help with the decision of pet euthanasia by Anita Kelsey. UK feline behaviourist and author of Let’s Talk About Cats
One of the hardest decisions a pet guardian has to make is the decision to put to sleep their pet, which means euthanasia by a vet. Euthanasia means “a good death”.
This option is afforded to us when we know our pets are ill and the decision firmly lies in our hands with gentle guidance by our vets, whether they are in a brick and mortar business or a mobile only palliative care / end of life vet.
The decision is sometimes taken out of our hands such as when a vet is operating and calls us to state there’s a huge problem discovered that is inoperable and it may be kinder not to wake your pet up or when our pets have been in a road traffic accident and a vet may decide then and there that the injuries are too severe to continue life. In both scenarios a vet will always try to contact you to get permission.
But when the decision is ours to make it is heart wrenching and incredibly difficult.
My previous cat, Figgy, had kidney disease which we managed for years with medication and a special diet.
During the advanced stage of the disease our home was turned into a plastic covered urine smelling cattery!
We had to cover our bed and sofas with waterproof coverings as Figgy couldn’t control her bladder as she well as vomiting a lot. Having said this, she was extremely affectionate, playful and gave off the impression that she was still enjoying life & being with us, purring away whenever we stroked her or sung her favourite song… The magic roundabout theme!
When Figgy started to display different behaviours, such as taking herself away from us and hiding in unusual places, we took this as a sign that the end was near.
Cats that are ill or feeling unwell do tend to hide away from their carers and this is a hard wired evolutionary behaviour in the feline species. This is due to them feeling vulnerable and not attracting attention to themselves when they feel strange, unwell or weak. The big cats do this and many other animals do this in the wild, so it’s common to see this behaviour in our domestic cats too.
We decided on a home euthanasia. I always think this is the best goodbye for our pets, if the carer(s) are in the luxury position of having time to decide how their pets end should be and this is because our pets should be relaxed and in their familiar loving home environment surrounded by people who love them. Most vets offer home euthanasia but it is down to the individual vet. Of course, with some pet carers, the decision to do euthanasia at home is too hard.
I will talk more about options below. But back to Figgy.
My vet was happy to assist in our decision, having told us that figgy is probably suffering now and it was for the best, for her.
But whenever we booked Dr Carmichael in to visit our home, Figgy would perk up and want to be around us again. We would then call Dr Carmichael and sheepishly cancel the euthanasia slot. This constant back and forth went on for weeks before Figgy’s behaviour remained the same and she stayed hidden from us 24/7. She even stopped purring.
With a heavy heart we called Dr Carmichael for the final time and booked Figgy in to be put to sleep. This time we would be strong for her.
On the day of the ‘act’ my husband, Gordon, cradled Figgy in his arms, like he had always done over the years. She was so relaxed and slunk into his arms like a baby. Tears streamed down his face, as well as mine, as we spoke softly to our beautiful Figgy, telling her that we loved her and not to be scared. After a very short time, and with Dr Carmichael being so gentle and respectful, Figgy closed her eyes for the final time as we howled with grief.
Seeing her things around the home was painful and our home didn’t feel like home anymore. All pet guardians who have lost an animal will know what I am talking about.
We decided to book Figgy in for a solo cremation at Silvermere Haven Pet Cremations.
The people at Silvermere couldn’t have been nicer. Before we took Figgy to be cremated we cut off a snippet of her fur and kept a few whiskers, which we placed in a special pet jewelry urn. There are many designs on line and we both found a simple silver pendant urn to wear. It was very similar to this one.
Click here for more examples.
At Silvermere we were asked if we wanted to say a final goodbye in one of their chapels. We thought this was a lovely gesture and so we said yes and watched as they led us into a beautiful serene small chapel, whereby they laid Figgy out on a blanket.
They gave us space and no time limit as we sat with her and both said goodbye for the last time. We then handed her over to Silvermere as they performed a solo cremation. We went and got a coffee and was called when the deed was completed. We were then handed her ashes and we choose one of there wooden cat urns to keep her ashes in.
Solo cremations are more expensive than cremations with other pets but it is good that you told about different choices depending on what you prefer and what your budget is. Here are some questions answered regarding solo cremation and what happens from the website of The Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria.
This is our experience with Figgy and we learnt a lot from the process.
I can say with hand on heart that the kindest decision you will ever make for your pet is to know when it is time to end their suffering and give them a gentle kind death with you by their side. Our pets look to us for love, companionship and care and they would expect no less from us when that difficult decision needs to be made.
Coming from a vet’s perspective UK vet Cat Henstridge states:
People often tell me that they think putting pets to sleep must be the worst part of my job but in many ways, it is one of the easiest. Yes it is sad, letting a beloved animal go, but in the majority of cases we are doing it for very good reasons; releasing them from a life that has become more about pain and suffering than the joy it should be.
I know we went on too long with Figgy, feeling guilty when she woke up purring with a spring in her step, but deep down my husband and I were just buying time.
We knew she needed us to be strong and eventually we were. It made it no less painful.
There are many organisations that help with talking through our grief and these are listed at the end of my article on grief: http://www.catbehaviourist.com/blog/cat-grief/
Below I want to guide through some options with pet euthanasia.
Your vet will guide you as to how they feel about your pet’s quality of life but there are also specialised vets that only work with end of life care for pets or guidance through the final months/weeks, such as https://cominghomevet.co.uk/
The Blue Cross talk through what is involved with euthanasia and, although a distressing read, it is important to know fully what is involved so you can prepare emotionally as well as physically. The description below mentions the pet dog but it’s the same with cats too:
“You will normally need to sign a consent form.
Euthanasia is usually carried out by injecting an overdose of anaesthetic into the vein of the front leg, although the injection can be given to other areas of the body as well. The dog is held by a nurse, and a small patch of fur is shaved off. All your dog feels is a tiny prick of the needle – then the injection is painless.
Occasionally, a dog may give a small cry as the injection is given – as with all anaesthetics, there is a brief feeling of dizziness as the drug takes effect. Unconsciousness follows within seconds, often before the injection is finished. Death occurs within a couple of minutes when the heart stops beating. It may take a little longer if the animal is extremely ill or has poor circulation. Sometimes in this instance it may prove difficult for the vet to find a vein.
If a dog is agitated or restless, then the vet may give a sedative first, but finding a vein can then be more difficult and the injection may work more slowly.
In the few minutes after death you may see reflex muscle movement, or involuntary gasps. These are not signs of life, in fact, they are reflexes denoting that death has occurred. The eyes usually stay open and the bladder sometimes empties.
The vast majority of euthanasias proceed smoothly and quickly with little distress to the animal. Even if there are difficulties, it is still a quick procedure that can save your dog many days or weeks of suffering and a painful end”
Vets have to deal with death and euthanasia daily as part of being a doctor for our pets and they are trained to help us emotionally through this difficult time. Our vet will offer to take care of taking the deceased body away and give you advice or you can ask to take the body away yourself and find an independant cremation service.
Some people choice to take their deceased pet away so that they can bury their pet in their own back garden. You are legally able to bury your pet in the grounds of the home where you live, without the need for permission or planning consent.
“Remember that your pet should be buried at least three feet deep in light soil and two feet deep in heavy soil (and dig deeper than this in order to allow space for the remains). Once you have positioned your pet and filled in the grave, ensure that you place stones, slabs or a heavy plant pot on the top”
There are conditions by law for burying your pets yourself so please do check. You can read about UK animal burial laws HERE,
But some main points, taken from the article on website, are:
- You must own the land (garden)
- Animals must not be buried near a water source
- Animals cannot be buried at home if they are considered to be hazardous to human health
- Animals may be deemed to be hazardous to human health if they have been treated with chemo or received controlled drugs prior to their death. These include drugs that would have been administered in the event that an animal had to be euthanised.
“If you are unsure regarding point 4 above it would be advisable to speak to your vet to determine if it would be safe to bury your pet at home”
If your cat died from a road traffic accident (RTA) and a passerby or the driver took them to a vet to be scanned for the owner’s details, remember that you do not have to make any rash decisions, especially when you are in deep shock. Your vet, or the vet holding your cat, will understand that you need time and they will be able to keep your pet for you safe and hygienically whilst you process the terrible news.
Not everyone will want to keep the ashes of their pet as this may be too painful or there may be a cost involved that is not practical for your circumstances but your vet will be able to guide you through options. Should you decide you want to find your own cremation service or want to use your garden as a burial ground, do not feel awkward or shy about saying what you would personally prefer as it is your decision to make.
Links to help you:
- Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria
- Google search Pet Bereavement Services
- Google search Pet Jewelry Urns/Pendants
- Google search Pet Urns
- Google search Mobile End Of Life Vets
- Google search Euthanasia help and advice
- Anita Kelsey grieving advice
When euthanasia is performed at home some pet guardians allow a companion pet to smell and see the deceased animal afterwards. For some pets this may represent closure as they understand the difference in sight and smell from what appears in front of them plus you do not get the searching of their companion if the companion has ‘suddenly disappeared’. Having said this all pets react differently. There is no right or wrong.
A friend of mine sent me a photo (below) of her cat, PSmokey, whom she put to sleep at home. Smokey’s doggy friend, Kimber, wanted to say goodbye and stayed with her for hours, watching her and sniffing her. This gives some closure, I believe.
As my friend explained:
The dogs did not leave her for the last few hours, and even stayed with her body until I took her to the pet crematorium. It was very moving. Also, there was no searching around for her as there had been with my previous cat Tipsy
In my book Let’s Talk About Cats I dedicate a whole chapter on cat grief in which I talk in depth about grief from a cat’s perspective and the debate on whether animals should be shown a deceased pet or not. This decision is very much a personal one for the pet’s owner and family. There are some excellent contributions from Dr Sarah Heath who is a veterinary behaviourist specialist.
Pet Euthanasia and Children
Deciding on whether a child should be present during euthanasia or not is also very much a personal decision. Children take the death of their pet very hard but the website Home Pet Euthanasia has written a brilliant article in which this subject has been discussed at depth:
“Children usually cry hard and intensely, but frequently recover faster and better than we adults do… So don’t underestimate your children’s strength and ability to recover and ability to handle this loss”
I hope this article has been able to help a little.
If you would like a photo of your deceased pet featured below please do get in touch.
In remembrance of our beloved pets.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anita Kelsey holds a first class honours degree in Feline Behaviour and Psychology (work based BA Hons) and runs a vet referral service dedicated strictly to the diagnosis and treatment of behaviour problems in cats. She is also a qualified cat groomer and specialises in grooming aggressive or phobic cats. Anita writes for Your Cat Magazine and is on their experts panel answering readers questions on cat grooming. She also advises on feline behaviour for the CFBA (Canine and Feline Behaviour) magazine as well as being a full member. Anita, a strong advocate of a vegan lifestyle, is based in London but consults all over the UK as well as international requests. She lives with her husband, a music producer, and two Norwegian Forest cats, Kiki and Zaza.