Senior cats are wonderful pets, despite their advancing years. An older feline will not need to be trained, and they’re usually more relaxed. There is only one, sadly unavoidable, fact of life surrounding senior cats. Your time together will be limited by their advancing years.
It’s always heartbreaking when a cat’s time with us concludes. It’s crucial to remember that it’s what a cat would want, though. As proud and independent animals, cats loathe being reliant on others due to age-related health complications. This guide will help you understand cat behaviors and physical problems that are commonly encountered toward the end of a cat’s life.
How Long Do Cats Live?
The life expectancy of a cat varies wildly, depending on several factors. In the wild, a cat can be expected to live anywhere between 2 and 16 years. It’s almost entirely pot luck, depending on availability of food and the safety of their territory.
A domesticated house cat may be expected to live as long as two decades. Again, this all depends on their lifestyle. As WebMD explains, indoor cats can expect to live much longer than outdoor cats.
There are many reasons for this, including:
- Indoor cats do not risk being struck by cars and other road traffic. This is a significant cause of fatalities for roaming pets.
- They are far less likely to fight with other cats. This means less stress, and less chance of injuries that lead to infection.
- Far less likely to catch infectious diseases from other cats. Stray and feral cats, in particular, often carry dangerous viruses such as feline leukemia virus.
- House cats are less likely to injure themselves by falling from trees or off balconies.
Do not grow complacent about feline health if you keep your cat indoors. Roaming cats tend to be trimmer, so ensure that an indoor pet gets exercise. Distract your indoor cat with play too, or they’ll grow frustrated by their inability to hunt.
Any cat, of any age, can also be struck down by a sudden illness. Take your pet for regular veterinary check-ups. This should be at least once a year, twice annually past the age of 7. This will identify any health problems early, and greatly enhance your pet’s chances of recovery.
When is My Cat Considered Senior?
The life of a cat is divided into three direct cycles:
- Kitten: Cats are deemed to be kittens for the first twelve months of their life.
- Adult Cat: A cat is an adult between the ages of 1 and 7.
- Senior Cat: Any feline older than 7 years is usually considered to be a senior cat.
This means that your cat will be considered senior for the majority of their life. When you read the word senior about felines, it doesn’t mean geriatric. It does, however, mean that you’ll need to pay a little closer attention to their health.
Signs That a Cat is Dying of Old Age
When a cat reaches the end of their life, there are many telltale signs. Be aware of these, and seek advice from healthcare professionals about how to proceed.
Common signs that a cat is dying of old age include:
- Loss of appetite, leading to weight loss. When cats are not long for the world, they lose interest in eating. This is rare for a cat, as they are ordinarily very food-focused. Try to encourage your cat to eat something, even if it’s extra treats.
- Low body temperature. A healthy cat will typically run a body temperature of around 100O. When a cat is reaching their natural end, this will drop substantially.
- Low heart rate. Check your cat’s heartbeats per minute (BPM) by placing your hand over their heart. Counting how many times it beats in fifteen seconds, and multiply this by four. If your cat’s BPM is lower than 140, this is rarely a good sign.
- Weak, shallow breathing. Another vital sign is how your cat breathes. If they appear to be struggling for breath, the end may be nigh. A healthy cat will typically take up to 30 silent breaths in a minute.
- Loss of bladder and bowel control. A dying cat will frequently fail to make it to their litter tray on time or drag poop out of their litter tray by accident. This is an obvious and present warning sign of failing health.
- Strong, foul smells. When your cat is close to the end their life, vital organs will start to fail. This will lead to a strong smell on their fur, and very bad breath.
- Loss of senses. Older cats start to lose their ability to see and hear steadily. When these symptoms relate to old age, they are usually irreversible. While cats can typically live without one of these senses, losing both can be very difficult.
- Change in social behavior. There is no way of knowing how a cat will react to the end of their life. Many cats withdraw, hiding from their humans and fellow felines. Others, however, may follow you around the house and become very vocal. These cats will be looking for comfort and reassurance. It’s your job as a pet parent to put your sadness aside and provide this.
Acknowledging and accepting these signs is difficult, but important. All of these symptoms will have a major impact on your pet’s quality of life. Consult a vet, and discuss the best course of action.
Should I Treat My Dying Cat Differently?
This can sometimes be a tough judgment call to make as a pet owner. Cats are very adept at reading human emotions. If you know their time is short, you will likely be sad. However, bursting into tears whenever your cat wanders into the room will cause your cat stress. This will impact negatively upon their quality of life.
If you know that your pet will soon pass on, relax the house rules a little. Allow them onto the bed if they’re not usually allowed. Let them have a few extra treats here and there.
The most important thing is that your cat is comfortable. Ensure they have a comfortable bed, in a quiet part of the house. Provide a hot water bottle to keep them warm. Above all, respect your cat’s wishes. If they prefer to be alone, allow them their solitude.
Can Cats Sense Their Death?
Nobody is sure whether cats understand their mortality. It is believed that cats understand death in other pets, though. Cats often mourn their dearly departed feline friends.
One thing is certain, however; cats understand when they are sick. This is due to a feline’s phenomenal sense of smell. They cannot help but pick up on the unmistakable change of scent in their own body.
Some cats become very clingy to their owners in this instance, seeking reassurance. However, it’s far more common that a cat will start to hide from you while unwell.
Why Do Cats Hide When They are Sick?
Hiding sickness is a behavior ingrained into a feline’s psyche. No cat will ever want to be obvious about their illness. There are many reasons for this, including:
- Cats are not just hunters; they are also prey. They worry that, if a natural predator senses weakness, they will attack.
- Cats are territorial. Alpha status of a colony is highly sought-after. If a young, healthy cat senses weakness in a leader, they may attempt to usurp them.
- Cats that live in colonies are sometimes banished when sick. This is due to fears that a sick, slow cat will attract predators to a sanctuary.
None of these behaviors are necessarily relevant to a domesticated house cat. Thousands of years of evolution cannot be undone in a decade, though. Your cat will be genetically hardwired to behave in a particular way.
Where Do Cats Go When They Die?
Nobody is certain what happens to cats once their time with us comes to an end. Regarding pure logistics, however, do cats wander off to die?
The answer to this is usually yes. It’s important to know, however, that this is not because of you. Your cat is not avoiding you in their last hours. As discussed, they may not even realize that their life is coming to an end. Instead, the cat is removing themselves from harm’s way because they’re sick.
Senior cats that show signs of approaching the end often go missing. They are then frequently found to have peacefully passed away in a shed or garage. The cat would have been looking for somewhere quiet, where they would not be disturbed. It’s likely that they just wanted to rest.
Take some comfort from this. It’s hard to be denied the opportunity to say goodbye to your cat. Be assured, however, they passed away on their terms, peacefully and without fear.
Will My Cat Tell Me When They are Ready to Die?
Some people believe that pets inform their owners when their time is up. You may feel that your cat’s eyes are telling you, “it’s OK, I’m ready to go.”
There is no way of knowing if this is the case, though. We have to remember, that same look could be a plea for help due to pain. Until cats master the English language, their communication is subject to personal interpretation.
Always follow the advice of a professional – but, ultimately, make the right decision for you and your pet. Euthanizing a pet is arguably the hardest choice any of us will ever have to make. Vets can make recommendations based upon your cat’s physical condition, but it must be your decision.
Ask yourself what your cat would want. Sometimes, it’s tempting to delay the inevitable so we can spend more time with our pets. Just remember that, if your cat is dying, their end will soon arrive. Delaying it by a couple of months, leaving them in pain, could be deemed selfish.
How Can I Help My Cat Live Longer?
Cats can live longer with a good diet, exercise, and minimal stress. If you keep your cat indoors, they will be subject to fewer risks. Good nutrition should help stave off many medical conditions. Plenty of exercise in the form of playtime will ward off stress and obesity.
Spaying or neutering your cat as early as possible will also enhance their health. As Visalia Times Delta explains, female cats minimize their risk of breast cancer after spaying. This will also make your pet less territorial, and curb their desire to get outside.
Overall, no magic pill makes cats immortal. You can, however, keep them healthy for longer with good food and leading a happy life. An annual trip to the vet for a nose-to-tail check-up will complete the preventative care package.
When a cat’s time is up, it’s sad for all concerned. Your pet will likely not want to leave the loving home you have made for them. You will certainly not want to say goodbye to the pet that became a family member.
Unfortunately, death is an unavoidable part of life. All you can do is make your cat’s time on earth as happy and joyful as possible. When they do draw their final breath, be assured that your cat enjoyed their time. That is all that any feline can ask of their human caregivers.