Cat Euthanasia: When to Put a Cat Down

Published Feb. 27, 2023
african american woman with eyes closed holds longhaired brown cat close to her cheek

Euthanasia is a scary word. It comes from the Greek words eu, for well, and thanatos, meaning death. When you are faced with the decision of whether to euthanize your cat, you are facing the possible loss of a part of your family. That is something we never want to go through, as a pet parent or even as a veterinarian.

From a veterinarian’s point of view, we try to see past the sorrow and view euthanasia as a way to give pets a safe and peaceful passage from a diminishing quality of life when the time comes. If your cat is in pain, has a diminished quality of life, or has been diagnosed with an incurable ailment, contacting your vet to determine the next best steps is the most humane thing you can do for them.

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Put Your Cat Down?

When it comes to deciding when to euthanize a beloved feline family member, there are many factors to consider. The most important is determining whether your cat can maintain a good quality of life for a while longer.

Quality of life (QOL) is a measure of your cat’s comfort, health, happiness, and ability to participate in and enjoy their life. Your veterinarian or pet hospice care team can help you by making a professional and objective recommendation. The care team may be able to provide you with medications, treatment options, and changes that you can do at home that may help improve your pet’s quality of life.

However, it may be that your pet’s quality of life is declining and there are no medical or home interventions that will bring your cat back up to an acceptable level of comfort. In this case, euthanasia may be the best recommendation.

How to Determine Your Cat’s Quality of Life

Pawspice is the pet version of the human idea of hospice care. It was started by Dr. Alice Villalobos, a veterinary oncologist. She created a helpful quality of life scale that provides a more concrete and objective way of evaluating your cat’s quality of life. It hopes to reach tangible answers to an intangible question.

The scale is called HHHHHMM, or H5M2. These letters stand for categories you can use to assess your pet’s quality of life. Each section is scored with points from 0 to 10, with 10 being ideal. If the total is higher than 35, then your cat more than likely has an acceptable quality of life.

You can score your cat on these categories, get the total, and take your results to your vet to discuss. They can also give you their objective stance on your pet’s quality of life. Here are the seven categories to score: 

  • Hurt – Can your cat breathe easily without distress? Is their pain well-controlled?

  • Hunger – Is your pet able to safely and comfortably take in adequate nutrition to maintain their body condition?

  • Hydration – Can your cat take in enough water on their own or with help from subcutaneous fluids to maintain their hydration?

  • Hygiene – Can your cat be kept clean? Can you prevent sores from forming by making sure they are not lying in one place too long?

  • Happiness – This is more than just “Is your cat happy?” Are they engaging with people and toys that they have enjoyed in the past, or do they seem sad or depressed?

  • Mobility – Is your cat able to get up and move about freely on their own, are they at risk of stumbling or harming themselves when walking?

  • More good days than bad – Does your cat have more overall good days than bad? Keeping a calendar or diary can help you answer this question.

Lap of Love is an in-home hospice and end-of-life care company founded in 2009 by two veterinarians, Dr. Dani McEvoy and Dr. Mary Gardner. They also have several quality-of-life assessment tools that you can use to help you decide how your cat is doing at home:

If you need an in-home evaluation of your cat’s situation, check the Lap of Love veterinarian directory to see if there is a hospice care specialist near you.

You can also use this Quality of Life scorecard:

Quality of life scorecard for cats

What About Cats With a Chronic or Terminal Illness?

Cats with chronic or terminal illnesses can be cared for with hospice or palliative care. These are both ways of providing supportive care geared toward maintaining a pet’s quality of life above all else.

Hospice care in veterinary medicine is similar to the concept of hospice care in human medicine. It focuses on maintaining a cat's comfort and quality of life when they are approaching death, and it also provides emotional support for their human caregivers.

Palliative care is similar to hospice, but with palliative care, direct medical care is still given to address the cat's medical situation, and not just as supportive care. Part of hospice and palliative care is having a plan to say goodbye when the time comes to ensure that your cat has a peaceful passing. 

It is important for those who have a cat with a chronic illness like kidney disease, lymphoma, or diabetes to periodically monitor their cat’s quality of life. If you have any questions about how to determine this, reach out to your cat’s veterinarian.

Featured image:

Stephanie Howe, DVM


Stephanie Howe, DVM


Dr. Stephanie Howe graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011, after receiving a Bachelor of Science...

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health