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Do cats feel pain when they are put to sleep?


When animals are put to sleep, during a process called ‘euthanasia’, their owners often ask ‘is it a painful procedure?’ Euthanasia is not painful, and this article will explore this in more depth. I hope that this article puts your mind at ease. And provides some reassurance to those who may sadly be going through this with their feline friend.

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia can be defined as ‘painlessly ending life to relieve suffering’. Most owners will experience this with their pets during their lifetime. Reasons that euthanasia may be performed by your veterinarian include animal suffering and incurable (especially painful) conditions or diseases. Depending on the scenario and situation, the decision to put your cat to sleep may be quickly made, especially in emergency scenarios or in seriously unwell patients. Alternatively, some owners may have some time beforehand leading up to their pet’s euthanasia. This may give people more time to prepare for the loss of their pet.

What happens during euthanasia?

When your cat is put to sleep it can be extremely upsetting to everyone present. Your vet will aim to make it as peaceful and stress-free as possible for both you and your beloved pet. 

During the euthanasia process, you may choose to stay with your feline friend to comfort them. Check practice protocol with your veterinarian beforehand because, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, there were restrictions in place to ensure social distancing. 

Sometimes your vet will advise sedating your cat before euthanasia. This is particularly beneficial to relax fractious or stressed cats, making the process more peaceful. The euthanasia medication most used by vets is called pentobarbital; it leads to your pet becoming unconscious, peacefully stopping their hearts. When your vet injects this medication into one of their veins, your pet will quickly pass over ‘rainbow bridge’ without struggle. 

Will euthanasia be painful for my cat?

Making the decision to have your cat put to sleep is extremely emotionally challenging. It is one of the toughest choices you will ever have to make. As a small animal vet myself, I understand this difficulty and I too have been in that heartbreaking position, it isn’t easy. Once the decision has been made, you may worry about whether your cat will experience any pain or discomfort during the passing (and of course it is okay to worry about this!).

The term ‘euthanasia’ in Greek literally means ‘good death’ and the process isn’t bad or painful at all. When it is the right time to say goodbye, it is such a kind and selfless gift to give to your pet. The response to euthanasia is very similar to the response when we put animals under anaesthesia, they slowly lose consciousness and fall asleep peacefully.

The only time that your cat may react during a euthanasia is when placing an intravenous catheter into their vein. They will only feel a needle prick, but some felines may be more sensitive to this than others. If your vet injects the euthanasia drug directly from a needle and syringe, again they may react slightly to the needle prick but will not experience any pain when the drug is being injected. It can sometimes be more difficult finding a vein in collapsed and very unwell pets so please be patient with your vet.

Now of course we cannot ask our feline patients ‘does it hurt?’ when we are putting them to sleep and if animals could speak to us veterinary medicine would be very different! However, having performed euthanasia many times as a vet and based on my own experience, the patients don’t elicit any signs of pain when injecting them.

Conclusion

To conclude, euthanasia has a purpose to stop and relieve suffering, it most certainly doesn’t cause suffering. Putting your cat to sleep is not a painful process and I hope that this article has been comforting to those who need it.

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