cat, you must make the best choice for them to prevent further pain and suffering. But how do you know when to put your cat down? This article will discuss cat euthanasia, why cats are put down, and signs to look for to determine when it's the right time to put your cat to sleep.

How Does Pet Euthanasia Work?

Euthanasia is painless for pets. Vets inject the animal with a euthanasia solution, and the pet drifts away within minutes. However, since pets can be nervous around vets, your vet might administer a tranquilizer to help them stay calm during the procedure.1 After the euthanasia solution is administered, the pet will appear to fall asleep and then their brain and body gently stop functioning.

Pet parents can decide whether they want to be present during the procedure. Many prefer to spend their pets' final moments with them, while others may become overwhelmed by the experience and choose to wait in another room. Most euthanasia procedures take place in vet's offices. However, you may opt to have the procedure performed at home to let your cat pass more peacefully.2

List of reasons pets are put down

Why Are Pets Put Down?

How do you know when to put down your cat? There are several reasons pets are put down, but the most common is when they've reached the end of life. When a cat gets old, they may have a decreased quality of life, experience pain, or have an irreversible medical condition. Still, how to know when to put your old cat down can be a difficult choice to make. Not all old cats are sick; many are healthy with zero pain and can live happily for many more years. You can calculate cat years to human years to determine how old your cat is, but remember, age isn't the only factor determining whether it's time to put your cat to sleep.

Unfortunately, many pet parents must make life-or-death decisions for their pets. A few reasons why a pet parent may choose to put their pet down include:

  • Terminal illness: Terminal illnesses, such as terminal FIV, mean the cat has no chance of recovery, and the longer they live, the more pain and discomfort they might feel. Therefore, if a pet's condition can't be treated or at least managed, pet parents may choose to put them down to end their pain and suffering.
  • Reduced quality of life: As cats get older, they may experience health issues that affect their quality of life, such as dementia, which can cause anxiety and accidental injury. Joint pain and mobility issues can affect your cat's ability to move around and experience the things they once enjoyed. Reduced quality of life is another major reason pet parents decide to put their cats to sleep, especially when accompanied by pain. Use The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center’s quality of life assessment tool to evaluate important indicators such as willingness to play, weight loss, depressed demeanor, and more.3
  • Behavioral changes: Many pets go through behavioral changes due to an illness. However, consider your pet's behavior before their diagnosis to determine whether the behavioral changes may indicate it's time to say goodbye.4
  • Treatment limitations: Unfortunately, some pet parents can't afford their pet's treatment. When pet parents can't afford to treat their pets, they may put them down to end their pain and suffering. To better prepare for potential costs, consider investing in pet insurance when first adopting a pet.
  • Behavioral disorder: Unfortunately, many pets become aggressive due to a lack of proper training or illness. Many cats are put down yearly because they've harmed a person or animal. While it's rare for your cat to cause serious harm to others, it can happen if they become aggressive, which is one of the many reasons pet parents may choose to put their pet's down.

Of course, pet parents may opt to put their pets down for any reason, including emotional or economic issues.1 However, before euthanizing a healthy cat, always consider whether there's the option to rehome them or take them to a shelter where they can find a new home and someone who can take care of them.

What To Expect When You Put A Cat Down

Once you decide to put your cat down, you should start preparing yourself and your family. You have options for when and where your cat will be put down, so consider spending your last day together with zero distractions, giving them tons of love and attention. Of course, if you have children or other household members, you should always let them say goodbye in their own ways.

You can put your cat to sleep at home or at your veterinary clinic.5 However, there are pros and cons to each option. A clinic environment can seem cold, and it can make your cat feel anxious.

That said, letting your cat pass away peacefully in a comfortable environment can make the experience easier for everyone. Unfortunately, not all vets offer this service, so you may have to ask your vet for referrals if you want to euthanize your cat at home.

On the day of the procedure, whether at home or the clinic, you can sit with your feline friend to comfort them. If your cat is anxious, the vet will give them a sedative to help them relax while explaining the entire process to help you understand everything that will happen. Next, your vet will administer the euthanasia solution via an IV injection in the leg, making them unconscious and shutting down their heart and brain function within a few minutes.2 Since the cat is unconscious, they don't feel any pain. However, their eyes may remain open as they pass away, or they may twitch..2

After the pet passes away, their muscles will relax, which may result in urination and defecation.2 However, in any case, the process is fast and painless, allowing the cat to be put to rest easily and without any discomfort.

One thing to plan is how you'll lay your cat to rest. Depending on where you live, you can bury your cat at home. However, if you can't, you can choose to bury them at a pet cemetery to give you a place to go and visit them. Many pet parents opt for cremation; depending on the service, you can have your pet's ashes returned.

Once your cat has passed, you and your loved ones will go through a grieving process. Feeling sad is normal. While no one forgets the death of a loved one, you will eventually stop feeling grief and look back on your friendship with your cat with happiness. Of course, this process takes time, but you can find comfort in knowing that you provided your beloved feline friend with a loving home and compassionate care.

FAQs

What is the average lifespan of an indoor cat?

Indoor cats typically live anywhere between 10 and 15 years. However, how long an indoor cat lives depends largely on their overall health. Providing a healthy diet and exercise is crucial for keeping your cat healthy at any age.

Average lifespan of indoor cat is 10-15 years

How do I know if my cat is suffering?

Unfortunately, cats are good at hiding their pain. However, there are several signs they might suffer from illness, including changes in their activity or mobility, reduced interest in being petted, increased hiding, decreased playfulness, and vocalization. If your cat is no longer enjoying the things they once did, it might be because they're in pain. However, only a vet can diagnose your cat with an illness to help you understand their suffering.

How do I know when it's time to euthanize my cat?

Only you can decide when it's time to euthanize your cat, and there are several reasons why you might. However, educating yourself about your cat's overall health is always best to make the right decision for them.

What do vets do after they put a cat down?

Euthanasia can be an emotional experience for your cat's vet, especially if they've treated them for many years and developed a relationship with them. After putting down a cat, vets may discuss the next steps with parents, such as cremation and other options. Many vets partner with cremation services to help you through the process to make it less stressful. Once the cat has passed away, the vet's team will prepare them to be sent for cremation.

Is it unethical to put down my cat?

There are some instances where it's unethical to euthanize a cat. In most cases, pet parents decide to put their cats down when they're in extreme pain or suffering due to old age or illness. However, anyone can decide to put their cat down for various reasons. It's unethical to put a healthy cat down, especially if they don't have any behavioral problems. Unfortunately, many shelters put pets down because they can't find them homes and need to make room for new arrivals. Euthanasia should be the final solution after you've exhausted all other options.

Owner carrying/hugging old cat

Final Notes

Cat euthanasia is a compassionate way to end a pet's pain and suffering. Unfortunately, knowing when it's time to put a cat down is difficult for many pet parents. While you know your cat best, working with a vet can help you determine whether they're experiencing pain, illness, or suffering. Of course, euthanasia can be used when there are no other good options and treatments no longer work.

Talk to a Dutch vet today to discuss your cat's health. Dutch telemedicine for pets allows licensed vets to determine the best treatment for cats suffering from pain or illness to help you decide when it's time to say goodbye. Try Dutch today.

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References

  1. “Euthanasia.” American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/euthanasia.

  2. “Facts about Euthanasia (Small Animals).” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 3 Jan. 2022, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/facts-about-euthanasia-small-animals.

  3. “Difficult Decisions Brochure: How Will I Know?”OSU Veterinary Medical Centerhttps://vet.osu.edu/vmc/.

  4. “How Do I Know When It’s Time? .” Ohio State Universityhttps://vet.osu.edu/vmc/sites/default/files/import/assets/pdf/hospital/companionAnimals/HonoringtheBond/HowDoIKnowWhen.pdf.

  5. “What Happens during Euthanasia? What to Expect When You Put Your Pet to Sleep.” WebMDhttps://pets.webmd.com/what-happens-put-pet-to-sleep.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

After your video call, the vet will send you a message with a custom treatment plan to help your pet feel better, including a link to buy any recommended prescription or over-the-counter medications. Place your order and we’ll ship it free.

How much will it cost for Dutch to treat my pet?

The Dutch membership starts at $7/mo for unlimited access to the vet. No more long waits for appointments or surprise bills.

In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.