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Horrible euthanasia experience

Species: Cat
Breed: American Shorthair
Age: 5-8 years
Why was my pets euthanasia a nightmare?

I brought my cat Jack in for euthanasia and the doctor and assistant gave him a needle shot of sedative – in his hind muscle… A muscle shot is very painful! Jack yelped, hissed and jumped up, but then he just sat back down facing me. The vet left me alone with him for a few minute for the sedative to take effect. Jack got drowsy and lowered his head to the table, but never passed out. When the vet came back in, my kitty raised his head to look at him. He said he would need another shot of sedative. I thought it would be no worse than the first, maybe less as he was already under somewhat from the first shot. The assistant had not come back in, so the vet asked me to help hold Jack. I wrapped the towel around his front and feet/ claws and the vet proceeded to give him the second shot. This is where it got nightmarish. Jack yeowed loudly and shot straight at me (my stomach) but was still in the towel and I didn’t know what to do but hold on. He struggled and screamed again and came up off the table and hit the floor half-way across the room. One of his hind legs wasn’t working right, so when he first tried to run he could only go in circles. I wonder if it was just the shot in the muscle or if the needle broke off in him (the vet didn’t say) or maybe he hurt his leg on landing since he was disoriented. Then he started running/skidding and sliding around the room - he ran into and under everything. His front and back weren’t coordinating (besides his back leg not working) so his body kept twisting around and rolling on his back where his vulnerable belly was exposed. Its a terrible thing for a cat to exposed his under belly to a stranger (the vet), but he had no control. He just kept skidding violently around the room running under and into everything over and over. I lost count how many times he went around the room – he wouldn’t stop moving and it went on so much longer than I would have thought. I also fear he associated the traumatic event with me as he was facing me while I helped hold him down. When he went wild, I couldn’t get near him again until the sedative knocked him out. He wouldn’t let me touch him (hissing and crying out violently if I approached him). At one point when he again rolled on his back, he defecated. He’s always been a “nervous pooper” but this was beyond nerves. The vet said he was fighting it hard (the sedative), and might be better if he (the vet) left the room. He turned down the lights and when he left, Jack calmed down somewhat on the other side of the room and looked at me for a moment. He eventually succumbed to the sedative and I held him and pet him in the dark for a few minutes (I don’t know how conscious he was, but he made a couple of small sounds deep inside his body). I had wanted to look at his face and eyes and say goodbye but I was in such shock I just held him the way he liked to be held and rocked him back and forth in the dark. Then they came in, took him from my arms, put him up on the table and inserted the final needle before I was sure what they were doing - and then he was gone… I’ve cried for days.
I was told this would be a peaceful event for my cat, but his last moments were full of pain and terror. It was violent. To be honest, a gunshot to the head would have been more humane! It haunts my memory day and night. I don’t know how to ask the vet and not sound like I am accusing or blaming him. I just want to understand. Why would this happen? Why would the sedative shots be so painful (and why in the muscle)? What would he react so wildly? I don't see much online that this is common. I just want to understand why this might have happened.

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I am so sorry to sear of your horrible experience with euthanasia. In my career I have done hundreds, if not thousands of euthanasia and although the goal is to have everything go as peacefully as possible, it doesn't always work out this way.

Most likely the first drug that was given to your cat was something called ketamine. It may also have been a mixture of ketamine plus other sedatives. In *most* cases there is a very mild stinging as the injection goes in. The mild discomfort is usually worth it as The drug usually causes very nice sedation and usually the rest of the procedure goes very peacefully.

Very rarely, as likely happened in your case, A cat can have some sort of a reaction to the drug. When this happens we can see a fair amount of distress. The type of reaction you described is extremely extremely rare which explains why we still go ahead and use the drug. All of the other drugs that we could potentially use come with their own list of side effects.

It's also possible that the reaction your cat had was not directly related to the medication. If the cat was unwell, and perhaps had something like a serious heart condition, it's possible that he had something similar to a mild heart attack. If this happened it could cause him to panic and react the way he did.

I am so sorry this happened. I absolutely hate when euthanasia does not go smoothly. It doesn't sound like there was any negligence involved. It just sounds like a very unfortunate situation.

Please know that you did nothing wrong, and that your vet probably feels awful about the situation.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

Customer reply:

Thank you for your reply.

I do wonder about the sedative (how they work). After the second shot made him unable to move (eventually...), he looked right in my eyes for a moment from across the room where he came to lay, then he put his head down and didn't move again. Would he still have been conscious at all? (the room was dark and I couldn't see much so I went and got him and just held him). I wondered if he was too disoriented to know it was me holding him or not?

Thanks so much,


Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

I really think that in cases like these the animals are not conscious and aware of their surroundings.

Again, I am so sorry that this was such a bad experience for you.

Dr. Marie.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.