Why do cats die with their eyes open?

This is a difficult topic but questions are asked and I will try and answer them. Associated questions might be:

  • Why do cats die with their tongue out?
  • Why do cats die with their mouth open?
 Dr Karen Louis DVM MS
Dr Karen Louis DVM MS. She is on the page because (1) she helped me (2) I can’t use a photo of a dying or dead cat with eyes open because Google Adsense wouldn’t be happy. They’d call it ‘shocking content’ and (3) I can’t totally block ads on this page when viewed on desktops.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment written by visitors. It is a way visitors can contribute to animal welfare without much effort and no financial cost. Please comment. It helps this website too which at heart is about cat welfare.

The reason why cats die with their eyes open is because it takes active muscular effort to close the eyes and when a cat has died that muscular effort is no longer there. The reason why cats might die with their tongue out is because it takes energy i.e. muscular effort to keep their tongue in their mouths. The reason is the same as for their eyes. Finally, people appear to think that cats die with their mouths open. That’s why they’re asking the question. At this stage, I am not one hundred percent convinced that all cats die with their mouths open.

I will confess that until now I have been emotionally unable to attend the end-of-life euthanasia of my cats. Jackson Galaxy says that all cat guardians should attend when a veterinarian ends their cat’s life due to health reasons. He says that we owe a duty to our cat to attend at that moment. I agree with him. I will change my behaviour.

However, because I never attended I don’t know what my cats looked like when they died at a veterinary clinic. My research on the internet does not shout out to me that domestic cats die with their mouths open. The fact that their tongue might stick out a little bit is an encouragement to believe that the mouth is open. Perhaps the tongue is forcing the mouth open slightly. If the mouth is open it is probably because of the same reason as for tongue and eyes. The muscles of the jaw become relaxed which lets the mouth slacken slightly and remain open.

Your cat might partially close their eyes on their death but it is never a complete closure. This information comes from veterinarian Karen Louis DVM, MS who I believe lives in America. She should know. Humans also die with their eyes open for the same reason.

Also, when a cat is sedated before euthanasia they may snore if they are a cat who snores normally. She says that she often puts a towel or blanket under the cat or dog to collect any urine or faeces which are expelled. The reason is that the muscles which keep in the urine and faeces relax allowing it to come out. She also says that during the euthanasia process breathing becomes slightly faster for a while. She says that veterinarians call this “huffing and puffing”. Some animals breed deeply for a few breaths, she says. This is a sign of deeper anaesthesia.

The heart stops beating and then the rest of the body has to die but this does not take place instantly. There might be some intestinal gurgling for several minutes. Some nerve neurons fire which can lead to muscle twitching usually in the legs. The air in the lungs is expelled. It doesn’t happen all the time but she warns customers that this may happen. It can happen a couple of minutes after your cat has died. It takes a couple of hours for rigor mortis to set in. Thanks Dr Louis.


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