All animals exhibit some telltale signs that the end of their life is approaching, and dying cats are no exception. Learn how to recognize these signs so you can help make your cat's life more comfortable as they near the end.
How to Tell if a Cat Is Dying
It is an unfortunate fact of life that death must also occur. It is difficult to watch a dear friend reach the end of their days, as many cat owners will attest. It's possible some cats will die unexpectedly or blessedly in their sleep. What cats do when they are dying can vary, but according to Feline CRF.org, many cats will exhibit certain behaviors and signs before they pass on.
Some common signs of a cat dying are obvious changes in their normal temperament, a noticeable increase in hiding behavior, a loss of appetite for both food and water, and changes in their overall appearance. Appearance changes can include dull, matted fur, urine or feces in their hair, dilated or glazed eyes, lack of blinking, and a "sunken" look. Cats dying will often have seizures as well and will have difficulty breathing.
A cat that is sick and dying will often go through a drastic personality change. If they were formerly an outgoing fellow, they may now become something of a recluse and become irritable if you try to handle them. This is likely because they are in pain and don't want to be touched. On the other hand, some cats that were quite independent when they were healthy may now seek out the companionship of their owners as death draws near. This can be a difficult symptom to interpret, as many non-life-threatening illnesses can also lead to this behavior.
Cats seem to have the ability to know that they are going to die. A sick cat will often begin seeking out places that are comfortable to them yet away from their owners. For pet owners who allow a cat outside, this can cause problems. Cats will often seek out cool, shaded areas, such as under bushes, thickets of wild grasses, or under vehicles. If your sick or aging pet has suddenly pulled a disappearing act, check in these areas around your home first. Indoor pets will exhibit similar behavior, seeking out cool, dark areas in which to rest. Typical hiding places in the home include the cellar, under beds, or in rooms used for storage. A dying cat may not even come out when it is time for meals, to drink water, or use the litter box.
Changes in Eating
Cats that are ill or dying will avoid eating food and drinking water as well. It's important to note that a cat that isn't eating at all, even when you tempt them with a favorite treat, isn't necessarily dying. This cat may just need help! While a cat may skip a meal or two occasionally, an animal that hasn't eaten two or three meals in a row should be taken to a vet for an examination. A lack of appetite doesn't necessarily mean your cat is dying, but it should be taken seriously, particularly when seen together with other symptoms.
For expert advice about digestive disorders that cause poor appetite, constipation, diarrhea, or vomiting, consult LoveToKnow's eBook called Happy Tummy Cat. Written by a veterinarian, it helps you understand the underlying health disorders that may be at the root of your cat's digestive woes based on symptoms you can see and also tells you what to expect from the vet's visit and when to go.
Cats that are dying may also sit near a water bowl or even hang their heads over the bowl without drinking.
Changes in Appearance
A cat that is close to dying may gradually develop more of an unkempt appearance. They won't have the energy to groom themselves as they normally would. In addition, their fur may even come out in small clumps or shed copiously. If a cat is extremely weak, they may urinate on themselves and can develop an odor or matted fur from this.
In addition to a sickly appearance, a cat's eyes may appear dilated when they are close to death. In other cases, a cat may appear to be blind, or their eyes are glazed over. If they're severely dehydrated, their eyes may also have a sunken-in appearance. If a cat doesn't blink when touched near the corner of their eye, they are probably unconscious and very close to death.
One sign that is exhibited by some cats that are dying is a series of seizures. This is one of the reasons why pet owners should provide their cats with a safe and comfortable place when they are nearing death. A cat that is having seizures may yowl and throw their head backward, making an uncomfortable-looking arch in their back. A cat may have one or two of these seizures or much more over a period of several hours before death takes them. During severe seizures, the cat will be minimally responsive between convulsions and will not even try to get up. They may not know you or their surroundings.
A cat's breathing may change when they are dying. Some animals will pant during their last hours or make wheezing sounds. The cat may keep their mouth open with his tongue hanging out. Toward the end, some cats will make little gurgling noises as the respiratory system begins to shut down. If a cat is panting and throwing themselves around or rolling, they are in severe distress and probably about to die. In other diseases, a cat may have agonal breaths, which are spasms in which their heart may already have stopped, but the breathing muscles still twitch as the muscles fail.
Making the Decision to Euthanize a Dying Cat
Some animals are so ill that an owner may take them to a vet to determine if it's time to consider euthanasia. After examining your cat, the veterinarian can help you decide if it is time to put your cat down. You may want to choose euthanasia if your cat has any of the following conditions and they cannot be treated:
- Severe pain
- Cancer that cannot be treated without invasive procedures
- Respiratory distress
- Any medical state in which you or your cat cannot keep them clean from urine or feces
- A systemic disease such as kidney failure, pancreatitis, heart disease, or cancer in which your cat is not responding to treatment, particularly if their quality of life is not good.
VCA Hospitals provides additional information on how to assess your cat's quality of life. If the vet agrees with you that your pet should be euthanized, you'll be given a chance to say goodbye before the vet administers the injection.
Caring for a Dying Cat
Cats often pass away without anyone noticing that they've gone. For pet owners who know that death is imminent, preparing for the event can help them say goodbye to their friend.
Occasionally, taking a pet to the vet isn't an option. In these cases, making the animal safe and comfortable is the best thing that you can do for them. If you have access to a large animal cage, place the cat in it along with water, a soft bed to lie on, and a litter box. If no cage is available, a quiet room with a door will suffice, along with soft bedding, water, and a litter box.
Appreciate Those Final Moments With Your Cat
It is never easy to say goodbye to a cherished pet and member of the family, but being able to recognize that your cat is dying might just be a blessing in disguise. You'll be able to give your pet some measure of comfort in their final hours by telling them how much you love them, gently stroking them to comfort them, and just being there with them as they make that journey over the rainbow bridge.