Knowing when to euthanize a beloved cat can be a devastating problem for pet owners. This difficult decision can be compounded by doubts and guilty feelings if caregivers have unanswered questions about their animal's health and quality of life. Maintaining a good relationship with the cat's veterinarian and learning as much as possible about the disease can provide a loving way to make this choice.
Understand the Disease
Kidney failure can be either acute (occurring suddenly) or chronic (progressing over a period of time) and is commonly a disease of older cats. Once the disease becomes chronic, approximately 65 to to 75 per cent of renal function has been compromised. This means that the kidneys are no longer able to filter all of the toxins and waste products out of the cat's body and will stop producing necessary red blood cells. This destruction of the kidney is called uremia and is irreversible even with veterinary treatment.
Because kidney failure is a progressive disease, veterinarians will commonly recommend palliative care -- treatment designed to lessen the symptoms of the disease, increase kidney function and improve the quality of life of the cat. They may prescribe medications to lower blood pressure and increase heart function. Vets can offer treatment with the hormone replacement epoetin to force the kidneys to produce more red blood cells. If the kidneys stop producing urine, diuretics may be used to prohibit fluid accumulation in the cat's body. Veterinarians can also recommend numerous medications to correct the electrolyte imbalances that can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. Virtually all cats with renal failure will need to receive subcutaneous fluids at home to combat dehydration; owners are usually taught the method for providing this treatment by the vet or a vet tech.
Know Your Cat
It is important for owners to realise that renal failure in cats is a fatal disease. With early veterinary treatment and consistent care at home, many animals can live for a few months to a few years, but, inevitably, their pets will succumb to this disease. Cat owners will need to recognise when their loved ones are suffering, the end is near and the quality of the animals' life is being compromised.
Signs of imminent death can include an inability or unwillingness to eat or drink. The cat's breath may begin to take on a sour, metallic smell and ulcers develop in the mouth on the tongue and gums. The animal may no longer be able to make it to the litter box, and an owner may find it lying in its own waste. A quick decline and possible coma may not be far behind.
Make the Decision
It is important that the owner consult with his veterinarians throughout the course of the illness to determine the progression of the disease and his cat's prognosis. Cat lovers know that making the decision to euthanize their pets can be agonising and any information they can get from their veterinarians may be of help. Veterinarians commonly talk through the procedure with owners to let them know what to expect and will provide them with medical options. Often, the vet is fully equipped to provide caregivers the knowledge that will alleviate any guilt over making this difficult decision.
- Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians, Dennis M. McCurnin, DVM, Joanna M. Bassert, VMD, 2002
- Common Diseases of Companion Animals, Alleice Summers, DVM, 2002