Friday, March 15, 2013

Choosing Euthanasia: What happens next?

 The process of euthanasia

Once you have made the decision to euthanize your cat and called your veterinarian, the office staff will schedule a euthanasia appointment. Generally these appointments are open-ended, so that you can spend as much time as you need before or after the euthanasia to feel closure, and to feel composed enough to leave the hospital. It is best to bring someone with you, if possible, to drive you home, if needed. It is also best not to bring small children, if at all possible, or have them step out of the room while the euthanasia takes place, so that you are able to focus on your last moments with your cat.

Feral Cat Silhouuette by Blake Shaw
You have the option to be present with your pet during the euthanasia or to leave the room – either leaving your cat in the capable hands of your veterinary staff and exiting the building before the euthanasia takes place, or to come back into the room after the euthanasia solution has been administered to view your pet. There is no “right” way to do this, and most veterinary hospitals are very flexible about what can be done. The only thing that they may ask is that you allow a staff member to gently restrain your animal for the doctor, which might prevent you from having your cat in your arms or on your lap for the euthanasia, itself.

If your cat is distressed by the veterinary office, you may be offered a sedative either prior to travel to the hospital, or at the time of your appointment to relax your pet before the euthanasia takes place. Depending on the sedative, your cat may merely be calmer, or may actually fall asleep before the euthanasia.
During the euthanasia procedure, an overdose of an anesthetic medication is injected into one of your cat’s veins. Most cats do not react to the needle poke, though some may protest a little at having their leg held. This medication causes your cat to fall asleep first, and then the respirations and heart will stop. Many cats will heave a sigh, as though of relief, as they fall asleep and feelings of pain and discomfort subside. Sometimes, they may look around or look up as though they are having a moment of clarity, or are looking for your face, before they become unconscious. Usually, the cat’s heart has stopped before the veterinarian is finished giving the dose of the euthanasia medication. Most people are quite surprised at how peacefully and how quickly their pet is “gone”.

Some of the mechanical things that happen to the body as life passes can be uncomfortable to watch or disconcerting, especially if you are not expecting it. Unfortunately, cats do not close their eyes after euthanasia. Some cats will lick their lips – if this happens, their tongue may continue to stick out after euthanasia. Sometimes, a cat will urinate or defecate as their muscles relax. Rarely, several minutes after the cat is “gone”, electrical impulses in the body can trigger the diaphragm to move after the heart has stopped. It might look as though the cat is gasping for breath, but this is only a reflex.

After Care

At such a sad time, who wants to be faced with decisions? However, there is one last thing to decide – will you take your pet home to bury in the garden? You may need to check local ordinances in your area before doing this. Certain times of the year, this may be impractical – December in Michigan is a difficult time of year to try to bury anything! Most veterinary offices have other options available as well. There are a few places that provide a Pet Cemetery, where your pet can have a grave site that you can visit. There are also two cremation options - general or group cremation means that your cat will be taken to a special pet crematory facility and cremated along with several other pets. Their ashes will be combined with other ashes and buried on site. You cannot go visit them, however.  Private cremation means that only one pet is cremated at a time, and you can have the ashes returned to you – to bury, scatter in the garden, place in an urn or have turned into memorial jewelry or artwork. There are quite a few artists and businesses that will incorporate your pet’s ashes into a painting, drawing, glass bead or pendant.

Paw Prints are a lovely way to memorialize your cat
If you do not want your pet’s ashes returned, you have other options to memorialize your pet. Many people request that a small amount of fur be clipped and saved for them, others opt to have a clay pawprint made. Some people prefer to remember their cats through photos, and some people find it too painful to keep any memento of their cat and find themselves donating cat beds and toys to shelters and rescues. Some people go out right away to find a new cat to shelter and care for, while others may need to wait before welcoming in a new furry friend. Some may find that the thought of any other cat in their house is too painful. Again, there is no “right” way to deal with the loss of your cat. It hurts. You have to find the way that is best for your own self to heal that hurt. 

You may find that your other cats mourn the loss of their companion, just as you do. Your other cats may wander the house, investigating places where the missing cat used to sleep, or may call out as though looking for her. Your other cats may be more aloof or more clingy than previously, and may be either more agitated and restless or more sedentary and sleepy. Your cats may show less interest in eating – in fact, the ASPCA notes that 11% of cats that appear to be mourning will stop eating completely for a short period. If your cat goes on hunger strike for more than a couple days, however, it would be best to schedule a checkup with your veterinarian.

The process of choosing euthanasia for your cat, when laid out in black and white is a lot less scary and emotional than when you actually find yourself within the process. Remember, though, that while you must be the one to make the final decision, you don’t have to do it alone. We veterinary staff members are happy to answer your questions, let you voice your concerns and fears, and discuss treatment options to allow you and your cat to enjoy a long, healthy relationship and to help you make sense of these troubling, but important and compassionate decisions. Sometimes, we must choose to suffer, ourselves, so that our cat’s suffering can end.

Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement
ASPCA Pet Loss Resources
Michigan Pet Loss Resources
Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Support 
UP Pet Loss Support Group
Pet Loss Grief Support
Beyond the Pawprint Pet Loss Support Group, Farmington Hills, MI


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