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"Love knows not its own depth
Until the hour of separation."
Cats, like people, die from diverse causes. Some die without warning from a car accident or heart failure, while others die gradually from a terminal illness. Sometimes we lose our cats never knowing what happened to them -- they simply disappear. No matter what the cause of the loss, the impact is devastating.
Sudden death or separation spares us the need to deal with a failing pet, but often makes acceptance of the passing more difficult. Terminal illness creates a time of intense sadness, but gives us a chance to show our love by maximizing the cat's quality-of-life during this final stage. And, as the reality sets in, we begin to have closure as we slowly say goodbye to our beloved friend.
If your cat is diagnosed with a serious illness, work with your vet to develop a reasonable treatment plan. Many illnesses can be managed for extended time periods provided you have the resources to pay for medical care and you are able to provide treatment -- pill-giving, fluid therapy, syringe-feeding, and injections may be required. This is especially true for cats with chronic conditions such as some forms of cancer, kidney or liver failure.
As the disease progresses -- and if your vet evaluates your cat and concludes that pain and discomfort are low -- the goal will shift to providing home hospice care -- keeping your cat comfortable during the final days.
Ideally, when their time comes, all cats would die quickly and painlessly at home purring away in the lap of their guardian -- but this is not always possible. In some instances, the severity of the condition and/or the level of unmanageable pain, makes euthanasia a more appropriate ending.
There is no right or wrong time to take this step. Each life needs to be evaluated individually. However, there are some quality-of-life indicators that you and your veterinarian can look for to aid in the decision process.
Euthanizing a terminally ill cat can be a compassionate ending if the cat is showing signs of pain such as fast breathing, whimpering, discomfort when touched or loss of appetite. This is particularly important when the pain cannot be managed with medications. Ask yourself this question: Am I keeping my cat alive for myself or for my cat? Keep in mind that cats do not experience the anticipation of death that humans do.
Once the decision is made, act promptly to ensure neither of you suffer more than necessary. If you are comfortable participating in this final act of love, ask if you can hold your pet through the process. Some veterinarians will even come to your home to euthanize your cat, sparing the trauma of a trip to the clinic.
After the cat passes away, a decision must be made of what to do with the remains. Again, there is no right or wrong decision. If local ordinances permit, you may want to take the remains home for a private burial. If not, many cemeteries now have sections set up for pet burial and there are special pet cemeteries too.
Crematories will offer either group cremations, where no ashes are returned, or for an additional charge, you can specify an individual cremation and receive the ashes back. Many urns are available for you to purchase to keep the ashes, or you could sprinkle them outdoors.
For many of us the loss of a cat is comparable to the loss of a family member, partner, or best friend. Here are some steps that may guide and support you through the grieving process: