Putting a Cat to Sleep | Understanding Pet Euthanasia

Picture of orange cat on a bed

Putting a cat to sleep, or any pet, for that matter, can be a heartbreaking experience, especially considering that you’ve shared so much time and so many experiences and memories with your companion.

Unfortunately, euthanasia is something that happens and that needs to be done particularly depending on the animal’s health state. In this article, we will discuss several of the circumstances where putting a cat to sleep makes sense, what happens during the process, the amount of time it takes, and some do’s and don’ts. We’ve also included some information on grief management and you might find it useful.

Making the Decision

The pet owner shouldn’t be the only person that makes the call. He or she has to have a talk with a veterinarian and take the animal in for a check-up and if the medical professional agrees that euthanasia actually makes sense and there is no other way that the animal can recover from disease or chronic illnesses, then putting a cat to sleep can happen.

It is a very personal decision, and some of the reasons it happens are old age, disease, injuries and various conditions that have complicated to such an extent that they affect the pet’s quality of life in a severe manner.

Reasons and Telling If It’s Time

Let’s get one thing out of the way before anything else. If the cat is just old, but his or her quality of life is on par in every respect, there is no logical reason to resort to euthanasia.

However, if the pet soils itself during the day because, say, the excretory function is entirely compromised, or if the animal can’t eat anymore, react to external stimuli, or move around without any pain or difficulty, putting him, or her down might be a decision one has to consider. We would like to make a note that some of these symptoms can occur in acute diseases, too, so if your cat is experiencing any of these all of a sudden, take your pet to the vet right away.

Pet parents who really love their cats might not be willing to make a choice in this sense simply because she soils herself. The truth is that cats love being clean – they groom all day long, after all. So, being so dirty is extremely stressful. Besides, pet urine and feces contain a wide array of bacteria that can lead to other health risks and complications such as infections or skin rashes. All of these reduce the cat’s quality of life gradually. Not even humans like sitting in their own pee all day, let alone cats, who pay so much attention to their personal hygiene.

Understand the Process

If you are considering euthanasia and your vet agrees that there’s no other solution to your pet’s (probably multiple) health problems, you need to have a straightforward talk with him or her to find out as much as you can about what the process involves. Ask your vet any questions you might have on the topic. While it is an emotionally charged time, it’s better for you to know what to expect so that the impact doesn’t hit you as hard. You’ll be able to heal faster if you have all the information and understand all the reasons.

Euthanasia is a different process each time, in the sense that not all cats have the same weight, age, or suffer from the same disease. The substances used for it differ, too, and we’ll detail them in a section below. Of course, the duration of the process also depends on the drug used, as well as your pet’s health status. If it’s really bad, it might take just one minute or less.

Drugs Used in Euthanizing a Cat

Euthanasia is typically performed using two injections. The first has the effect of profound sedation while the second is the final injection. In many cases, the animal doesn’t have to be administered the two substances, especially considering that most of the anesthetics used for the purpose are administered in very high doses so that the pet doesn’t feel anything at all.

For sedation, your vet might be given an IV injection of Telazol, Ketamine, Propofol, Medetomidine, Acepromazine, or Xylazine. All of these are widely used as tranquilizers or to induce anesthesia when surgery needs to be performed. An injection cocktail is usually preferred, so the veterinarian might use either a combination of the drugs we have mentioned or a pre-mixed cocktail such as Telazol (zolazepam and tiletamine).

Medetomidine (marketed as Domitor by Pfizer) is one of the best substances that induce pain-relieving sedation. It can be mixed with various other drugs and opiates, and the best thing about it is that it often doesn’t cause any reaction on the part of the animal. It is very well-tolerated, but due to its price, it is only used in cats because performing surgery or euthanasia with Medetomidine is very expensive for big dogs.

The first injection has the role of inducing anesthesia. While many pet parents might fear that their companions are left in a state of awakeness, this isn’t true at all as the animal is sedated in a profound manner. This is also why sometimes, the second injection might not be necessary, especially if the patient’s organs are already compromised. Death occurs almost naturally and above all, painlessly.

A second injection is required in some cases, and most vets will use a barbiturate. When administered intravenously, barbiturates can cause cardiac arrest in a matter of up to fifteen seconds, so they are effective. The injection can also be performed into the abdomen or into the heart, particularly in those cases where the access to the veins is limited on account of situations such as shock or severe dehydration.

How Long Does Pet Euthanasia Take?

It’s very difficult to give a straight answer to this question, and that’s because this amount of time depends on a variety of factors ranging from the substances used to the health status of the animal. As we have noted before, sometimes if the vet is dealing with a medically compromised patient and the likelihood of the cat surviving an anesthetic overdose is practically null, death can happen in under several minutes.

It also depends on how the euthanasia is performed. There’s another method we haven’t mentioned earlier, and it consists of administering just one injection with a mix of the anesthetic and barbiturate. This might work for comatose animals since death could occur in a matter of seconds. However, it is not recommended in other cases, because it can seem inhumane since many animals will appear to resist and struggle. The two-injection method is far more humane, by comparison, and if you decide to remain in the company of your pet until the end, you will notice that the cat passes peacefully.

Other Things to Expect

In some cases, although not every time, post-mortem movement is possible. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, and it doesn’t mean that the cat is revived or that he or she is suffering in any way. Movement after death very rarely occurs if the two-injection approach was chosen.

You will have to decide whether you want to stay with your cat as he or she is put to sleep, or if you’d find it too much of a stressful experience and you’d rather wait in an adjacent room. It is your personal choice, but many people (and many vets, too) believe that staying with your pet until the end is a better decision, because you can provide the animal with some comfort by talking to him or her – at least in a small amount. However heartbreaking and devastating it might be, your pet is a family member and treating him or her like one is the right thing to do.

After everything has ended, you can decide what you would prefer to do with the cat’s body. It can be buried or cremated. You can either take the body to the crematorium yourself, have the animal cremated and then scatter the ashes, or the vet can take care of it and give you the ashes. The cat can also be buried in a pet cemetery, and even though some people frown upon it, you can also bury the pet in your garden at home.

Cat Parents – Emotional Recovery

Many pet parents will experience a lasting and strong sense of grief and pain after the passing of their cats. It can be a private and lonely period especially for those who have friends who might fail to understand just how much their pets meant to them. Managing your loss can be challenging, especially if you have shared a special bond with your cat for a long time, but mourning is a natural part of the recovery process.

In situations where there is no chance of the pet getting its health back by any means and no matter the number of treatments that have been tried, euthanasia is a logical and responsible choice. While it might be extremely difficult to understand, putting a cat to sleep can sometimes be the ultimate kindness that the animal requires in a time of need.

Saying goodbye is one of the most difficult things to do, and the only advice we can give you would be to focus on the precious moments of joy that your cat has brought you throughout the years. You have created wonderful memories together, and they’re a treasure that you will never be robbed of and that you’ll always be able to come back to.

Although many cat parents will feel like their pet is irreplaceable, sometimes getting a new cat can heal some wounds. Everyone experiences grief differently, so that might not be a reasonable decision for some people.

A new cat should always be a symbol of the future – not a reminder of the past.



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