Telltale Signs an Old Cat Is Dying

Updated April 20, 2022
Old Tabby Cat

Recognizing the signs a cat is dying of old age can help you make the best choice for your pet. Weight loss, an unpleasant odor, and other symptoms of aging can indicate your cat may be approaching the end stage of their life, but the severity of the symptoms can help you determine how much time is left.

Indications a Cat Is Dying of Old Age

It is not so much old age but, more commonly, the complications associated with failing organ systems that kill a cat. These types of diseases are more common during the feline geriatric years. The symptoms of aging and death are similar. However, it will be the frequency and severity of these conditions that determine your cat's overall state.

How to Tell if a Cat Is Dying

Old male cat

The Home to Heaven pet hospice service lists several signs that indicate a cat may be within a few days to a few hours of death. These include:

  • Weight loss progressing to emaciation

  • Dull or spacy demeanor

  • A sunken or vacant appearance to the eyes

  • Little movement, or sometimes agitation and restlessness

  • A foul odor

  • Very rapid or very slow breathing

  • Low body temperature or cold to the touch

Physical Symptoms of a Dying Cat for Specific Diseases

Geriatric cats can die from several types of medical conditions. The exact signs a cat may show when approaching death can often depend upon the type of sickness.

Heart Disease

The University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine points out feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common form of cardiac disease in cats. This type of heart disease can lead to death, but in some cases, the medications required to treat this disease can also worsen other medical conditions. Cats that are dying of heart disease may show labored breathing, rapid breathing, panting, restlessness, vocalization, collapse, purple or gray gums, or paralysis in the hind legs.

Renal Failure

Feline chronic kidney disease (CKD) is another common disease in aging cats. This condition is progressive and terminal, but it can be managed if caught in the early stages. As a cat with CKD moves towards death, it will require more frequent fluid therapy, blood tests, and nursing care. The expense of treating chronic kidney disease alone may prompt pet owners to put their animals down, as there is no cure for the disease. Cats dying of renal failure may show extreme weakness, weight loss, vomiting, lethargy progressing to being unresponsive, painful ulcers in the mouth, or seizures.

Impaired Immunity

Even cats without a significant disease will eventually experience an impaired immune system with aging. Viral infections can become more frequent, and your cat's recovery may only be partial during their last stages. Secondary bacterial infections are also quite common and can inhibit recovery. Impaired recovery may lead to future health problems and a further compromised system. Cats dying of infections could exhibit a foul odor, open sores, profuse nasal and ocular discharge, labored breathing, or lethargy.

Cancer

Experts suggest that one in five cats will be diagnosed with cancer. There are many types of cancer that can affect cats, but the most common cancer diagnosed in felines is lymphoma. Because cancer can be present in internal organs, tissues, or bone marrow, you may not see evidence of this disease until your cat is very ill or dying. Cats dying of cancer may show signs of a growth, mass, or swelling, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty swallowing, or unexplained bleeding.

Treatment Considerations

A girl holds her cat close before she has to be put to sleep

The severity of your cat's symptoms will increase during the last stages of your pet's life. Your veterinarian can help guide you in making nutritional and lifestyle changes that may increase your cat's comfort during this time. If the prognosis is poor or grave and your cat's quality of life is declining, euthanasia may be suggested.

What to Expect With Elderly Cats

When a cat ages, a greater burden is placed upon their internal organs. Old age is not so much the killer as are the complications that arise during your cat's last years. When your cat is aging, you may find:

  • Your veterinary visits will increase dramatically.
  • The treatment of any underlying diseases or conditions will become more complex and offer less satisfying results.
  • Your cat may develop complications from these treatments.
  • Your cat will become more susceptible to secondary infections.
  • Your cat may also become resistant or sensitive to medications.
Person Touching Ginger Cat at the Vet

There are many common age-related diseases of cats:

Communicate With Your Vet About Your Old Cat

Unsurprisingly, many of these conditions ultimately become the condition which results in the death of senior cats. Make sure to communicate with your veterinarian about your senior cat's behavior, symptoms, and response to any treatments. Ask about how to monitor your cat's quality of life before they get to the end of their life so you can make the most humane decisions for their care.

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Telltale Signs an Old Cat Is Dying