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Euthanasia

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How do we know it is time?

  • ​One of the most common questions a veterinarian receives from a client with an elderly cat, or a cat with diseases such as osteoarthritis or chronic kidney diseases is “when will I know it’s time?”. 
  • The American Association of Feline Practitioners has developed an End of Life Toolkit to assist veterinary teams and owners during this time. The 2021 Senior Care Guidelines also contain information on chronic diseases, comorbidities and End-of- Life decision making. Another source is the American Animal Hospital Association and International Association for Animal Hospice End of Life Care Guidelines (Bishop G et al, 2016). 
  • It can be extremely challenging to decide when this point is reached and there is often a grey area anchored by white and black at either end . It is the duty of the veterinary team to support owners during this difficult time.  
  • Euthanasia is considered acceptable when a disease has become unmanageable, and suffering is present or imminent.  
  • Patient-centered aspects to consider include:
    • Is the cat still eating/drinking enough to sustain energy?
    • Does the cat respond to attention from his owners? 
    • Is the cat still performing its favorite activities? 
    • Can pain be well controlled? 
  • Owner-centered considerations include their “budgets”. There are 4 budgets to consider: 
    • Financial. 
    • Emotional. 
    • Time. 
    • Physical. 
  • Owners should not feel rushed or pressured into making the decision to euthanize, although in some cases it may be necessary to expedite the process, for example after major trauma and if the cat is in the process of dying. The veterinary team should not be judgmental at this time, because owners are often unaware of how sick their cat is, are in denial, or may hold beliefs (religious or cultural) that do not support euthanasia.  
  • Legally an owner may request euthanasia of a cat for any reason. The reasons may include behavioral issues which are just as detrimental to a cat’s wellbeing as physical diseases. Other situations when euthanasia of a cat may be requested include when it is no longer wanted, it is destructive towards furnishing, or owners are moving and cannot take their cat with them. This is often referred to as “convenience” euthanasia and can present a moral and ethical dilemma for veterinarians. In many cases, there are underlying reasons for the request, and these should be sought, and the owners should not be quickly judged. In the case of true “convenience euthanasia” all veterinarians have the right to proceed, or to refuse; either decision should be carefully considered as it may impact on the cat itself (what will the owners do if you refuse) and the veterinarian (moral stress if you proceed).

Print off the owner factsheet on Saying goodbye - information and guidance on euthanasia to give to your client.

Consent for euthanasia

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Requirements of the consent form

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The euthanasia procedure

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New challenges in euthanasia 

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Rathwell-Deault D, Godard B, Frank D and Doize B (2017) Expected consequences of convenience euthanasia perceived by veterinarians in Quebec. Can Vet J 58, 723-728 PubMed.  
  • Rathwell-Deault D, Godard B, Frank D and Doize B (2017) Conceptualization of convenience euthanasia as an ethical dilemma for veterinarians in Quebec. Can Vet J 58, 255-260 PubMed
  • Bishop G, Cooney K, Cox S et al (2016) 2016 AAHA/IAAHPC end-of-life care guidelines. JAAHA 52 (6), 341-356 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Cooney K A et al (2012) Veterinary Euthanasia techniques: A Practical Guide. Ames IA; Wiley Blackwell, pp 73-109.

Online Open Access Articles 

Web based resources 

On-line Quality of Life tools​

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