Cats are great companions for humans, and many people rightfully consider their furry balls to be members of the family. Unfortunately, their life isn’t too long. One day, the time will come to say goodbye to your furry friend. Cats can die just because their time has come or after a long illness. But they rarely die in a moment, of course, if this is not a trauma or an accident. An observant cat parent can see the signs of his pet’s upcoming death several days or weeks before the end. In our guide, we’ll give you some tips on recognizing these signs and how to relieve the suffering of a dying feline.

Table of Contents:

Signs a Cat Is Dying
What Can I Do to Relieve the Suffering of a Dying Cat?
Frequently Asked Questions
The Final Words

Signs a Cat Is Dying

Specialists still can’t say for sure whether cats feel the upcoming death or not. However, some physiological and behavioral signs can tell you this. Keep in mind, however, that some of them are typical for sick cats too. Sometimes, it is difficult to understand whether a cat is dying or it is ill. You need to consider the pet’s overall condition, age, and the complex of symptoms to get the whole picture.

Loss of Appetite and Anorexia

When a cat’s life is flickering out, it often stops eating, or its organism can’t digest food properly anymore. This inevitably leads to extreme weight loss and anorexia. The cat becomes skinny and weak. If the pet doesn’t consume enough liquid, its urine becomes yellow, orange, or brown. The frequency of urination reduces drastically. So, if your cat’s food and water bowls stay untouched for a long time, it can be a sign of an upcoming end.

Nasty Smell

The odor of a cat’s breath, skin, and urine changes when the pet is dying. There two reasons for this. Firstly, due to the failure of vital inward organs, the pet’s body can’t process and eliminate toxins properly. The toxins are accumulated in the organs and tissues, causing a foul odor. Secondly, a dying cat is weak and apathetic, so it doesn’t care about hygiene. The pet stops grooming and licking itself, which can also be a reason for a nasty smell and terrible look.

Apathy and Weakness

Cats in their final days often become lethargic. Their activity level reduces to the minimum. They can sleep all day long or just lay motionless with their eyes closed. The pets become indifferent to their favorite treats and favorite toys. They don’t respond to sounds, voices, smells, etc. Also, they get too weak to walk or jump. A non-stop lethargy can be a clear sign of a cat dying.

Dying cats tend to lay motionless

Disorientation and Confusion

You may notice that over time, your cat loses an ability to stand up and walk straight. A staggering or ricketing gait is a sign of disorientation. Sometimes, very old cats can bump into walls or fall on the floor. Commonly, this is associated with little brain dysfunction. The failure of the brain functions is the beginning of the pet’s end.

Fecal and Urinary Incontinence

Both elderly and terminally ill cats often have trouble with their bowels and bladders. This results in fecal and urinary incontinence. For example, these cats can suffer from diarrhea. Due to the weakening of muscles, they eliminate and urinate involuntarily. They can’t control these physiological processes anymore.

Another problem is that some felines become too weak to get to their litter boxes. Instead, they have to do their deeds right on the bedding. To some extent, you can resolve this problem by moving the litter box some closer.

Lowering of the Body Temperature

The body temperature of a dying cat can reduce because its blood circulation slows down. Sometimes, you even don’t need to measure the temperature to understand this as the feline’s paws and ears become cold. You may also use a thermometer and take measurements – the body temperature of a dying cat often drops below 100 F. Keep in mind that, typically, cats have a body temperature of 100-110 F, which is higher than in humans. A drop in the body temperature is often accompanied by lower blood pressure, though the latter can’t be measured without medical equipment.

Changes in Appearance

Primarily, these changes are caused by severe weight loss. Dying cats often become anorexic, as they don’t eat and drink properly. Also, their fur becomes dull and matted; some cats start shedding severely. Another sign is the changing of the color of the gums. While the gums of a healthy cat are pink, they tend to become greyish when the pet is dying. After physical death, the gums become very pale. 

Respiration and Heart Rate Decreasing

The average heartbeat rate (a.k.a. HBR) of a healthy can vary from 140 to 220 beats per minute. When a cat is terminally ill, the vital functions of its organism are gradually switching off. Because the blood circulation slows down, the heart rate reduces too. You can measure it without special medical equipment by just putting your hand on the pet’s chest from the left side (right behind the front left leg). If it is lower than 140 beats per minute, the cat’s cardiovascular system doesn’t function as it should.

The same is about breathing. Usually, a respiration rate of a cat is 20-30 breaths per minute. However, when a cat is close to its physical death, its lungs become too weak to function correctly. They pump less oxygen to the blood, which is why a cat has to breathe more rapidly. As a result, it gets tired quickly, and its respiration becomes uneven and noisy. So the periods of rapid breathing alternate with periods of slow breathing. 

Unkempt Appearance and Uncommon Toilet Behavior

Healthy cats tend to be very tidy and neat. They groom themselves carefully every day and hate being dirty. When a cat gets an unkempt look, this is a clear sign of a severe illness or an upcoming death. Besides, seriously sick cats often change their toilet habits. While all felines in the world try to bury their waste in the sand (or litter), terminally ill cats become too weak to get to their litter boxes. They can make a mess anywhere, including their beddings, which is non-typical for these smart pets. Because of incontinence, cats can eliminate involuntary on the floor or around their sleeping place. 

ick cats get skinny and have an unkempt look

An Increased Sleep Duration

When a cat’s strength is on the wane, it tends to spend most of the time sleeping. It walks very little if ever. Also, the feline becomes indifferent to almost all types of stimuli – sounds, odors, moving objects, and so on. If a cat doesn’t care about its favorite treats and games and doesn’t react to noises and smells, it is seriously ill.

What Can I Do to Relieve the Suffering of a Dying Cat?

Unfortunately, nobody has the power to stop irreversible processes or delay someone’s death. The only thing you can do is calm down your dying pet by creating the most comfortable environment. When it’s time for your feline to leave you forever, just help her do it in the most comfortable way. This is called palliative care. Here are some tips on what particularly you can do.

Give Your Cat Any Treats She Likes

Is there anything special your cat is crazy about? Why not allow her to enjoy it, probably, for the last time in her life. If the kitty is too weak to get to the food bowl, feed her by hand. Talk to her with a calm voice, stroke gently, and treat with something delicious in small portions. Tuna, salmon, meat flakes, or even sausage – it really doesn’t matter much now. Of course, this won’t protect the cat from dying, but, maybe, she will feel a little bit happier.

Create a Cozy Bedding in a Hidden Place

Low mobility is typical for dying pets. Your cat will spend more and more time sleeping or lying motionlessly. What you can do in this situation is to make soft comfortable bedding. You may use an old blanket or soft thick towels. It’s better to make the “nest” on the floor or in a box with low sides, as your cat may be too weak to overcome higher barriers. Keep in mind, also, that dying cats often like to go away from people. If there is nowhere to go, make the bedding in a hidden place where nobody will disturb the suffering feline. A dark corner is preferable.

Arrange All the Accessories in a Convenient Way

A good solution is to place everything your cat may need within its reach. Primarily, these are the litter box, the food bowl, and the water bowl or water fountain. Usually, cats don’t like these objects to be placed together. However, for a sick cat, it can be challenging to walk. Let her access all the facilities with minimum hassle. By doing so, you’ll also reduce the mess in the house.

Spend More Time with Your Kitty

Elderly and sick cats need love and attention like small kittens. There is a common myth that only dogs can feel affection for their masters. However, cats love their “parents,” and they feel lonely and desperate when left alone too. Even if your kitty has always been independent, she needs you now. Besides, keep in mind that the cat has difficulties moving, so she cannot come to you. Meanwhile, your calm voice and gentle strokes can have a favorable effect on the dying kitty.

Spend more time with your cat

Get Rid of Everything That Can Disturb Your Cat

Although dying cats have little or no reaction to sounds and moving objects, this is primarily because they are too weak to move. However, loud noises can disturb them. Your feline will be grateful to you if you make her last days quiet and comfortable. Try to place the pet in a dark corner and protect her from bright light and excessive noise. Make a privacy screen if possible. Try not to shout or tramp these days and ask your family members to be quieter. 

Think of Pain Relievers

If your cat is dying from cancer or another serious disease, it may suffer from severe pain. In this case, you must consult a vet and ask for reliable pain relievers, which can soothe the pain. The problem is that it can be hard to recognize pain in cats, as they tend to tolerate it quietly. The clear signs of severe pain are shivering, hard breathing, salvation, meowing, and purring. Less apparent symptoms are stiff muscles, lethargy, loss of appetite, and wanting to self-isolate. 

If the pain becomes unbearable, and medications don’t help anymore, you may decide to euthanize your cat. Yes, this is a hard decision, but it appears to be more human than waiting for natural death, which may come in some days. If life brings no joy anymore, and every minute turns into an endless torment, it’s better to stop this. 

If you hate the thought of killing your cat, consult a specialist. The whole procedure of euthanasia takes less than one minute. A cat is sedated, after which a vet makes a single injection that helps it go away quietly without pain and suffering. Just think that it had to happen anyway, and some days filled with pain and fear wouldn’t change anything. Say goodbye to your kitty and let her go.

When everything is over, you need to think about whether you want to bury your cat or use the service of cremation. Vet clinics usually offer both options.

Frequently Asked Questions

When your beloved fluffy friend is dying, you can’t do much to help her. Chances are you feel lost and desperate, trying to find answers to dozens of questions. For the sake of convenience, we’ve gathered all frequently asked questions in one place.

✅Q: What is a Safe Pain Relief for a Dying Cat?

A: There are two essential things to remember. Firstly, never treat your cat with human pain relievers – most of them are toxic and dangerous for cats. Secondly, don't use any meds without a vet's prescription, as the precise dose is crucial. Overdosing can cause a reverse effect or kill your cat. Relatively safe pain relievers for cats are meloxicam and robenacoxib, which may come in the form of injections or oral drugs. Sometimes, vets prescribe aspirin in a solid or liquid form in small doses. Stronger medications for special situations are opioids. This is a large group of drugs, which includes morphine, codeine, and some other meds. Depending on your particular situation, a vet can prescribe some specific medicines, such as corticosteroids, which also relieve pain.

✅Q: How Do You Comfort a Dying Cat?

A: If you want to make your cat's last days as comfortable as possible, make cozy bedding in a quiet, dark place. Spend more time with your feline, talk to her, feed by hand if she is too weak to walk. Monitor your cat’s condition – she may need pain relievers one day.

✅Q: Why Do Cats Run Away to Die?

A: Some people think that looking for the solitude before death is typical for cats because they want to stay alone in their last minutes. However, feline behaviorists tend to believe that cats can’t distinguish between death and sickness. Sick animals feel vulnerable, so they start looking for a reliable and safe hideaway. They just need a place to wait for the sickness to pass. If your cat feels safe and protected at home, she’ll hardly try to escape.

✅Q: How Do I Know That the Cat Has Passed Away?

A: Sometimes, it’s difficult to understand whether a cat is dead or just unconscious. There are the main things to check if you want to make sure the pet has passed away: no pulse; no breathing; pupils get large and don’t change their size when you shine a spotlight on them. Also, the gums of a dead cat become very pale. The pet can have an unnatural or strange body position. Soon, it gets cold.

✅Q: When Is the Right Time to Say Goodbye?

A: Probably, your feline has become a real family member for you, and the very thought of stopping her life seems unbearable. However, sometimes, euthanasia is the best solution. It makes sense to end the agony of a terminally ill cat if she is suffering from severe pain. Of course, pain relievers can help, but not for long. If you are still hesitating, consult a vet – the specialist will help you make the right decision.

✅Q: Do Cats Close Their Eyes When They Die?

A: Usually, cats' eyes stay open after death. Cats need to apply some muscle power to close their eyes. When a cat dies, it can't control its muscles anymore, so its eyes are open.

✅Q: Do Cats Purr When They Are Dying?

A: Sometimes, cats can purr when they are dying, but this is not because they are happy. Purring is a complicated mechanism. From the point of view of physiology, it strengthens muscles and helps the cat's organism release endorphins. This allows them to cope with pain.

✅Q: Do Cats Know They Are Dying?

A: This is a controversial, not to say philosophical question. We can't get into a cat's head and read its thoughts. Some cat owners believe that cats can feel and even predict an upcoming death. For this reason, they are looking for solitude when their time comes. However, most animal behaviorists say that felines can’t distinguish death from sickness. After all, animals don’t have the concept of death, unlike humans. Highly likely, for them, this is just a change of condition.

The Final Words

Cats are more than just our little friends. For many of us, they are family members. Losing a beloved feline that used to live with you for years is always a bitter experience. Unfortunately, it’s beyond our power to stop or shift the death if it has to come. The only thing we can do is to make the natural process of dying more or less comfortable. It’s crucial to recognize the signs of terminal sickness or an upcoming death and take proper measures. To ease the feline’s state, we can create a comfortable environment for her, use pain relievers if necessary, and, finally, think of euthanasia. 

Sources:

https://www.riversideanimalcare.com/resources/cat-care/when-to-consider-euthanasia-in-cats/ – When to Consider Euthanasia in Cats

https://www.yourcat.co.uk/cat-advice/why-do-cats-go-away-to-die/ – Why do cats go away to die?

https://www.seniorsresourceguide.com/articles/art01240.html – Palliative Care for Pets

https://pets.webmd.com/end-life-care-pets-faq#1 – End of Life Care for Pets FAQ

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