It’s a sad and distressing time when your cat enters its final stage of life. As its owner, you’ll want to make your cat feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Your cat’s unlikely to be able to care for itself, so you’ll need to step in to help it cope and feel more at peace.
Comfort a dying cat by ensuring it has a relaxing, quiet environment to live in without other pets and loud distractions. If your cat’s stopped eating, offer treats to encourage it to regain some energy. You might even need to help it go to the toilet in its final days. Many cats won’t want to be handled because of the pain and discomfort, but sitting near your pet and speaking to it in a soft, high-pitched tone can make it feel comforted.
While you’ll no doubt want to spend as much time with your dying cat as possible, you must accept your cat’s boundaries. If it wants to be left alone to sleep and hide, leave it be. Providing it with too much affection can cause stress, speeding up the process of death.
What Are the Signs a Sick Cat Is Dying?
Some cats die suddenly, while others experience a short but gradual period of deterioration. Within that time, you’ll notice several changes in your cat’s appearance and demeanor, including the following dying cat stages :
One of the first signs that your cat’s close to death is it will rapidly lose weight. Weight loss is common in senior cats because they lose a significant muscle function as they get older. This causes the body to become less efficient at digesting food and protein, making the muscles less defined. Your cat will still lose weight, even if it eats.
Sick cats who are in pain become extremely thin. Their ribs, hips, and spine protrude through their skin, making them look unwell. Cats with cancer sometimes suffer from cachexia. According to a journal published by the Delaware Valley Academy of Veterinary Medicine, this is the loss of body mass associated with chronic disease.
Refusal to Eat or Drink
Cats that are sick or dying commonly lose their appetite and refuse to drink, making them severely dehydrated. Some medications also affect their ability to taste and smell, putting them off their food altogether. Sadly, not eating can make your cat even more unwell.
If your cat’s lost its appetite, try warming up its regular food. You could also try adding some tuna juice to make it more appealing. If this doesn’t work, a vet can also prescribe medications to combat nausea and encourage eating.
Cats hide more often when they’re sick and dying. That’s because they’re motivated by pain or discomfort and don’t want to be touched or bothered. If your cat starts hiding more frequently or in places it’s never hidden before, something’s wrong, and it wants to be left alone. It’s best not to entice your cat out of hiding, as it needs its space.
Your cat will become less active as it nears the end of its life. It won’t have much energy to move and will spend its final days sleeping and conserving what it has left. When the cat wakes up, it will appear weak and, in some cases, listless.
Reduced Mobility Function
In the final stages, senior cats become slow and stop moving as often as they used to. This is due to several reasons, including muscle loss, pain, and weakness. Arthritis is one of the most common conditions affecting mobility.
A dying cat’s mobility function starts off small and progresses significantly until the cat can barely move. Things like walking up and down the stairs and getting in and out of the litter tray become impossible, which is where their owners must step in.
Dying cats start behaving differently in their final stages. Each cat’s personality and mood will vary, but your cat may become noticeably different in demeanor, which can be hard for owners to deal with.
Cats in pain become irritable and aggressive because of the discomfort they feel. Others become highly affectionate, wanting to spend as much time with their owners as possible. If your cat has a cognitive issue, it’ll become confused and forgetful, vocalization more frequently because the surroundings feel unfamiliar.
Your cat still loves you. It’s just dealing with an extensive range of emotions and feelings, and is probably in pain.
Before death, your cat may develop an abnormal body odor caused by the breakdown of tissues and accumulation of toxins. The smell will vary depending on the health condition your cat suffers from, but it could range from being sickly sweet to unpleasant, like ammonia.
Cats stop grooming themselves when nearing death, causing their coat to become greasy and unkempt. Long-haired cats develop mats on their bellies, tail, and hind end. The skin also becomes dry and flaky.
Once cats reach the final stages, their lungs become weak, making their breathing patterns abnormal. They also start breathing fast and shallow, speeding up and slowing down as the muscles struggle to work. If you suspect your cat’s breathing is beginning to fail, look out for signs, such as:
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Abnormal abdominal movements
- Stretching of the head and neck
These symptoms indicate an emergency. As a result, you must rush your cat to the vet to prevent unnecessary suffering. At this point, you may need to consider euthanasia as the kindest option for your pet.
Lack of Interest
Dying cats stop caring about the things they once loved, like toys, food, and treats. When they reach this point, they’re not enjoying life anymore and are ready to pass on. There’s no point tempting your cat with these things, as they won’t respond to the triggers.
How To Comfort A Dying Cat at Home
When cats start dying, their bodies shut down, causing them to lose many essential functions. The deterioration process is usually quick, so owners must make their cat feel as comfortable as possible in the final stages of its life. You can do this through the following ways:
1/ Optimal Temperature
Dying cats struggle to regulate their internal temperature. Their average temperature ranges from 99.5 to 102.5 degrees F (37.5 to 39.1 degrees C). When they’re sick, they can’t maintain this range very well.
If they become too hot, they over-heat and start panting, becoming dangerously uncomfortable. If they become too cold, they’re at risk of hypothermia. As a result, you’ll need to keep your cat at the right temperature. To do so:
- Make sure the room your cat lives in is comfortable. Put the heating on if it’s too cold, or use an air conditioning unit to cool your pet down.
- Provide an extra layer of bedding, such as a blanket or towel.
- Ensure your cat’s bed is away from radiators or draughts. Similarly, keep your cat out of the sun.
These steps will keep your cat comfortable in its final days.
2/ Create a Comfortable Environment
As well as providing the right temperature, you should create a comfortable environment for your cat to enjoy in its final stages. This will help reduce any pain or stress, making its last few days or weeks more peaceful and bearable.
Provide a soft bed with plenty of blankets. Place the bed where there are enough hiding spaces for your cat to retreat to if it feels uncomfortable or distressed. Wash the bedding every few days without using perfumed detergents, as it can irritate your cat.
Another thing to be mindful of is the noise. Your cat will need plenty of quiet time to rest. Place your cat in the most peaceful room of the house and encourage your family to be as silent as possible. If you have other pets, keep them away from your dying cat, as they could cause a nuisance and upset your dying feline.
3/ Toilet Assistance
Some cats have trouble going to the toilet. This could be due to incontinence, weak muscles, or moving difficulties. If your cat struggles to relieve itself, you’ll need to carry it to the litter tray every few hours to help it eliminate more comfortably.
If your cat does have accidents, which is likely in its final days, don’t shout at your cat or discipline it. Clean up the mess as soon as you can to avoid harmful bacteria spreading and replace the bedding to keep your cat warm and comfortable.
4/ Provide Affection
Your cat might not respond to you very much in its final stages, but your presence and voice can help your pet find comfort.
According to Physiology, petting causes oxytocin, a neurochemical known as the “love hormone,” to release from an animal’s brain. The chemical lowers blood pressure and decreases cortisol, making cats feel relaxed.
Depending on your cat’s condition, it may only be able to tolerate a small amount of contact. Observe your pet’s demeanor to see how much attention it wants and leave it alone whenever it needs a break.
If your cat can’t tolerate being touched, sit next to it and talk to it using soft, high-pitched tones. You can do this while you read a book so that the interaction comes naturally. This also gives you an excellent opportunity to say your goodbyes.
5/ Give Your Cat Space
While your cat needs affection in its final hours, it also requires space. There are times when your cat will want to be alone. If your cat becomes aggressive and scratches you, it’s not open to human company.
In fact, you’re stressing your cat out, potentially making it feel more sick or distressed. Your cat won’t have the energy to fight back, and stress can speed up death, making its last few days much more uncomfortable.
6/ Assist with Grooming
Dying cats lose the ability to clean and groom their fur. While providing a bath is likely too much for your pet, you can remove any mats and knots and make it feel more comfortable with a daily brush. Be very gentle in case your cat’s in pain and target the areas that might be causing discomfort.
7/ Offer Tasty Treats
You can be more relaxed with your dying cat about what you feed it. Cats love a diverse range of treats, and if they’ve lost their appetite, feeding them their favorite things gives them energy, making them feel more alert. Feeding treats is better than nothing and prevents cats from becoming malnourished.
Above all else, it’s a nice thing to do for your sick cat. Be careful of any health conditions your pet has, as it can cause more problems. However, a small selection of treats provides enjoyment in the last few days.
If your cat stops eating, try using treats as a way of encouraging your cat to eat its everyday food. Hand-feeding your cat also helps. This both prevents hunger and gives you a final chance to enjoy your bond with your cat.
8/ Administer Pain Medication
Cats that are old and dying are unlikely to need medication. However, cats with a painful or uncomfortable health condition may need medication to help them feel more at ease and reduce their suffering. Signs of pain include:
- Loss of appetite
- Labored breathing
That being said, never self-prescribe your cat’s medication. Doing so can make your cat’s health condition worse. Depending on what your cat’s suffering with, you can make the problem worse.
Should I Leave My Dying Cat Alone?
While some cats prefer to remain close to their owners while they die, some isolate themselves – even running away from home to die. When they do this, it can feel as if they no longer love us. This isn’t true – your cat’s simply following its instincts.
Cats live alone in the wild, relying on their survival skills to find food, evade predators, and find shelter. When they’re close to death, their solitary instincts kick in, and many cats tuck themselves away to be by themselves. This is why you’ll notice your cat hides away more frequently and doesn’t want to be touched or disturbed.
Cats understand that they’re close to death and can’t find help, so they isolate themselves to slip away. They also do this to escape predators. When sick or close to the end, they make easy prey.
While pet cats don’t need to hide from predators, these instincts are part of their DNA. They’re at their most vulnerable when they’re in the dying stages, so they isolate themselves to remain safe. Cats are also hard-wired to keep their illnesses a secret, so it’s only natural they’d want to be by themselves in the final days.
Don’t take any of these things personally. Your cat still feels connected to you; it’s simply driven by its primal instincts, which it can’t ignore. Respect your dying cat’s wishes and give it as much space as it needs.
How To Say Goodbye To A Dying Cat
Saying goodbye to your cat is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. Every situation will be different, but preparing yourself for the inevitable is the best way to provide your cat with the most comfortable send-off possible. Remember, the final moments are all about your cat, not you.
Allow yourself to experience the emotions you’re feeling. It’s normal to feel sad, angry, and guilty. It can be stressful caring for an elderly or sick cat, so just understand you did everything you could. This will help you get through the grieving process when it comes.
You can also make a bucket list of all the fun things you did together. If there are any on your list that are unfinished, attempt to tick them off, as long as your cat’s strong and healthy enough to do so. You may find reliving memories and telling your cat about them helps prepare you for your pet’s death and help you feel more at peace.
Try to enjoy the last weeks, days, or moments you have with your cat. When you know death’s coming, it can be difficult to live in the moment because you’re too busy anticipating death. Instead, forget about the emotional burden and spend time brushing, stroking, or sitting with your cat.
Your cat can pick up on your emotions, so try to put on a brave face as much as you can so that your pet feels comfortable in its dying days. Doing so should also help you feel more optimistic about the future.
Things To Do With Your Cat Before It Dies
Your cat’s unlikely to be up to much in its final stages of life. While you should attempt to spend as much time with it as possible, respect its boundaries and only do what it has the strength and energy to. Some things you can do before your cat dies include:
- Reflect on happy memories
- Feed your cat treats
- Sit with your cat in the garden to let it feel the sun and fresh air
- Take pictures so that you have keepsakes
- Let it sleep in its favorite part of the house
When your cat’s ready to die, give your family the chance to say their goodbyes individually and encourage them to tell their pet how much they love them. This is a happy memory that they’ll always have to look back on. Many owners regret not being there to say goodbye because it was too painful at the time. Your cat needs its loved ones surrounding it when it dies.
Do Cats Know When They Are Going To Die?
Cats are intuitive creatures that sense things we can’t. They’re highly attuned to their bodies and understand when something’s wrong. They can also perceive senses, such as sight, sound, and smell, much better than we can, so they pick up on cues that we’re unaware of.
If they can detect a shift – for example, they’ve started smelling differently, then it’s possible they can tell their bodies are becoming weaker and failing.
Similarly, cats can feel pain and discomfort. If they start to become particularly unwell, they can feel that something bad is happening to them, even if they don’t understand that they’re about to die. As a result, they will display negative behavioral traits.
There are plenty of anecdotes from cat owners who claim that their pets seemed to know they were about to die, spending a few meaningful, final minutes with their owners before they passed away.
While we’d all like to believe this is true, humans tend to romanticize these interactions into something more profound than they are, making it difficult to tell whether pets genuinely understand when they’re about to die.
Cats form strong bonds with their owners, but they don’t have the same level of emotions and connections as we do, so these interactions are likely to be coincidental. Most vets agree that it’s impossible to know for sure whether cats can tell when they’re going to die.
It’s difficult to watch your cat die, and the last few days are bound to be stressful. But as long as you do everything you can for your pet, you can take comfort in the fact that your cat felt loved and comfortable. Relive your happy memories and do what you can to remember your cat.
2 thoughts on “How Do You Comfort A Dying Cat?”
Thank you for this article. Our almost 20-year old Maine Coon is now actively dying and we are heartbroken. Curiously, he still purrs when my husband speaks to him:-)
We just want him to be comfortable, so I did a little searching online and found your article.
Thank you again.
Dear Richard – thank you for this well written article in which you have given some very good and helpful advice. My beautiful calico cat, Canyon, is dying of old age. She is experiencing kidney failure. She was one of a litter of three. The mother had made a nesting area under a tarp in a wooden box in our yard. We were giving the mom food (I think she was mostly feral and was extremely thin) and checking on them. One day, I discovered one of the kittens had died. We removed it from the nesting box and buried it. When I return later to check on them, I found Canyon laying in there by herself. I must’ve interrupted the mom’s relocation of her two remaining kittens. It was getting towards dark, a chilly (for FL) late Nov evening, and she had not come back for Canyon. So I brought her in. Her umbilical cord had just fallen off a day or two before. Her eyes and ears were still closed. I never had a thought that she would not make it, and here we are 18-1/2 years later. I will miss her so much, but I am glad that I was able to provide her a long and happy life.