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Cat Parents' End of Life Decisions

Measuring Remaining Quality of Life

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My Deceased Cat Bubba in the Prime of Life

My Angel Cat, Bubba

Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy

My husband and I had to make the decision to end a well-loved cat's life on many occasions. It was the hardest thing either of us had ever had to do, with each cat. Readers who have had to make that same decision will understand. However you may still carry some residual feelings of guilt, which this article may help to allay. Other readers who have not yet faced this issue will be better prepared toward making a kind decision, one way or the other.

One question I've always asked my veterinarian when I've had difficulty deciding is "What would you do if he were your cat?" In each instance the reply was "It is time to let him go," confirming what I already knew in my heart.

There are also cases where desperate people will ask their veterinarian, "Isn't there anything else you can do for him?" While sometimes there are homeopathic treatment or new, experimental treatments, often at great expense, sometimes the answer needs simply to be, "I'm sorry, but we've done everything we can." The veterinarian sometimes adds, "Are you hoping to keep him alive for his sake, or for yours?" A rough question, yes, for someone already struggling with grief, but one that needs to be asked.

As I'm writing this today, I found a new reader's comment in my blog, When a Cat Dies. Alexandria wrote in part, "My ten year old baby Trouble was just put to sleep a few hours ago. I came online to see if anyone could help me cope and I found this site.

"I have had her since she was 2 weeks old and she was just ten. She had to have a tooth pulled two months ago and they found she had a tumor in her jaw. They said I could try and remove her jaw and feed her through an IV and get radiation but it was not going to definitely cure her. I couldn't put her through it. The last few days she looked so sad and barely ate. We went to the vet the other day and they said if I wait even another week, it would hit her throat and she wouldn't be able to breathe. I gave her the best day I could yesterday - when she would even wake up - and snuggled my last night with her. I went in and told her how much I loved her up until it was over."

Alexandria made a compassionate decision, based on her veterinarian's projection of Trouble's likely ending - really the only one she could have made.

Knowing When to Let Go

Kari Winters, a longtime fellow member of the Cat Writers' Association, wrote a guest article by that title on this site many years ago, but the truths it contained are as solid now as when she authored it. Sadly, Kari passed away in May of 2009, but she leaves a legacy of knowledge, compassion, writing skills, but mostly, Kari made a difference in the world of animals and the lives she touched.

In her article, Kari brought up some solid points, which I will paraphrase in some instances:

  • Plan Ahead Before Your Cat is Sick
    Too often, by the time we must make that decision, we are too close to the dilemma to be able to make a rational decision.
  • Ask Yourself This Question:
    "If it were me needing this treatment, how long would I want to prolong the inevitable?" She also mentioned that you might have different boundaries for two different animals. I'd imagine their pain tolerance might vary, just as humans' do.
  • Consider the Cost Factor
    Sadly, particularly in hard financial times, unless we have good pet insurance coverage, there are financial limitations for many of us as to how much we can do to save a very sick or injured cat.
  • Choose a Veterinarian You Can Trust
    This is of paramount importance. I've always written that we need to work with our veterinarians in a partnership. If you don't feel you can completely trust your veterinarian, you will forever live with doubts about your decision.
Kari also wrote: "It would be nice if there were an easy checklist that you could refer to that would tell you exactly when to let go. Unfortunately, there isn't, but there ARE some guidelines." Fortunately, today, we do have checklists with guidelines for knowing when to let go.

Two Sets of Checklists to Help With Euthanasia Decision

  1. The "HHHHHMM" Quality of Life Scale
    In February of 2008, Dr. Alice Villalobos presented The "HHHHHMM" Quality of Life Scale to the 2008 Ontario VMA Conference. There are seven factors in the Quality of Life Scale, each of which would be measured by the cat's caregiver on a scale of one to ten. A total of 35 is an acceptable guideline for cats, according to Dr. Villalobos' presentation. She also suggested the possibility of "home euthanasia," wherein the cat could drift off in his or her caregiver's arms. This scale was created for her book, "Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology: Honoring the Human-Animal Bond, Blackwell Publishing, 2007."
  2. Cat Hospital of Chicago Checklist
    While loosely based on the HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale, rather than using the 1-10 scale, this checklist asks specific questions, requiring "yes" or "no" answers. As an example, the section on Pain includes 10 questions, such as "My cat limps. (If it didn't hurt, they wouldn't limp.)"

Armed with all the foregoing information, you should never have to feel remorseful or to second-guess the most compassionate, loving decision you ever can make for your beloved cat.

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