Help at a difficult time

Grief banner

Coping with the death of a beloved cat or struggling to handle your grief after they’re gone: losing your cat can be devastating. It can affect you and your whole family.

If you are struggling with any issue surrounding the death of your cat, we hope you find the practical information and advice on this page both helpful and comforting.

When to let go

Your cat can’t tell you how poorly they feel or if they are in pain. Cats are also very good at hiding signs of illness or injury. As your cat gets older or if they become ill, you might worry that you won’t be able to tell if they are still enjoying a good quality of life.

Any changes in their routine or behaviour could be signs their health and or quality of life is deteriorating.

You may notice your cat has changed their routine or simply isn’t ‘quite right’ – or you may spot one of the following:

  • any unusual changes in behaviour but particularly lethargy or being withdrawn

  • unexplained weight loss

  • lameness or difficulty moving around

  • any swelling, growth or wound

  • recurrent sneezing, coughing or laboured breathing

  • difficulty or pain urinating

  • blood in urine or faeces

  • incontinence or going to the toilet more

  • unusual discharge or bleeding from the eyes, nose or mouth

  • vomiting or diarrhoea lasting more than 24 hours

  • self-neglect or poor coat condition

  • reduced interest in food or drink, or increased drinking or a sudden ravenous appetite

  • signs of pain when touched

  • discomfort or inability to settle

  • no desire to move

  • less tolerant of people or other pets, or less interest in play or favourite activities

If you notice any of the above or are simply worried about your cat, the best thing to do is take them to your vet for a check-up. Your vet will recommend any further tests or treatments your cat may need. If it isn’t good news and the outlook for your cat is poor, they will talk you through the options.

Sadly, our cats have much shorter lives than we do – the average life expectancy of a cat is 14 years. Due to illness or old age, your cat may no longer be enjoying a good quality of life. In this distressing situation, you will want to act with their best interests at heart and start to consider whether euthanasia might be the kindest choice.

Choosing to have your cat euthanased or ‘put to sleep’ is one of the hardest decisions you will ever have to make. It’s important to talk it through with your vet and you may also wish to involve your family in helping you decide. By listening to the advice and guidance of your vet, at least you will know you are making the kindest decision for your cat, giving them a chance to pass away painlessly and peacefully.

If your cat has a terminal but slowly progressing condition it is better to discuss these difficult issues with your vet sooner rather than later after diagnosis so that you are clearer about what might happen in the future. It can be difficult to make decisions when you are very upset and having a plan in advance can be helpful.

Euthanasia – a gentle and peaceful end

What is euthanasia?

Euthanasia literally means a ‘good death’ and is the word used to describe when a vet humanely ends the life of an animal. You may also hear people use the phrases ‘put down’ or ‘put to sleep’. Care must be used when using the term ‘put to sleep’ as children sometimes think this means the pet will wake up again.

How can I arrange it for my cat?

You can arrange a time to have your cat put sleep at your vet’s surgery or it may be possible for the vet to come to your home. Get in touch with your vet to discuss your preferences.

How much does it cost?

Costs vary from practice to practice but it will cost more if you decide you’d like the vet to come to your home rather than the procedure being carried out at the surgery. Costs also vary depending on whether you want the vet to look after the body afterwards. Your practice will always be happy to chat to you about the various costs and options. As it is a very distressing time you may want to consider paying in advance of the appointment as you are likely to be upset at the time. 

What happens during euthanasia?

Firstly, you will be asked to sign a consent form stating you want the euthanasia to go ahead. Your vet may also give your cat a sedative to help relax them if they are particularly fearful. Your vet may begin by shaving a small patch of fur on one of your cat’s front legs. They will then gently inject a high dose of anaesthetic into the vein so it goes directly into the bloodstream. However, if your cat is very sick or old, the vet may find it easier to find a vein in another part of the body. 

Your cat will quickly lose consciousness and a few moments later their heart and breathing will stop as they painlessly slip away. Don’t worry if you hear them take a deep breath or two and see their muscles twitch, these are not signs of pain or distress. Your cat’s eyes are also likely to stay open and, as their muscles relax, their lips will pull back and their bladder or bowels may empty. Finally, your vet will check for a pulse or heartbeat and may place your cat in a sleeping position.

Should I be there?

This is a very personal decision. Being there for your cat at the end so they can hear your voice and feel your touch may be less stressful for them and gives you a chance to say goodbye. However, it is easy to understand why some people feel it is just too difficult or fear their own distress will upset their cat. We are all different so the best advice is to do what you feel will be best for you and your cat.

What happens after euthanasia?

You may want to decide in advance if you wish for your cat to be buried or cremated so that you don’t have to make this decision at what could be an upsetting time. You have many options.

What happens after your cat dies or is put to sleep

As you are likely to be very upset when your cat dies, it can be worthwhile thinking about what you want to happen to the body in advance. Your vet will be happy to discuss the options and prices with you. If the death is unexpected, most vets will keep the body for you for a couple of days while you decide what you want to do.

Burial

You can choose to take your cat back home to bury, perhaps in a favourite spot in the garden, or you can opt for a pet cemetery. If you decide on a burial at home, you will need to check with your local authority that this is permissible. It is recommended the body is buried at least three feet below the surface and a heavy object is placed on top of the grave to prevent scavengers.

Either way, you might like to arrange a short memorial service. If you have children, taking part in the service by writing a poem or drawing a picture can help them to share their grief and say goodbye. You may also wish to let them see the body so they can understand what has happened.

Cremation

Your vet can arrange for your cat to be cremated, or you may wish to take them to the pet crematorium yourself. Your cat can be part of a communal cremation after which their ashes will be scattered with others in the garden of rest. Alternatively, you can opt for an individual cremation and have your cat’s ashes returned to you to keep or scatter. You may wish to enquire about costs before making a choice as an individual cremation will be significantly more expensive.

Another option you may not have considered is to donate your cat’s body to a veterinary school for medical research. Whatever you choose for your cat, they will be treated with dignity and respect.

For more detailed information on the options available to you please see our downloadable leaflet After death – taking care of your cat’s body

How grief may affect you

For many people the loss of their cat is as traumatic and emotionally challenging as the loss of any other family member. This creature that brought so much joy and unconditional love into our homes and hearts – their leaving leaves a massive hole and it hurts. 

Whatever the circumstances of your loss it is likely that you will be grieving. Grief is a unique and individual experience and while it is perfectly normal to grieve for the loss of a loved one, there is no normal way to grieve.

The relationship you had with your cat was a strong one. It’s an attachment relationship, similar to the type of relationship that a parent has with their child. Little wonder then, that it hurts so much to say goodbye.

It may be that your beloved cat hasn't yet died and you are anticipating (perhaps dreading) their death; perhaps you have a very difficult decision to make and are struggling with how you will get through this. This type of situation often brings anticipatory grief – a type of grieving that starts even before your cat has died.

When a pet is very sick or dies, it can be difficult to manage your feelings and thoughts as the world carries on around you and you may feel very alone in your grief, as if nobody will understand.

Whatever you are thinking and feeling right now, it is likely to be part of your own personal grief. There is no set time limit for grief.  Equally, there is no set way to experience or process your grief.

Many people find it very helpful to talk through their experience of grieving for a cat with someone that understands how important your relationship with your cat is.

If your grief becomes complex or prolonged, you might benefit from seeking out a personal therapist to support you through this difficult time. You can ask your GP about finding a suitable therapist.

You may also like to read through some of the words of comfort that people who have also been through losing a cat have shared on our ‘In your words page’

For more information about grief, and the feelings you may be experiencing please see our downloadable leaflet - Loss of a loved one – how grief may affect you

Remember your cat

Your cat will always have a special place in your heart but, when the time is right, you may also wish to find a fitting way to celebrate their life and memory.

The Cats Protection Memory Wall is a special place where you can share a photo of your much-loved cat and a few special words about them. By adding your ‘memory’, you will join a growing community of people who wish to remember their cats in this personal and lasting way.

Visit the Memory Wall

If you need to talk to someone

If you’re experiencing pet-related grief you can call our free and confidential phone line on 0800 024 94 94 to talk to one of our trained volunteer listeners.

While we are unable to offer counselling, we can provide you with a sympathetic ear at this difficult time so please get in touch.

The line is open between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday*

*excluding Bank Holidays