What It's Like to Euthanize a Cat (and say goodbye to your best friend)

My faithful sidekick finished his ten year journey yesterday. FullSizeRender (1)

When it comes to deciding when to euthanize your cat there is no clear cut answers. This is the fourth cat I've had that's passed, and the second time I've held a cat as it took its final breath. While working at a cat clinic in college I actually got the chance to euthanize a cat myself. It's a very surreal process. As a pet owner it's something most of us will think about, and if you haven't been through it before it's hard to imagine what it will be like.

I'd like to demystify the process a bit. Writing about what happened, and connecting with others who've been through the same thing, will help my heart heal.

Salem was born FIV+ (the equivalent of HIV) and lived a perfectly healthy, happy life up until the last month. We noticed his breath suddenly started smelling worse and in the back of my mind I remembered reading "dental disease is the #1 killer of indoor cats."

We took him into Aurora animal clinic (loved them) and they immediately saw one of his back teeth was abscessed. On February 5th they sedated him to remove that tooth, and found two others that needed to be pulled. They cleaned the rest and sent him home with some pain meds and antibiotics.

After initially seeming to recovery well he gradually became less active, and not eating and drinking as much. By the following weekend he hardly moved from a spot near our baseboard heaters and I was syringe feeding him water.

We took him in last Monday and the vet suspected fatty liver disease or a lingering bacterial infection being worsened by his FIV. We went home with IV fluids to administer once a day, more antibiotics, an appetite stimulant, heartburn medication, and high calorie wet food that we'd syringe feed every 2-3 hours.

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After a few days I knew he wasn't going to make it. He still wasn't eating or drinking on his own, and I could just look at him and tell.

My husband, however, was not convinced. He truly thought if we just kept doing everything we were supposed to that Salem would start to improve. I kept saying "we will give it one more day" because I didn't want to see Salem suffer. Travis said he'd do whatever I wanted, but personally thought he was getting a little better.

There's no way I could euthanize him while my husband thought he was getting better (even though I knew he wasn't.) Finally, yesterday morning Travis went to Salems spot in the office to give him his first syringe of food for the day and Salem didn't even fight him giving it to him. He didn't swallow, his head just fell forward onto the floor after Travis put some of the food in his mouth. He came out of the room and told me "I think it's time."

Within an hour we were at the emergency clinic. We both wanted the vet to do a quick exam to assure us we were doing the right thing, but I also wanted it done as quickly as possible. Salem was limp, and his cries sounded so pathetic.

She took his vitals and immediately knew it was his time.

His temperature was 96 when it should have been 100+.

His heart rate was 110, and should have been 160+.

She couldn't even find a pulse in his back legs.

The night before I picked him up and laid him on Travis. They slept together for hours on the couch. I sat there and pet him and listened to him purr, and it was hard to believe he was so ill.

Typically a vet will have a tech come in and go over the payment and cremation options before the pet is euthanized. If not, I'd recommend asking that they take your payment before so you don't have to go wait at the front desk to pay while sobbing.

Unless you plan to bury your pet you will have to decide if you want them communally cremated or individually cremated. In a communal cremation the pet is put into the furnace with many other animals, and their ashes are disposed of. With the individual creamation your pet is the only one in there, and all the ashes are saved to return to you. We opted for the individual cremation, which was about $170. A communal cremation would be considerably cheaper.

With the logistics decided on the vet will then sedate the animal first, and then administer the euthanasia drug via a needle in the vein. After a few minutes on the exam table Salem started howling, and I asked that he go ahead and be sedated as soon as possible.

While sedated they took a little clay impression of his paw print for us. They also asked if we wanted to cut any of his fur off to keep.

After being sedated for a few minutes the vet administered the euthanasia. I was talking to Salem the whole time, and had my hand on his belly (he was laying on his side.) I felt him as he took his last breath. From the moment they inject the euthanasia it only takes a few seconds for their heart to stop.

IMG_6832Holding his hand on the exam table before he was euthanized.

The vet told us we could take our time with him and just leave when we were ready. I cried, and laid my head on him for a minute. I couldn't stand the thought of us just walking off and leaving him on the table all alone, so I popped my head out to ask the tech if she could stay with him just until we left the building.

The vet saw me first and I told her, although I knew it sounded silly, I'd like someone to be with Salem until we leave.

She said when it comes to grief there's no such thing as a silly request. She grabbed a Kleenex herself as she took my place standing by Salems side. I thanked her, and took one last look at Salem as I was walking out the door.

We are now trying to find an urn for him online.

I adopted Salem and his brother, who passed away at 18 months, after my mom saw an ad for "two poor kittens that have FIV" in a newspaper.

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Salem gave the best hugs, and loved to sleep on top of your face. The sound of the vacuum never phased him, but he would attack anyone who was crying or laughing too hard.

He loved drinking water out of the faucet, peeing outside the liter box, and being brushed.

He knew what the word "treat" meant, and had the waistline to prove it. I would frequently find him in my bathroom sitting on the scale. I always told him he was beautiful and didn't need to worry about the extra weight.

His death happened in just a minute. His lifetime was filled with millions of other minutes that I must choose to focus on now.

After we got home all I wanted to do was take a hot bath and eat a painfully large amount of Mexican food.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me over these last few weeks regarding Salem.

I miss him so much already.