It’s the moment every pet parent dreads and no pet parent escapes. Sooner or later, you will have to be the voice for your kitty and you will have to decide when and how to let your furry friend go.
It can be stressful, causing some to wonder if they should really have the power to choose life or death for another creature. It can be overwhelming, causing some people to second-guess their instincts and question their motives. It can be heart-wrenching, causing some people to even swear off ever having another animal.
Over the years, I have had to say goodbye to many kitty friends. I have developed a process that has helped me make the tough call when I need to and give my family and me the space to grieve.
If you choose to be a pet parent, it’s important you develop a process that works for you.
Step 1: Evaluate Quality of Life
First, take some deep breaths and try to look at your cat’s situation objectively – or find a friend, family member or vet who can do so for you. Then, you can evaluate your kitty using a Quality of Life Scale, like this one crated by Alice Villalobos, renowned veterinary oncologist. It rates seven key factors on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being the best possible score.
- Hurt – Is the cat’s pain successfully managed? Can she breathe on her own?
- Hunger – Is the cat eating enough? Is a feeding tube required?
- Hydration – Is the cat drinking enough? Are regular subcutaneous fluids needed?
- Hygiene – Can the cat keep himself clean? Do you need to help clean and groom her?
- Happiness – Does the cat express joy and interest? Is the cat responsive to things he used to enjoy? Does she purr when petted or scratched?
- Mobility – Can the cat get up without help? Is she having seizures or stumbling?
- More Good Days than Bad – When he has more bad days than good days, quality of life may be compromised.
A score of 35 or more is considered having an acceptable quality of life.
Step 2: Enjoy Your Last Moments
When you know your kitty’s last days or hours have arrived, make the most of the time you have left. Some kitties may get a “last wind” before they pass that could make you wonder if you are doing the right thing. Those moments will pass.
Here are just some ideas for coming to peace with the nearing end.
- Let everyone in the family, animals included, visit with her (as long as it doesn’t cause her stress).
- Make your kitty’s favorite meal.
- Sit with her wherever she is most comfortable.
- Take final photographs.
- Talk to her. Tell her about your favorite memories with her. Tell her you love her.
Step 3: Be with Your Kitty Until the End
There are very few things harder for me than holding a cat in my arms while the vet delivers the final medicine, but I do it every time. I stroke his fur, I whisper I love him, I tell him I will see him again, and I cry. I want his last breaths to be in the arms of someone he knows, seeing the face of someone who loves him. I feel like it’s the least I can do for all the love and joy he’s brought me during our time together.
I have found that being there in the final moments helps me as well. It helps me process the death and it helps me grieve.
Step 4: Remember Her
In my family, we have a shelf in our living room where we display our kitties’ ashes along with a collage frame that holds pictures of all of our furry friends we have said goodbye to. I know another family that buries their deceased animals in their backyard, creating small memorials to mark their burial location. Here are some additional ideas for commemorating your deceased friend:
- Make a memory box with your cat’s collar, favorite toy, etc.
- Plant flowers or a tree.
- Light a candle.
- Say a prayer.
- Name a star after them.
- Inscribe their name onto a memorial brick at a memorial garden, like this one at FUR’s sanctuary.
Step 5: Live Your Life
There’s no set amount of time it takes people to grieve. Grief is a profound emotional response, and trying to move on too soon just prolongs it. But, at some point, the pain will hurt a little less and the memories will bring fewer tears. When that happens, return to your normal. And if your house seems a bit too quiet or your life a bit to routine without your friend, considering adopting another kitty.
Death is part of life, but that doesn’t make it easy, especially when you’re the one making the final decision for your furry friend. But spending some time thinking about how you would respond before your kitty’s condition deteriorates can make it easier when the time comes. In the end, remember that the decision should be about your kitty and their quality of life above all else. And while you may worry about getting the timing exactly right, consider that it may be better to be a day too early than an hour too late.
Have you had to make the tough call to let your kitty go? Share your process or thoughts below.
Image by Freepik