What Is the Normal Procedure for Putting a Cat to Sleep?

Dr. Katz can help determine whether it's time to let Penelope go.
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Whether you should euthanize your cat, or “put her to sleep,” is a heart-wrenching decision. The question usually arises when a geriatric cat has begun to show signs of suffering, lethargy or refusal to eat. Discuss symptoms and options with your veterinarian to decide whether euthanasia is the humane action.

Typical Reasons

People usually consider euthanasia only when their cats are suffering and are in pain. Domestic cats can live 20 years; toward the end of that time, incurable or chronic painful illnesses are common. Putting a terminal cat to sleep is often the most humane choice. Just because your cat has a disease, however, doesn’t mean she necessarily needs to be put to sleep. Some cats can be treated and have a good quality of life even with a chronic illness. Your vet can best advise you on what to do if your cat becomes sick.

An Injection

The most common method of putting a cat to sleep involves injecting her through a vein in her front leg with an overdose of an anesthetic agent. Your cat will lose consciousness, which appears as if she has gone to sleep. She will pass away soon after receiving the shot, usually in just a matter of seconds. The procedure, when carried out properly by your vet, is stress-free and painless. The only pain felt is typically from the injection, which feels like any routine shot. If your cat is anxious, your vet might first sedate her before euthanizing her to relax her.

Staying With Your Cat

Many people choose to stay with their cats during the euthanasia procedure. It’s normal to choose to do so, and it’s normal to choose not to. If you opt to stay with your cat, be calm and comforting to her. If you can’t do this and are too stricken with grief, it’s better for your cat that you remain outside the area. Cats can pick up on your distress, causing them anxiety in response, according to the Feline Advisory Bureau website.

While Your Cat Passes

A cat’s body can go through a variety of normal reactions during the euthanasia process. Your cat might vocalize as she passes away. She might arch her head backwards or gasp for air. The latter is the act of the diaphragm contracting after the heart has stopped. It’s not a sign of life. Some cats will have a bowel movement or urinate.


After your vet puts your cat to sleep, options exist for care of the body. Most people leave the cat with the vet, who cremates her. The vet can dispose of the ashes, or you inquire about picking up the ashes if you arrange to do so with your vet -- not all vets are able to offer this courtesy. Another option is to take your cat home for burial. You can also take your cat to a pet memorial center, a place similar to a human funeral home.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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