As a cat parent, it’s hard even just to read an article about the signs your cat is dying. But just like us, humans, our feline friends are also simply living a borrowed life.
Sooner or later, they’ll have to cross the rainbow bridge. And as their pet parents, knowing about these signs can allow us to help our beloved cats to be as comfortable as possible during this difficult time.
How Can You Tell If Your Cat is Dying?
Death is inevitable, and it is a sad fact about human and animal lives that it will come sooner or later.
Many cat owners can attest to how hard it is watching one's beloved furry friend get through the end of their life.
Some cats will die unexpectedly, while some will pass on peacefully in their sleep. The behavior of a cat nearing death varies, but many cats would exhibit certain behaviors and show signs before they cross the rainbow bridge.
Some of the common signs of a cat dying are noticeable changes in his usual temperament, a noticeable increase in his hiding behavior, a decline in appetite for food or water, and changes to his overall look.
Dying cats may have an unkempt appearance and foul odor. They may look dull and may have matted fur, glazed or dilated eyes, and a “sunken” look.
Additionally, they may also have urine odor or feces in their hair, and they may have difficulty breathing, and seizures.
Common Causes of Death in Older Cats
A cat’s health begins to slowly decline as he ages and goes down his senior years. While many cats die simply out of old age, some will pass on due to chronic illnesses, which can start when they are younger.
To help you get a better grasp of what lies ahead, below are some of the common health issues an elderly cat may experience that he could potentially carry through his deathbed:
While old age isn't a health issue, some cats do simply deteriorate after living for an extended period of time. Similar to humans, geriatric cats begin slowing down to face everyday struggles.
Some older cats may have muscle strains, reduced mobility, a marked decrease in weight, or sudden changes in their appetite. If your cat is showing these symptoms, your cat may be ill or dying due to his age.
Cardiac diseases are common in older cats. Not only do these heart issues affect cats, but the medications necessary to control the effects on their heart can lead to other illnesses, too.
Older cats who suffer from cardiac diseases may notice changes in breathing and may experience body weakness, panting, and weakness in their hind limbs.
If your cat has heart disease and is starting to exhibit these symptoms, it may be time to speak to your veterinarian about your pet's quality of life.
Although cancer can be treated with many methods, it can cause serious side effects for older cats. Cats may experience several kinds of cancer and they can experience a decline in their health depending on the type of cancer they have.
An elderly cat with cancer may experience gastrointestinal distress, weight loss, lethargy, disorientation, vocalization, and lack of appetite.
If you notice any of these symptoms, you might consider contacting an animal care provider about your cat's quality of life.
Kidney problems are extremely common in older cats. Although kidney disease can be managed medically, this progressive disease can affect a cat's overall health.
In severe cases, cats suffering kidney failure may experience weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, foul breath, and body weakness.
Liver problem is another common condition affecting older cats' well-being. If your cat suffers from liver problems, he may have anemia, and he may also experience body weakness, lack of appetite, and extreme weight loss.
If your cat has liver problems and is experiencing a significant decline in his health, it's important to contact your veterinarian about the possibility of saying goodbye.
11 Potential Signs Your Cat Is Dying
Cats are experts in hiding pain or in concealing their illness from their fur parents. So, as a cat owner, you may not notice the early signs of your cat’s disease progression, but there are several signs that can tell you that something is wrong that must not be taken for granted.
Below are 11 signs that your cat may be approaching the end of life:
1. Finding Comfort in Solitude
Cats will try to find somewhere quiet to be alone when they are gravely ill. This is reminiscent of their ancestors' time in the wild when it was safer to stay out of the way of danger, particularly from predators.
When your once sociable cat suddenly seeks refuge from being alone and doesn't want interaction, this may indicate that they are about to die and will die for the sake of their health and happiness.
2. Lower Body Temperature
A healthy cat’s temperature is around 102.5 Fahrenheit or 37-38 degrees Celsius. As he prepares to die, his temperature can go lower than this.
As a cat’s heart weakens, his other organs will start to deteriorate because of inadequate blood flow coming from their once healthy heart. This can result in a drop in body temperature.
If you are comfortable taking your cat's body temperature through his ear or rear (using an ear thermometer or digital rectal thermometer, respectively), this can be an ideal time to check.
Using a thermometer will help detect any problems with your cat. If you don't have one, you can feel your cat's paw pads. They should be warm.
3. Trouble Getting to or Using the Litter Box
Unwell cats sometimes find it hard to reach their litterbox at the proper time so they can start to pee and poo in areas that are unlikely to happen otherwise.
They may have darker urine from not drinking water as they would normally do. Blood may also pass on to their urine and/or stool.
As cats get older, their bladder and intestines may lose control, causing accidents around the house, or in their bed.
4. Low Heart Rate and Respiration
The normal heart rate of a healthy cat is usually around 140 to 220 per minute. For a sick cat, it can go lower than this as his heart weakens.
To take your cat’s heartbeat, simply position your hand behind your cat’s left elbow where his heartbeat is usually easiest to find.
And as for a healthy cat’s breathing, it should be around 20 to 30 breaths per minute. Sick cats may have lower or higher respiratory rates.
5. Behavioral Changes
Cats are habitual creatures that love to follow a similar routine every day, from their meal time, nap time, favorite toy, and favorite play area.
If you noticed a sudden change in your cat's behavior, then, you can consider that as a sign that something is off. Sick cats may lose interest in doing the things they usually loved doing.
They may resort to hiding or sleeping under the bed where it is quieter and they feel more at peace. Learning about your cat's behavior is important to be aware of any problems that may arise.
6. Sleeping More Than Usual
Cats who reach their last stages of life often lose energy, and they would usually sleep more than they usually would. They will not interact with other humans, and animals and would not eat or drink.
However, since it's part of a cat's nature to sleep a lot, you should also be mindful of comparing your cat's current sleeping behavior then and now.
Or better yet, you can combine this sign with other signs in this list to strengthen or weaken your gut feeling.
7. Lack of Energy
Aside from sleeping more than usual, sick cats are also weaker even when they are awake. They're unlikely to get the energy to run to the litterbox or leap into their favorite cat tree.
You may also notice weakness in your cat's hind legs. As a cat owner, it is both alarming and painful to see your cat slowly wither day by day.
You may want to see your vet this time to ensure that your cat is not in pain and that he may be as comfortable as possible in facing whatever lies ahead moving forward.
8. Lack of Interest to Eat and Drink
Just like other animals, cats would stop eating or drinking when they are nearing death. Their bodies know that it takes so much energy to process food and drinks.
So, they would opt to simply not eat to conserve whatever energy they have. Unwell cats are also too tired and weak to drink or consume anything.
And it may be more challenging to get them to eat their normal meals. Hence, you may need to assist them by giving them water and wet food through a syringe or a squirt bottle while also being careful not to choke or cause aspiration.
If your cat is no longer eating even their favorite food, it’s time to talk to your vet. He may rule out possible causes, or he may simply confirm what you’ve been dreading to hear. Either way, you should do it for your cat and for yourself.
9. Different Smell
As a cat's organs begin to shut down due to illness or old age, toxins start accumulating rather than being expelled. This results in your cat smelling like something different.
The smell may also vary depending on a cat's underlying illness. Cats with kidney problems would have a breath that smells like ammonia, while cats experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis will have a sickly, sweet smell.
If you notice that your cat has a sudden bad odor that gets worse over time, it is a sign that something is wrong with his body.
10. Lack of Interest to Groom Oneself
Cats love to groom. They would lick themselves before and after eating, upon awakening, during their idle time, or basically, almost the entire day.
As a cat owner, it's normal for you to see your cat grooming himself every time you see him. So, when your cat stops being clean, it could also be a sign of their dying days.
Cat grooming usually takes about 30 to 50 percent of their day. If your cat stops cleaning himself, you may notice his fur becoming dull and matted.
11. Extreme Weight Loss
Unwell cats often lose a significant amount of weight. This could be due to consuming less food and drinks and wasting more muscle.
How to Comfort Your Beloved Cat During His Final Moments
Watching your healthy cat sleeping soundly in the middle of your busy day can be relaxing, but it is different if you have a sick cat.
The more your unwell cat sleeps and hides, the more painful it is to see and the heavier it feels on your heart. It’s tough to watch your once active, and playful feline buddy slowly drifts away from this world into the next. But this is the reality that any pet owner would face sooner or later.
If your vet says that medical treatment and recovery are no longer an option, the best that you can do is to make your pet as comfortable as possible during his final days.
There are plenty of ways to do this, which include the following:
- Help your cat to his litter box
- Talk to your vet regarding proper end-of-life care.
- Wash his beddings regularly
- Build ramps going to his favorite window spots or napping perches
- Monitor his pain, and give his pain meds as needed
- Brush your cat’s hair and clean any mess that he makes
- Ensure that he has easy access to his litter box, his warm bed, and a clean water bowl, and food bowl
- Keep your cat warm by providing him with an accessible cozy bed and/or a warm spot in the sun
- Provide foods with a strong odor to encourage him to eat. If he is on a prescription diet that he hates, it is time to ditch it for something that he likes.
- Provide him with a quiet and peaceful environment. Don’t let other pets disturb him or knock him down
- Spend time with your cat as he wishes, and not as you want it to. Let your cat initiate the interaction. If he wants to be cuddled, waste no time petting him, brushing his hair, and giving him sweet kisses. If he prefers to be alone, let her be. Sit away from him, and wait for him to go near you.
- Consult with your vet regarding medications that can alleviate his symptoms and make him feel more comfortable. This could include pain medications, appetite stimulants, or steroids. This time, you are giving him medications on a short-term basis, so, you should not think about the possible side effects. Simply prioritize your cat’s comfort above anything else.
- Tell your cat that it is okay for him to go. And that you love him so much, and he has done a great job here on earth. So, he can leave when he is ready.
When to Say Goodbye to Your Dying Cat?
When is it time to say goodbye, and how would you know if your cat is ready to leave? Most cat owners can feel in their gut that the time has come for them to part ways with their beloved feline friend.
However, admitting such a reality and acknowledging that it is really happening can be difficult. It can be painful.
But when your cat has reached this stage, the longer you wait, the longer he suffers. And that’s the last thing you want your cat to feel during his final moments. All of the above signs in this list are indicative of a potential last goodbye with your feline companion.
To sum it up again, below are some of the signs that are synonymous with your cat saying, it’s time for him to leave and you should let him be:
- Your cat is no longer eating or drinking
- Extreme weight loss
- He no longer uses his litter box
- He is experiencing chronic vomiting and diarrhea
- He is extremely weak and is sleeping more than usual
- No longer responding to supplementary veterinary care
- Always hiding somewhere quiet and peaceful
If your cat is showing any of these symptoms, it can be his way of saying that he is ready to go. If you are not sure of what is best for your cat, you can always speak with your veterinarian.
Euthanizing your cat can be the kindest thing you can do at this time, as prolonging his time would only make him suffer even more.
At this point, it may just be you who is still in denial or is having a difficult time letting your dearest cat go.
However, for his sake, you should know that the time has come for you to let him cross over and enjoy a life without suffering.
His time here on earth is over, and nobody can change that. It sounds easier said than done, but you’ve got to let him go.
It is never easy to say goodbye to a treasured pet and a beloved member of the family, but being able to recognize that your cat is dying can also be a blessing in disguise.
You can spend time with him more often, and provide him with the best care possible to make his passage over the rainbow as comfortable and pain-free as possible.
You can simply be there with your cat during his final hours telling him how much you love him, gently stroking him, and just letting him feel your presence and how much he is loved and cherished.
It can be painful to see your cat go but don’t leave him during his final hours. Dying alone and in the presence of a stranger is the loneliest way to leave.
So, be brave for your cat. Hold his paws, talk to him and let him hear your voice. Let him feel you by his side as he takes his first step over the rainbow.
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