There are two reasons for a cat dying:
1. Sudden death through accident or illness.
2 Euthanasia being ‘put to sleep’ or ‘put down’ following an accident, or because of old age or illness, when a cure is not possible and the cat’s quality of life is or will be poor.
In the case of the former, you will not be prepared for your pet’s death and it will no doubt come as a huge shock. In the case of the latter, you can prepare for the inevitable, although it does not make it any easier to bear. Many owners blame themselves for their pet’s death and agonise over whether the death could have been prevented if they had done things differently. This is a normal reaction, but sadly it cannot change what has happened. The important thing, for your sake, is to focus on the many happy times you enjoyed with your cherished pet and to hold and treasure those memories.
Other than sudden death, having a cat ‘put down’ is the most humane way for him to die. A prolonged natural death can be traumatic for both pet and owner, as well as painful for the cat. While the process may be upsetting to read about, it can help to understand how euthanasia is achieved.
Talk it over with your vet first, and decide whether having it done at home or at the vet clinic would be more suitable and practical. Also, discuss the options of what to do with your pet’s body. Once this has been mutually agreed, arrange a date, preferably sooner rather than later, so as not to prolong your pet’s suffering, as well as your own, unnecessarily.
At the veterinary clinic
Arrange a time when the vet clinic is likely to be quiet, or you can enter and leave through a private entrance so that you do not have to face a crowded waiting room. Have a supportive person drive you there and back; you may well be upset, and therefore in no fit state to undertake this yourself. Take a blanket in which to wrap your pet to bring him home again, if this is what you want to do.
Make the journey there as smooth, stress-free and quiet as possible. If you will be able to bear up in your pet’s last moments, then be with him. If you feel you will go to pieces, then ask your vet and the vet nurse to deal with it; if you are terribly distressed, it may make your pet equally so, and his passing may not be as peaceful as it should be.
This is more expensive but maybe the preferred option if you are unable to get to the clinic, your cat is too ill to move, he finds travel upsetting, or you would prefer euthanasia to be carried out in familiar and comfortable surroundings. Request that a veterinary nurse attends, as well as the vet. The former can help out as required or where necessary, and help to keep you and the cat calm, thereby making the process as stress-free as possible.
n the day, keep your cat’s routine beforehand as normal, but give him lots of extra attention and cuddles if he will allow you to – he may not understand why you are being extra-affectionate, but may appreciate it nonetheless. It will make you feel better, as well as make the most of those last precious moments.
Properly carried out, the process is quick and relatively painless. The vet may administer a sedative injection if the cat is very distressed, or is difficult to handle or restrain. They usually shave a foreleg to identify where the relevant vein is situated. They then inject a concentrated solution of phenobarbitone an anaesthetic overdose into that vein. For thin cats, the vet may need to inject directly into a kidney. The cat almost immediately goes to sleep. Breathing swiftly ceases, and the heart stops beating.
In some cases, the circulatory system is not working efficiently, and therefore the necessary vein on the foreleg is not easy to find in order to administer the lethal injection. When this occurs, the vet may need to inject directly into the heart or kidneys. Owners can find this distressing and be unable to cope efficiently in holding their pet and keeping him calm, so this is where the experienced handling and sympathetic soothing afforded by a veterinary nurse can prove a godsend.
Afterwards, if you wish, the vet will dispose of the body, arranging to have it buried or cremated on your instructions. Alternatively, you can take your cat home, if this is allowable, to bury him in a favoured area of the garden. Graves should be at least 1m 3ft 3in deep and well away from watercourses your local environment agency should able to advise you. Pet cemeteries and crematoriums will advise you on the costs, and what is involved.