My Euthanasia Stories
The decision to euthanize your beloved pet is painful and every pet parent has a story to tell. Here are some of mine. I hope they comfort you or help you make a decision.
Learning to Let Go
I have always shared my life with cats. Many years ago, I started feeding a scruffy orange and white stray cat. At first there was no rhythm to his appearances, but he soon began showing up on a regular basis. He was thin and afraid. I asked about him around my neighborhood and learned that he had been surviving alone on the streets for at least three years. Because he looked so lonely, I named him SoLo.
Over time, and with much work, Solo trusted me enough that I was able to take him to the veterinarian for vaccinations and a bath. When we came home, I decided to find out how he would adjust to the house. I opened the carrier and he plopped on the couch like he had always lived there. From that moment on, Solo became an indoor cat and good friend. Even if I opened the door and invited him out, he would sit on his favorite rug and refuse to budge.
Solo thrived and became a beautiful majestic fellow. For six months we enjoyed each other’s company and I grew to love him very much. Then one day I noticed bleeding gums. After a few tests, the veterinarian told me that Solo had feline leukemia. There was no cure and it could be a bad death. The doctor suggested euthanasia. I had known this wonderful cat for less than a year. It wasn’t fair. I couldn’t do it.
For the next three months, I chose aggressive treatment to keep Solo alive while I watched him fade into a frail shadow. Most animals have strong survival instincts that drive them to cling to life against all odds. I also believe they possess an inborn sense that tells them when it is time to let go. On a particularly bad day Solo looked at me with soulful eyes and softly meowed, as if to implore, “Please stop the suffering.” I called the vet's office and Solo took his final breath later that afternoon cradled in my arms.
I made a promise to myself, and to Solo, on that day so many years ago: I would never again place my need to hang on above my pet’s need to let go. Solo probably had acquired leukemia before we met. He had come to me for a good death and I nearly failed him. The lesson was painful, but it is one that I cannot forget. Many amazing cats have graced my life since then--some for a short while, some for many years. Because of Solo’s legacy, when the sad time arrives to decide, I can love them enough to let them go.
Veterinary Standards of Practice Change with Time
Power and Beauty
I first saw Quinn huddled against my garage during a nighttime February blizzard. In the beginning, she would not eat until I was out of her sight. With time and patience, she began to trust me and within a year, I could pick her up. I knew we were real friends when she sat on my lap and purred.
Quinnie Rose was a pretty tricolor girl with green eyes, a black stripe down her back and a golden underbelly. Her jumping ability was grace in motion, a combination of power and beauty. At first, I named her The Mighty Quinn because she was a survivor. I changed her name to Quinnie Rose when she impressed me with her vertical leaps.
The Bad News
It was clear she had adopted me, but I did not want to bring her inside with my other cats until she had a physical exam, testing and vaccinations. Tests revealed that she had Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), a contagious disease with no cure. The disease is also known as feline AIDS because of its similarities to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) but feline AIDS usually refers to the late stages of FIV.
Quinn's illness and death happened many years ago. The recommendation back then for a positive FIV test was to euthanize the cat immediately because of contagion to other cats and poor prognosis. Much more is known about the virus today and immediate euthanasia is no longer the standard advice. Unfortunately, this change in veterinary practice did not come in time to save Quinn’s life and so I made the painful decision to euthanize her.
My veterinary hospital has a euthanasia room. The veterinarian lightly sedated Quinn so she was awake but unafraid. I held her for about 15 minutes with no one else in the room. I told her how much I loved her and that I was grateful she had come into my life.
Quinn had known complete freedom and was so happy outdoors. Through the seasons, I had seen her chase snowflakes and fireflies. I found her in a blizzard and let her go the first day of summer.
She began scared of everything, including me, and ended cradled in my arms. She had a gentle, peaceful death, and the last voice she heard was mine. For such a small girl, Quinnie Rose left a big hole in my heart that only her memory can fill. Rest well, little one. I will look for you high atop The Bridge.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to always make perfect decisions for our pets? Sadly, being human does not work that way. Given the veterinary standards of practice at the time, my veterinarian supported the decision to end Quinn's life, but I know now that I could have done more for her.
I have made many decisions through the years to euthanize beloved cats. With the perfect vision of hindsight, however, this is the one that haunts me. At least I know that I can make better choices in the future for the feline friends entrusted to my care.
Learning from Quinn
A Cautionary Story of Hope
Eddie was born on the day my 16-year-old cat died. I met him at a shelter when he was two weeks old. I brought him home at age eight weeks. Eddie, also known as Panthera Plumpo, was large, orange and affectionate. His playfulness made me laugh but he also knew when I needed the quiet comfort of a lap cat.
When he was 12, I noticed a decline in his health through the loss of appetite, weight and energy. He also developed an occasional cough. I took Eddie to the veterinarian and learned that my cat had muffled heart sounds. The chest X-ray revealed a large mass (tumor) in his left chest. Blood work indicated anemia.
The veterinarian and I discussed euthanasia. I asked my vet what he would do if this were his cat. Because Eddie did not yet have labored breathing, or continuous coughing, he said that he would give his cat a long-acting steroid injection: "This will make him more comfortable and give you time to say goodbye." I took his advice and brought Eddie home with a heavy heart.
Days passed and he began to improve. Four weeks later, his heart sounds were more audible and he received another steroid injection. Five weeks after that, Eddie was acting like his healthy, playful self. His appetite increased and he returned to normal weight.
I took him in for another radiograph of his chest and repeat blood studies. The X-rays and lab tests were normal. The tumor and anemia were gone. To quote the veterinarian, "The only thing I know for certain is that the chest mass was responsive to steroids. Observe him closely for a return of symptoms, but for now, you have a miracle cat." Eddie probably had a lymphoma that responded to steroids.
My veterinarian said that a round of steroids should be considered before making the decision to euthanize your pet for three reasons: 1) Steroids often make the animal more comfortable, 2) They may give you a little time to say goodbye, and 3) Once in a while, if the condition is responsive to steroids, the treatment improves or heals the condition. Of course, the benefits of steroids must be weighed against the potential for harm. For example, steroids will make a bacterial infection worse because they suppress the immune system and can predispose animals to diabetes; but, if your pet is dying, steroids are worth a try.
I am sharing this story because I almost euthanized Eddie prematurely. Euthanasia is final and the decision deserves careful evaluation. Perhaps my experience will help you. Every situation is unique, so before you make the difficult decision to euthanize your beloved pet, please ask your veterinarian about the benefits and risks of steroid therapy for your pet's specific condition. It could extend your companion animal’s life, or at the very least, give you time to say goodbye.
Eddie died of GI complications 18 months later, but he had quality time because of the decision to forego euthanasia and try steroids. I finally chose euthanasia because it was the loving thing to do.
Our pets’ time on earth is fleeting. Our brief interval together is never enough. If we have loved animals our entire lives, we experience grief again and again. I am grateful Eddie was part of my family for 13-plus years. Now he lives in my heart. Wait for me on The Bridge, Eddie Spaghetti. I love you.
Andy was a proud and strong cat, dominant yet social. He curled his tail over his back to display authority. He loved people and was tolerant of other cats. Andy never hurried—he sauntered toward the door to welcome visitors. He positioned himself in the middle of family gatherings. Although I did not know his genealogy, I called him the dog of cats, extroverted like a Burmese. Tuxedo cats have expressive faces. Andy would widen his mouth into a tuxedo cat smile and purr if I stroked him on the forehead.
Andy entered my life when my neighbors moved and left him behind. When I realized that he was abandoned, I opened the door to my home and he walked into my heart. My husband is not fond of cats. I used to tell him that was because he had not yet met the right cat. Andy was the right cat.
After recovering from some common infections of stray cats, Andy enjoyed a decade of good health and then he began a slow decline. His primary medical problems were hyperthyroidism, high blood calcium and elevated pancreatic enzymes. It became clear during the last month of his life that he no longer enjoyed being Andy. My once strong and proud cat was weak and wobbly, with a drooping tail.
Like most felines, Andy didn’t appreciate visits to the veterinarian. He was not aggressive, but always feisty and vocal. On the day of his euthanasia, he was silent and calm. The veterinary hospital has a euthanasia room—a private place to spend time with a beloved pet and say goodbye. Because of the staff’s compassionate care, Andy died the way he lived: unafraid.
When the euthanasia was complete, the sadness in the room decreased. I felt love, calm and peace. My veterinarian noticed the change, too. He left the room so I could be alone with Andy for a few minutes. Andy’s face had been drawn and tired looking the last day of his life. He hadn’t smiled for at least a week. As I looked at my dear friend for the final time, I saw that his mouth had relaxed into his sweet tuxedo cat smile. He didn't look tired anymore. I believe that he made a safe passage from this world to the next.
I miss his greetings at the door, talking to me as he followed me from room to room, snuggling on the sofa or bed, nudging my face when he thought it was time to rise and dine, supervising from the dryer top while I folded laundry, hopping in the bathtub for a quick drink and, most of all, his tuxedo cat smile. Andy’s tranquil expression is the last image I have of him. I will carry it in my heart forever and be grateful for it. His 'good death' affirms that suffering passes while love remains. His peaceful transition comforts me. Thank you, Andy. Rest well, my friend.
See Merlin's Gift in After Death Communication