When to euthanize a pet?
November 16, 2004 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Any advice on how to pick the proper moment to send a beloved cat to the great beyond? [more inside]

I love my cat Camille. She's been part of the family for 12 years. She has an inoperable and growing liver tumor. She's still purring and meowing and we're pampering the hell out of her. She's a bit less active than normal. I'm aware of the trap of keeping her going for our sake, and really am trying to focus on her quality of life, which seems OK at the moment. But cats are pretty inscrutable and their natural tendency is to hide weakness and pain. Has anybody got tips for divining when the time is right to make a date with the needle? 8-(
posted by donovan to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So sorry donovan. In the times I've had to do this, I didn't even know something was wrong until with one, he ran off and hid for two days and we had to track him down, and the other, he became very irritable, refused food, and was particularly unsociable.

I am not an expert, but I've learned that both aren't good signs, and maybe they work as a yardstick. If Camille is still social and eating, maybe that's a sign you've still got some time together.
posted by weston at 7:09 PM on November 16, 2004

Sorry to hear about your cat, but it sounds like she's still got some time. I think the big things to watch for are if she's eating and getting around okay. If she loses a lot of weight and plants herself in one spot for too long, that means it's time.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:58 PM on November 16, 2004

Take her to the vet and ask for a no-shitter, and be prepared for it, just in case. Cats'll really fool ya with hiding what's wrong.

Just this spring we lost our tabby Gussie to diabetes. Right up to when I took her to the vet, she was purring when petted but didn't go out of her way to socialize as much as before. She was too busy drinking and peeing.

(She was trying to tough it out and be there for our son's kitten, to the point of rising from her usual lying-up point to challenge a neighborhood cat who would come to our front door to terrorize the kitten. But she was that kind of cat: She amazed us once by going out in front of us to warn off a neighbor's German shepherd who dared to try to come in our yard.)

When I did get her to the kitty doctor, she turned out to be one very sick cat and passed instantly when the the vet gave her the shot. Until the vet had assessed her bloodwork, I knew she had something wrong with her but had no idea just how sick she was.
posted by alumshubby at 8:06 PM on November 16, 2004

It's true, judging quality of life on a cat can be a bit tricky. It sounds like your paying attention to the right things. With our girl, it was a combination of drastic weight loss, listlessness, diarrhea and a final confirmation that what she had was definitely intestinal lymphoma, and not some kind of chronic bowel disease. I think we waited too long, on balance (the fact that somewhere along the line she stopped purring should have been the cutoff point), but, god you just don't want to give up, do you?

We have two beautiful and sweet kittens now that we love like blazes, but there remains and always will be a cat-shaped hole in my heart.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:07 PM on November 16, 2004

I don't know how I'm ever going to let go of my cat, who I've only had for three years and am terrified is going to die someday. She's the only pet I've ever had.

I'm really sorry this is happening to you, donovan.
posted by interrobang at 8:17 PM on November 16, 2004

I'm so sorry you have to deal with this. I'm going to disagree a bit and say that cats may be inscrutable, but when it's time, you'll know, I have never had a pet of any species who was so inscrutable that I didn't know when it was time. I wouldn't necessarily take her to the vet to get the vet's opinion on when you should let her go, the vet does not know your cat the way you know your cat, and most good vets will tell you that, and when you're dealing with a relatively short amount of time left, I feel that as little as possible of it should be spent stressed out at the vet's. That said, here are my personal guidelines for quality of life: complete loss of appetite for more than a couple of days and nothing will tempt the cat to eat (beef broth, cooked chicken, meat baby food, the crappiest, richest cat food you can find (i.e. Sheba, which is crap, but is like chocolate cake to most cats - it has long been my emergency backup food for anorexic cats) of a flavour your cat likes), including placing some food in the cat's mouth (sometimes not eating for a day makes a cat feel oogy, and if you get some food into them they feel better and start eating again), a loss of interest in daily life (no interest in cuddles, or sitting on the windowsill, etc.), loss of interest in using the litterbox, marked withdrawal (many sick cats will go through phases of withdrawal, many will withdraw a bit permanently, but when the cat more or less disappears, it's time), finally, when there are more bad days than good. Purring is not always a sign of happiness, it's also sometimes a sign of pain or stress, but you will be able to read your cat better than you think, really you will, trust yourself. And do not forget that it's always better to let them go too soon, than too late, you are much more likely to regret the latter than the former. I'm so sorry, I really feel for you, I lost the best cat in the world a couple of years ago. It helped me to keep a journal while dealing with this, it might help you too. Hugs.
posted by biscotti at 8:36 PM on November 16, 2004 [1 favorite]

I think it's the point at which you can no longer control the pain and comfort level of the cat, while still maintaining a semblance of normalcy.

I have two wonderful, still-young cats. I can't fathom life without them, crazy though they drive me. My heart and sympathy to you.
posted by padraigin at 9:31 PM on November 16, 2004

While I agree with biscotti that you want to minimize the stress caused by trips to the vet, a good vet that knows you and the cat can be very helpful. It helps if you already have a strong relationship with the vet.

We recently lost Shadow, the second of the pair of cats that I grew up with. She was 19. Our vet is someone who is very knowledgable about older cats. I made it clear to the vet quite awhile back that we needed her to speak very frankly to us about when she thought it was time.

When we went in to the vet the last time because Shadow was not eating, hiding, in discomfort, etc., the vet did a series of checks and did a preliminary diagnosis. The vet then gave us a list of probable things that were happening, and which of those would probably mean it was the 'end of the road' based on further checks and tests. Having the vet speak so frankly about the possible outcomes before the results were in made the final result easier when it became time.

You have my thoughts and sympathy. This is a hard process.
posted by kreinsch at 4:50 AM on November 17, 2004

biscotti has it nailed -- when a cat refuses food for more than three days in a row, the cat is significantly ill. Cats who refuse to eat will also usually find a place to isolate themselves, if not outright hide. They are shutting themselves down. Try to see what the cat is telling you with its own behavior.
posted by briank at 7:08 AM on November 17, 2004

biscotti is right (surprise!) that purring can be deceptive. Our cat was diagnosed with consumptive heart failure and we were told that she could hang on for years with medication (Lasix). She began to purr more and more the sicker she got. When she began essentially purring every waking hour we finally figured out that she was purring out of discomfort and had her killed. I wish we had done it sooner; I think she was in great distress for a long time.
posted by TimeFactor at 7:48 AM on November 17, 2004

I'm really sorry, donovan.

The vets can do blood tests periodically that will gauge her liver functions. When the liver goes, toxins build up in the body, sometimes resulting in seizures.

I went through this with my last dog. With Sheena, the final decline was swift, and there was absolutely no doubting when it was time for her to pass on. It was an absolute act of mercy.

Thanks for being a responsible and caring owner. These are the things that give me faith in people.
posted by Shane at 8:10 AM on November 17, 2004

I'm sincerely sorrry. I've been through this several times and it never does get any easier.

Cats purr for lots of reasons, one of which, I'm certain, is as a way to manage pain. You seem to be doing everything right: watch her appetite, her interest level, her mobility and so on. If she starts hiding, it's probably time. There's no clear-cut point, but I try not to let them suffer needlessly.

This is the worst part of the deal you make with a new kitten, the decision point of when to make that last trip to the vet, but it's also one of the most important. You're absolutely doing the right thing.
posted by bonehead at 8:44 AM on November 17, 2004

I am glad you asked this question, as this is something I'm dealing with as well. My cat is 17, and she's been with me since I was 12 years old. She had surgery in mid-October to remove her gall bladder and I've been feeding her through a feeding tube that sticks out of the side of her body ever since, hoping that she'll get enough of an appetite back to eventually remove the feeding tube. She has some other stuff going on and is still a pretty sick kitty. The hardest part for me, besides assessing her quality of life, is the cold hard reality of money. So far since October her medical expenses have totalled over $7000 dollars. I would not begrudge her anything but I am a graduate student and I live on $12k a year in student loans. Luckily, my parents have been helping me out, but I'm sure they are going to reach their limit shortly. It's awful for me to think that at some point I'm just going to run out of money to keep her alive.
posted by amro at 8:53 AM on November 17, 2004

Response by poster: Wow. Thanks to everyone for sharing their empathy, advice, and experiences.

Believe me, we've been to the Vet, are adminstering drugs, and are tuned into her official health status--it's the other statuses that are more elusive, and your comments have helped create some perspective & sense of solidarity.

I'm mostly concerned for Camille. I've dealt with death and have a perspective on it (but we'll see how quickly this get's shattered when I loose my partner or a parent--so far it's just been friends, grandparents, an uncle, a cousin, and some dear animals). Death is part of this whole life thing, so there's no sense in hiding from it (my Mom, who spent years helping terminally sick humans have a great death taught me this--thanks Mom!).

So so sorry. The background to my post/indecision is an experience we had wife Kiki, a cat that was my wife's companion through High School and reunited with her whne we met in grad school. Kiki was a kook. Picky with her love but slobbering, air-licking love if she took to you. At about the age of 15 she started to have serious problems, kidney failure, etc. She purred, she slept next to us, she seemed . . . a bit off key but otherwise a happy kitty. One night at about 2am we were awaken by a "THUMP"--she'd fallen off the bed and went into a seizure (never had one before), and she didn't wake up.

So while our dear family member had her brain cooked, totally out of control of her body, we scrambled to dress and drive to the 24 hour animal hospital where we put her down. It was horrible. It wasn't the experience or the goodbye that I would have wished (to be clear--for her as well as us).

I just wanted to share that since it sounds like you're getting close to that point and I don't want anyone to have to deal with what we went through five years ago. If you'd like to talk offline, email me (joygantic_at_gmail_dot_com).

Thank you everyone.
posted by donovan at 6:41 PM on November 17, 2004

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