It's a heart-breaking thought, but putting a cat to sleep (euthanasia) is something every cat owner may have to consider in their cat’s later years, or beforehand if their cat becomes seriously ill enough to lose her quality of life.
Deciding whether to put your cat to sleep is always a difficult and intensely personal time, and involves balancing the strength of your own wish to hold on to her, with your cat’s quality of life. Unless she has been in a serious accident, you will probably have time to examine your options, talk to family and friends and consult your vet first. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but should be based on what's right for you and your cat. If she is in a lot of pain or can’t enjoy life anymore, sometimes putting her to sleep is the kindest, most responsible decision, no matter how hard you want to hold on to her.
However hard the decision is for you, it will be equally hard for other members of your family, and especially for any children. Sitting down to discuss the decision with them, and being honest about what it means, can be for the best in the long run.You will all be affected by the outcome, and it can help children come to terms with what’s happened later if they understand the reasons for it.
Euthanasia is usually quick and, most importantly, considered painless. If your cat is distressed or upset, she may be given a mild sedative first to relax her. Then your vet will administer a measured overdose of a drug similar to an anaesthetic, and your cat will slip into a deep and permanent ‘sleep’. The drug is usually given through a vein in the front leg, and your vet may put a ‘line’ or catheter into the vein first.
Depending on the circumstances your vet may be able to come to your house and perform the procedure there. A veterinary nurse will usually come with the vet to assist, and you can usually stroke your cat throughout.
When it’s over, it may be that you can bury your cat in your garden yourself. Other options include finding a nearby pet cemetery or asking the vet to take her remains away for cremation and return her ashes. Some people like to scatter the ashes in their cat’s favourite place, or keep them in a special container. Tell your vet what you would prefer.
There’s no need to feel foolish or embarrassed about grieving. You have just lost a valued member of your family, and although some non-pet-owners may not understand the strength of the bond you shared with your cat, your sense of loss is real and can be very strong.
If you feel you need to, take some time off work, especially if you have children who would be comforted by your prescence. Grieving is a normal, healthy reaction to the loss of a family member and is the start of the healing process. And never forget, however tempting it may be to regret it, that putting your cat to sleep to relieve her suffering and low quality of life was the most responsible decision; the final kindness you could show her. You allowed her to pass away with dignity.
Lastly, at a time like this, it is important to remember all the precious moments of joy your cat has brought you over the years, and the wonderful memories you created together that will never fade. As cat owners, we know that the time to say goodbye will inevitably come, but we also know how much having a cat as a part of your life is worth it. Your cat was unique. How lucky you were to have shared her life.
For more help and advice on coping with your loss, see our article on coping with the loss of your cat.