Watching a pet go through the end of its life can be an incredibly difficult and painful experience both for the owner and the pet. Cats are often close to their owners and when they start to go through the dying process, it’s both heart-wrenching and hard.
The signs of a cat going through the dying process all stem from the cat’s behavior. The cat will lose its appetite, have inconsistencies with its bowels, and grow lethargic, often hiding away from people or becoming extremely clingy in the last couple of months or weeks of its life.
Going through these different signs will be difficult, but understanding that your cat may be about to die and what you can do to comfort your pet will help that process be a bit less difficult. There are two phases: the pre-active phase and the active dying phase.
Pre-Active Dying Phase
The pre-active dying phase is one of the only phases where you can potentially do something to help your cat before the active dying phase sets in. Whenever you note that your cat’s behavior is out of place, take your cat in to be checked out by the vet. Be prepared, especially if your cat is a senior cat, that this might be a sign that the cat has reached the end of its life and will soon be moving on.
The pre-active dying phase can take several months, a few weeks, or even a couple of days. It all depends on the cat and its behaviors as well as the previous health issues. Most especially in the case of a senior cat. If you notice your cat acting out of personality or with odd behavior, the likelihood that something is wrong is high. The following list of symptoms are all things you should watch for in your cat in their senior years or if you’re concerned about their health.
You’ll notice that as the cat gets closer to passing away, they will lose weight. This weight loss is typically drastic, but sometimes it happens slowly over time. However, a visit to your vet is a good idea so you can figure out what is going on with your cat. Weight loss can be a signifying trait of a few different kinds of cat illnesses such as anorexia. A lot of weight loss will leave the cat’s skin flappy and sad, and your cat will be dehydrated because they won’t be eating as much as they usually do or at all.
Loss of Appetite
When they are dying, you will notice that your cat is not eating or drinking and is becoming less excited about meal times and treats, even if the treats are their favorite. This can be a big sign that your cat is getting close to passing on.
Usually, the cause of loss of appetite in a cat nearing death is that swallowing gets painful for them. It might be painful to eat in general. Nausea will be a huge thing since their body just doesn’t process food as well as it has in the past, and they might even regurgitate some of their meals without a reason as to why. Your cat will also stop drinking water, and as a result, they will get extremely dehydrated.
As your cat loses weight, you may begin to see its bones, which is always disheartening. No matter what you do, if your cat is dying it won’t gain weight again.
Always talk to a vet about these without immediately jumping to the conclusion of the cat dying just in case there is something you can do for your cat that will help it continue to lead a healthy and happy life. Vets might be able to give you medication to improve your cat’s health, even if it is temporary.
Weakness/Lack of Mobility
A cat will often lose a lot of the muscular control they might’ve had at a younger or healthier time in their lives. This can lead to them having difficulty navigating what would’ve been a simple terrain in the past. Sometimes they will start suffering from joint pain, which makes those once gravity-defying leaps too painful to be attempted.
You will see them struggling with climbing the stairs, perhaps getting winded when they make it up or down. They will likely have trouble jumping onto or off of beds, couches or chairs to snuggle with you, and struggle to get into the litter boxes. This could result in messy accidents all over your house as the cat doesn’t have the energy or ability to make it into the litter box despite knowing where they should go to the bathroom.
Cats have very low energy levels when they are approaching the end of their life. They won’t want to play as much as they did when they were young. They will find quiet places and sleep for long periods of time, and they will be less excited about things that usually would’ve had them going bonkers, such as the offering of a treat or their favorite toy being presented to them.
They might also hide more and more frequently in new areas or just areas in general as the cat wants and seeks out privacy to better defend itself when it is feeling ill. This is a natural instinct, and if you notice that you keep finding your cat in new hiding places and the cat doesn’t want to come out for its favorite brush, toy, or treat, then you’ll want to see if there is anything you can do for them.
Lack of grooming
Another not well or often talked about symptom of a dying cat is that they’ll stop grooming their fur as much. This goes for sick cats as well. When they don’t feel well, they don’t have the same urge to keep their fur gleaming and fluffy.
Their fur will get oily looking and matted as they feel worse and go longer without cleaning themselves. If you wipe your cat down with allergen-friendly wipes, you might not notice this as much since you are cleaning them, but it is something that you should look out for and be concerned about. When this happens, visit the vet. Sometimes, it is a simple sickness that your cat can bounce back from with the right medications, and other times it is a sign that your cat will soon die.
Active Dying Phase
Even after you do all you can do, sometimes it’s not enough and your cat is indeed dying. If your vet has told you your options and you decide to bring the cat home to let them live out their last days in comfort, remember to consider whether or not they’ll be happy in that manner or if it would be better to euthanize and let the cat’s suffering end.
If you do end up bringing your cat home as their health continues to decline, you will want to know the signs that death is near so you can spend as much time as possible with your cat as they pass on from this life.
This can be an extremely traumatic event, both for the dying cat and you, as well as anyone who is close to the pet cat. The cat will most likely be scared, confused, and at times feel incredibly alone. The end of a cat’s life, if it is dying naturally, can be painful to watch and experience as you are with the cat during those last moments.
You will notice a few different things as your cat dies, including a lack of urination or control over urinating. Incontinence of fecal and urinary movements and other digestion-related issues become pretty apparent as the cat dies. If you’re watching it, the cat’s heartbeat will become irregular and seem slow without a cause. This condition is called Bradycardia and is a symptom that a cat is slowly dying as its body and heart aren’t functioning as they should.
You’ll find that your cat’s overall body temperature will get colder and its paws and other extremities will be cold. This is due to decreased blood circulation and is from their heart not working as well. The breathing of the cat will also be extremely odd and you can see the cat experience a couple of different things.
Agonal breathing is slow, deep panting that is a sign of a cat is near the end of its life. There are terminal respiratory secretions, which is what happens when saliva builds up in the back of their throat. This causes gurgling or rattling noises as their body’s ability to function and swallow properly decreases.
Helping Your Cat During the Dying Process
Helping your cat through this last process of their mortal lives can be extremely draining and emotionally painful for you. It’s not going to be easy and being near your cat during this will be hard for you, but hopefully comforting for your cat.
During the early signs of the dying process, move your cat to a nice warm place with a soft blanket and water and food as well as the litter box nearby so that those simple things are still provided for the cat even as their body ceases to function properly.
Give it time and sit with your cat as you can to give emotional support. Cats are incredibly adept at sensing emotion and if you can offer that comfort to them, it’ll make this less emotionally traumatic for the cat. Softly petting or stroking the cat’s fur will be nice to help them remember you are there. And if you can stomach it, staying with the cat until they’ve passed on will help them feel not alone.
Many cats try to hide when they don’t feel well, and some cats will become clingy and snuggly as they realize they don’t feel well but they’re just as social as most humans are and need to feel loved and appreciated right to the end. If you can help to bathe the cat, try to keep the cat hydrated until it can no longer do what it needs to on its own.
Eventually, the cat will die and you’ll feel a lot of grief or even numbness about what just happened. Hopefully, you were a very good owner and loved your cat well. Figure out how you want to dispose of the remains and remember that you were able to provide that comfort for the cat in their last moments.
When to Consider Euthanasia for Your Cat
Something you will need to seriously consider when the end of the life of a cat comes near is whether or not to euthanize them. This can be a hard decision, seeing as sometimes what might have been a terminal illness ends up being beatable, and the cat can defy the odds. Sometimes, that’s just not the case and you, as the owner of the cat, need to know when to let go and let the cat have the die in peace and comfort.
If your cat is in extreme amounts of pain and discomfort, you should consider euthanizing them. It’s cruel to keep them alive at this point when you have a way to painlessly end their life and let them move on. Letting them die naturally will only prolong their suffering, and you should definitely take your vet’s opinions into consideration.
If you can see that the cat is in pain and have decided to euthanize them, but don’t have the funds for it, please talk to your vet about payment plans, as most euthanasia options aren’t too expensive and will be much more humane in the long run, for both your pet and for your own emotional and mental health. There are a few different places that will euthanize your cat for a low price, and it’s always better to consider your cat’s overall happiness than it is to prolong their suffering in any other way.