How Do You Know When It’s Time to Euthanize Your Cat?

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I’d always promised my sweet Siouxsie that if she needed help to leave her body, I would do that. I loved her too much to put my ego ahead of her dignity. But the reality of coming to that decision was pretty freaking brutal.

1-600-600-at-vet-last-day
I give Siouxsie a hug at our final vet appointment.

It all started about four months ago. I brought Siouxsie in to the vet because her arthritis was clearly getting more painful than it had been before. My awesome vet had left the practice to pursue her medical cannabis business, so I asked to see whoever was available. Little did I know at the time how important this vet would come to be in my and Siouxsie’s lives.

When Doctor E walked into the room, I explained Siouxsie’s situation. He gave her a gentle exam, speaking softly to her, and then he started explaining options for treatment.

Siouxsie was 2 years old when this photo was taken.
Siouxsie was two years old when this photo was taken.

I was stunned to find myself spilling my guts to this man I barely knew.

“I know she’s getting closer to the end,” I said, my eyes starting to water. “I’m not in denial. She’s almost 19 now, and I can see how she’s changed just over the last few months. But how soon is too soon? I don’t want to euthanize her if her pain is manageable and she still has a good quality of life.”

“You know Siouxsie better than anyone else,” he told me. “Try to trust your heart and your intuition.”

“There’s such a fine line,” I said. “One of my friends told me, ‘Better a week too soon than an hour too late,’ and I believe that. I was an hour too late with another cat and it broke my heart to see her suffering.”

2010: Siouxsie, left, just woke up and she's shocked and dismayed to see that Dahlia curled up next to her while she was asleep!
2010: Siouxsie, left, just woke up and she’s shocked and dismayed to see that Dahlia curled up next to her while she was asleep!

As I wiped my eyes, Doctor E looked at me and said, “It’s always a difficult decision. I’ve been through this a few times with my own pets, and it’s not easy for me, either.”

Siouxsie and I went home with a prescription for buprenorphine, an opiate painkiller, to take to a local compounding pharmacy.

The buprenorphine gave Siouxsie a new lease on life. She was more mobile, having less trouble in the litter box, and was obviously happier. Once I got the chicken-flavored compounded liquid, she took her medicine with gusto.

2012: Siouxsie always did love her sun puddles.
2012: Siouxsie always did love her sun puddles.

Then one mid-April day, I noticed spots of blood and mucus on her back end. I figured she was constipated from the opiates because she was doing reasonably well otherwise — until one night when we were snuggled together in my bed. I rolled over and moved her, and she peed all over me.

I jumped out of bed and stripped the sheets and mattress pad before the urine could soak through while repeating, “It’s okay, Siouxsie, I’m not mad at you. I know you couldn’t help it.”

2012: Siouxsie, Thomas and Kissy share the cat tree. Siouxsie always loved being on the highest shelf of the cat tree, but for the last year or so of her life, she never got near that exalted perch.
2012: Siouxsie, Thomas and Kissy share the cat tree. Siouxsie always loved being on the highest shelf of the cat tree, but for the last year or so of her life, she never got near that exalted perch.

The next morning I called the vet and in we went for a checkup. Before the tech could leave the room to prepare for a cystocentesis to check for bacteria, Siouxsie peed all over the exam table. The tech grabbed a syringe and sucked up some of the urine: it was cloudy and bloody and full of mucus, and I felt like the worst pet mom ever.

Doctor E walked into the room. He mentioned a culture and sensitivity if they could collect enough urine to do one, possibly running blood work, and so on. “I honestly think the only thing the blood work will tell us is that she’s old and sick, and we already know that,” I said. I did give him the go-ahead to see if he could collect enough urine for the sensitivity test. He couldn’t.

2013: Siouxsie found a nice, soft-sided box to snooze in during our overnight stay in Schaumburg, Illinois, as we drove across the country to our new home in the Pacific Northwest.
2013: Siouxsie found a nice, soft-sided box to snooze in during our overnight stay in Schaumburg, Illinois, as we drove across the country to our new home in the Pacific Northwest.

Once again I found myself crying in the exam room. “I know we’re getting closer,” I said, “but I can’t be like, ‘Well, put her down; she’s got a UTI!’”

We agreed on a course of antibiotics, and they seemed to be having an effect. She was walking less painfully and she wasn’t having any accidents.

Early 2014: Siouxsie decides to check out the view from my shoulder.
Early 2014: Siouxsie decides to check out the view from my shoulder.

But then something incredible happened.

I’d fallen asleep in my chair and I half-awoke around 3 a.m. As I was getting ready to climb into bed, Siouxsie looked up at me from under the night table. I could almost hear her saying, “Mom, I’m tired. Please let me go.”

With tears in my eyes, I told her, “I hear you and I honor you. I’ll make the call tomorrow. I just ask that you do me one favor: Will you please come to me in a dream or something and let me know I heard you correctly?”

"Mom, I'm tired. Please let me go."
“Mom, I’m tired. Please let me go.”

She snuggled up next to me, between my left arm and my torso just as she always did. After a little while I rolled over and started to move her back feet out from under my body … and she peed all over me.

I was laughing and sobbing as I changed the sheets.

Turns out I did know when it was “time.” With a little kick in the pants from my cat, that is.

On April 25, 2015, Siouxsie earned her wings, with some help from the incredibly kind and compassionate Doctor E. My good friend Carmen and I were with her as she drew her last breaths. She was just a week shy of her 19th birthday.

Siouxsie drifts off in my lap as the sedative takes effect. In a few minutes, she will receive the final injection.
Siouxsie drifts off in my lap as the sedative takes effect. In a few minutes, she will receive the final injection.

What about you? Did you know when it was time to let your cat go? Did they give you any kind of sign, or did you just know? Did you wait too long? Do you wonder if you waited long enough? Let’s talk in the comments.

Read more by JaneA on Catster:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

103 thoughts on “How Do You Know When It’s Time to Euthanize Your Cat?”

  1. Jewels is almost 19. She’s losing weight because of her dental disease and seems to have dementia. She gets lost frequently in the house, she knows if she meows really loud someone will come get her, even the dog escorts her to safety.

    I love the goofy cat with all my heart, and thinking of living without her kills me. I don’t know when the right time is. I wish she would tell me.

  2. I’m currently struggling with this exact issue, though it’s not entirely up to me. We’ve got a 15-year-old cat who already has thyroid issues, as well as old neurological issues from being kicked in the head by a horse when she was young. It left her with a wobbly walk and damage to one of her eyes. Just a couple of days ago she had blood in her urine, so we took her and a sample to the vet. The vet came back out after examining her and was like “did you know that she’s blind? Her retinas are detached.” She also apparently has high blood pressure, which is what caused the retinal detachment, and online sources say it’s pretty bad by the time it gets to that point. Since we came home from that appointment, my mom and I have both noticed that the cat is doing a lot of edge-finding, and bumping gently into things if they’re not where she expects them to be. It appears she can see some degree of movement if it’s in bright light, but otherwise nothing. She’s also hard of hearing, we’re not sure to what degree.

    We’re not the kind of people who put an animal down just because we know they’re going to get worse and we can’t deal with it. The price for the blood pressure meds isn’t the issue either, though it’s been a bad year for pets with health issues so far. We just have no way to know what her quality of life is right now; my mom’s concerned the cat is “locked in” to some degree, suddenly dealing with things being dark and quiet. I’m sure we’ll know when it’s time too, but that doesn’t make it any easier. My mom adores this cat, so it’ll be extremely hard, whenever it happens.

  3. I didn’t realize it could be this hard to see my Zack withering away. I was not initially a pet person, because I was always traveling for work and knew that it comes with responsibilities. My son pestered me since he was 5 years old to have a pet, and I finally caved in when he was 10 and adopted Zack. This was because my best friend, who has owned several cats, told me it’s the best pet to have due to their independent and low-key nature … and he was! We took him home when he was 2 months old from a Petco cat adoption day, and today he would be turning 15. Zack ended up staying with me when my son went to college, and throughout the entire time, he was truly my cat. He has been through all my ups and downs and knows more about me than anyone. I’m most vulnerable with him because I feel he’s not prejudice and judgmental. He’s loyal and extremely affectionate, and I will miss him dearly. It’s so hard to know when it’s the right time because even now he still purrs and wags his tail when I pet him. I can see that he’s getting weaker and prefers solitude more so than before. It breaks my heart to let go of 15 years of memories with Zack and a part of myself. Reading the stories posted here helped me to come to terms and cope with what I have to do today. I don’t think his quality of life is the same because he’s not the same Zack that I know. With much love, I bid you farewell, Zack. You’ve been a pillar when I needed you, and I hope you forgive me for giving you wings. Please know that you’re forever my Zack and I love you.

    1. I know how hard this is for you, Ryan, Alyssa and me, but I also know it’s the right thing to do for Zack. I have memories flooding back from the last time I went through this, which oddly makes things both easier and more difficult. Love your tribute to Zack, and I love you, baby.

  4. Sharlene Hinshaw

    I find myself in conflict letting my 16 year old cat go today. He was feral although I had him for 14 years. He was anti social and only wanted to be with my other cat Jimmy who is almost 18 and in worse shape than jimmy. Wayne was throwing up daily sometimes multiple times. He had dental disease and a huge cyst on the side of his face. He hid most of the time in the closet. I find myself second guessing my decision and almost went back for him. I couldn’t medicate him as he wanted no human touch. I am so sad but he is gone.

  5. I’m sitting here an hour after I just laid my boy Bloo down to rest.

    I adopted Bloo a white blue eyed male cat from the humane society nearly 14 years ago. He gave this world 16 years of love and companionship. I learned more from life as he wasn’t purr-fect but he was my best friend and we were a team.

    Like many of you, I came to this website when. I was conflicted of being selfish or being humane. It is a tough decision and wish you all peace and for your loved companions.

    Lately, Bloo has been acting lethargic with labored breathing and yesterday morning we took him the vet for an evaluation. Less than 48 hours prior he was fine and jumping up on me and even saying hi to my co workers on my zoom call during COVID-19. When the vet informed me of his fragile health and the options I wasn’t ready to say good by at that time. I slept on the floor with him loved and today he let us know he was ready.

    RIP Bloo and spirit will live on!

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