When to euthanize our cat?
September 12, 2017 7:16 AM   Subscribe

She had a great run but due to multiple conflicting health issues, there is nothing our ~17 yr old cat can eat without causing further issues, and she has almost no appetite. We will not be subjecting her to any further extraordinary measures. How will we know when is the kindest time?

She's pretty lazy right now and very bony through the spine but still appreciates being petted and is still using the litterbox and she has never been very active to begin with. She's in the care of an excellent vet but with her not eating, it's nearing her time. She has been nothing but sweet to me for 8 years and we're going to get this last thing right for her. Thank you.
posted by ftm to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so so sorry. :(

My standard answer is if kitty isn't eating, drinking OR going to the bathroom, and there are no medical measures that can solve this, it's probably time. Kitty will also likely be listless or hiding - also not great signs and probably signal that she is not well. And lastly, if she's in visible distress - that would signal to me that it was urgently time to put her down.

If she's going to the bathroom, that's actually a very positive thing. And it doesn't sound like she's in distress (yet) or listless (yet).... so you may have some time still.

This is so hard and I'm sending you virtual hugs.

It helps me to remember too that the cat doesn't associate its discomfort or even eventual euthanasia with you personally. Just be there and be a source of comfort: that's the greatest gift.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:22 AM on September 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

I am so sorry, this is never an easy decision. The standard answer is "more bad days than good," and only you know what a good day and a bad day look like for kitty. If you are having trouble, make a list.

Missing the box.
You say she is not eating, but this does not bother her? When it starts to impact her activity level and awareness...
If she ceases to drink water.
If she begins to become unwarrantedly irritable or uncharacteristically agitated.
If she finds a place to hide.

Much love to you at this time. You are doing the absolute best. Kitty has had a wonderful life with you.
posted by oflinkey at 7:26 AM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

A cat loving but compassionate friend had this metric - she evaluated them for appetite, affection (giving and receiving), and activity. When they'd lost all three, she knew it was time to let them go.

I also look for when the bad days/hours outnumber the good ones. You'll know when she's unhappy and just existing or suffering.
posted by Candleman at 7:30 AM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm super sorry that you're having to make this choice.

The second to last dog I had to euthanize I waited a half-day too late and it was horrible and she half-died in the car on the way back (yes, back, sigh) from the vet and I had to turn around and return just after having emailed my wife and kids saying we were coming back. Her last yelp of pain just before she started staring into nothing and went into shallow panicked breathing is still fresh in my memory 3+ years later and I wish I could forget. That was only a half day late from when I think I "should" have euthanized her. It was horrible.

The last dog I euthanized had a vast growing cancer that visibly came back within 2 weeks of an attempt to remove it (it was suspected to be one kind of tumor, but upon actual removal was determined to be a much more aggressive kind. As soon as the tumor became large enough that it started showing slight signs of imapacting her quality of life she got a whole bunch of her favourite human foods and she got a super long walk that morning where she sniffed and sniffed and then her final vet appointment. This was still super sad for all involved, but it wasn't traumatic.

You know it's just a matter of time and if your cat isn't eating and drinking it might be hours rather than days. I vote strongly for doing it before it's too late.
posted by nobeagle at 7:36 AM on September 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

This is tough and I'm sorry you're going through this! Don't worry, you are doing right by your sweet cat. I have to gently disagree with the idea that you'll know when she's suffering. Cats can be unbelievably stoic and with some of them, you wouldn't know until it's too late. Not eating at all is very close to the end, I'd say, even if she does respond to your comforting touch.

What does the vet say? I recently read (here, I believe) that it's better to do it a week too soon than a week too late.
posted by kapers at 7:49 AM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'll add a bit to my comment relating to kaper's comment. The traumatic dog to euthanize was only a half-day too late. The sad, but non-traumatic event was possibly 1-7 days too soon - it was a very fast growing tumor in her neck and it was just starting to impact on her ability to move. Given my still vivid memories of the results of deciding too late, I have absolutely no regrets over potentially having decided perhaps even a week too soon.

Further too that point, animals often try to hide their pain. By the time you're seeing bad times, those are pretty bad times.
posted by nobeagle at 7:59 AM on September 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

When I was going through this question earlier this year, I did a bunch of googling and found a bunch of pet quality-of-life questionnaires that were helpful in at least starting to figure out what questions I should be asking. Here's one that came up a lot that I bookmarked. I'm sorry you're having to make this decision; I know it's hard, and I'm sure you are doing your best for your girl. In your shoes I think I would have numbers and addresses ready for either a home hospice vet or your regular vet if needed, and I'd be looking hard for any signs of distress or hiding.

For whatever personal experience is worth from the last time I went through this: We waited too long to figure out our girl was sick. The hiding was a tip-off and we didn't pay enough attention to it. Once we did realize what was going on, we took her home and spent one last day spoiling her rotten with cuddles and her favorite foods, with pain meds from the vet to be sure she wasn't uncomfortable. She purred non-stop for about 24 hours and drank lots of tuna-can-water and sought us out for cuddles like she hadn't done in weeks, and then the next morning we had her put to sleep. It was the first time I'd had a cat die in a planned way like that instead of a medical emergency, and it was terribly sad but immensely less traumatic for me and seemingly for her too.

I don't regret the last extra day we bought ourselves to love on her, but I do regret the couple of weeks before that when she was almost certainly in pain that we overlooked. In retrospect, the lesson I hope I have learned for the future is that a little too soon is better than a little too late, and that the most loving thing I can do for my cats when possible is to not let their deaths become an emergency.
posted by Stacey at 7:59 AM on September 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

I euthanized my beloved 16 year old kitty 4 years ago. She hadn't much of an appetite for a long time and mostly spent her days sleeping on the back of the couch, occasionally getting up to pee in the corner of the room. :( I would come home and rouse her to get her to come upstairs and have treats and sometimes it worked, but not often enough. A couple of vet visits (to different vets, too, to find out SOMETHING) and they just couldn't say anything was wrong with her. The last straw was one day she actually came upstairs! I was sitting on the couch in the living room and she came upstairs and looked like she was going to jump up on the footstool, but I patted my lap for her to jump up with me instead. She came over, jumped up on my lap, emptied a full bladder on my lap, and then curled up in a ball on my lap.

:( I think that was a Monday. I scheduled her last day for Friday afternoon. I worked from home on Thursday and even got some lap time with her that I hadn't had in a long time. It was nice. It was April and I was hoping she'd make it to summer - her favorite hot weather! Sometimes I wonder if maybe she would have made it longer, but she just was not happy. I loved that kitty so. much. And I still miss her smell and her personality.

She weighed so little at the end that she was gone almost instantly as they injected her (she was on my lap). I definitely had the wails and ugly cries. But she was loved. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make, but honestly, once it was made, it felt better. Those months before the decision were the hardest.
posted by jillithd at 8:00 AM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

A lot of people have made very good descriptions of evaluating quality of life issues so I'm not going to repeat their excellent advice. What I have to add is this: if she doesn't want to eat, it's time. You don't want to let her starve, that's very painful and horrible. Kitties are not here to suffer.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:04 AM on September 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Just to clarify on where she's at right now - she sits up in her bed and she actually purrs when I pet her and rubs her face against my hand, but she's not really leaving the bed except to use the box. Thank you so much for all the input and thoughts, it's easy to fall into the trap of trying to hoard time with her but she doesn't deserve to suffer.
posted by ftm at 8:12 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've also waited too long, and I wouldn't recommend it. That ended in a frantic drive to an emergency vet while my sweet kitty died in his carrier in the back seat. I felt awful. After that, I decided that when they start hiding, it's time. Others have mentioned that cats are very stoic, and won't show pain (and will even purr when they're in pain), but with every cat that I've had, once the hiding starts, they don't have long to go.
posted by Weeping_angel at 9:57 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

If she can't or won't eat, it's time.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:18 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

If she's not leaving the bed except to use the box, it's time. I am so sorry.

If you can, find a vet who will come to your house. It is worth the cost.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:30 AM on September 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I used a hospice journal to track how my old kitty boy was doing. It kept me from second-guessing myself. http://www.pethospicejournal.com/
posted by Wossname at 10:50 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

My old man cat was in severe decline. Not cleaning, not eating, not drinking, just purring when in laps and periodically using the litter box. The penultimate vet trip resulted in a prediction of hours to days. Two days later he hid under the bed. I eventually coaxed him out and made the decision.

In the car, he barely moved, just quietly purring in my lap as I drove to the vet's. But true to form, the second we got into the vet's office, he stood, walked around the room, yelled at the top of his lungs and was basically doing the best impression of a cat that was not dying.

The vet even commented that he was the most alert, vocal cat in total renal failure he'd ever seen, but then assured me that once the final surge of adrenaline passed, it would be obvious.

And it was. He, like the cat before him, purred his way out of life.

Much love to you and your girl.
posted by teleri025 at 10:53 AM on September 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

(Also, I had a great experience with lapoflove.com for in-home euthanasia. Not sure what kind of service is in your area. Too early will always be better than too late. I put down my kitty boy about 4 days "early" and have zero lingering regrets over a year later. I waited too long for his sister, some 8 years prior and am still wracked with guilt.)
posted by Wossname at 10:54 AM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I had my 16 year old dog euthanized at home after she suffered a seizure and stopped eating. When the vet who did the procedure arrived my little dog greeted her with some fairly enthusiastic licks. The vet said, "Oh it's so nice to still see a tail wagging!" She stated most people wait until their pet is really in distress and discomfort and commended us for not waiting until my poor little pup was in a bad way to call.

I had called earlier than I would have liked because it was a few days before the 4th of July and I was afraid if she took a turn for the worse during the holiday I wouldn't be able to find a vet to help her.

The vet's assertion helped me feel better about the whole situation and though I think Vanna could have held out for a few more days I'm glad we didn't wait and I don't regret it a year later.

I'm so sorry about your friend.
posted by Saminal at 2:33 PM on September 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've learned so much from this and the other recent thread-- thanks so much for posting, ftm. I know I will be in real denial when it's my cat's time, so this is really helpful. After hearing these stories I'm inclined to think it's better a week too soon than a minute too late. Hopefully this will help you in your tough decision.
posted by kapers at 6:36 AM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank y'all so, so much. It's rare that internet strangers can actually make your life easier but you guys made a hard choice much much less stressful.

In addition to not eating Bridget missed the litter box yesterday. She spent today getting pets and fried chicken and now she's gone. The vet made it as easy as possible and she went so, so fast - the dread of doing this was actually worse than doing it and I feel relieved now. This is definitely much better than having tried to eke out another week and seeing her suffer.

I can't thank you guys enough and if any future readers want to message me, please don't hesitate. And please spare a thought for Nilly, who is going to get hugged to death over the next few days.
posted by ftm at 4:47 PM on September 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

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