Although this is a difficult subject there may come a time when you have to check whether your cat has died. However, it would be unusual if you had to deal with this situation because normally you would be at your veterinarian discussing perhaps the progression of a chronic illness and whether or not to put your cat to sleep. That’s how domestic cats should die; peacefully without pain and distress. However, if there comes a time when you are unsure if your cat is living or not, these checks may be helpful.
The first obvious check would be to simply confirm that your cat won’t wake up from unconsciousness. You can find out by calling your cat or gently shaking your cat to wake them up if they are asleep. If they remain unconscious you will need to check whether they are breathing or not.
An unconscious cat can breathe very shallowly and gently and therefore it can be difficult to tell whether they are breathing. You can check by holding a mirror close to the cat’s nose and looking for condensation on the mirror. Condensation indicates that the cat is breathing. Another method to check for breathing would be to hold a small piece of tissue or cotton wool in front of the cat’s nostrils and see whether it moves or not.
A cat’s eyes dilate when the heart stops. So you should check whether the eyes are open and dilated. This happens because it takes an effort to close the eyes and to narrow the pupil (i.e. the aperture through which light passes onto the retina).
You can check whether the heart has stopped by checking for a pulse. The pulse is detected by feeling the femoral artery in the groin. You check this by feeling along the inside of the thigh where the leg and body join. You press lightly with your fingers until you locate the pulse. An alternative method is to gently press against the cat’s rib cage over the heart. With the cat standing you can feel the pulse or direct heartbeat just behind the elbow. Another method is to place your ear against the cat’s chest to hear the heartbeat.
Tongue and gums blood vessel refill?
Another method is to check your cat’s tongue and gums. They will be very pale and not pink in colour. If, when the gums are pressed, the capillary blood vessels do not refill it indicates death.
Note: I can’t publish a photo of a dead cat on this page as advertisers may not accept it and the site has advertising on it. The cat in the photo is sleeping. The information comes from two books: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook and Bruce Fogle’s Complete Cat Care.