As medical science progresses, our pets live longer, healthier lives. Unfortunately, pet owners still must eventually face the loss of their beloved friend. Sometimes this is a sudden loss, as when a dog gets hit by a car. More often, however, we know our pet is sick and have been treating her for months or even years, like cats with chronic kidney disease. Both of these situations, however, require us to face our pet's shorter life span. Often we also have to decide whether humane euthanasia is the kindest thing we can do for our pet when they are sick or suffering.
I am often asked, "How do I know that when it is time to let go?" by owners of sick cats. Unfortunately, there is no answer that is right for everyone. I often counsel people to consider their cat's quality of life. Questions that we should ask include:
Is my cat painful? Cats often hide their pain, so this can be a difficult question to answer. Is the cat moving around a normal amount and without difficulty? Are there any pain medications that my veterinarian can recommend to keep my cat pain-free?
Is my cat eating and drinking? If the answer is no, is there anything that I can do to help my cat stay nourished and well-hydrated? Appetite stimulants, syringe-feedings, feeding tubes, and subcutaneous fluids can help improve a cat's quality of life.
Does my cat pursue her normal activities (eats treats when offered, shows interest in playtime, sleeps in her favorite places, uses the litter box without help)?
Is my cat still social? Does she still interact with family members (both two- and four-legged) in normal ways? Does she still ask for attention from the humans in the house? Does she still groom or tussle with other pets in the house? Is the cat reclusive? Do the other animals in the house suddenly treat her differently?
Does my cat have more "good" days than "bad" days?
If I were "in my cat's paws," what would I want? Would I want to live in her condition?
How will I remember this experience? Will I regret waiting too long?
What is the quality of life for the whole family? Consider emotional, time, and financial commitments.
Is your relationship with your pet changing? Do you resent the care required to keep your pet comfortable?
Although no one can make the final decision regarding quality of life and euthanasia for you, remember that friends and family, as well as your veterinary health care team, can help support you before, during, and after the decision is made. Many of us at Cat Care have lived through the experience of euthanizing a pet, so please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions regarding quality of life issues or euthanasia.
For more information on euthanasia, we recommend "A Final Act of Caring," and "Good-bye, My Friend," both by Mary and Herb Montgomery (Montgomery Press, Minneapolis, MN, 952/928-0826).