When To Euthanize A Cat With Cancer

All you’ve ever wanted was the best for your cat. But sometimes knowing what’s right for him or her can be very difficult, especially when it comes to euthanasia. When a cat is sick with a debilitating illness, such as cancer, or has been severely injured, your head may tell you that euthanasia is the right and humane thing to do. But your heart might say otherwise. So, what should you do? Is euthanasia the right answer for your cat’s situation? Or should you just let nature take its course? If you do decide to put your pet down, timing is another issue. How will you know when to euthanize a cat with cancer or another medical issue?

Unfortunately, there is no one right or wrong answer to these questions. Every cat’s situation and every pet parent’s situation are different. To help you make this difficult decision, here are several signs and symptoms that could mean it’s time to let your cat go.

Poor Quality Of Life

Is your cat thriving or just surviving? If you notice that your cat is no longer able to do the things that he or she used to take pleasure in, such as playing, eating or interacting with others, your feline is probably just in survival mode. Keeping a daily log of how your cat is doing will help you determine whether your cat’s bad days far outweigh the good ones. If that becomes the case, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about end-of-life preparations for your cat.

Lack Of Appetite

A lack of appetite is one of the first signs you may notice when your cat’s quality of life is on the decline. In some instances, you may be able to get your cat to start eating again by offering them “people” food, such as tuna, other types of fish or chicken. Some pet owners will also use veterinary prescribed appetite stimulants to entice their cats to eat. Sometimes, however, these medications are of little benefit as they do not treat the underlying cause.

Difficulty Breathing

If you notice that your cat is having trouble breathing, this could be a sign of pulmonary edema or a fluid buildup in the lungs. Some causes of pulmonary edema include but are not limited to illnesses — such as pneumonia — or asthma, cardiomyopathy or from pulmonary lung tumors. Cats that have difficulty breathing will often stop eating, which can lead to further health complications.

Other Physical Signs

If your cat’s health is declining, you may notice that his or her medications are no longer as effective as they once were. As a result, you may notice a worsening of any symptoms your cat may have. For example, if your cat’s pain medication is no longer working, your pet may find it too painful to move around, which could lead to other issues, such as weakness, poor hygiene (lack of grooming) or incontinence.

Changes In Behavior

A sudden change in your cat’s personality could signal that your cat’s health is in serious decline. Your normally friendly cat might, for instance, take to hiding in your closet. Or an aloof cat might suddenly become clingy.

Signs That Cancer Is Taking A Toll

“Cancer” is a blanket term that covers a group of diseases characterized by abnormal cell growth. Because each cancer is different, symptoms and treatment protocols can vary greatly. Following are just a few symptoms and the type(s) of cancer they may signify:

  • Trouble urinating: Bladder tumors
  • Drooling or difficulty eating: Oral cancer
  • Uncharacteristic aggression, fearful behavior or walking in a circle or walking as if drunk: Brain tumor
  • Difficulty defecating: Anal gland adenocarcinoma

If cancer is in advanced stages, you may have to make decisions based on your cat’s quality of life.

Exposure To Rabies

Rabies is a fatal disease that is spread through the saliva of an infected animal. According to the CDC, unvaccinated cats that have been bitten by a rabid animal typically should be euthanized immediately.  Consulting your veterinarian and state laws is vital.

Severe Injuries

Euthanasia may be the kindest decision for a cat that has suffered traumatic injuries after a violent incident or accident, such as being hit by a car or being attacked by another animal. If the outlook for your cat’s survival is bleak, medical treatment could just be prolonging your feline’s suffering.

Caring For Your Cat If You Decide to Delay Euthanasia

Don’t be surprised if you will need some time to decide if euthanasia is the right answer for your cat. In fact, if you’re like most pet parents, you’ll probably change your mind several times before making a decision. It is important to note, though, that your cat may be uncomfortable during this time. So, you may want to reach out for extra care. For instance, you may consider calling a mobile veterinarian to provide in-home hospice care for your cat. Having a vet come to you means that your cat will get the treatment he or she needs without having to endure a stressful car ride and office visit. Further, if you do eventually decide on euthanasia, a mobile veterinarian can humanely put your cat to sleep in the comfort and familiar setting of your home.

About Euthanasia

Please take comfort in knowing that euthanasia will not be a painful process for your cat, and that your veterinarian will do their best to make the experience as calm as possible for your feline. Your veterinarian will begin the procedure by inserting a catheter into one of your cat’s veins. In most cases, your cat will receive some type of heavy sedation, which will be followed by a second injection that will stop your pet’s heart and lungs. Your cat may let out a sigh before passing away peacefully. Depending on your comfort level, you can either stay with your pet during this process — which only takes a few minutes — or you can choose not to. Neither choice is wrong.

It is also absolutely okay if you choose to not euthanize your pet.  We understand that this is a  very personal choice and that no one enters into lightly.

How PetCure Oncology Can Help

At PetCure Oncology, our experienced medical team is dedicated to providing compassionate and state-of-the-art care for cats that have been diagnosed with cancer. If you would like to know about our services, please reach out to one of our Pet Advocates. They can explain the treatment options we offer, including Stereotactic Radiation. This innovative treatment is a non-invasive way to deliver higher doses of radiation, precisely targeted to a tumor, reducing the risk of damaging healthy tissue near the tumor. Compared with traditional radiation, your cat will have to undergo fewer treatment sessions with Stereotactic Radiation as well. In addition, we offer both telehealth services and in-person care at PetCure Oncology centers. Find a location near you and contact us for more information.

RELATED: When To Euthanize A Dog With Cancer

The contents of this article were provided in part by Dr. Renee Alsarraf, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), a board-certified veterinary medical oncologist and member of PetCure Radiation Oncology Specialists (PROS).


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