Categories: dying

What are the symptoms that your cat is dying?

I apologise for the very morbid question but somebody asked it so I feel that I should try and answer it. The point about this question is that it will only be asked if your cat is either very old, and ‘dying of old age’ (multiple health issues), or very ill with a chronic illness or both. Under these circumstances it is axiomatic that you will have seen your veterinarian on several occasions. As a consequence you will have your veterinarian by your side providing information and advice which will assist you in answering the question in the title.

My cat shortly before I said goodbye

The symptoms of a cat dying must vary depending upon the particular circumstances therefore you can’t simply itemise them as a checklist. That said, an online veterinarian does try to itemise the symptoms by saying that loss of appetite and thirst, extreme weakness, lower body temperature, appearance changes, hiding and clinginess are classic symptoms.

However, you are going to need a veterinarian to help you though because reading between the lines, the underlying purpose of the question is to know when to make that awful decision to euthanise your cat. You only make that decision in consultation with a good veterinarian of experience and, dare I say it, wisdom.

A respected book1 written by veterinarians sets out four questions which a cat owner should ask themselves in order to try and decide if it is time to end your cat’s life.

You should ask yourself:

  • Is she having more good days than bad days?
  • Can she still do the things she loves to do best?
  • Is she in pain or discomfort that can’t be relieved?
  • Is she eating and drinking?

There are two extra items in this list. The first concerns pain. It is difficult to know if a cat is feeling pain. They hide it so well. Your vet will be able to advise you whether they’re likely to be feeling pain due to an illness that your cat might have. Cats do tend to hide and become very passive when they are in pain. That’s a good indicator. I have a nice page on the issue of deciding if a cat is feeling pain so please click on this link to read it.

A common denominator in these lists is a lack of appetite. I know that when my cat was dying of kidney disease and she was on permanent antibiotics, the moment I decided to take to take to my veterinarian and end her life was when my cat told me through her demeanour that she no longer wished to eat. Of course for many months before that moment I had been thinking about what to do so I was very much in tune with the symptoms and the decision-making process. Incidentally, I delayed and regret it. I was playing safe.

There is no absolutely correct answer to the decision to euthanise your cat. The only guide is that you do it for your cat in an objective manner and not for yourself with the advice and assistance of an excellent veterinarian who has some life experience, ideally.

1. Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook 3rd Edition.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • We must always ask what is best for the animal not best for us. I have always instinctively known when I was doing more harm than good by extending their lives. It is the last act of true love you bestow on your beloved companion. A peaceful end to pain and suffering.
    Generally you'll see them lose interest in life. Well cared for house pets don't die easily.

  • Michael, as you know, I could not bear to have my Nikki euthanized. She had gone through several procedures at the veterinarian's office less than two weeks before she crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Putting her through some of those tests is what I regret. I brought her home to stay with me through her very last breath. I listened to my heart. I still feel that in her case it was best. 😿 ☮️ ☯️ 💜 💜 🐾

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