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Signs Your Cat Is Dying & End of Life Care

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signs a cat is dying

Your cat becomes a family member, so the thought of losing them is always hard to handle. But whether your cat is suffering from a terminal illness or nearing the end of their life naturally, it’s important to recognize the signs on time and provide them with compassionate care. So what are the signs your cat is dying?

A dying cat will display changes in behavior and appearance. Typically, they will lose interest in self-grooming, start eating and drinking less, and they may also feel weak and unable to move. Cats may also have breathing and urination issues, and any treatments they are undergoing will stop working.

In this article, we’ll list some common signs a cat is dying, and we’ll show you how to comfort them during this time. We’ll also offer advice on how to cope with the loss of your pet.

Signs your cat is dying

Cats are good actors – they’re extremely skilled at hiding signs of discomfort and illness. This trait is valuable in the wild, where they must conceal any weak points to keep predators at bay. But at home, it can causes issues for cat parents, who can have a hard time figuring out if something’s wrong.

When a cat is nearing the end of its life, their habits will change. Many signs that a cat is dying coincide with typical symptoms of health issues, such as hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes mellitus. As soon as you notice something out of the ordinary, schedule a visit with your vet so that they can assess whether your cat’s condition.

Loss of appetite

It’s important to keep an eye on your cat’s food and water intake. Any unusual eating and drinking habits could indicate an underlying health issue. Your cat may show a reduced interest in eating, or the opposite – their appetite can suddenly increase, so they start eating more than they normally would.

Lack of thirst

In addition to eating less, cats can also become less interested in drinking, which may lead to dehydration. To help prevent this, you can give your cat canned food, which contains more moisture, or add water to their food.

Weight loss

Unexplained and extreme weight loss is another sign that a medical checkup is needed. Older cats are likely to lose weight because of the natural loss of muscle mass that happens over time.

As your cat ages, the weight loss can become very noticeable, with their ribs and spine becoming pronounced. Weight loss can also be caused by illnesses such as cancer, hyperthyroidism, and chronic kidney disease. To help put some weight back on your cat check out our “High Calorie Cat Food” roundup.

Decrease in body temperature

As cats get older, they begin to lose the ability to regulate their body temperature, so senior cats have difficulty retaining heat. Cats that are nearing the end of their life are likely to have low body temperature, in spite of your best efforts to keep them warm.

signs your cat is dying paws

Anything below 37°C (99°F) is considered a low body temperature. You can check your cat’s temperature either by using a thermometer or simply by touching your pet’s paws – they will feel cold.

Weakness

As your cat’s life is coming to an end, they are likely to become less active and lethargic. They may spend more time sleeping and feel weak than awake, with no desire to move.

Reduced mobility

Senior cats often have mobility issues caused by the loss of muscles or conditions such as arthritis. Everything from going up the stairs to getting out of their litter box can be challenging, so it’s necessary to make everyday things easily accessible to them.

Make sure you leave food for them on the floor instead of on the counters. Also, it’s a good idea to provide them with stepping stones or ramps to help them get to their favorite resting places.

Urination issues

A dying cat may experience difficulty or pain when urinating. They may also suffer from urinary incontinence or more frequent urination. Since cats with incontinence need help with keeping themselves clean, you may need to give them daily baths to prevent urine and feces from drying in the fur around the hind end or on the legs.

Your home may require extra cleaning depending on the nature of your cat’s continence – you may notice that they are unable to hold it until they get to their litter box and that their resting areas are often soiled. You can place some washable pee pads on windowsills, beds, chairs, and other surfaces your cat likes to spend time on to make the cleaning process easier.

Changes in appearance and smell

Cats that are unwell lose interest in grooming themselves, which leaves their coat in poor condition. It may look greasy and scruffy, and cats with long hairs may also develop matted fur.

If your cat lets you, try grooming them gently with a soft brush – you may get rid of the mats and your cat may feel better.

Your cat may also develop a distinctive odor as a result of toxins building up in its body. The smell of their breath will differ according to the issue in question.

For example, cats with kidney disease may have an ammonia-like smell coming from their mouth, while cats with diabetes mellitus can have a sweet or fruity-smelling breath that transforms into a nail polish odor as the cat’s condition becomes worse.

Abnormal breathing

In general, all cats have a breathing rate of between 15 and 30 breaths every minute. Naturally, when a cat is active, hot, or stressed their breathing rate increases. Also, lower rates are no reason to be worried if your cat is otherwise healthy.

A dying cat may experience abnormal breathing patterns, with the rate randomly increasing and decreasing. If you notice that your cat is breathing with their mouth open, stretching their head and neck out, or making intense belly movements during breathing, it’s a sign that they’re struggling to get enough oxygen and you should take them to the vet immediately.

signs a cat is dying hiding

Hiding

Many cats like to hide, so it can be difficult to tell whether their hiding is a part of their normal behavior or a sign of an underlying issue. However, if your cat is hiding a lot more than usual and refuses to come out even during meal times, this could be an indicator that something’s wrong.

Behavioral changes

In their final days, cats can display a range of unusual behavior. They can become more isolated and prone to withdrawal. They can become restless and unable to settle, due to pain or discomfort they may be feeling.

Cats may also suffer from cognitive dysfunction, which is similar to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in humans.

Some of the symptoms include spatial disorientation, wandering into unfamiliar environments, lack of interest in play and their favorite activities, long periods of staring into space or walls, excessive sleeping, and being more vocal than normal, often in the middle of the night.

No longer responding to treatments

Senior cats often suffer from diseases that can be kept under control for a long time with the help of medications and other treatments. But as time passes, these treatments may become less effective until your cat stops responding to them altogether.

Failed response to treatments means your cat’s body is no longer able to utilize medications and it’s breaking down in spite of therapy.

How can I tell if my senior cat is suffering?

Caring for a senior cat involves making sure your pet spends its final years in peace and dignity. But there comes a time when their quality of life deteriorates despite your best care.

Cats won’t let you know they are in pain like humans do, through whining and crying, but you may be able to recognize some changes in their behavior that signal they are suffering.

signs a cat is dying suffering

Some of these signs include not being able to eat and drink normally, or stand and move without difficulty. They could have trouble breathing normally, or experience general discomfort or pain when touched. Also, being severely injured in an accident or having an untreatable behavioral or physical condition could leave them feeling depressed and unhappy.

Is it painful for a cat to die naturally?

Whether it’s painful or not for a cat to die naturally depends on the gravity of their condition. If a cat is experiencing some of the symptoms we mentioned above (inability to move, eat, drink, breathe properly, restlessness, etc), they are suffering.

Awareness also plays an important role – if a dying cat is fully awake and aware of the situation, they are likely to experience pain and fear more intensely than a cat with reduced awareness.

Do cats just go off to die?

A dying cat may become reclusive and avoid being around people or other animals. Some cats will spend a lot more time hiding and isolating themselves from others.

Being natural hunters, cats have a strong instinct of self-preservation. When they sense something’s wrong, they will look for a place to hide so as not to show their vulnerability or weakness to potential predators. However, while doing so, cats are likely to stay nearby, within their own territory.

How long does it take for a cat to die?

The physical process of dying depends on your cat’s condition and the diagnosis. In cases of terminal illnesses, such as cancer, the early stage encompasses weeks leading up to death. The final stage may last from three days to a few hours, during which the body functions begin failing.

How to comfort a dying cat

Although there is nothing you can do to prevent the inevitable, you can make it easier for your cat during their final days and make sure they feel as comfortable as possible.

Be sure to provide them with cozy and warm sleeping and resting spots, with plenty of cushions. Surround them with their favorite toys and keep their environment peaceful and quiet, without allowing other pets to intrude.

If your cat is not eating regularly, try giving them food with strong odors to rekindle their appetite. Talk to your vet about any pain medications or steroids that might help ease their symptoms. You can mix these in their food.

signs your cat is dying

You can help keep their appearance in order by gently brushing their hair. When it comes to spending time with your cat, act according to their wishes. If they want to be petted, do it by all means, but if they prefer to be left alone, give them some privacy. You can sit a little further away from them and see if they want to initiate contact.

Finally, you can talk to your cat. Tell them you love them very much and that it’s ok to go.

Consider euthanasia

In the final stage of your cat’s life, they may reach a level where their quality of life has significantly diminished. In such cases, you may want to consider having your pet euthanized to spare them from more pain and suffering.

Euthanasia ensures your cat goes away painlessly and peacefully. Your vet is qualified to perform this procedure, and they will explain to you in detail what the process entails so that you know what to expect.

Essentially, your cat will be given a sedative followed by a special medication. The entire procedure will be over quickly, and your cat won’t feel any pain.

You can choose whether or not you want to be present during the procedure. Some people find the experience too overwhelming, while others would rather stay with their pet to make them feel relaxed – the choice is entirely up to you.

How do I know when it’s time?

Opting for euthanasia is never an easy decision to make, so it’s important to ask your vet for advice on the best time to carry it out. Observing your cat’s daily behavior can help you establish when it’s the right time, but pet parents tend to delay this moment because of inevitable grief.

A helpful tip is to keep a written log of your cat’s “good days” and their “bad days.” When the “bad days” increase and begin to outnumber the “good days” it means that your cat’s quality of life is decreasing. At this point, a trip to the vet is recommended.

Medical tests will be able to tell with greater accuracy when it’s time for such a procedure, so consulting your vet is vital. Remember that your main goal is to minimize the pain and suffering your pet goes through and allow them a gentle end.

If your cat is not up to riding in a car, another option is to have an experienced mobile vet make a house call and administer euthanasia.

Cremation and burial options

After your cat has passed away, you have several options when it comes to deciding what to do with your cat’s body.

Cremation

Your vet can help you arrange to have your pet cremated. You can opt either for communal or individual cremation.

Communal cremation involves several animals being cremated together. Usually, you’re not allowed to take the ashes with you – it’s either scattered or buried on-site or taken somewhere else. The crematorium should let you know what the exact procedure is.

Individual cremation is a more personal option that allows you to have your pet’s ashes returned to you. If you’re not able to collect the ashes by yourself (this can also be an overwhelming experience for many), you can ask a friend or a relative to pick it up for you.

Home burial

Some people prefer to bury their pets in their own yard, but before you do so, be sure to check for any restrictions with local authorities. Also, the spot shouldn’t be close to water sources, as the drug used for euthanasia might have a damaging effect on the environment.

Pet cemeteries

If you don’t want cremation and you don’t have the right conditions for a home burial, you can opt for a pet cemetery. You can check with the International Association of Pet Cemeteries to help you find a pet cemetery near you.

signs a cat is dying grief

Coping with pet loss

Losing a cat or any pet is an emotionally challenging experience and grieving is normal. It’s important to talk about your feelings rather than keep them to yourself. Memorializing your pet in some way can also help – for example, you can make a memory box or plant a flower in your garden. It can also be a good way to get friends and family involved.

If the feeling of grief persists over a longer period of time and you feel you’re unable to cope, it’s important to seek the help or guidance of a counselor.

Children and grief

If you have children, the loss of a pet can be the first time they become aware of death. You may find that being direct with them about your cat’s death can help you address any fears or misconceptions they might have. It’s important to help them during their grieving process and encourage them to talk about their feelings.

Cats and grief

If you have multiple cats in your home, the loss of one of them may affect others as well. While some cats show no response to their companion passing, others may have a range of reactions. Some may lose their appetite, while others may become depressed and withdrawn for weeks, and even months.

If your cat stops eating or you notice any signs of illnesses, it’s important to schedule a visit to the vet to rule out any underlying medical issues.

Key signs your cat is dying

Losing a cat is a distressing experience for the entire family, and it’s difficult to prepare for it, but this topic will need to be addressed sooner or later. If your cat is nearing the end of their life, it’s important to recognize the signs to be able to make their final days as pleasant and comfortable as possible.

After your cat has passed, it’s important to give yourself some time to process. If you have kids, it’s essential that you help them through the grieving process. If you feel like you can’t cope with the situation, it’s always best to ask professionals for help.

Ana Markovic
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