when to euthanize a cat?
September 1, 2011 5:55 PM   Subscribe

i have a fantastically old cat (18) who unfortunately isn't so fantastic anymore. he has pretty bad cataracts and diabetes. he regularly attacks and mewls at the other pets (one cat, one dog), charges and mewls at any visitor who is not me, and spends his day either under the bed or in the closet. oh, and he pees everywhere. literally, everywhere. my bed. the floor. the table. the carpet. the closet. the couch. i regularly discover new pee spots. he has his own litter box, it is cleaned regularly. it doesn't matter. he's confused, he drinks an insane amount of water thanks to the diabetes, he can't see too well and he pees.

i love this cat, i really do but i am becoming cat pee woman. it's pretty miserable. i have to make elaborate schemes to try to keep things from getting peed on. (i stack my laundry basket on a window sill he reach). i bought a cat cage (we'll call it cattica) but i felt too guilty to leave him in there.

other than the confused anger at the other pets and non-me humans, the cat seems fine, if mostly sleeping, peeing and yelling at the rest of us. so, yeah, i'm thinking about euthanizing and i feel super guilty. do i get to consider my quality of life in this? his quality of life, while marginal is not miserable. mine is on the decline.
posted by memi to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We recently put a cat just like this to sleep. Peeing on everything, old and crabby, couldn't walk well, etc. It was destroying our blankets, beds, carpets, etc and causing a TON of work (via laundry, with many hours of soaking, etc). My wife was cringing imagining bringing it up to the vet, but she (the vet) was very tactful and understanding. The vet asked if we wanted to do surgery/medication/whatever "or not" and we just said "no, I don't think so" and that was it.
posted by DU at 5:59 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

are you treating his diabetes? it sounds totally uncontrolled.

if your cat is hiding most of the time, and you are unable to manage his diabetes, the most humane thing is to put him down. that is no life for him. he can't help urinating everywhere if he can't see and has raging diabetes.
posted by virginia_clemm at 5:59 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'd suggest reconsidering the cat crate. If it comes down to putting him to sleep before he's ready or using a crate as necessary, the crate seems like a pretty clear choice, and is not (IMHO) cruel at all.
posted by zug at 5:59 PM on September 1, 2011

Use the cat cage. If he's otherwise comfortable and likes to spend 800-percent of his time hunkered down, he will be comfortable hunkered in a dark cubby inside the cage. Also, other animals won't be able to get to him.

You should also talk to your vet- they don't like to let these things go on after it really is time.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:59 PM on September 1, 2011

When you have marginal quality of life in an 18 year old cat who is in declining health and has developed incontinence, it is perfectly fair to consider euthanasia in consultation with your vet.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:03 PM on September 1, 2011 [9 favorites]

If you look back in my posting history you can see that I had to euthanize my dog this year.

That post helped a lot.

I really wish that we had done it sooner. Living wasn't joyful for him or us.
posted by k8t at 6:05 PM on September 1, 2011

Have you gone to see an internal medicine specialist. Some of these things can be controlled/fixed. Have you had blood workups done. Have you had a real vet (other than your day practice vet) look at him. If you want to make an informed decision, go see a specialist and they will help you sort out if it's age or if there are other problems and whether they can be managed or not.
posted by TheBones at 6:07 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, it's really hard to know what an animal's quality of life actually is, especially a very very old one. We had an unknown age (but almost certainly pushing 18-years old) cat, another cat that was 19 years old, a 15 year-old larger dog and an 18 year-old smaller dog a few years ago; it was kind of terrible for a few years knowing they'd all be dying soon, and then they all did within a year (word to the wise, younguns- don't get a bunch of pets at once when you're younger). The unknown age cat just up and died one night, the other three we had to decide when it seemed too much, and it was painful every time. In retrospect, I think we waited too long on them, frankly. We cried like shit when we put them down, but god damn, it's the most peaceful way for them to go. I hope I can go that peacefully.
You have to make the call and be honest, which is really hard when you're in it. Talk to your vet, but be prepared for the eventuality. Good luck.
posted by Red Loop at 6:18 PM on September 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

Can't count the cats I've had, and their usual exit is via euthanization, though a few have just dropped dead, usually from stroke/heart attacks.

Many have lived to 18+. Not one which has attained that age had a good quality of life, and by 19 or 20, I've had to have them put down. Each time, I remind myself that it's a slope that does not change, and that it's probably a better idea to consider it sooner than later.

You begin to tolerate basically unacceptable costs for maintaining life at a certain point. Peeing is highly destructive, stressful to deal with, and chases off humans. Fighting is a sign of fear.

I have to make this decision soon myself for a relatively young 14 year old cat that is diabetic. I've gotten her to a maintenance regimen, but she's costing me a fortune and it would be a better use of these funds to fund a spay/neuter clinic.

You'll never really feel 'good' about this at any time you do it, and there's some sense in toughing up and just making it happen.

FWIW, I take my cats to a vet who will sedate them while I hold them, then administer the euthanizing chemistry. Makes them just go to sleep with my familiar warmth and scent and is as kind as it can be done. Once they are gone, you can spend a few minutes and shed some tears about your friend, and be on your way. I have mine cremated, which makes it possible to have the vet deal with the logistics of the time post-death. Much better, I think, than the little cardboard kitty coffins.

Some vets will do this with a house call, incidentally. Ask around if that sounds appealing.

At 57, I am glad to be seeing the last of my cats pass on, and intend to enjoy other people's cats in the future. It's too damned hard on my soul every few years. (I've been counting down to zero cats from seven since my cat-crazy first wife died in 1998.)

Give yourself permission to do this and don't be hard on yourself. It's coming anyway. You've been awfully good to your cat. If I could box up a hug, I'd send you one. Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 6:28 PM on September 1, 2011 [17 favorites]

With everything you said, I am not sure what more would make him miserable as opposed to just marginal. It is OK to put an elderly, very sick cat to sleep, knowing that you love him and he's lived a good life. I am sorry you are going through this and I know how difficult it is. Know there is no need to feel guilty about putting your cat down before he reaches his lowest possible point, since it sounds like he's not going to get any better. It sounds like it would be kind to end his suffering before it gets much worse.
posted by wondermouse at 6:29 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

God this makes me sad. My mom has a 22 year old cat, and he's just falling apart rapidly now. I'm not sure from the question exactly how your guy's quality of life is, but I'd imagine that if my mom's buddy was totally incontinent and angry I would make her euthanize him.

Does your fella go outside ever? I know with Louis, my mom's friend, when he really started to get bad we just started letting him spend all of his time outside in the garden. He loves it there, and it's very low-stress (for old Louis and my mom), and we fantasize that one day he will just be quietly gone, absorbed into the spot of dirt that he loves so dearly.

God though, I feel for you in the absence of an easy answer. I can't imagine the day (soon) when Louis either goes his own way or I have to force my mom to do it. Just thinking about him I am now tearing up at work, and if I think about him AND my mom I will certainly begin to bawl.

So so so so so sorry that you have such a tough decision to make. And, yes, I do think you have to consider your quality of life too. If you're certain that he's kinda freaking out, and it's upsetting you, he's probably feeling that. After 18 years, you two are part of the same thing, and what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Again, so sorry. I hate it that the things that have the largest capacity to make us feel good also can make us feel so so sad. Ugh.
posted by broadway bill at 6:31 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

So, I would say he is not peeing all over your place because he is confused or he can't see, but because he is trying to tell you that there is something wrong with him. I know a number of vets who favor this theory of inappropriate urination. Cats can be very very stoic, and can appear to be perfectly normal when they are really in a great deal of pain. I would suggest you get him checked out by a vet to get their professional opinion of his quality of life.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:48 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's easy for me, or anyone else, to say this: don't feel guilty.

I had a cat who had diabetes, diagnosed after a friend pointed out that he was losing weight, which I attributed to a successful regimen of diet and laser-pointer exercise: everything snapped into focus: emptying the litterbox twice a day, him drinking water out of everything, prior obesity and subsequent emaciation. Anyway, I took him to a vet, had the feline equivalent of an HgbA1c done along with other tests, and was sent home with PZI insulin.

I got syringes and a glucometer. I injected PZI and took regular blood sugar readings and graphed them all out. I had a small bottle of in-case-of-emergency-hypoglycemia-stuff-to-be-shoved-up-cart-butt-and-squirted, aka Aunt Jemima syrup, which I almost had to use once when he went limp on my desk but the fucker was just messing with me and was in, I suppose, the kitty equivalent of REM sleep.

The PZI was shit. I bought expensive cat food. The expensive cat food was shit. He kept losing weight, he looked like hell, and I felt really, really bad. Finally, out of desperation and frustration with the vet, I procured some Lantus insulin. Cuz, see, it's good enough for humans, is smooth and long-acting, and why the hell not?

Anyway, it worked. Instead of it lasting for 24hrs, I found I had to inject it twice a day. Must be supercat metabolism. I graphed curves again. Everything was great. I switched him to Fancy Feast to get rid of carbs from his diet. His poop stank.

Cat started looking better, blood sugars came under control. I slowly decreased the frequency of glucometer checks because everything was so stable. After several years, and after reading anecdotal internet crap about how cat pancreases can regain function, I started tapering back on the Lantus. Eventually, he didn't need any insulin at all! It was amazing.

After a while, he started crapping around the house. It smelled like bloody poop. It looked like bloody poop. It stopped, but then started again. After a while, I realized that every time I came home from work, the first thing I did was run through the house looking for bloody poop. I took him back to the vet, got a lot of tests done, found nothing. I took him home, tried buying another litter box, changing litter, changing food, locking him up in a bathroom with a litter box-- everything. It never stopped.

I mean, you ever look at what the vet's selling in terms of food? My cat was eating some fancy shit: venison + green pea. Or rabbit. Plus probiotics! Super low- or no-allergen hyper-processed food! Insane stuff. None of it worked.

Eventually, I got referred to a cat internist. I paid for more, specialized tests. I paid for an endoscopy and biopsy. In return, I got the diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease, and scripts for steroids and other immunosuppressants, BIG pills, which weren't fun to administer. Did you know vets sell "pill pockets," which are like Combos, but made of cat food, into which you stuff pills? Yeah. No. My cat ate the outside and left the pill intact.

Multiple rounds of various meds. Multiple trials of different foods. More and more testing. Cat burritos made of towels and cat, scratched hands, and shoving pills down his throat. Nothing worked. He became torporous and looked freakin depressed. I don't know if cats really get depressed, but I guess if people give Prozac to dogs, my cat could've been depressed.

He lost weight. He shat blood all over the place. And then I got to the point where I think you're at. It took another several weeks of hemming and hawing before I made an appointment with a recommended vet for putting my cat to sleep. I had a pre-euthanisia appointment, where the vet explained everything that would occur, and made the final appointment. I felt terrible, but really, I didn't know what else to do and felt like I'd exhausted pretty much every possible resource.

I'd thought that with the time til the last appointment, and with my experience in medicine and witnessing death and dying of patients and family, I'd be prepared for it. Nope. I was weeping when I got to the room, and bawling after my cat was put to sleep.

But lemme tell you: looking back, I can see that we were both miserable and suffering. Keeping him alive and going through all the testing and drugs and being locked in a bathroom? Misery for him, and selfish of me. I felt guilty, and the guilt drove me to do a lot of things that could not avoid the inescapable and now obvious fact that my cat was dying. The week or two before the appointment for euthanasia didn't do anything to make me feel better, and only served to prolong his suffering. I'm sure he didn't enjoy crapping blood all over the place. I mean, yeah, he's just a cat and all that, but all the fun/cool/silly stuff I'd attribute or anthropomorse unto him was replaced with really sad stuff long before he was put to sleep.

In the end, I guess, it's just like with humans. Cats get old. They don't live forever. They might be a pain in the ass and otherwise insufferable in good health, but deserve to be as happy in their senescence as they are irritatingly charming in their youth. I'm very grateful to have had a wonderful recommendation for the vet who put him to sleep and for the years he was alive, and still miss the dood.

Like I said: this is easy for me to say, now, and I'm sorry you're going through this. There's comparatively little consolation to be found in things read or heard, and words ring hollow now, I'm sure. But I hope that somewhere between the goals of quantity vs quality of life you'll find some balance, even if that point is found at the very end of one side, and knowing that the time it takes to find it feels so very far away.
posted by herrdoktor at 7:13 PM on September 1, 2011 [14 favorites]

Your perspective may be skewed because you've been with him as he's gone downhill. That does not sound marginal -- it sounds like an unacceptable quality of life. If he can't see, can't enjoy people, and his diabetes is not under good control, it may be the very kindest thing you can do to let him go before it gets worse.
posted by freshwater at 7:14 PM on September 1, 2011

We euthanized our 18 year old cat four years ago. (my cat couldn't make it to the litterbox and spent most days hunkered down looking miserable.) When I called about it I was worried the vet would be judgmental and want me to try more things but all they asked was his age. When I said 18 they simple said, "how about noon tomorrow?"

I was very sad, but I was happy he died peacefully.
posted by vespabelle at 7:48 PM on September 1, 2011

I am so, so sorry. I am tearing up just imagining going through this with my kitties, so my heart goes out to you. I would be willing to do nearly anything to save my cats if they were sick, but it sounds like your kitty is at the point where there isn't anything that can be done. Try the cat cage for a few days, but if he seems unhappy then (for what it's worth ) you have my blessing to have him euthanized. He can't see, he isn't making it to the litterbox (either incontinence or an intentional statement of distress), and he isn't enjoying cat or non-you human company anymore. He's also not going to get any better, and in fact will only decline from this point on. Together these provide an unassailable basis for euthanasia without even taking into account the personal effect it's having on you. You don't have to martyr yourself for your 18 year old cat who had a wonderful life up until now - you've done enough, and it is okay to let go.
posted by gatorae at 8:35 PM on September 1, 2011

If your cat is peeing often and in large quantities it might be the diabeties isn't under control, you haven't said if you are treating or trying to manage the diabetes or not.

We had a diabetic dog which we treated for years, but I had the advantage of a mother who had been diabetic for 30 odd years so she knew more about how to handle it than the vet did. If its untreated or you can't get it managed your cat is feeling like shit, I know from my mother that high sugar means she is grumpy and angry all the time because she gets migraine like headaches, feels like shit and spaces out and is scared and she knows what is going on and how to treat herself your poor cat doesn't.

If you can't stabalise it, and there are a lot of reasons for this, it can get expensive and very time consuming. you have to weigh up the pros and cons of of putting your 18 year old cat through injections/pills and blood tests and diabetics don't react the same as others to the insulins etc. Giving injections or forcing an animal to take pills and stressing and scaring them over and over when you know they are dying anyway can break your heart, I've been there.

Your cat is not happy, he is scared and confused and miserable, he doesn't like peeing everywhere anymore than you like it, he doesn't like being so scared he is fighting with the other pets in the house. Arrange for the vet to come to your house if you can so your poor cat doesn't have to go through any more stress. Spoil him rotten in the day/s before hand, feed him all his favourite treats anything you want. When the vet comes if you can, hold him and stroke him as he passes. Hold him as long as you want afterwards to say your goodbyes, vets for the most part very sympathetic at a pet owners loss.

You don't have to feel guilty at all, it sounds like you have been a caring owner who has given her cat a nice long happy life. It's OK to say goodbye now. (And now I am going to go and have a little cry over all the pets in my life I've had to say goodbye to).
posted by wwax at 9:00 PM on September 1, 2011

I would personally try the crate. You can't know FOR SURE that your cat would prefer to die than live, and just because you have the power to end his life NOW doesn't give you an obligation to do so. Cats are tough, adaptable critters and most likely as long as he's not in unrelenting pain, he's not sitting there dwelling and being all "oh woe is me" about his fading eyesight and unreliable bladder control.

If he likes sleeping much of the time anyway it's not as if he needs a lot of room to roam around in. You (as in, you the OP) sound very stressed and harried yourself, and while it may indeed turn out that euthanasia is unavoidable, it sounds like right now what you need is a way to get some control over the situation.

Crating isn't a punishment for an old, sick cat -- frankly for many of them (based on their response to it once they adjust) it seems to be a relief. Much less confusing for them, and gives you a chance to really thoroughly enzyme-clean and air out your house!
posted by aecorwin at 9:31 PM on September 1, 2011

hi all.
thanks for the great answers. i should have been a bit more clear about cattica. i feel guilty b/c he hates it. he mewls at top volume. worse, he gets confused and spills his water or gets somehow covered in it and then covered in cat litter. even when things are fine in the crate, he is miserable and howling at me to get out. he doesn't know much but he does seem to know his movement is restricted and that he can't do what he usually does which is shuttle between the bed and the closet as is his want. i'm closing the thread but thanks again. it's really been helpful.
posted by memi at 9:53 PM on September 1, 2011

I didn't read any of the answers above, so I apologize, but just wanted to give you my thought:

put him to sleep humanely now, and be - as will your kitteh be - at peace.
posted by tristeza at 10:13 PM on September 1, 2011

Needs to either be an outdoor cat, or an ex-cat.
posted by w0mbat at 10:54 PM on September 1, 2011

When we put down our dog (my mefi name) - it was really time for him to go. My brother held him tight as they injected him, and made sure the last thing he saw and felt was someone who loved him with all of their heart.

We did not feel guilty at all, he was not in a good place. He had a great life, was really loved till the end, and is remembered with deep fondess. You sound like you were a great cat person and have done what is best for your little guy. Whatever you decide will be cool.
posted by helmutdog at 12:08 AM on September 2, 2011

I just put a cat to sleep. She too was getting "marginal", and once she'd been gone for a few days I realized how much her personality and habits had changed. She just wasn't happy, and probably hadn't been for months, but it was harder to see day-to-day.

I'm so sorry you're going through this, but try not to feel guilty. The cat has had a long life and isn't feeling well anymore -- our job is to sometimes make hard decisions for them.
posted by lillygog at 5:28 AM on September 2, 2011

We had to put a kitty to sleep a year or so ago. Not as old as yours, but so crippled with arthritis she could hardly move, and couldn't see, and wasn't eating. She was telling us she was done.

It was still hard, but she was not enjoying her life anymore, and she'd been a healthy cat for 99% of it.

We have another kitty who's middle aged, and I have to agree with the poster upthread that after his time comes, I may not be able to handle going through it anymore and just enjoy other people's pets instead.
posted by emjaybee at 5:52 AM on September 2, 2011

I put my cat aged 23 down a few years ago. It was a hard decision. But like my cat, it doesn't sound like your cat is having much fun. I take the point that he's sleeping a lot and that he likes to be with you, so he has some positive things in his life - but if he's confused and angry to the point you describe the rest of the time, I think you should put him to sleep. I agree with FauxScot that the decision won't get any easier, and with people who have said that - as far as we can tell - being put to sleep whilst being held or stroked seems a peaceful and painless way to go. I still second-guess my decision and I'm sure you will too. But you can and should consider your own quality of life here - you have cats for you, not for them. Random peeing can take over your life (I've housesat for cats who were at that stage, and I think they should have been put down before then) and make it unpleasant for other people visiting too. I'd make the decision on the basis of what sounds like the cat's poor quality of life, but your own should certainly weigh too - otherwise you'll be an unhappy pet owner, avoid spending time with the cat and his quality of life will get even worse.
posted by paduasoy at 1:08 PM on September 2, 2011

You should watch your cat carefully. If your cat is drinking/peeing frequently this could mean he/she could be having some kidney failure. This was the case for my dog, who died shortly after having a couple weeks of constant drinking and peeing. Also watch to see if the feces are solid or not.

Suggest taking your cat to a vet to be sure. GL.
posted by Snorlax at 11:08 AM on September 3, 2011

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