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When To Euthanize A Cat With Feline Leukemia?

When To Euthanize A Cat With Feline Leukemia?

Feline leukemia is one of the most dangerous diseases that can affect our furry pets. The reaction to leukemia is different for each cat, and depends on the type of virus that caused it, the stage of infection, as well as on the general immune health of the cat.

At the very beginning, cats usually show symptoms that can be signs of various other health conditions, such as weakness and elevated body temperature. Soon, many cats will develop anemia, immunosuppression, and a tendency to develop various other diseases.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for this disease, but certain measures can alleviate the clinical symptoms of feline leukemia. Some of these measures include chemotherapy, antibiotics, antiviral drugs, and infusions to replace the cat’s lost fluids and electrolytes.

However, many cats will not be able to be helped at all because their condition will be too severe. In cases like these, cat owners will have to make a difficult decision about when to euthanize a cat with feline leukemia.

When Is Euthanasia The Only Option?

_ginger cat on the table in the operating room

No cat parent would ever want to say goodbye to its pet in this way. Unfortunately, unpredictable circumstances happen sometimes in everybody’s life. 

In the case of Feline Leukemia, euthanasia will for some kittens be the only option. So, when is the right moment to euthanize a cat facing this terrible disease?

This is the best decision you can take in the following cases:

• The cat is obviously in excruciating pain

• Her quality of life is severely affected 

• Refuses to eat and drink

• Severe weight loss

• Shows zero energy for any kind of activity

• Displays signs such as constant vomiting and diarrhea

• Persistent fever

• Is prone to various bacterial and viral infections that no medication seems to be helping

• Showing difficulty breathing

• Inability to defecate properly

• Suffering from seizures 

Hearing a recommendation that your best option is to decide to euthanize your favorite pet is devastating. 

According to Cornell Feline Health Center, the median survival time for cats after the diagnosis of the Feline Leukemia Virus is 2.5 years. 

With adequate care, a cat might live even longer than this predicted survival time.

Unfortunately, many cats will develop severe symptoms before this time limit expires, which means that euthanasia will be the only option for them.

See Also: Will My Cat Forgive Me For Putting Her To Sleep?

How To Make This Decision?

Vet injecting cat

I believe that many of you will at first refuse to accept the fact that your pets are in a lot of pain, and that there is no magic wand to make them well.

Although everyone is emotional and, most likely, disappointed and angry at these times, your kitty’s well-being should still be your priority. And in cases like this – the only right thing you can do is to relieve your cat’s pain.

To better understand the euthanasia process and to get all the answers you’re seeking, you need to have a thorough talk with the veterinarian.

By doing this, you’ll understand why euthanasia is an option here, as well as how it’s done, and how long it will take for a cat to die with this procedure. 

Your veterinarian is probably the most important person in this entire story. Katherine Littlewood and her associates [1] investigated the cat owner’s standpoints on their pets’ euthanasia and the role of veterinarians in it.

They found how owners were torn between not wanting to let their pets suffer if they didn’t have long to live, and still wanting to give them a chance to recover. In these situations, their veterinarians were the key to both validating and informing owners. 

These researchers emphasize the importance of veterinary practices helping cat owners deal with this difficult situation by offering them repeat visits with the same veterinarian who best understands their needs.

What Does The Euthanasia Process Look Like?

If the conversation with the veterinarian confirms that euthanasia is truly the only solution for your cat suffering from Feline Leukemia, it will be time to prepare for this procedure.

WebMD explains how this procedure can be done both at the vet clinic and in your home. You’ll just need to check with your vet whether his clinic offers this kind of service. Of course, if you would prefer to say goodbye to your kitten in your home.

Both you and your family members should get prepared for the final goodbye. It will be difficult, but it’s important to be there for each other. 

If you decide to euthanize your cat in the vet clinic, you might want to take some of your kitten’s things there, such as her favorite pillow or blanket to make her as comfortable as possible.

While the vet gives her the medicine, you should sit by your cat’s side and pet her. This medicine is pentobarbital in most cases, which is a drug used for seizures. A few seconds after receiving a large dose of this medicine, the cat will be unconscious.

This medication shuts down the cat’s brain function and heart in a couple of minutes. Your cat won’t be in pain, and she will go away peacefully.

Are There Any Other Treatment Options For Feline Leukemia?

cat's face who wearing plastic collar and lying on the bed

As I already explained, there is no cure for this disease. However, therapy is possible, in the form of antibiotic treatment of secondary bacterial infections, as well as strengthening the cat’s immune system with various vitamin supplements.

Of course, each of you will first ask the vet if there is any other treatment. No one can prepare you for the shocking realization that euthanasia is the best option for your cat.

For many cats, the previously mentioned treatments will be helpful and will prolong their lives. However, this may not be the case with your pet.

No veterinarian would recommend euthanasia without being absolutely certain that no other treatment would improve your cat’s condition. 

So, this kind of advice indicates that unfortunately there is no indication that your kitty could recover and that, if she remains alive, she will continue to suffer greatly.

The Bottom Line

Being a cat parent means having a wonderful furry companion that will bring a lot of joy and fun moments into your home and your life.

However, being the parent of a cat also brings great responsibility and concern for its health and well-being.

Unfortunately, cats can get sick from serious and incurable diseases, such as Feline Leukemia. In some cases, severe pain, inability to recover, and veterinary advice will indicate that euthanasia is the only option for your kitten.

It is completely normal to feel bad and even guilty about this outcome. However, it is important that you know that you did what was in the best interest of your furry friend. 

Remember that she had a wonderful life with you and that she left in a dignified way. You didn’t do anything wrong, but you saved your cat from constant pain.

The decision to euthanize is the most difficult that a pet owner can make, but, in many situations, it is the only correct choice.


[1] Littlewood K, Beausoleil N, Stafford K, Stephens C. “What Would You Do?”: How Cat Owners Make End-of-Life Decisions and Implications for Veterinary-Client Interactions. Animals (Basel). 2021 Apr 13;11(4):1114. DOI, Retrieved June 19, 2023.

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