Losing a pet is incredibly difficult – you’ve made so many memories with them and developed a strong bond. As your cat gets older, it’s very important to watch their health closely, so you can provide the appropriate care and keep them comfortable as they age.
You can never be completely sure when your cat is reaching the end of their life, but there are some signs that indicate that the time is near.
Being able to recognize these signs will ensure that you can keep your cat as comfortable as possible – and will give you time to grieve as well.
Here’s what to watch for as your cat reaches the end of their life.
Aging in Cats – What Happens As They Get Older?
Just like humans, cats’ bodies change as they get older. Their routines and habits may start to change as a result. As your cat ages, they are more vulnerable to chronic injuries and illnesses. Their joints start to wear out, so you might see signs of arthritis such as reluctance to jump. Their immune systems also weaken naturally over time, which means they are more susceptible to illnesses.
A common saying amongst vets is ‘age is not a disease’. Cats that are old can still be sprightly, and there’s no way of telling how many years your cat has left. Most vets will have met a cat as old as 25 years, so just because your cat is old, doesn’t mean it’s ok for them to get ill.
It’s really important that you contact your vet if you notice signs that your cat is unwell, as many diseases are treatable or manageable. Even if your vet can’t do anything for your cat, they’ll be able to get them some pain relief so that you know they’re comfortable.
Signs Your Pet Cat is Dying
Whether these signs come on slowly because of a known, chronic disease, or quickly and suddenly, there are some signs that suggest a cat is dying.
It can take days or weeks for your cat to die naturally, and they may be in pain, hungry, or nauseous for the duration. Although it’s a difficult decision to ask a vet to help your cat cross the rainbow bridge, it’s always kinder for your cat.
If you notice any of these in your pet, it’s time to talk to your vet. Whilst many of us want our cats to die quietly at home, the most important thing for our cats is quality of life. If your cat is showing these signs, their quality of life is compromised, and it’s time to consider saying goodbye.
Weakness and Limited Movement
You may notice that your cat is very weak and does not want to move. They’ll stay in the same spot for most of the day, and when they do try to move, they may have a hard time standing up.
Inability to Groom Themselves
Because very old cats have limited mobility, they aren’t always able to groom themselves effectively. You may start to notice that your cat looks unkempt or that they smell a little bit off. They may also develop bad breath as a result of chronic medical conditions.
Lack of Appetite
In their last days, many cats lose interest in eating or drinking. This is usually because they feel too weak to eat. Because of this, you may notice extreme rapid weight loss.
It is very normal for older cats to become incontinent as they lose muscle control. They also may not have the energy to make it to the litter box.
Cats will instinctually hide when they sense the end of their life nearing. In the wild, a dying cat is much more vulnerable to predators, which is why they decide to isolate themselves. At home, this might mean hiding in a dark, secure space.
It can also get very difficult for your cat to breathe in their final days. One sign that your cat might be nearing the end of their life is labored, difficult breathing.
You might also notice that your cat is more clingy as their health starts to decline. They want to feel safe and taken care of during this time, so they’ll want to be around you more.
Changes in Vision
In extreme cases, your cat may also lose all or some of their vision towards the end of their life. When this happens, you might notice that they are running into things or are unaware of their surroundings.
How to Keep Your Cat Comfortable
While you can’t stop the natural progression of time, you can take steps to ensure that your cat’s final weeks are as comfortable as possible. Here’s what you can do to keep your cat comfortable.
Keep close contact with your vet
When it’s your cat, it’s difficult to be objective. If you need help deciding whether your cat still has quality of life, your vet can help. There are also Quality of Life Assessment Tools which can help you decide whether your cat is still happy.
Give them a comfortable bed
Make sure your cat has a comfortable bed with plenty of blankets where they can cozy up. Put the bed somewhere accessible so you can check on your cat throughout the day. You should also make sure to wash your cat’s bedding frequently so it stays clean.
Clean your cat as needed
Many cats have trouble grooming themselves during the end of their life. If this is happening to your pet, take steps to keep them clean. This could include wiping them down with a wet wipe or giving them a full bath.
Give your cat as much love and attention as you can
You and your cat have a special bond, so they will really benefit from having you by their side during this difficult time. Be very gentle with them and make sure to show them as much love as you can – they’ll feel safer and happier knowing that you’re right there.
Deciding it’s Time to Say Goodbye
When you notice any of these signs, make sure to contact your vet right away. Many of the signs of ‘old age’ are actually signs of disease – and they can be managed if caught early enough.
Your vet is the best person to talk to to determine if anything can be done to make your cat more comfortable. If you can’t bring your cat into the vet, contact them over the phone to get advice on next steps. Your vet can tell you how to most effectively care for your cat, as well as your options as your cat reaches the end of their life.
Remember, although most people want their cats to pass away peacefully at home, this rarely happens. Since you don’t want your cat to be ill or in pain in their final days, it’s essential that you talk to your vet regularly to ensure your cat is still comfortable. They may even be able to book a mobile hospice nurse or vet to help you care for your cat.
It’s so difficult to say goodbye to a beloved pet, so be sure to give yourself time to grieve too. Bereavement counsellors are available that can help you to come to terms with the loss of your pets.