I don’t want to euthanize my cat and would rather bring him home to die naturally but my veterinarian disagrees. Who has the final say?

Original Question: I want to bring my cat home to die with loved ones around and in comfort. I do not want to euthanize. The vet at the hospital disagrees. Who has the final say? Dinh was admitted early Saturday morning because I found him collapsed on the basement floor, first unable to sit up but then did sit up but did not walk. Panting heavily. Meowing loudly and frequently. He had been hacking coughing but nothing brought up. Breathing heavily, eating well, drinking, and walking well. The vet diagnosed him with possible congestive heart failure, fluid around the outside of his lung which was tapped and no bacteria on visual inspection but has asthma, low heart rate and trouble breathing. Treatment of oxygen, asthma puffer, diuretic, heart stimulating medication. Cat licks a bit of water from dish and has not eaten the dry food mixed with a little water. No feeding tube yet, vet says the anaesthesia would kill the cat to insert the tube. We have a cardiology consultation tomorrow, Monday morning then future will be discussed. Prognosis is poor due to low heart rate that’s not improving and he can’t breathe without oxygen. The vet won’t let the cat go home breathing without oxygen help. If the cat is going home to die, why does this matter? - Bev

I don’t want to euthanize my cat and would rather bring him home to die naturally but my veterinarian disagrees. Who has the final say? Jun 11, 2018

Hi Bev,

Thanks for your question and I’m so sorry to hear that you’re dealing with this. It sounds awful and the situation you’re describing is only making it worse for you.

To answer your actual question, you have the final say. If you want to bring your cat home you can. The doctor then has an option to call the local animal service of the municipality where you live and make a complaint that you may be needlessly causing your cat to suffer. It’s difficult to say how much merit this complaint would have. I assume that your veterinarian thinks there would be needless suffering if they discharged your pet into your care. It’s unfortunate that you both aren’t able to resolve this with a conversation.

Let me say this. A cat that is in terminal stages of heart disease is not very comfortable. It’s challenging to breathe, to move, to do anything and there is persistence exhaustion and weakness that they experience. I’m sure your cat is suffering to a degree. Pain may not be the way I would describe it but certainly discomfort and exhaustion are present.

I do not have a stake in this issue. I’m going to give you an honest unbiased response. I truly believe that your cat will suffer further if it is allowed to die naturally. As a veterinarian, I probably would work pretty hard to discuss this with you but I wouldn’t force you to make a different decision. I would respect your decision. Knowing that you are suffering, I certainly wouldn’t make a call to the municipal animal services to make things more difficult. However, I would strongly advocate that you reconsider. The final moments will be agonizing. This will be the case not just for your cat but also for you and any family members that may be at home to witness it. I’ve unfortunately watched this happen and if you have had that experience in the past like I have, I’m certain you would reconsider. It is a truly awful thing to witness. In congestive heart failure, the lungs can fill up with fluid which mimics the sense of drowning. They essentially die from suffocation, but it takes longer as the fluid build up is very slow rather than going quickly as is the case with drowning. It is widely agreed that drowning is a painful process both in humans and pets. Watching the slow gradual increase of atonal breathing that an animal in heart failure experiences is a nightmare I wish I didn’t have and I don’t want you to either.

I understand why you would want your cat to pass away at home. Most people do. If I was your veterinarian I would work with you to find out the exact reasons why you want that to happen. Often clients want to avoid euthanasia because it seems unnatural, it’s in an unfamiliar place and it is a painful decision for an owner to make which can cause you to feel guilty for making it. It’s easier to let things happen naturally because then you avoid being the designer of your pet’s death. But I would argue that performing the euthanasia is an act of mercy and comes from loving your pet. I see it as another step in taking care of them. I see it as our responsibility to be strong for them and make that decision. In this case, I would encourage you to take a look at the video “How Do You Know When It’s Time to Euthanize a Pet?” for more information on this topic.

I don’t say these things to make the decision any harder. In fact, it’s out of concern for yourself that I tell you this. I don’t want you to see the final moments because it may cause a tremendous amount of regret.

It is my great recommendation that you reconsider and the option I would present would be to call a mobile veterinarian who could visit your home and perform it there. I think that would be a fair compromise.

I truly wish you the best with this challenge. When this day comes, I want you to try your best to celebrate your pet’s life rather than making this stressful decision the sum total of the relationship you had together. The life of a beloved pet is about quality, not quantity, so if the writing is on the wall and this is inevitable, I strongly encourage you to say goodbye now rather than holding on further. I know it’s difficult. I truly hope you trust me and this advice that I’m giving you. I have no interest in supporting the decisions of your veterinarian or advocating for them, my only concern is the wellness of your pet and you Bev.

Take care and you have my sincere sympathies.

Dr. Greenway

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