We dread the deaths of our beloved cats, and every death is different. We may or may not get notice; we may or may not have time to say goodbye. Assuming there is time to say goodbye, what can we do to make an already stressful and possibly dreaded process as calm and meaningful as possible?
These are your last moments with your cat, but you can make the most of a traumatic time. We can’t avoid death, but if the situation arises where we have warning, and our cat’s death is imminent (either at home or at the veterinarian’s office), there are things we can do, with a little forethought, that might make the passing-over process less stressful for you and your cat.
Ease Your Cat’s Way
How can you make this time most calm and least stressful for your cat? Are there other animals in the household that your cat prefers to have around or prefers not to have around? All of these things factor into how you set the stage for the process of dying, if that opportunity is available.
You know your cat better than anyone. Does your cat hate loud noises? Does your cat stress out at the vet’s office? Does your cat want you near her? Your knowledge of these things is a guide for how to prepare for when your cat passes over, or for hospice time prior to passing over.
If your cat hates going to the vet, see if your veterinarian will make a house call if euthanasia is needed. This could provide a more peaceful and less stressful experience for you and your cat. What will make this time the least stressful for your particular cat? Honor her uniqueness and make her passage as easy as possible.
Ease The Process For Yourself
Know what you need to do to make the best and most mindful decisions possible. If you know that euthanasia is going to be necessary, and if you know that you can’t handle being present for that moment, create opportunities to say your goodbyes beforehand. If you do want to be with your cat during the euthanasia process, ask for what you need. A compassionate and aware veterinarian will offer private space and as much time as you need before or after the procedure. See if you can pay beforehand so you don’t have to think about it afterward.
Treat yourself well during the hospice or passing-over time. This is an emotionally draining experience, and you want to be able to be fully present for yourself and your cat.
Death Takes Time
In a case where you know your cat is terminal, but she has a few weeks or months remaining, there are many loving things you can do with her that will make this bittersweet time special. Give her what she loves during this time – snuggling, time on the bed, treats.
For yourself, practice being present, and appreciate each special moment with your cat. Try to find as much time as possible to slow down and just enjoy time together.
During six months of hospice with one of my own cats, I often took him outside in the yard with me because he loved the outdoors and had been an indoor cat for his 21 years with me. I know that he enjoyed our time outdoors and I think it made the quality of his life a little better.
When I pet and stroke a cat who is terminal, I try to appreciate every moment, right down to the feel of the fur. It seems to me that if I slow down and appreciate the essence of a cat –fur, feel, unique personality – he will be more deeply ingrained in my memory once gone. And I try to mindfully appreciate and love my cats all the time, because death doesn’t always give notice.
There will be situations where death is sudden or traumatic, and in these cases, all you can do is act with the best outcome in mind for yourself and your cat. A pet’s death is never something we look forward to, but if we have the opportunity to honor it, and to ease the passage for our cats and for ourselves, we may be left with better memories after our cat passes.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Catherine Holm is the award-winning author of cat fantasy fiction and cat-themed memoir. She lives in Vermont with her husband and five well-loved cats. Learn about her work at www.catherineholm.com.