When Should Someone Let a Cat Go?

There’s nothing more pathetic than a very sick cat. Even a very sick dog doesn’t look as pathetic, because at least we expect dogs to whine and moan when they’re sick or injured. But when the ever-stoic feline cops to feel like crap, it’s obvious that things are really bad.

Thus, it’s only natural that when our kitties start feeling better after a bad spell, we’re profoundly relieved. And, knowing our cats as well as we do, the odds are good that we’ll notice those changes long before even a veterinarian would.

Does that mean we as cat caretakers are susceptible to seeing improvements that aren’t really there?

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A recent study from North Carolina State University suggests that this is quite possible. The researchers went so far as to conduct a three-part study featuring a medication for feline degenerative joint disease and a placebo in order to see if there is a statistical way to weed out the “caregiver placebo effect,” as the scientists called it, and determine the true effectiveness of the medicine.

I know all about the desire to see improvements in a beloved cat’s condition. When my Dahlia got so sick a couple of years ago, I hoped against hope that I’d find her feeling better every day. But I’m enough of a realist that there was no way I could deny how ill Dahlia was, and there was no way I could fail to see the pain in her eyes.

On the other hand, I’ve got my cat, Siouxsie, who has severe arthritis in her hips. I started her on a new herbal medicine a couple of months ago. I knew I was going to be inclined to see improvement even if none existed, and I know many people are skeptical about alternative remedies, so I took video of her walking before I started the medication so that I can compare that video to one I’m going to take in a couple of weeks.

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It looks to me like the medicine has really decreased her pain level and improved her quality of life. She’s become more spry and she’s asking for shoulder rides again, something she hadn’t done for several months. Generally speaking she seems more alert and engaged, and less grumpy. Even my vet, who only sees Siouxsie once every few months, noticed the difference when I took her in for her last checkup.

Of course, we all want our cats to be healthy, happy and pain-free, but we need to be vigilant that our desire for our cats’ recovery doesn’t blind us to the reality of the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the medication we’re giving. To deny the truth is not just a waste of time and resources, it’s cruel and inhumane.

Case in point: I once knew a woman whose elderly dog was severely arthritic, going blind, and lapsing into dementia. The dog’s owner asked me for advice. I told her what I saw: The dog was obviously terrified because she was in excruciating pain, couldn’t see, didn’t know where she was and couldn’t remember even the people who were familiar to her. I wanted to be compassionate with the woman, but I also had to speak the truth. “I know you and the kids love her and she’s a huge part of your lives,” I told the woman. “But I also think you know it’s not a kindness to keep her alive in this state.”

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She clearly didn’t want to hear what I had to say because she refused to have the dog euthanized, instead opting to give homeopathic remedies and aspirin — which really did nothing to help.

It broke my heart to see this dog, who clearly had “that look” in her eyes and was more than ready to have her suffering ended, live in this horrific state for another several months because her owner refused to see the reality of her dog’s illness and pain.

What about you? Have you watched an animal suffer as an owner insisted the pet was getting better even when it was obvious that this was not true? On the other hand, have you seen a recovery that others didn’t and had to deal with people wondering why you were keeping your cat alive? Let’s talk in the comments.

Photo: Retro look of orange tabby cat looking out the window on a sunny day by Shutterstock

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This post was written by JaneA Kelley, regular contributor to Catster Magazine.


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Xenia M.
Xenia M3 years ago

Sitting with my brother after this trying to explain why I was doing this I was told I should go to him that he was calling. With all of us around him he breathed his last. We never made it to the vet. With all my good intentions, with all my observation, with all my knowledge, I still wonder if I should have called it earlier, and I hate myself for the possibility that I should have. As I see it, my only saving grace is that I DID call it, even if we didn't get there. As painful as that call is, do it, and know that to put it off will only make you feel far worse. The loss will happen either way. Let it happen well

Xenia M.
Xenia M3 years ago

My story...my deeply beloved family cat was diagnosed with diabetes. We did not know until I pressed the point and insisted to see a specialist that the cause of this was pancreatic cancer. Under the specialist the diabetes was well managed and eventually, miraculously, disappeared. The cancer, of course, did not. For a couple of years he was actually completely ok. I neither wished to end his life earlier than necessary, nor inflict his loss on the people who adored him any earlier than necessary. Of course things eventually got worse. His vet gave him morphine, with the promise that it would keep him from pain while we said goodbye, and the promise from me that with another step of deterioration I would instantly bring him back to end it. I spent a week sleeping on the kitchen floor beside him (it was the only place he would be). I would not allow him to be alone, I wanted him to get that morphine at the slightest hint of pain, and I wanted to know when things got worse. (I should stress at this point that I have a lot of experience with animals experiencing suffering and moving towards death..as much as I hated this I knew too well when things had gone far enough, and his vet was aware of this too). Very late one night he had a seizure. I understood at this point that the cancer had most likely spread into his brain. With every other person in the house fighting against me I declared "enough" and called the vet to say I was bringing him in. Sitting with my brother after th

Susan Griffiths
Susan Griffiths3 years ago

It is true that our nature is to seek confirmation for what we wish to be the case - this is a known scientific fact. Being aware of this can make a big difference in terms of viewing your ill cat more accurately. We recently had to euthanize our dear cat who had an incurrable illness. We managed, with medication and attentive care, to prolonged her life for 18 quality months, but inevitably the time came. She let us know. Our friends also helped with their perhaps more objective observations. It also helped that we knew she was ill and would eventually need to be euthanized to be kind. So we really concsiously worked very hard to be objective with our daily observations and listen to what she was telling us.


I've had to 'let go' so many times and the pain in my heart was horrific. But if you REALLY know your feline fur-child, your gut feeling will tell you when it's time to let them go. No, it will never be an easy call, but if you love your precious feline fur-child, you will do what's right for your baby. I've always stayed with each one of my precious babies. They vet I use lets me sit with them for as long as I want and during that time I whisper to them, tell them how much I love them, pet them, groom them and tell them I will see them again one day. When I'm ready, I call for the vet and I stay with them during the procedure, continually speaking softly to them, never watching the vet, but focused entirely on my precious baby, thankful knowing my voice of love was the last thing they heard. Of course, once again, I break down crying. But my vet does not through me out the door she, again, allows me to stay with my baby 'for as long as I wish' and I have stayed with them before and after for more than 4 hours. No one bothers me, but leaves me in peace with my precious, sweet, loving feline fur-child. When I'm ready, I call for the young girl to come and take his body where he/she will be 'individually' cremated. Knowing this day would eventually come, I have already picked out a marble urn with a loving inscription I had written and etched in gold on the urn. The only thing needed on the urn is the DOD. etched in. There is nothing more painful than losing a beloved feline f

Fi T.
Past Member 3 years ago

A way of love

Alexandra G.
Alexandra G3 years ago

thank you

Patricia Welch
Patricia W3 years ago

I've been there every time one of my cats was ready to cross The Bridge. I hold them and talk and sing so it's the last memory they take with them. It does not get easier, but it's the last thing I can do to make sure they know I love them forever, and they're not alone. And it hurts so much.
I agree that each cat takes a piece of my heart along on their journey

Marion Friedl
Marion Friedl3 years ago

In the 80´s and at the beginning of the 90´s you haven´t been allowed to stay with your pet when it had to be euthanized till the end, but nowadays I´d do it, and if it broke my heart, because our fur babies deserve it!

Nimue P.

Been there, done that, too many times. Can't do it anymore.