What to expect when Euthanizing a cat - Putting a cat to sleep

When a cat owner and veterinarian decide that a pet is suffering or is unlikely to recover, euthanasia offers a way to end a cat's pain and suffering. This decision is most likely to be difficult for the cat owner but for the veterinarian as well.  This is most likely the hardest decision you will ever have to make, but you should realize that sometimes this is the kindest most thoughtful thing you can do in the final stage of your cat's life.

Understanding how the euthanasia procedure is performed may aid in making this decision. It may also help you to decide whether you wish to be present during the euthanasia. Initially, your cat is made as comfortable as possible. The veterinarian will choose a quiet room where you and your cat will feel more at ease. Sometimes a mild sedative or tranquilizer is first given if the animal appears anxious or painful.

A catheter may be placed in the cat's vein to ensure that the euthanasia solution is delivered quickly. The euthanasia solution is usually a barbiturate - the same class of drugs used for general anesthesia. At a much higher dose, this solution provides not only the same effects as general anesthesia (loss of consciousness, loss of pain sensation), but suppresses the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. As the solution is injected, the cat loses consciousness and within a few moments the heart and lungs stop functioning.

Since the pet is not conscious, they do not feel anything. Most times, the cat passes away so smoothly, that it is difficult to tell until the veterinarian listens for absence of a heartbeat. In some cases, the eyes remain open. Sometimes, the last few breaths are what's termed "agonal", meaning involuntary muscle contractions but again, the cat is not aware at this point. After the cat passes, there is complete muscle relaxation, often accompanied by urination and defecation. This is completely normal and is something you should expect. In addition, after death, chemicals normally stored in nerve endings are released causing occasional muscle twitching in the early post-mortem period. Many cat owners who chose to stay with their pets are surprised how quickly and easily the pet is put to rest.

The decision to stay or not stay with a pet is a very personal one. Some owners feel they could comfort their pet in its final minutes. Others feel their emotional upset would only upset their pet. Those who choose not to stay may wish to view the pet’s body after the procedure is complete. Euthanasia is emotional for veterinarians as well. In most cases the veterinarian has known the pet for a long time or has tried very hard to make the animal well again.

As hard as the euthanasia process has been for me to go through, it gives me comfort knowing that I was there in the last moments to say goodbye with a gentle voice and the last loving touch.


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If you have any questions regarding the process of euthanasia, please contact your local veterinarian. They should be happy to provide the answers for you.