HEALTH & CARE

How to Tell If a Cat Is Dying: Signs and Symptoms to Watch Out For

cat feeling bad
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

People say that a cat’s average lifespan is around fifteen years. That doesn’t mean, though, that all cats will live to reach that ripe old age. Whether your pet is still young or already in her golden years, losing a pet is still heart-wrenching. If your pet is sick, wouldn’t you want to know how to tell if a cat is dying so you can prepare for the worst?

Just like humans do, some cats leave us while they’re still young while others gracefully age and die in their sleep. Being able to tell in advance if your pet is nearing her last days will not only help you prepare yourself mentally and emotionally, but it will also help you prepare so that you can give your pet the best care she deserves. It may not be much, but you can make your pet’s final journey as comfortable and as painless as possible.

In this article, we will discuss the various behavioral changes often observed in dying cats. There will also be various physical changes that you may observe in a dying cat. Although this is a difficult and emotionally draining situation, we’ll give you some tips on how to care for a dying cat to help you out. We’ll also share with you some guidance on how you should proceed when your pet has passed away.

Behavioral Signs That Tell You Your Cat May Be Dying

gray cat refusing to eat

When your cat’s health is declining, it is often accompanied by various behavioral and personality changes. A calm and gentle cat may become irritable or gruff, or your pet’s sleeping or urination pattern may change.

Here are some signs that you need to watch out for:

  • Appetite Loss. A cat that is extremely ill may experience a complete loss of appetite. Either she no longer has the energy to eat, or just not interested in food anymore. Your pet may even stop drinking water.

  • Low Energy Levels. Although the change in their energy levels will be more observable in playful cats, even sedentary cats will show a marked drop in energy levels. Your cat may also appear weak even while she’s just moving from one spot to another as if she’s having a lot of difficulties carrying the burden of her own body weight.

  • Withdrawal. When your cat is nearing the end of her life, she will withdraw—from everything and everyone. A dying cat will lose all interest not just in food but also in her surroundings.

  • Hiding. Most cats will want to spend their last moments alone and away from the presence of other animals or people. Many of them will hide, either in hard to reach places or even just under the blankets.

  • Sleeping. Although cats generally love to nap, a dying cat usually spends the time sleeping as much as she can. Some cats don’t even leave their sleeping spot, not even to go near the food or water bowl.

  • Cognitive Changes. A dying cat may show confusion or disorientation, either because too much toxin has built up in their bodies or simply because the disease has reached their brains. This may also be caused by dementia in elderly cats.

  • Loss of Hygienic Habits. Cats are usually meticulous about cleaning themselves. However, when your cat is already neglecting her own hygiene, that’s a sure sign that something is terribly wrong.

  • Other Behavioral Changes. Cats normally love to rub their bodies on furniture and other stuff that they want to leave their scent on. When your cat neglects the things that she normally does, like rubbing her body or marking the scratching post, these behavioral changes are telling you that your cat is not feeling well at all. And if this is accompanied by other behavioral and physical changes, you can take it as a warning sign that your cat is already dying.

See Also: How to Tell If Your Cat is Sick

Physical Symptoms to Watch Out For

cat breathing hard

When a cat is dying, you will be able to observe not only behavioral but also physical changes as well. Just like in humans, the vital signs of dying cats are also significantly altered.

If you suspect that your cat may be dying, here’s how to check your pet’s vital signs.

  • Breathing. In cats, the normal respiratory rate ranges from 20-42 breaths per minute. Abnormal breathing patterns often mean that your cat is sick. When your pet’s heart and lungs are getting weak, it will show up in the way your cat is breathing. Rapid breathing means your cat is struggling for oxygen while slow, labored breathing means your cat’s lungs are filled with fluid and are failing already.

  • Heart Rate. The normal heart rate for cats is between 140-220 beats per minute. When your cat’s heart rate is much lower than normal, it could be a sign that your cat is very sick or that your pet’s heart is already getting very weak. Check your pet’s heart rate by placing your hand behind your cat’s front leg on the left side. You can use a stopwatch, a timer, or a smartphone, then count the number of heat beats you feel in one minute.

  • Body Temperature. For a normal cat, the body temperature should be anywhere between 38ºC (100.4F) and 39ºC (102.2F). When your cat’s body temperature is already below 100F, it could mean that your pet’s heart is getting weaker and weaker, which is causing the drop in body temperature. You can use a thermometer to measure your pet’s body temperature. If you don’t have one handy, try to feel your cat’s paws. If they feel cool, this could mean that your pet’s body temperature is already dropping.

  • Foul Odor. Cats that are already very weak are no longer able to eliminate toxins from their bodies properly. When your pet’s organs start to deteriorate, you may notice a foul odor emanating from your cat’s body. The smell will worsen as your pet’s condition worsens.

See Also: How Often Should You Take Your Cat to the Vet

What to Do If Your Pet is Dying

If you observe any of the symptoms discussed above, you should take action right away. When your cat is very ill or is dying, the best thing you can do is to give her an opportunity to have a dignified death, free from pain and discomfort.

#1: Consult with Your Vet

consulting a vet

Your vet will be able to make the best determination if medical intervention can still help your cat. In the event that your vet says that your pet’s life can no longer be significantly prolonged, you have to discuss your options with your vet.

In addition, the vet can give you valuable advice on how to make your cat’s final days as comfortable as possible.

#2: Check If Your Cat Is In Pain

Cats normally don’t show pain or suffering. However, you can tell if your pet is suffering from pain through close observation. If your pet is more aloof or reclusive than usual, it may be a sign that your cat is hiding her pain.

If you can see that your pet is having trouble breathing or is panting laboriously, it’s a sure sign that your pet is really having a hard time.

#3: End-of-Life Care

special equipment to feed a dying cat

Just like with any loved one, you would want to give your cat the best care possible through her final days. In situations like this, many pet parents opt for home hospice care so that they can make their pet as comfortable and as healthy as possible even during their last days.

Your vet may also prescribe pain medication to lessen the pain for your pet, as well as equipment to help you nourish your cat.

See Also: How to Syringe Feed a Cat

#4: Make Your Pet Comfortable

It may not help your cat medically, but it surely will lessen your pet’s suffering. Seeing to your pet’s comfort will also let your pet know that you are there for her during this difficult time.

Make your pet’s bedding as soft and comfortable as possible by adding extra blankets or by giving your pet her favorite blanket, pillow, or toy. Line the bedding with extra towels so that you can easily remove the towels if your pet soils them.

Make sure you wash your pet’s beddings often. But don’t use strongly scented detergent because this might irritate your cat’s respiratory system and may add to your pet’s suffering.

#5: Help Your Cat

holding cat on hands

If your cat is no longer strong enough to eat, drink, urinate, or defecate by herself, you will need to help your cat. You may need to use a pet diaper or carry your pet to the litter box and back to her sleeping spot. Your cat may need a feeding tube so that she can continue eating.

If your cat is dying because of kidney disease, cancer, or diabetes, keeping her hydrated is very important. If your cat is no longer drinking water by herself, feeding tubes can also be used to make sure your pet is receiving adequate hydration.

See Also: How to Get a Cat to Drink Water

#6: Make A Decision

This may be one of the hardest things you will need to do for your pet. Based on your discussion with your vet, you may need to make a decision about putting your cat to eternal sleep.

It won’t be easy, but you will need to think of your pet’s comfort. If you feel that prolonging your pet’s life will just lead to more suffering and pain for your cat, you should discuss this with your vet.

When you feel that the time is right, call the vet so they can help you put your cat to sleep peacefully.

When Your Pet Has Passed Away

cat's grave

Death may be a natural process, but that doesn’t mean it’s less painful when it happens to your pet. You will need to set aside your grief for a little while as you take care of your pet’s remains. The available options for burying your pet will depend on your state and local laws.

#1: Handling Your Pet’s Remains

If your cat died at home, you need to handle your pet’s body properly to ensure that it will be preserved while you’re arranging the burial or cremation.

Make sure you wear gloves when you handle your pet’s body. Body fluids are normally released upon death, so you may want to clean the areas around your pet’s mouth and genitals.

Tightly wrap your pet’s body with a large towel or blanket to ensure that the entire body is covered. Place the body inside a heavy duty plastic trash bag, then tie the bag securely. Store your pet’s remains in a cool place until you are able to get your pet’s remains to the vet’s or to an animal funeral home.

#2: Cremation

pet cremation

Your vet may have facilities for cremation. If your pet passed away while at the vet’s, this may be a good option for you. If your vet doesn’t offer this service, you may contact a local animal shelter.

You may arrange for an individual cremation wherein your pet will be cremated separately, and the ashes will be returned to you. Other cat parents choose communal cremation wherein the pet will be cremated along with other deceased pets.

Your pet’s ashes will no longer be returned to you if you opt for communal creation. The center will be the one taking charge of the final disposal of the remains.

#3: Burying Your Pet at Home

For many cat parents, having their deceased pets nearby is a source of consolation. However, as the practice is prohibited in many areas, make sure you check first to avoid getting into legal trouble.

#4: Animal Funeral Home

In some states, burying your pet in your backyard is not allowed. Thus, aside from cremation, burying your pet in a pet cemetery is the other option. If you’re not sure how to go about it, you can ask your vet to give you some guidance on the process.

#5: Pet Registry

If you had your pet listed in the pet registry, you would need to have your pet removed from the registry.

#6: Consult a Therapist

There’s no shame in feeling grief for the death of a beloved pet. It may not bring your pet back to life, but it can at least help ease your pain.

#7: Think About Getting Another Pet When the Right Time Comes

taking a new kitten

Going through the death of a pet is a painful experience; not many pet owners would want to go through again.

Some people may want to get another pet right away, but if you’re still dealing with the grief, you have to understand that no two pets are alike, and a new pet won’t be able to replace the one that passed away completely.

Take your time about it. When the right time comes, the right pet will come to you.

Wrap Up

losing a pet

The loss of a pet is a devastating experience, no matter how mentally prepared you are. If you have dealt with such a painful experience in the past, please feel free to share with us how you were able to handle the situation.

You may have other tips for giving a pet the most comfortable end-of-life care. We would love to hear your comments and suggestions. Check out our article on how to give a cat a shot if you are to care for your pet at home.

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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