When a cat is simply too sick to survive and recover, the progression from being sick to actively dying can sometimes be so subtle, you may not even realize what's happening. Having a better understanding of the clinical symptoms that indicate death is near may help you make an a rational choice about what is best for your pet based on your individual situation.
Signs a Cat Is Dying
According to Feline CRF.org, there are many medical signs that indicate a cat is near death. The exact symptoms an individual cat displays really depends on which illness he has. However, there are some basic symptoms that all cats experience as their bodies begin to shut down.
Lowered Heart Rate
Depending on its age and what its doing, the average cat's heart beats 120 to nearly 200 beats per minute. As the cat's heart weakens and the animal is closer to dying, the heart rate drops dramatically to just a fraction of its normal rate. Near the end, there are longer and longer pauses between each individual beat, and the pattern becomes very irregular until the heart completely stops.
A healthy cat takes an average of 20 to 30 breaths per minute. As the heart weakens, it's no longer able to pump the lungs efficiently. This means less oxygen is available in the bloodstream. This will initially cause rapid, labored breathing, but as fluid begins to pool in the lungs, the cat finds it more and more difficult to breathe. Near the end, breaths are fewer and farther between until the animal is finally too weak to go on and stops breathing completely.
Lowered Blood Pressure
The average blood pressure for an adult cat runs around 140/90, but this falls rapidly as the cat moves closer to death. While you can tell if your cat's breathing slows and you can lay your hand on his chest and feel the slowing of his heart beats, you really won't be able to tell that his blood pressure is dropping.
Drop in Body Temperature
As the heart rate drops, the body also begins to cool, especially the extremities. A dog normally feels extra warm when you touch him because his average temperature runs slightly above 100 degrees F and a person's average temperature is approximately 98.6 F. Once the cat's temperature reaches 98 F or lower, you can feel his temperature is lower just by resting your hand on him.
It's not unusual for cats to go through periods of anorexia when there's a prolonged illness involved. However, nearly all cats will stop eating and drinking when death is imminent. The cat will begin to look wasted due to lack of nutrition. Lack of fluids leads to dehydration. You'll notice this by the lack of elasticity in the skin, a sunken look to the eyes, and the darker color and lower output of urine.
When chronic renal failure is the cause of the cat's approaching death, toxins begin building up in the bloodstream. As a result, the cat's breath and body begin to smell bad. The longer the condition progresses, the worse the odor becomes.
As the body prepares to shut down, the muscles begin to relax to the point where the cat no longer has any control over its eliminations. The muscles that control the bladder and sphincter relax, and the cat has involuntary movements. This is especially likely to happen soon after the cat passes away.
If your cat is exhibiting signs of being near death, you may want to consider talking to your vet about euthanasia. This can be the more humane choice in cases where there is significant pain and suffering involved.
If you choose to put your pet to sleep, your vet will give him an injection that will slow his heart to a stop. This takes only seconds and is not a painful procedure. You will usually be given the opportunity to stay with your cat throughout the process if you wish. Euthanasia can put an end to a pet's suffering as well as shorten the emotional distress you feel.
Saying Good-Bye Is Never Easy
Watching your cat die can be upsetting and disheartening. By understanding and coming to terms with the dying process, you can make decisions based on what is best for your pet rather than based on your emotions. It's natural to feel a profound sense of loss after a cat's death, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to grieve. Someday the grief will ease, and you may decide it's time to bring a new cat into your life.