When is it time to say Goodbye?

When our friends nine lives have been stretched as far as they can, we as their carers are in the unique position to take control of giving them dignity in the way they end their lives.  It is a hugely difficult decision for every cat owner and if we are lucky, many of us have been with our friends for more than a decade and that bond is unbreakable but sadly, our hearts aren’t.

When will I know it is time?

I get asked this question a lot and as a cat owner having been through this on a number of occasions my answer is a combination of things.

More obviously are those cases where a cat has become acutely, terminally ill and they are starting to suffer and nothing can be done to make them comfortable, it will be obvious and your veterinarian’s guidance will be invaluable in helping you make an informed decision.

The majority and by far the most difficult cases I see are those where a cat that has been treated for a chronic illness or disease for a long period and the owner can’t decide if the cat is gradually deteriorating because they see them every day, and whether or not they are ‘doing this’ for their cat or themselves.

I ask owners to think about the 5 basic freedoms that all animal welfare is measured against which essentially are:

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
  2. Freedom from Discomfort
  3. Freedom from Pain or Injury
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress

Ask yourself those questions about your cat. Have they stopped eating or drinking? Do they spend a lot of time huddled up in a ball? Are they sleeping for long periods in unusual places? Are their toilet habits or behaviour have changed and isn’t like it ‘used to be’? Do they resent being stroked or don’t want to interact with you or other members of the household any longer. Do they stare at you without really seeing you?

It is very difficult to be objective and can be extremely helpful to have a trusted friend who doesn’t live with your cat to visit and ask for their objective opinion on your cat’s general condition and go through those questions with you. Don’t forget the receptionists, nurses, and vets at your usual practice will usually have extensive experience in these situations and are always there to help you.

If you realise that there are reduced freedoms, ask yourself this one question ‘Is there anything I can do from a health or environmental perspective that will significantly improve my cat’s quality of life?’  Old age isn’t a disease and before considering euthanasia in a previously well elderly cat please get them checked by your vet – there are a lot of conditions that can be managed that will give amazing quality of life to these golden oldies.

Palliative and hospice care are an important part of managing the terminally ill patient and your vet will work with you to facilitate this. However, the overarching principles of palliation is that we do it only if we can maintain or improve our friend’s quality of life, not ours. It is all of our responsibility to be an advocate of our charges.

Sadly, if palliative care, medical or environmental intervention aren’t successful. To prevent further pain and unnecessary suffering it is important to talk through options with your vet who will help to guide you on the right time for making a decision about euthanasia.