Dear Prudence: Can I put my old cat to sleep? She’s ruining my life.

Help! My 18-Year-Old Cat Is Ruining My Life. Can I Put Her to Sleep?

Help! My 18-Year-Old Cat Is Ruining My Life. Can I Put Her to Sleep?

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 10 2014 3:20 PM

Tabby Termination

Prudie offers advice on whether a cat too old to easily care for should be put down.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to your questions. 

Q. Do I Put the Family Pet to Sleep So I Can Get Some Sleep?: My cat is 18. I know you like dogs, so pretend this is your dog. The cat harasses me all night. When she is howling for food at 3 a.m., she won’t eat it unless I am involved. My husband or kids can give her the food, but she howls and refuses to eat until I get up, pick up her bowl, and put it down. She is deaf and toothless, and traumatized if I shut a door to escape her. When I take a shower, she howls. My young kids love her. She is expensive because of medicine and special food—$200 in a month excluding vet visits. We have not gone on a family vacation for years. Either my husband or I stay home, because caring for her is so expensive that leaving her to be boarded costs $30 to $50 a day. When I talked to the vet about putting her to sleep, they said she is a healthy animal with manageable concerns and that they would not do that. She is friendly and alert but she is ruining my life. I love her and putting her to sleep would be very upsetting, but being the primary caregiver for a needy, nocturnal animal is upsetting, too. Every year I ask, “How much longer can you last?” And every year, the answer seems to be, “I am immortal.”


A: After I give this advice, I’m going to have to go into the witness protection program, but here it is: Put down Fluffy. You are being held hostage to the emotional demands—probably driven by feline dementia at this point—of a cat that is about 90 in human years. Ol’ Fluff has lived a long, long good life. You will live a much shorter, less good life if you don’t get some sleep and a vacation. Yes, one has an obligation to an elderly, beloved pet, but you’ve more than met yours. Of course your vet won’t put down Fluffy; she’s a gold mine. But you can take her to the nearest humane society shelter. When you explain she’s 18, deaf, toothless, and has a host of medical conditions, they will break out the Fatal-Plus. You explain to your kids that you have loved Fluffy since before they were born, but she is very old and sick now—she can’t sleep at night, she is going downhill, and you don’t want her to suffer. (OK, maybe she’s not suffering, but you are.) I do know what you’re going through. Yes, I am a late-life dog person, but I’m a lifelong cat person. I have had cats since I was 25, and I have two now. I’m in an abusive relationship with one—I love him, feed him, and stroke him, and he will only give affection to my husband. One is a 15-year-old who any minute should start his daily howling for food which lasts all afternoon. (Yes, I give him a snack, and yes, I have had him checked out with the vet to the tune of a college semester’s worth of tests. He’s fine! He just likes to send me to the brink of mental collapse.)

Q. Is It Too Late to Pursue Prosecution of Sexual Assault?: With the disappearance and murder of Hannah Graham all over the news—and with every new revelation that the perpetrator has ties to other sexual assaults from the colleges he attended, I’ve begun reflecting on a rape that happened to me 18 years ago when I was 10 years old. He was 18. I’ve heard the statute of limitations is still open (for a brief window) because I was underage. I wasn’t clear on describing to my parents what happened, and he was never held accountable. Is it worth it to try and bring charges? Could he possibly be convicted? Alternatively, don’t I owe it to other kids who could face the same fate? I highly doubt someone with these urges—who has acted on them—suddenly stops. It’s worth noting I live across the country now.

A: I’m so sorry you went through this, and the case is definitely worth pursuing. What you’re describing is so horrifying, and an adult man who rapes a child is likely not a one-time offender. First, talk to a lawyer. You will get guidance about the legal steps you can take, and what coming forward would mean to you about potentially testifying, etc. You’re right that your case might not be prosecutable, but maybe there’s a file on this guy in some police or prosecutor’s office, and your story would help someone else. I hope you have had counseling for what happened to you. If you haven’t, and you go forward, you should have a skilled professional on your side because this is bound to stir up long-buried feelings.

Q. Speaking Out Against a Former Bully: I saw online that a local woman was assaulted and her family was raising money to make up for loss of income as she recovers. I immediately realized this woman was a former bully from my high school. For several months she put me through severe sexual and physical bullying. The school didn’t do much other than have a stern chat with her, which only worsened the situation each time. When she smashed my face onto concrete resulting in hospitalization and months of physical therapy, my parents (who initially had a “kids will be kids” attitude) finally moved me to another school. I can’t believe she has the audacity to plead for sympathy when she put me through much worse. Should I say something on the website to warn others not to give their money to this cruel deviant?


A: Gee, I wonder how this lunatic got assaulted? Maybe one of her current victims decided to turn the tables. I think you should consider what happened to her a form of divine revenge. If you weigh in publicly on a woman who is recovering from an assault, you are only going to bring unwanted attention and criticism on yourself. Stay silent, and ignore the news about her recovery.

Q. Re: Put the Family Pet to Sleep?: My great-grandmother is 105 years old. She’s deaf in one ear, blind in both eyes, and won’t do anything unless I’m nearby. In the middle of the night, she howls for somebody to make breakfast for her. Even when I stuff pillows in my ears, I can still hear her. My great-grandmother is very loving, but this is taking a toll on our family. I tried getting some professional help, buy my great-grandmother and her medical conditions are so demanding it costs $100 to $200 a day to ask a professional to look after her. I’m at my wit’s end! Would it be wrong if I took my great-grandmother to a hospice and asked them to ... ahem ... help her along?

A: I want to know who changes great-grandma’s litter box. In Oregon, as has been in the news, a suffering human with no chance of improvement can make a considered decision to end her life. But otherwise, we just don’t “put down” humans who are old and sick. So is your point that veterinarians are monsters for ever putting down an animal? Because as pet owners we get to make decisions about humanely euthanizing pets. If you were actually describing your current living conditions with great-grandma, I would say they were intolerable and that you would immediately need to get her in a nursing home so that you could have a life. And with her being 105, it would only make sense to talk about hospice care for her.

Q. Re: Put the Cat Down!: I am a Catholic. My church teaches respect for life, but it also teaches that the life of a terminally ill human being does not have to be prolonged by artificial means if the expense is ruinous to the patient’s family. No doubt after 18 years the cat is like family, but it’s not human and should not be holding the LW’s entire family hostage.


A: Thanks—although not all commenters agree that there is a distinction between pets and people.

Q. Funeral of My Childhood Abuser: When I was 15, I was sexually abused by my uncle and when I told my family years later, my other female cousins came forward that he molested them as well. We pressed charges and he was put on probation. During this time, my aunt stayed with him knowing what he did to us because of her marriage vows and being married in the church. This tore my family apart and it hurt me, since we were always so close before. I have come to accept it and have had no relationship with my uncle but see my aunt from time to time. Now, I’m 24 and my abuser is on his deathbed. I love my aunt and want to give her some support, but I can’t imagine going to his funeral and praying for his soul. Should I be doing more or am I just putting too much pressure on myself because of her choice?

A: I hope the probation came after a long prison sentence; if not, this man, who comprehensively violated every young female family member he could get his hands on, must have had a hell of a lawyer. You owe this monster nothing—maybe a little dance on the grave when the time comes. I understand you love your aunt, but surely her religion has something to say about men who sexually abuse minors. I just don’t have much sympathy for her, but it’s up to you to do what makes you feel best regarding your relationship with her. If being in touch with her is healing, then do so. But skip the funeral and be comforted that if there is a hell, there’s a pyre reserved for your uncle.

Q. 18 but Dad Is Not Ready: I have a daughter who just turned 18 and is a senior in high school. She wants to leave for Thanksgiving weekend to go on a ski trip to Canada with her boyfriend of two years and his mom. I told her Thanksgiving is a time for family and she should be home with us. I am also torn about having a daughter that is still under our roof having a weekend with a boyfriend and the precedent it would set for her younger sisters. Help, she is my baby!


A: Dad, your baby is an adult woman who wants some skiing and more than that, some après ski, this Thanksgiving. I agree it’s lovely to have everyone around the Thanksgiving table, but since your daughter is a senior in high school, I assume she’s deep into the college application process. She deserves a November getaway with her beloved (and his mom!). The message this sends to your younger daughters is that people grow up, and their big sister is a young woman who this time next year will be living on her own. Put aside some stuffing and a turkey leg for her, and when she gets back, have a post-Thanksgiving supper with your grown-up baby.

Q. Re: Prosecution of Old Sexual Assault: Just want to share that I was a member of jury that convicted someone of rape of two children 25 years after the crimes were committed, so yes, I would encourage her to pursue charges. In our case, the victims did experience some catharsis and relief. Very difficult and sad case.

A: Thank you for this. How wrenching, but also good to hear it was healing for the victims, and the perpetrator got what he deserved. I do hope the letter writer moves forward. I don’t even want to think about how many girls this sicko may have hurt.

Q. Re: Put the Family Pet to Sleep?: Sounds like this letter writer needs a new vet. They aren’t all equal, of course, but a vet who considers a constantly stressed, toothless deaf cat healthy doesn’t sound rational. If the owner is also stressed and resentful, then it’s a bad situation all around. Maybe they should get a second opinion, in order to feel better about this decision.


A: Good point. An 18-year-old cat is a very old cat. This one is very sick. The owner’s quality of life is in the toilet, and although the special food, medicine, and vet bills are good for the vet’s quality of life, the vet has an obligation to both patient and client.

Q. Exit Interview Etiquette: I’m leaving a company I’ve been with for three years next week. I have my exit interview scheduled, and I’m not sure how to answer the questions on the form I’ve been given. My department has had an almost 100 percent turnover rate in the past few months (when I leave, there will be no employee that has worked here for more than four months), and people have left for good reasons. However, I feel like every time I’ve tried to address said issues, I’ve been met with resentment. I’ve become close with the employees left behind and want the department to be better for them. But I don’t want to beat a dead horse/burn any bridges (the problem is management).

A: Given what you describe, the horse is dead and the bridge is on fire, and anyone who hasn’t ridden out of town better start looking for another way out. I hope it hasn’t escaped management’s notice that everyone is fleeing. Whatever is going on, however, the company seems oblivious, so I don’t think your parting commentary will have any effect. I would stay as neutral as possible, and emphasize your appreciation for the opportunities you have been given. Then if you hear of any openings at your new place, flag the colleagues you’ve left behind.


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