Saying Goodbye
February 1, 2005 3:11 PM   Subscribe

How do you know when to put your pet to sleep? [+]

I have a 15 year old cat. She went completely blind a few months ago. She has formed the habit of climbing up on furniture and getting trapped. I suspect she is too afraid to jump back down since she can't gauge how far away the floor is. On three recent occasions she has pissed or shat on the furniture. Last night I found that she had pissed on the bed.

At this point, I have lost my patience and am considering putting her down. I'm concerned that perhaps I should be doing more to help her. Other than the blindness, she is fairly healthy. This is the first animal I've had since adulthood and I've never had to make the decision to put a pet to sleep. I want my decision to be motivated by a rational reason - not simply out of annoyance or inconvenience. Any thoughts on what is the right thing to do?
posted by quadog to Pets & Animals (25 answers total)
She's had a good run. There's no use forcing yourself to live with a cat that can't eliminate appropriately-- you're going to grow to resent her. She deserves to be remembered as she spent her first 15 years, not as a destructive force. Put her down and smile when you think about her.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:25 PM on February 1, 2005

I had to make the decision for the first time just over a year ago. It's probably one of the most difficult things you'll ever have to do. I can't give you advice on which way to go, but I just want to make sure that you try to prepare yourself emotionally for what an impossible task it is. You'll never be completely sure either way - you just have to be empathetic and follow your instincts. Don't let anyone belittle your situation or your feelings, and surround yourself with people in Real Life [tm] who can support you through this process.
posted by matildaben at 3:30 PM on February 1, 2005

I can't imagine that a cat would get anything out of life if it were blind. Eyesight seems so crucial to its... being that once a cat had lost that, it would really be unable to live. I would have a tough time not putting my cat(s) to sleep if they went blind, hard as it might be. Letting them live on like that seems like letting them live on without dignity.
posted by xmutex at 3:40 PM on February 1, 2005

Unless the animal is in extreme pain or distress it's a very hard decision to make. I like to think however that they are due some dignity, although that can be seen as the easy way out from the difficulty of coping with an elderly pet.

As matildaben said, prepare yourself, mourn now rather than later, and I'm afraid you're on your own with the final decision, nobody can help you with that.

All the best and remember the kitten she once was...
posted by hardcode at 3:44 PM on February 1, 2005

My parents' 20 year old cat has been having bad, worsening health problems for the past 2 years (some massive infectio in his jaw that literally ate a hole through the skin... we had to syringe feed him baby food for the last two months, because chewing was too painful... plus kidney problems that made it impossible for him to hold his urine, inner ear problems that took away his sense of balance and prevented him from standing, and weight loss from 19 lbs to 6 lbs). They've driven him to the vet three times a week for the past two months to get him an IV drip. Because everyone hearts Furry.

Thankfully, he finally died in his sleep five days ago; in my opinion, going to the ends of the earth to care for his health will not make you feel better in the end.
posted by gsteff at 3:50 PM on February 1, 2005

I've had to make the decision with my family to put three cats to sleep throughout the course of my life, as they've always kept many cats in their house. It gets harder each time, and is always a very traumatic, scarring event.

We've put the cats down when they are visibly, physically suffering, and clearly are in more pain than are enjoying life: One was hit by a car and mangled, but still breathing, one had a stroke and was rendered paralyzed with toxoplasmosis, and one was suffering from kidney failure. But we've always cared for sick animals as best as possible. When the only option is surgery, is when we balk at treatment, and resign to homecare and getting kitty ready for euthanasia.

When I compare the ailment of your cat to the ones I have put down, it doesn't sound like your cat is greatly suffering, rather just too blind to get to a litter and a little disoriented. If you want to care for her longer, i'd recommend moving kitty to a smaller area...maybe a spare room, where she can sun, eat, sleep, and play without worrying how to get back to her litterbox.

That's all i can write because this topic is too tender to my heart :(
posted by naxosaxur at 3:56 PM on February 1, 2005

We've put the cats down when they are visibly, physically suffering

One of the terrible things about having to make this kind of decision (and this is in no way meant to be a criticism of you naxosaxur), is that cats are masters of masking pain. By the time our late great Rexella started really showing suffering, her intestinal lymphoma was quite advanced (luckily we had already been tipped off by weight loss and some other signs, but we still waited too long to say goodbye). It's a hellish thing: what was a survival mechanism in the wild can be detrimental to survival and quality of life in a domestic situation.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 4:03 PM on February 1, 2005

Our 15 year old cat went down in the past week.

A few days before Christmas, he seemed agitated with his mouth. The next day, he literally raked a tooth out of his mouth with his claw. We took him to the vet, who said he had a massive tumor in his mouth and head and would last from 2 days to 2 months.

Afterwards, he perked up and we gave him antibiotics for the tooth socket, so it wouldn't get infected.

But about two weeks ago, he started having difficulty eating and began to lose weight quickly. By last Wednesday, he'd gotten to the point where he could eat no solids, and drank water constantly, I suspect, to give him some feeling of "full" in his stomach.

At that point, it was clear to us. Still, we waited until Friday morning, and gave him as much tenderness and comfort as possible, along with liquid nourishment.

His last meal was a dollop of whipped cream - a favorite treat - minutes before we took him to the vet.

Death was surprisingly quick and, seemingly, peaceful. I have no doubt that by today, four days later, he'd be dead naturally, but his dispatch would have been much more horribly painful.

Sometimes you just know.
posted by baltimore at 4:51 PM on February 1, 2005

It's a horrible decision to have to make. I've made it twice, once for a cat and once for a dog. In the cat's case, it was obvious--or would have been, had that not been my first experience with a dying pet. Renal failure in elderly animals is unstoppable. The dog was trickier, since she was not on death's door, but her hip had gone from bad to incapacitating, and though she never showed it she was probably in great pain.

Pets will mask physical symptoms. All survival instincts aside, they've learned that when they are feeling unwell, they go to the vet. That's a rotten experience, usually, so it's not surprising they'll hide any problems.

naxosaxur has it right. Keep kitty in a smaller room that has both a litter box and a lack of high places she can trap herself on. Animals don't really think about their dignity or lack thereof. If they did, they wouldn't be as fun to live with. If kitty's internal functions are still going strong and her only problem is navigation, she may be happier being restricted to a smaller area. She'll move about confidently in a small, unchanging area without her eyesight and she'll probably feel better being able to make it to the litter box when she needs to.

I'd also suggest putting a comfortable, washable chair (and maybe a radio or TV) in that room, so the people in the house will want to spend time with kitty. You don't want her to feel she's being ostracized. If you can remove the problem of kitty getting trapped on top of the furniture and keep everything else that makes her life enjoyable--human interaction, play, sleeping on comfortable warm things--she'll be fine.
posted by cmyk at 4:57 PM on February 1, 2005

, your post made me cry. I am so sorry for your loss.
posted by oflinkey at 5:05 PM on February 1, 2005

baltimore, that was directed to you.
posted by oflinkey at 5:06 PM on February 1, 2005

If she goes down make sure to let your other animals (if you have any) see/smell her dead.
posted by sled at 5:17 PM on February 1, 2005

I had to put a dog down this past September. He had been in decline for a while, but it was when he lost control of the bodily functions that I listened to my wife's arguments that he needed to be put down.

The one recommendation I would make is, if your vet is going to charge you to put the animal down, go to your local Human Society instead. They were free, and the donation I made for the heck of it anyway did a lot more good for other animals than it would have in my vet's pocket. ($100 to kill my dog?!?!!)
posted by Doohickie at 5:20 PM on February 1, 2005 [1 favorite]

Humane. You knew what I meant.
posted by Doohickie at 5:20 PM on February 1, 2005

I've had two cats eventually get renal failure. We decided it was time to euthanize them(about 6 months apart) when they started getting lost in our house and frightened and when they stopped taking comfort in being petted or brushed.

We had our vet to come to our house to euthanize them so their last hours wouldn't include a scary car ride to the scary vet clinic. They were calm and in a familiar place. It was a lot easier on us too.
posted by lobakgo at 5:50 PM on February 1, 2005

Baltimore, bless you. As much as anyone can, I know how you feel. Please accept my deepest condolences on the loss of your pet.

Matildaben and Baltimore are exactly right. Years ago I waited too long (on the advice of my vet but much against my better instincts) to let a beloved cat go. Last month I lost another pet, but this time I listened to my heart. I knew that she would not get better, and I knew that she would probably eventually suffer if I didn't get the timing just right, so the vet and I put her to sleep. I feel as good as a person can about the decision, which was still VERY difficult. The lesson from those experiences that I want to share with you is that since you know and love your pet better than anyone else, your heart must guide you. You may never be fortunate enough to know for sure that the decision you made at the time that you made it was one that will not leave you with any regrets at all, but it is a decision that is more emotional than rational and so must be made based not only on what you think but on what you feel.

Quadog, my instinct is that since you are asking the question, perhaps it just isn't quite time yet for either of you. Is your cat living the dignified independent life that a cat wants to live? And- what naxosaxur and cmyk said- could she live that life in a more limited environment?

Best of luck.
posted by puddinghead at 6:13 PM on February 1, 2005

I really liked naxosaxur's advice. I think a smaller room would be a good place for kitty. It's worth a try. I grew up in a pet centered family. It's hard to know when an animal is not enjoying life anymore. One sign for cats is they begin to withdraw and hide. They stop grooming and drool. (This is a sign of pain and nausea).

I think, however, that you need to look at your own quality of life, too. My 78 year old mother is wracked with guilt because she just put down her cat. He was frail and had become incontinent. Keeping him was threatening her health.

Please do try to make the situation work for your cat and for yourself. But if it isn't working, a humane death is nothing to feel guilty about. I think most people actually make good decisions.

I really feel for you. It sounds like you really love your cat. Don't let this experience keep you from taking in another feline. There are so many who need homes, and they really pay you back a hundred times over.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:36 PM on February 1, 2005

The true nature of a pet owner is revealed in the care they give in a pet's geriatric years.
posted by superposition at 6:45 PM on February 1, 2005

Here are two sites with some information about caring for a blind cat.

The only one who can make this decision is you, I don't think you should place yourself in a position where you could end up resenting the cat, and the cat is 15 years old, which is a decent age. That said, there are things you can do to make your life, and the cat's life, easier (see the above links). As others have said, it's better to let them go a bit too soon, than a bit too late, it's the ones you hold onto for too long that really bother you down the road. Also, if the joy of having the cat is being outweighed by the stress, neither of you are enjoying things.

My rule of thumb is when the bad days outnumber the good, or when the animal clearly lets me know that it's time through behavioural changes or other, less easily definable, things - however, my rule of thumb is not everyone's, and you really have to decide for yourself. Animals do not understand what is happening when they're put to sleep, they don't dread it or anticipate it or even think about it, so I don't see any need for keeping a pet alive until it's exhausted every last good day left to it. I wish there was an easy answer, but there just isn't, my condolences.

(As an aside, I don't think there's any real benefit to letting other pets see/smell a dead pet, they quickly figure out what's happened, but if it makes you feel better, go ahead.)
posted by biscotti at 7:18 PM on February 1, 2005

If your cat isn't incontinent, then your solution could be in rigging a loftier litterbox. You could modify one of those carpeted cat land thingys to have a litterbox in one of the cylindrical compartments. This would allow her to litter and potentially even hydrate, if you could keep water securely in it too, from an elevated vantage points. Being blind, she will feel more secure being off the ground.

Depending on your daily routine, you could set her up ther while you are gone and then leave her to choose her roost while you're home. If she's on your chair for a good while when you are home, take her off to avoid mishaps!

Good luck.
posted by superposition at 7:31 PM on February 1, 2005

Thanks for all the kind thoughts.

Somehow I got to be 45 years old before I had to make this kind of decision. All of my other pets left us on their own or, more often, through the intercession of a parent when I was younger.

Until the last, I second-guessed my decision, but in the few final hours that we spent with our cat, realizing how weak this active and happy pet had become, I came to believe that we were taking the kindest course.
posted by baltimore at 8:06 PM on February 1, 2005

We had three dogs as I was growing up, two of which have since been put to sleep. It was relatively easy to decide when to put the oldest dog down. She started to have small strokes almost every day, sometimes in immediate succession, and it was clear that she was suffering. That didn't make the trip to the vet any easier, but we knew it was the right thing to do. The second dog gradually lost strength in her legs, and just before she was put to sleep she couldn't get up at all.

The youngest of the dogs is now 15, and I saw her for the last time this past Christmas. She's had gradually worsening arthritis, and struggles even to stand up. My family has always followed the rule of thumb biscotti mentioned above, and so despite our dog's obvious discomfort we've waited - the good days outnumbered the bad for months. When I spoke to my father this weekend, he said she was much worse than she'd been in December, and he was planning to call the vet yesterday morning.

quadog, if I were in your situation I'd wait to put the cat down. It sounds as if she's in reasonably good health despite her blindness. I'll also second naxosaur's advice regarding a smaller, less treacherous space for her. The day she doesn't try to climb the furniture, she'll probably be closer to the end than she is now.

It's a very difficult, very personal decision, and I'm sorry you have to make it. Even though I know my parents' dog is suffering, I still feel awful knowing that she's going to die this week. I adopted a cat two years ago, and I dread the day I'm going to have to make that decision for her. All the best to you and your cat, quadog.
posted by Aster at 8:19 PM on February 1, 2005

Much thanks to all of you for your honest and heartfelt thoughts. You've helped me to gain some perspective on this decision. I don't know how much time my cat has left but I'll make it as comfortable as possible for her.
posted by quadog at 11:29 PM on February 1, 2005

I worked at a cat shelter for awhile, and they had a lovely blind kitty named Lorraine. Lorraine had her own cat bed and a low cat tree to climb, which was directly next to her food, water, and litterbox. Even in a free-roam shelter, she stayed in her corner and lived out her days happily. She loved to be picked up and petted, but all of us shelter people were told to always put her EXACTLY back where we found her in her little sphere. I found her once in the middle of the hallway where someone had put her down, lost and crying out pitifully.

Lorraine has since passed, but perhaps a similar setup could help your kitty. Best of luck.
posted by agregoli at 7:22 AM on February 2, 2005

Letting beloved members of your family go is so hard. For what my opinion is worth, biscotti gave really great advice, and I hope you and your cat enjoy whatever time you have left together.
posted by Medieval Maven at 10:30 AM on February 2, 2005

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