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Knowing When to Let Go

Preparing for the Euthanasia Decision for Your Cat

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Letting go of your feline companion is never easy. Often just the thought of it brings panic. Unfortunately, though, your cat will probably die before you do and you may even have to make the decision to help him or her to die. Death is a difficult subject for many people, but avoiding the topic isn't helpful to you or your cat.

Cats, particularly indoor cats, are now living longer than they have in past years. There are also so many advances in veterinary care that many cats develop chronic health problems that can be handled with treatments at home, such as administering fluids under the skin. Doing different treatments at home may seem difficult at first, but the staff at your veterinarian's office can usually instruct you so that you feel more comfortable with it. Treatments for some diseases, such as radiation or chemotherapy, can't be done at home, are expensive, and have greater risks and side effects.

Plan Ahead for the Euthanasia Decision, if Possible

The time to think about how far you'll want to go with any type of treatment or when you would feel the time is right to euthanize your cat is before he or she becomes ill. Once an illness strikes, we tend to go into crisis mode and our thinking isn't as clear as it is when we're not stressed. The answer to the question of treatment and euthanasia will differ from person to person. One way people have found useful in making these decisions is to ask, "If this was ME in my cat's situation, how much treatment would I want? How much pain and suffering would I be willing to endure if there was even a chance that I'd have a better life? When would I just want to say, 'Enough'?" You may find that you have different boundaries for two of your own animals.

For instance, when my Remi developed congestive heart failure, I knew that because of the type of dog he was, that he would go a long way with treatment before he'd want me to stop. Towards the end of Sheffield's life, however, as his kidney's started to fail, I knew that he wasn't the type who would want to endure subcutaneous fluids and other treatments. It's important to choose a veterinarian that you trust and have a good relationship with. People who do, often find it helpful to listen to the pros and cons that their veterinarian gives them and then say, "And if this was YOUR cat, what would YOU do." Most veterinarians will be very honest with clients about this.

Considering the Cost Factor

Sadly, cost is also often a factor in making a decision. Many people want to help the pet overpopulation problem by adopting a lot of animals. I advise people to consider the costs involved. It's not just the food and litter, but also the veterinary bills, especially as animals get older (although younger animals can develop costly illnesses, also). Veterinarians don't make as much money as you might think when you look at their bills, and they have bills of their own that they have to pay, both business and personal, so very few are able to treat your animal inexpensively or for free. Very few are able to allow you to delay payments, either. 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.

Quality of life is an important issue. If you know that your cat is suffering and has no chance of returning to even an adequate level of quality of life, it's time to talk with your veterinarian about euthanasia. If the side effects of a treatment are going to mean that your cat will be very ill from it and there's less than a 50% chance of returning to a good quality of life, you should talk with your veterinarian about whether the treatment is really in the cat's best interest. Again, ask your veterinarian what he or she would do if it was their cat. Sometimes it's hard to let a creature that we love so much leave our life, but once a reasonable level of quality of life is gone, the loving thing to do IS to let go.

Next >What happens after the Euthanasia Decision is Made

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