How do you know when it's time to euthanize a pet?
August 19, 2017 12:04 PM   Subscribe

We have an 18-year-old indoor cat, and we are all very attached to her - we've had her since she was a kitten. Lately, she has been showing her age, and when I took her to the vet today, he suggested that we consider euthanasia at this point. More details inside.

Over the last couple months, our 18-year-old cat has been showing some decline - lots of weight loss, throwing up more days than not, not always making it to the litter box, howling at night, and just generally more tired. On the other hand, she's still affectionate, wandering all over the house, likes to be pet, and is pretty feisty. Last night, she was making a lot of noise so I got up and investigated and discovered drops of blood all over the house, as well as some accidents / vomit that happened since we went to bed. I think some of it was pink-tinged, suggesting blood, but it's hard to say. I stayed up all night with her and took her to the vet this morning. He suspected a UTI and confirmed blood in her urine ("off the charts" level). He did not feel any obvious masses in her abdomen but said she could have cancer or tumors - we wouldn't know without more tests. His feeling is that in a cat this age and with these symptoms, we are only looking for "bad diseases" (cancer, etc). Of course, he can't tell me what we should do, but he said if it were his daughter's cat, he would suggest thinking about euthanasia.

A complicating factor is that we're supposed to leave town for 2 weeks, starting tomorrow. Clearly, she can't be left alone for that time, but it's clouding our judgment and pressuring us to make a decision faster than we want to. We have a tentative appointment to have her put down on Monday... but something about it feels too rushed. If I'm being honest, she's been in poor health for a long time (asthma, seizures, diabetes in the past), but her "attitude" (or, perhaps, cattitude) just doesn't seem to warrant putting her down. After all, what if she really just has a UTI? On the other hand, all the vomiting...

We want to do right by this animal, who we love dearly. We don't want her to suffer, and we don't want to end her life a moment sooner than necessary. We're too upset to make a rational decision... so now I'm asking the internet what to do.
posted by JubileeRubaloo to Pets & Animals (44 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What is your plan for cat care during the time you are out of town?
posted by yohko at 12:08 PM on August 19, 2017

Yes, I forgot to mention - our neighbors were going to check in on her 1-2 times per day. I feel badly asking them to deal with the mess that I know will be here (vomit, urine, possibly blood). Plus, they have young kids and I don't want to traumatize anyone.
posted by JubileeRubaloo at 12:10 PM on August 19, 2017

I'm so, so sorry to hear about your kitty. Our 17-year-old cat was having the same types of symptoms and we didn't end up being able to take her to the vet on time.

I thought I would have had enough time to go on my (also 2 week) vacation, but my cat ended up only surviving for a week. I ended up asking this question about the entire situation. I don't think I can tell you what to do, but I wish I was able to put my cat down in a calm environment and that I was there for her. I still feel guilty about how my cat's life ended and she was such a great cat, she deserved to go more peacefully.

Best of luck with whatever you decide, it's tough.
posted by modesty.blaise at 12:10 PM on August 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

This is a really personal decision, and one of the hardest pet decisions to make. Being an elderly cat and in poor health is a bad combination that suggests her remaining life will be limited no matter what you do. But do think about her quality of life - she's surely suffering. Love on her and take the time to prepare yourself, then let her go in the gentlest way possible. You've been blessed to have each other all these years!
posted by summerstorm at 12:12 PM on August 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'm so sorry. Poor kitty and poor you. I would listen to the vet. They don't usually say this lightly and they know the signs.

I know it's an impossible decision to make, especially when she's still "there" in her personality....but she's howling. That tells me she's suffering.
posted by kapers at 12:12 PM on August 19, 2017 [26 favorites]

I've never met anyone who felt they euthanized their pet too soon, but many who wished in hindsight that they had done it sooner. If she's howling and throwing up and bleeding everywhere... What quality of life is that? If it were my cat, I would listen to the vet.
posted by canine epigram at 12:14 PM on August 19, 2017 [51 favorites]

You can get a urine culture or even a cytocentesis to confirm or rule out a UTI in plenty of time before your trip. If it's not a UTI, then it's probably something bad and I would consider letting her go rather than even putting her through more diagnostics. But if it's just a UTI, then you can probably buy a little more time with her. Not much, in all likelihood, but perhaps enough so that you don't have to feel that the pressure of the trip is forcing your hand. But only you know how ill she is otherwise, and what her quality of life is outside of this most recent episode. I think it's always safe with pets to assume they're suffering at least half again as much as they're showing.
posted by HotToddy at 12:23 PM on August 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am sorry you're having to deal with this. Please also consider, that this is not a situation to force your neighbour to deal with. Checking in on a healthy pet once or twice a day is one thing. Checking in on a cat in distress with resulting care needs is quite another, cat may well also deteriorate in your absence and require further veterinary care. If you decide not to go ahead with the appointment on Monday you need to board the cat with a vet for the duration of your trip, if the trip has to happen now.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:23 PM on August 19, 2017 [20 favorites]

How very sad that your kitty is so sick. If she had a reasonable chance of a comfortable life after some kind of treatment, it would be worth trying to medicate her. But it sounds like things are not going to get better for her. Try to keep in mind that animals don't have emotions about death. If you keep her alive, you're doing it for you, not for her. I had a terrible time making the decision for my own cat, and I wish I hadn't waited so long to have him euthanized. I know how hard it is. But here is no downside to ending your cat's life now.
posted by wryly at 12:23 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Things to think about:

You need to consider how, or if, the caregiver would deal with the possibility of the cat's health declining to a point where you felt it was necessary to put the cat down during your trip.

How would you feel if the cat was put down when you are away?

How would you feel to come back to a cat you felt had suffered unnecessarily for a week? Would the caregiver be able and willing to handle the details of putting the cat down if needed?

Will you be reachable during your trip, or are you doing something where you won't have cell reception? (and if so, do you have a satellite phone?) What agreements would you make with the caregiver about making the decision?

To give you some insight into what you might be asking someone to do -- I'm currently caring for a friend's cat who started having some (more minor) health issues before friend left on an eclipse viewing trip. They expect to have cell reception on most of the trip, but someone driving with them has a satellite phone as well. They are calling me every day to check in. Fortunately the cat seems to have improved since they have left, but I'm still going each day hoping not to find a dead cat. I'm not able to check on the cat all day long, like someone living there would. I'm sure glad I'm not having to evaluate the cat for being put down.
posted by yohko at 12:26 PM on August 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're going through this. You might find the HHHHHMM Scale useful in making this awful decision.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:27 PM on August 19, 2017 [17 favorites]

If you decide to wait, go on to see if you can hire someone who has experience with sick animals (preferably a vet tech) to come once a day-- if it's a UTI, she's getting antibiotics, right? Vomiting can be a symptom of cat UTIs, and yes, at her age there's a good chance there's something underlying it. It sounds like my own cat's experience with stones/blockages that eventually progressed to kidney disease.

I lean towards treat the infection, but have someone ready to proceed if the blood doesn't clear or she stops eating and drinking.

I'm sorry you're facing this now. I'd volunteer to help if I were nearby.
posted by notquitemaryann at 12:29 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry you are going through this. One thing to think about is her having to suffer and be alone while you are gone. Her feelings of confusion, and also no one to be there if things take a quick turn for the worse. That alone would make my decision for me.
posted by Vaike at 12:39 PM on August 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

Cats don't make a lot of noise unless they are in extreme pain and distress. Our cat, up until the very end, just soldiered on without a meep.

You would be doing the cat a great kindness if you let her go, now, before you left. Or, if it were my cat, and I felt she wasn't ready to go, I would stay home. I know most folks don't think like that about animals, but I wouldn't be able to leave my ailing companion unless the trip was in some way critical and unavoidable.
posted by nanook at 12:43 PM on August 19, 2017 [14 favorites]

My cat passed away earlier this year. Her last weeks were exasperated by me leaving town, then having houseguests. It was far too much for her to handle.
And my poor preteen neighbor cat sitter - she shouldn't be expected to do much more than pop in, feed the kitty and scoop the litter. Same with your neighbor. If kitty was in distress do you really want to put it on your neighbor to have to take kitty to the kitty hospital and make decisions for you and possibly front money? No way.

I can tell you from the other side, it was so sad and painful but it was the right decision to put the cat down.
posted by k8t at 12:59 PM on August 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm so sorry--my heart hurts for you. I've had to make this decision several times and it's heart wrenching but each time I've known deep down that it was the right, kind, loving choice.
In my experience, vets don't recommend euthanasia casually. It sounds as though, in this case, especially since she's been showing signs of decline over the past month, it would be a kindness to euthanize before things get worse and her stress increases--possibly when your cat is alone with no one to monitor her. Our pets don't have a sense of the future. They don't have plans. They depend on us to provide compassionate care. It sounds as though you've given her a long, lovely life, and it sounds to this internet (and cat loving) stranger that it's time.
posted by bookmammal at 12:59 PM on August 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this stressful time! We had a similar situation with my 19-year-old cat last year but with a shorter trip. Our vet offers pet boarding, and we left her there with detailed instructions about what we were willing to spend on emergency care and at what point euthanasia was okay with us. The care was great, and when we got back we had time to make a clear-headed decision that she really was so ill that it was time and we weren't just thinking about our own convenience. If it's affordable and possible, this might be a good way to go.

That cat was having symptoms like these earlier in her life, for what it's worth, and was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and kidney problems. Medication made a big difference and she maintained under that treatment for a few years before her organs ran out of steam.
posted by centrifugal at 12:59 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry. You could check to see if you have a Lap of Love vet near you. They do veterinary hospice and euthanasia in your home. One of my friends is a vet with them. They know about long term illnesses, are familiar with end of life care, and may be able to give you an idea about your cat's condition. I had a cat with cancer who lived a year with medication. It's a really tough call.
posted by ceejaytee at 1:05 PM on August 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

If this were my pet, I'd want to make a fully-informed, not-rushed decision.

I'd get more testing done (possible cystocentesis, with urine culture, as someone mentioned above) to confirm the UTI and treat it with antibiotics. If your cat improves with treatment, great! If not, then you can face the more difficult decision about euthanasia.

I'd also reconsider going on the trip. If you must go, do you have a caregiver who can administer antibiotics? If not, can you board your cat with your vet or another local service?

I know this is an incredibly difficult situation. You will know what is best for your cat and your family. Sending good wishes and hugs.
posted by Boogiechild at 1:15 PM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think she sounds like she loves you and is still herself, but her body is failing her and I think she's in pain -- I assume the noise you heard was her voice. It is a gift to give her an early ending now, before it gets even worse for her. I'd make the appointment now, if it were me. I am so sorry about this, and I know how hard it is to do it with a trip looming, but don't make her wait.

Our cat got very sick the week before we left our last trip. None of us, including our vet, could figure it out. And we took her in at least three times that week, as well as talking to our vet on the phone daily. Our cat sitters included a house guest and a dear friend, both of whom know and loved her. We ended up having to okay her euthanasia while we were gone. It was all so abrupt that we didn't have enough information or time to put her down before we left, but I wish we had been able to do that. Her last week, when as it turned out she was in fact blind, incontinent, and in pain, is one I deeply regret.
posted by bearwife at 1:31 PM on August 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think it's pretty significant that your vet was the one to bring up euthanasia. Maybe a second opinion would help your decisionmaking.

So sorry you're dealing with this, don't be too hard on yourself.
posted by rhizome at 1:35 PM on August 19, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm sorry you're at this point with your beloved cat, and some very useful points are being made above.

I believe in "better a day too early than a day too late". At least in theory, though it badly broke my heart recently to put it into practice and I feel guilty since maybe my companion could have managed another "good" (relatively at least) day or two. It broke me to make the decision to euthanize while his mind was intact and he still had most of his dignity, but if I'd tried any harder, chances were that his end would have had much, much more pain, fear and confusion.

So, with a still broken heart, I'll still say it's a kindness to euthanize before it's past time.

Wishing peace to your hearts. This is never, ever easy.
posted by vers at 1:42 PM on August 19, 2017 [7 favorites]

I've put down five dogs and a cat as a pet owner. I truly feel it's the most heartfelt sign of respect and love that we can show them. It's a representation of us putting their needs ahead of ours. Your kitty has lead a long and good life and given that she's been not well for this long (imagine her confusion with the seizures alone), it's perhaps time to say goodbye and let her go.

I'd be the first person to admit that it's a gut wrenching decision, but it's the biggest gift we can offer them. I understand that you feel overwhelmed and rushed, but, as others mentioned above - if the vet is bringing it up, it's probably appropriate.

I'm so sorry that the timing couldn't be better (will it ever be?). Big hugs to you and your family.
posted by dancinglamb at 1:51 PM on August 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'd consider it a blessing or a sign that your cat decided to show these symptoms *now*, when you are in a position to do something about it, rather than a few days from now when she would be alone and confused and in pain. Sorry you have to go through this.
posted by acidic at 2:12 PM on August 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

With the age of the cat and the list of the symptoms described...I would agree to put her down. I know that's an awful decision to make, but it sounds like she's in pain, and if the vet has recommended this, then that sounds like it's time. I know how heartbreaking it is to have to do it. Even 18 years is never long enough. I'm sorry you're faced with this decision.
posted by Autumnheart at 3:04 PM on August 19, 2017

I left for a three week vacation with a slightly sick cat. I came home to a desperately sick cat. Your cat is going to miss you so much, and may lose some of that drive to live.

I wish I had known we all would have been better off saying goodbye before my vacation.

It's very very difficult.
posted by littlewater at 3:16 PM on August 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Our kitty went from very nearly the condition you describe to clearly horribly suffering literally overnight. He was having restless, walking around howling during the day, vomiting, diarrhea (in the box), ultra-clingy, episodes, but also still seemed to be generally happy and doing his normal things at other times - eating, using his box, guarding at the windows (his favorite thing, and he loved to be praised for it) and following his "mommy" everywhere she went.

Then one night he was just done. All he could do was lie on his side, lost all control of his bowels and bladder, couldn't even raise his head or meow. He looked at us like he was afraid, but comforted that we were there. We had him euthanized hours later when the vet opened and that was the worst, having to wait. We went from being pretty sure it was coming but not wanting to do it too early, to now intense guilt for making him suffer by waiting too long.

Our vet discourages euthanasia, feeling like people do it for their own convenience too much. They would only tell us "you'll know when it's time". Having gone through it now, I would not want that to happen when I was not there for him. If it's time, it's time.
posted by ctmf at 4:27 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cats often do not show how much pain or distress they are in, until it is REALLY bad. I waited too long to take one of mine in and I regret it terribly to this day. He'd been declining but seemed to still have some quality of life, so we waited. The day he died he seemed sort of "off" that morning and something told me we should take him in right away, but my husband was against it so we decided to wait and discuss after work.

I went to work, but worried about the cat all morning so I came home at lunch. When I came in the door slammed shut behind me, and at the sound my cat started to howl from the bathroom. I came in to find him lying in the bathtub in terrible distress. It was too late for the vet, I could tell by his breathing. All I could do was pet his head and talk to him soothingly, which seemed to comfort him somewhat as he passed. It was really terrible. I felt so awful, my only consolation was I am glad I was there and he did not die alone. I wish to God I had gone with my gut and taken him that morning. I probably should have taken him before that.

I understand your reluctance. I have a girl cat who is aging and I dread when the time comes to make that decision for her. After going through the above, I would rather err on the side of doing it a little too early than a little too late. Especially if you are going to be gone for awhile. You don't want her to die alone and in distress.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:51 PM on August 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am also very sorry you're going through this. As anecdata, last year I agreed to care for the ailing dog of my vacationing neighbors (who may have been in denial about how ill the dog actually was) and it was quite traumatic to deal with his alarmimg deterioration under our care. I wish they had either been more honest with us about the actual state of his health, or they had chosen to stay home and care for him themselves. Or, as they did several weeks later, decide to euthanize him out of kindness and mercy.
posted by lieber hair at 5:21 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I suspected it was time for my little one, I sat down with her and talked to her quietly and looked into her eyes. I felt deeply that she was trying to tell me something that I didn't want to understand, but I just stayed there with her and I felt like she told me it was time.

We then had a quality of life assessment with the vet, and she recommended euthanasia, as our baby's symptoms were advanced and distressing to her. I trust our vet very much, and it only confirmed what I already knew.

I'm so sorry for you and your family in having to make this decision. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, and yet, when the time came I knew it was right. Peace to you and your kitty.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 5:50 PM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Regardless of your long term decision-making process about your cat's end of life care, it is unkind at best to leave a frail, elderly animal alone in a house for two weeks with only a quick check-in by the neighbors each day. If you decide that it isn't time to say goodbye to her yet (and personally I think it might be), please don't leave her alone.
posted by jesourie at 6:11 PM on August 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm so sorry, this is so hard.

Here is my question from last year. I made the decision to euthanize sooner than later, and as hard as it was, I don't regret it one bit.
posted by moira at 6:17 PM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Saying goodbye on Monday is the right thing to do. It feels rushed because you're in shock, but it's not rushed. Your cat is in clear decline and stopping the suffering is the kindest, most compassionate, and most loving thing you can do. Please don't let your shock and sadness prolong the cat's decline. When people have regrets about saying goodbye to pets, it's always that they waited too long and the animal suffered.

If you don't decide to say goodbye on Monday, you absolutely must cancel your trip. It's not ethical to leave a pet in this state and have it suffer alone, stressed, with minimal care from people who may have to decide to put your pet down while you're away.

This is so hard, but many of us have been here and are saying the same thing. I'm so sorry. I know it's very, very hard. I will add that when my husband and I had to say goodbye to our beloved dog, the day we had to do it was the day we had planned to leave for a long weekend vacation that we had planned to take him on. We said goodbye that morning and decided to go on the trip without him. It was incredibly sad, but it was good to not have to go home immediately and feel his absence so acutely. Say goodbye and then go on your trip. Wishing you and yours the best as you go through this sad time.
posted by quince at 6:23 PM on August 19, 2017 [9 favorites]

I've put down both of my elderly and "pretty sick but still them" cats immediately after I took trips where they took a turn for the worse. the most recent one was especially traumatic for me. i should have done something sooner.
posted by noloveforned at 6:33 PM on August 19, 2017

I'd get one more opinion on Monday.
Perhaps on Sunday night, you could bring home her favorite thing to eat...shrimp, some warm chicken, soft bacon, something crazy good like that. And make it a celebration of her.
posted by artdrectr at 6:45 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

So sorry you're going through this.

About a month ago we were in the same situation. Our roughly-18-to-20 year old cat had been in a slow decline over several months, almost exactly as you described (minus the feisty part - he was always pretty mellow). He started a noticeably steeper decline in the couple weeks leading up to our own vacation.

In my case it was the source of extreme stress. I worried every day, all day. It's a very sad thing to watch, and it's hard to think of doing the right thing when they still show affection and signs of life, and seem sickly one day and the next are happily on your shoulder trying to steal some of your dinner. Nobody wants to let an animal go, but as mentioned above several times, animals have minimal concept of death, however they obviously experience pain and distress, and when they express it it's usually quite significant. Sometimes we can help with medications and the like for treatable conditions in younger cats. But 18 years for a cat is a very, very good long life, yet well into the period of limited benefit from continued action. We simply can't keep them alive forever, as much as we'd like.

Mercifully, in my case, two days before our vacation I came home and knew it was his time as soon as I saw him. As soon as my wife came home a short time later, we brought him to the vet and said goodbye. And a part of me will always feel slightly guilty about this (and that's ok to feel), but SO much of the stress was removed from my shoulders by the next day; it truly was a wave of relief that I had to convince myself was comfort that he was no longer suffering instead of gratitude that I didn't have to clean up the daily accidents anymore. I would not have enjoyed our vacation very much having to wonder every day how he was doing or burdening our trusted friend (who is no stranger to pet passing) with making decisions for us, and us not being able to say goodbye. Not to mention being worried about him being stressed out. (He knew when we were gone, even though friend catsitter was very familiar and his favorite source of table scraps, and it was obvious how stressed he was when we came home each time.)

I would have felt bad enough putting all this in the hands of our very good friend, much less a neighbor (albeit without knowing how close you are to your neighbor and their experience with pets).

I would follow the vet's advice, then continue on with your vacation plans. We were fine on our vacation; we had an evening / the following day to grieve and manage the sadness before we left. In retrospect I'm so blessed that he told us it was his time, because honestly I'm not sure I would have been able to make that decision myself. But I now realize I would have regretted not doing it far longer than it took to accept his passing in this more peaceful way. I know now that, even if he hadn't told us, it would have been the right decision.

Thoughts are with you.
posted by SquidLips at 7:18 PM on August 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I believe I first read this here: better a week too soon than a day too late.

(It been almost a year since I took my 20-year-old cat, Janie, to the vet for the last time. I understand what you're going through.)
posted by she's not there at 8:37 PM on August 19, 2017

Whatever you decide, please don't leave town while your cat is this sick. This could be a very traumatic time for her (and your neighbors), she could be confused and in pain, puking and bleeding all over, and it's not impossible she'll die while you're gone. I know this trip may seem like something you just can't miss, but going on this trip while she's suffering like this is a recipe for disaster. (Does your whole family have to go? Could at least one of you stay behind?)

Because her attitude is still peppy, my instincts say to give her some basic tests, try her on a course of antibiotics and hope for the best. But 18 is a long life for a cat and it's likely she's declining. I can see why the vet would suggest euthanasia. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer... except for going out of town and leaving her while she's this sick. I'm sorry, but that would be wrong.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:49 PM on August 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Many thanks for all of your thoughtful and kind responses. To be clear, we have no plans to leave town while she is this sick, and we would never put this kind of responsibility on our neighbors. (We had already told them they wouldn't need to come before I posted my questions.) We will either cancel / delay the trip, or have her put down on Monday. We are leaning towards euthanasia, although it is heart-wrenching. I just keep telling myself that she's not going to get better from here, but she will almost definitely get worse before she finally passes away. Again, thank you all for your kindness.
posted by JubileeRubaloo at 8:59 PM on August 19, 2017 [8 favorites]

I'm sorry to hear about your furry friend. Very recently a pal of mine was in a similar position with her beloved (and long lived) pooch, her vet told her that when you're are 100% sure this is the time, you've already waited too long.
posted by AnneBoleyn at 9:50 PM on August 19, 2017 [10 favorites]

I'd like to point out that wandering around the house howling is not necessarily a sign of distress in cats. However... asking if it is time to euthanize a pet is usually a dead giveaway. If it is NOT time to euthanize a pet your response to the vet's suggestion would be, "Are you crazy????" -While you might also respond that way if you were in major denial, you would not be debating agonized whether it was a couple of days or even a month too soon maybe.

The chances are high that what is happening to your cat is kidney failure and a resultant UTI and that does cause significant "discomfort".

I did once put down a pet too soon. I was thirteen years old and I had adopted a neighbour's abused German Shepherd dog, an adolescent female, that he had lost his patience with and kicked out of his yard. By the time I got her she had already contracted distemper. She had never received her shots. And since being thirteen I was not exactly rolling in money I had to bring her to the charity vet who was only open one day a week. It was hard enough raising the money for the taxi to get her there. The vetrinarian diagnosed her with hard pad, told me not to kiss her on the grounds that it was unhygenic for me, and roughly told me to put her down as she would probably not survive, but if she did she would have seizures for the rest of her life. But he said that he was no more miserable than if she had a bad flu so I took her home and nursed her for a second week, and brought her back again, and this time when he insisted that I let him put her down I did. I have always regretted that because I think Sojourner would have been quite happy to go through life having seizures and walking around with her back legs twitching, should she have survived, and he did say it wasn't painful. And this experience has led to me being too slow to euthanize animals I have had in my care.

My basic rule of thumb has been, if this was me, would I want to get that shot now?

My guess is that your cat is probably getting very close to that tipping point where her pain is significant. If she gets to the point where you know it hurts that bad you have waited too long. Cats do not show pain until it is desperately bad. And in one hundred years twenty-four hours will not make a big difference to the cat or to you. Our lungs and our heartbeats are designed to try to try no matter what for one more, for just one more beat, one more breath. But that's not for when the body is failing, that's for times when you can pull your cat out of deep water, save her from drowning and that one more breath could give her another six years of happy healthy life. That one more heartbeat is not for the last five days when everything hurts. During the last five days she will probably be wanting not another breath, but a chance to curl up and sleep more. She won't feel you betrayed her when you decide to do it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:30 AM on August 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

If it were my cat I would stay home with her and watch her to see if she still had any play and purr in her. And if she doesn't.... then I would have cancelled my trip for nothing, but I would still do that. But if she has play and purr and willing to eat and drink without coaxing then I would stay with her while she does that.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:35 AM on August 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have to chime in with the posters above who said at the point you no longer have doubts, you waited too long. This thought helped me the most when we had to make this decision. So sorry about your old friend.
posted by Glinn at 10:44 AM on August 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Others have given wise commentary; I'll just send you hugs. It's such a hard time, whatever you decide to do.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 11:19 AM on August 20, 2017

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