Euthanasia in cats

When vets talk about euthanasia, it means bringing your cat’s life to a peaceful end with an overdose of anaesthetic. Over 85% of all deaths will be assisted in this way. 

Humans live a lot longer than cats. Saying goodbye is something all of us who share our lives with a cat will have to face at some point. Other expressions used for euthanasia, such as ‘putting to sleep’ or ‘putting down’ are often used. But they can have different meanings to different people in different situations. We have to be absolutely clear about what happens in euthanasia. This article will describe the procedure, decisions and possible challenges associated with euthanasia. We will also point to sources of support for anyone affected by the loss of a pet.


What it’s for

Euthanasia in cats – what it’s for and when it’s carried out

Euthanasia is the means by which vets and owners can prevent suffering in cats.

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Unlike humans in the UK, for whom assisted dying is not currently an option, animals can be released from terminal illness and poor quality of life. However, the decision to euthanize a pet is a painful one that’s never taken lightly. It’s best made by an owner and vet working together.

Euthanasia is most likely to happen in the final stages of a long and worsening illness, and usually at an older age. But it may also be the sudden devastating outcome of an accident or severe infection. Whatever the circumstances, we can act in our cats’ best interests by keeping their welfare, wellbeing and quality of life at the forefront of any discussion and decisions. Including those surrounding euthanasia.

Euthanasia of a healthy cat may sometimes happen under certain circumstances.

  • Change of owner circumstances and owner request
  • Lack of long-term shelter accommodation for abandoned and stray cats

Vets are not legally or professionally obliged to euthanize a healthy pet at an owner’s request.


Considerations beforehand

If possible, arrange a consultation to talk through euthanasia before arranging the procedure itself. This is an opportunity to:

  • Ask any questions and talk through concerns
  • Decide whether you wish to stay with your cat
  • Find out about the cremation options
  • Sign the required paperwork – the consent form (see below)
  • To find out about costs and, if preferred, to settle payment in advance


Euthanasia usually happens at a vet practice. Talk to your vet if you don’t feel this is the best option for your cat and you would prefer a home visit.

Vet practice


  • Best facilities and help to ensure euthanasia goes smoothly
  • Set time can be arranged early or late in the day when it’s a quieter environment
  • Vet can arrange cremation directly


  • Some cats are anxious in the strange-smelling vet practice



  • More relaxed home environment
  • No other people around
  • Don’t have to put a painful or stressed cat into a carrier and vehicle to go to the vet
  • Personal care of your cat’s remains if wished


  • Cost
  • Uncertain timing of visit
  • Less straightforward if additional sedation or a different approach is required
  • Keeping your cat’s body at home until the crematorium is open or can collect them
  • Transporting your cat’s remains from home to vet practice or crematorium

Consent forms

Owners have to sign a consent form for euthanasia. This is a legal requirement. It must be signed by the owner or someone with authority to sign on the owner’s behalf. In either case, this must be an adult over 18,  who is fully able to understand the procedure and the consent form

Staying with your cat or not

We are all different and so this is an individual decision. Some owners want to stay with their cats throughout. For others this is too painful. Or you may be concerned that your own distress transmits itself to your cat. What is the ‘right’ decision for one pet-and-owner partnership may not be right for another. Talk this through honestly with your vet and any of your cat’s other carers.


As a family, it’s important that you discuss whether or not children, particularly older children, should attend their cat’s euthanasia. Every family is different. In general, a child needs to be old enough to fully understand what is happening and why, and to answer for themselves whether they do or do not wish to be present.

Other cats

Cats who have been close housemates may benefit from a brief farewell sniff of their deceased friend. For them too, this can be a form of closure. The presence of other cats during euthanasia itself is best avoided if likely to prove a distraction.


How it’s done

Euthanasia in cats – the procedure

The procedure will vary between practices and according to your cat’s particular needs.

Placing a catheter

The vet may place a catheter (fine tube) into a vein in your cat’s leg – this should only take minutes, but it allows the vet to:

  • Quickly give any sedation required –  to help your cat feel comfortable and relaxed.
  • Give the injection without concerns about your cat moving.
  • Attach an extension tube to the catheter – the vet can stand back a little while giving the euthanasia injection.
  • Make it easier for you to hold and cuddle your cat as they go off to sleep.

The injection – how does it work?

Euthanasia is carried out with an overdose of anaesthetic.

  • The same kind of drug we use for general anaesthetic to make cats sleep for an operation. But much stronger.
  • Your cat goes off to sleep immediately.
  • Sleep gets deeper and deeper until their heart and brain stop working.
  • The process takes seconds. It’s quick and painless.
  • The vet will carry out some checks and listen to your cat’s chest with a stethoscope to confirm that death has occurred

Sometimes cats move or vocalise when they have an anaesthetic. The same can happen with a euthanasia injection. This is called the excitation phase and it happens as they go to sleep. This may sound alarming, but it’s not abnormal or a sign of distress.

Your vet may leave you with your cat to say a final goodbye. You must never feel rushed. Vets understand how important this time is.

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How much does euthanasia cost?

Cost of euthanasia will depend on:

  • Where it takes place: vet practice or home
  • UK location
  • Additional requirements or procedures – sedation medicines
  • Whether or not the charge includes cremation

Costs will include:

  • The time of the vet and a vet nurse
  • All medications used- premedication, euthanasia drug, catheters and associated material
  • For euthanasia at home – a visit fee, mileage, additional time
  • Cremation will incur a fee – but may be charged to you directly by the pet crematorium involved rather than by the vet



Euthanasia – what to be aware of

Euthanasia is likely to happen when your cat is in the advanced stages of an illness and possibly elderly, confused or unable to stand. Their comfort and well-being is everyone’s priority.

Possible challenges

  • Anxious cats
  • Cats with dementia or vestibular problems

Anxious, confused or disoriented cats may need sedation before coming to the practice or on arrival to help them feel comfortable and stress-free.

  • Poor circulation

It may be challenging to inject into a vein. If this happens, your vet may give an injection under the skin (like a vaccine) to send your cat into a deep sleep first.

  • Reactive cats

Sedation medicines given the night before and the morning of a vet visit will help things go as smoothly as possible and free of additional stress. However, very reactive cats may require additional support and an individualised approach.

What happens after death

  • Agonal gasps or movement

Euthanasia is effective within seconds and the vet will confirm your pet’s death. However, after a minute or so, the body may give a reflex gasp or movement. Don’t be alarmed or upset by this. It is a normal reflex and only happens after death.

  • Loss of body fluids

As muscles relax after death, urine and faeces (poo) may also leak out of the body. A towel or incontinence pad will help to address this if you would like to hold your cat on your lap.


What happens to your cat after euthanasia

This is a decision for you and your family to make together. Try to talk this over well before painful decisions have to be made. The options are:


90% of UK cats will be cremated. There are pet crematoriums in most large UK towns and cities.

  • Group cremation and portion of ashes scattered in field of remembrance
  • Individual cremation of your cat and return of their ashes in a scatter box, urn or casket
  • Crematoriums will collect your pet from vet practice or your home
  • You can arrange to take your cat’s body to the crematorium yourself

Costs of individual cremation depends on the size of your cat and the urn, box or casket selected. Some pet crematoria provide a full bereavement service and also encourage phone enquiries or visits in advance.


Fewer than 10% of cats are buried. There are certain laws that must be adhered to by anyone considering burying a pet at home.

  • Pets should not be buried near a water source.
  • They can only be buried in the grounds of the house in which they lived. You must own, not rent, the land.
  • The body must be buried with at least 1 metre of soil above it
  • The body must not be hazardous to human health. For example, you cannot bury a cat who has been treated with controlled drugs, such as chemotherapy medicines.

The following measures are advisable:

  • Place your cat in a cardboard pet coffin or wrap completely
  • Place a slab or rockery over the grave to prevent disturbance by wildlife or other cats

Mementos and memorials

There are multiple ways to create a lasting memento for your cat.

  • Ceramic containers for ashes and pet headstones
  • A ceramic paw print
  • A memory box of photos, your cat’s favourite toys, a collar, snippets of their hair
  • Photos, photo books and commissioned portraits
  • A tree or flower bed planted in their memory
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Recovery tips

When and where to find help

Whatever the circumstances, you may want to talk to somebody after your cat’s euthanasia.

There are organisations for support 24 hours a day:

Joii can help with advice on:

  • When to euthanize: quality of life assessments
  • Understanding what happens in euthanasia
  • Bereavement and loss support
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