Before Your Cat Dies

Euthanasia * Necropsy * Cremation, Burial, & Keepsakes * Final Expense * Reviewing Your Choices

No one likes to think about the death of their cat. The idea of losing a loving, loyal companion can be overwhelming. There is really nothing that can be done to make the grief and sadness at their loss easier. But, you can make the “business” side of their loss a little bit easier to manage by taking time to think and plan for it before it’s necessary. Having a plan for exactly what you will do and how you will do it will allow you to focus on loving your cat until the end.

When it comes to the death of your cat there are a lot of things to consider. As you work through the process of planning or figuring out how to plan for your cat’s eventual death you may find that you start grieving for them even when they’re still with you. This is totally normal. This process is called anticipatory grief. What’s Your Grief has a really good explanation about the process and why it’s not a bad thing to experience.

As you work through formulating a plan for the eventual loss of your cat I encourage you to write that plan down. Keep that plan available in some way so that if you end up needing to make an emergency decision you don’t miss anything. And a written plan can tell others in your family how you want your cat’s life and eventual death handled if you happen to die first.

Euthanasia

The most important question to answer is whether or not you will euthanize your cat. Some people, for moral, spiritual, or religious reasons will not euthanize an animal under any circumstances.

If euthanasia is an acceptable process for you, the next question to answer is under what circumstances will you consider euthanasia. This answer can get really complicated. It can be easy to decide on euthanasia if your cat has traumatic physical injuries, like from a car accident, that they can’t overcome. But it’s much harder to make the decision if your cat is suffering from a chronic disease. Some diseases can leave a cat in a position where they’re not exactly suffering, but where they are slowly wasting away and no longer having any enjoyment in life. For a cat that doesn’t have any good days, but also doesn’t have any bad days, the decision on when to euthanize can be really difficult to make.

Catster has a quality of life scale for cats that can help you to objectively measure how your cat is doing and can help you to make the decision on when euthanasia might be the right choice.

No one can make this choice for you. Others can help talk you through the decision, or tell you what they might do if it were their cat, but in the end the choice is yours alone. Familiarizing yourself with quality of life ideas and monitoring now can help you to start thinking about the different scenarios in which you would consider euthanasia, and when it might be appropriate to follow through with.

If you are dealing with trying to make this choice for a cat who is slowly fading away it might be really helpful to use the quality of life scale daily and record your cat’s scores. It’s very easy to be lost in your own emotions about your cat and lose sight of how they’re doing overall. Sometimes you might feel like they’re getting worse when their daily scores show that they’re remaining stable or even improving. Using the same set of questions with the same scores and writing down your answers can really help you to take an objective view of your cat’s life.

Helpful questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is euthanasia something I would ever consider doing?
  2. How will I decide when or under what circumstances to euthanize my cat?
  3. Location – Will it be at home? At the vet’s office? At an emergency vet? Somewhere else?
  4. Who will be there?
  5. What’s my backup plan if my first choice of location isn’t available or if someone who should be there with me can’t be there?
  6. If you euthanize at home, who will handle the final arrangements for your cat’s body?
  7. Cost – How much does euthanasia cost? How will I pay for it?
  8. How can I prepare myself for the last visit? What can I do to make that last visit easier for my cat?

Cornell University has put together some very helpful information on what to expect when a cat is euthanized. Conscious Cat has some additional information on what to expect.

Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Chronic Kidney Disease has a page that covers the final hours with a cat very well. This site is devoted to kidney disease, but the information on this particular page can be helpful for all cat parents. I have linked to a section in the middle of the page and skipped most of the disease-specific stuff at the top. This page also has some information that can help you formulate your own thoughts on euthanasia if you’re not sure whether it’s something you would ever choose for your own cat.

IMPORTANT: If you take your cat to a vet clinic or hospital where they’ve never been seen before and request euthanasia you will be asked a lot of questions. It will probably feel like you’re being interrogated or argued with by the clinic staff or the veterinarian. The purpose of those questions is not to bully you or to force you into attempting expensive treatment rather than euthanasia. The purpose of those questions is to establish that you are actually the cat’s legal owner and that euthanasia is appropriate.

Unfortunately we live in a world where terrible people exists. It’s not unheard of for someone to pick up a neighbor’s cat and take them to be euthanized for the crime of walking through their yard or pooping in their garden. The vet you see for your cat’s euthanasia will do everything they can to ensure they’re providing the most appropriate care possible for your cat, and making sure that it is your cat is an important part of that.

Their questions may be stressful and hard to handle while you’re also dealing with the imminent loss of your cat. Hopefully knowing ahead of time that you might experience this will help you when it actually happens. If you are able to bring your cat’s medical records with you to this final appointment it will help to establish your ownership and the fact that you have been providing care already. Usually these records will reduce the amount of questions the vet will have to ask prior to the procedure

Necropsy

A necropsy is an autopsy for animals. A necropsy can give a lot of information about what was going on inside your cat at the time they died. Most cats who die do not ever receive a necropsy. In a lot of cases a necropsy wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone because the reason for the cat’s death isn’t a mystery, but there are times when a necropsy might be a good choice.

Before your cat dies it’s good to think about whether or not you might want a necropsy done. If you’re unsure about whether a necropsy would be worth doing you can discuss this with your vet.

One very major problem with deciding on a necropsy is guilt or blame. If you have a necropsy performed and you learn there’s something you could have done differently in your cat’s treatment you might then blame yourself for any “mistakes” you made in caring for them. It is incredibly important if you have a necropsy done to remember that you did the best you could with the information you had while your cat was alive. If you know you’re the type of person to blame yourself when you learn more information after the fact then it may be best to avoid a necropsy completely.

Helpful questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is necropsy something I would ever consider doing?
  2. Will the results help me in some way?
  3. Will the results help other cats in some way?
  4. Cost – How much does it cost? Who will pay for it? Can I afford to pay for it if I’m the one responsible for it?
  5. Location – Who will perform the necropsy? How do I get my cat to them?
  6. If I have a necropsy, do I have the option of receiving my cat’s body back for either burial or cremation?

Before Thomas died I made the decision to have a necropsy done. In the last couple months of his life he had blood tests that indicated infection or inflammation somewhere, but we couldn’t find the source. We tried several different treatments but nothing affected his results. I’m in a few different support groups and saw some other cats starting to show the same changes in their blood tests that Thomas had. My decision to do a necropsy was mostly because I wanted to see if there was anything we could learn from his death that could be used to help those other cats.

Cremation, Burial, and Keepsakes

Cremation

Once your cat has passed you’ll also need to make some decisions on what to do with their body. Cremation seems to be the most common thing to have done after a cat has died. But, like everything else, even that option can be complicated.

If you decide on cremation you’ll also need to decide if you want a group cremation or a private cremation. Then you need to decide if you want your cat’s ashes returned to you. If you choose a group cremation you might not have the option to have ashes returned. If you do have ashes returned the ashes you receive won’t just be your cat. They’ll be mixed with any other animals who were in the group with your cat. If you choose a private cremation and choose for ashes to be returned the ashes you receive will be only your cat, with no other animals mixed in. In some cases you may also be able to be present for a private cremation.

If you choose cremation and choose to have your cat’s ashes returned you’ll also be asked to choose an urn or container for those ashes. There are likely only a limited set of options that you’ll receive from your vet, or wherever you go for the cremation. Those options can also be expensive. You can always choose to have just the “basic” container for your cat’s ashes and then take your time shopping around to find the one that feels right to you. The “basic” container is often a cardboard box that has a bag inside with your cat’s ashes. It would be very easy to transfer their ashes to any new container that you buy on your own later.

Burial

If you decide on burial you will need to know where your cat will be buried. There are a lot of options for this. You can bury them in your own yard, though some local laws may require you to bury ashes from cremation rather than their body. There may be a pet cemetery in your area with burial options. Pet cemeteries typically have options for burying whole bodies or just ashes. There are also memorial tree gardens in may places. In these gardens you can pay for the burial of a tree with a specific dedication to your cat. Typically these gardens only allow ashes to be buries when the trees are planted and do not allow body burial.

Keepsakes

There are some keepsakes that you may be offered if you decide to have your cat cremated. Some common keepsakes that are offered are locks of hair or paw prints in a plaster cast. Sometimes these are included in the cost of the cremation and other times they’re an extra expense.

Helpful questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I want a cremation? A private one? A group one?
    1. If I have the option to attend a private cremation, do I want to attend it? Would I invite anyone else to join me?
    2. Do I want my cat’s ashes returned?
    3. Do I want a special urn for their ashes? Will I get one of the options from my vet’s office, or will I find one on my own?
  2. Do I want my cat buried?
    1. Where will they be buried
    2. Do they need to be cremated before burial or will I bury their body?
  3. Do I want any keepsakes like a paw print or a lock of hair?
  4. Cost – How much will the choices I’ve made cost? How will I pay for them?

Final Expenses

I’m sure you’ve noticed that every single decision you make at the end of your cat’s life has a financial cost associated with it. One of the best things you can do for yourself and your cat is to make sure you always have a way to pay any necessary expenses.

If you think cost will be a barrier to receiving euthanasia you should see if you qualify for any kind of financial assistance.

There are also some places that may be able to provide euthanasia that you may not have thought of. Low cost spay/neuter clinics will sometimes provide basic veterinary care and euthanasia at a lower cost than many regular clinics. And, if you’re in a really desperate financial position you might want to check if you have a local shelter that offers low cost euthanasia.

Where I live there are some discounts available through the local Humane Society. There’s also a free euthanasia option through the county animal shelter. There are some limitations to using either of these options though. For example, in either place you would not be allowed to be with your cat when they’re put to sleep. You might also not have any options for cremation or receiving your cats body or ashes back for burial. These places also have limited operating hours and would not necessarily be available in an emergency.

Reviewing Your Choices

Once you have your plan formulated it’s a good idea to review it and make sure you still agree with your choices.

If you’ve made a written list of your options for euthanasia, cremation, or anything else, it’s good to make sure those options are still available. And if you’ve written down any information about the cost of services through those places it’s good to periodically make sure those prices are still accurate.