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Signs It’s Time To Say Goodbye: How To Comfort A Dying Cat

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Watching your beloved cat nearing the end of his life is heartbreaking, and it’s often hard to know how to best comfort him in those final moments. 

In my opinion, saying goodbye to a pet is one of life’s most difficult experiences, evoking feelings of confusion, sadness, and guilt. 

And as a fellow cat parent who has experienced the loss of precious kitties multiple times, I understand the emotional rollercoaster all too well. 

Although there’s no easy fix, knowing what signs to look for and how to provide comfort can make a significant difference in creating a peaceful passing for your kitty, as well as how you come to terms with your newfound loss. 

In this article, I’ll guide you through recognizing the signs that it may be time to say goodbye, share practical tips for creating a comfortable – and comforting – atmosphere, and provide valuable strategies to help you cope with grief during this challenging time.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the signs of a dying cat and creating a calm and safe environment is crucial for providing comfort in his final days.
  • Emotional support through gentle petting and talking can help provide comfort, but some cats may find this stressful and prefer to be left alone.
  • Carefully monitoring your cat’s behavior and making necessary adjustments can help ensure he is as comfortable as possible.

Understanding The Signs Of A Dying Cat

When a cat is approaching the end of his life, he may display physical signs and changes in behavior that indicate the time is near. 

Physical Signs

Physical signs include:

  • Confusion
  • Lack of coordination
  • Loss of condition
  • Vomiting
  • Incontinence
  • Inappropriate toileting
  • Body odor or bad breath
  • Glazed eyes
  • Pale gums
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Gradual weight loss
  • Muscle twitching
  • Slow or abnormal breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty (or reluctance) moving around
  • Hunched posture to alleviate pain
Fluffy black cat standing on wodden balcony on catio
Raven was left in the shelter at the age of 16 and so we adopted her for her final years. One day she suddenly started staggering about and vomited. She made it outside into the backyard and passed before we had even registered what was happening © The Cat and Dog House

Changes In Behavior

In addition to physical signs, cats often display changes in behavior and hygiene as they approach the end of their lives.

These include: 

  • Disruption to awake/sleep cycles
  • Abnormal grooming
  • Absence of grooming
  • Withdrawal
  • Hiding
  • Lack of interest
  • Reluctance to interact
  • Restlessness/inability to settle
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression

In my experience, cats do their utmost to hide away, stop eating and drinking, and avoid interaction.

Hiding is part of their innate survival strategy, so as not to reveal any weaknesses or vulnerabilities to a potential predator.

It’s important to note that an individual cat’s temperament and any underlying health conditions can influence his specific behaviors. 

Pretty gray and white cat lying on her side on blue fluffy mat staring up at camera
We adopted Millie from the shelter aged 16 and she was with us for several years. In her final days, she had a seizure, lost her vision, and became increasingly withdrawn. We knew it was time to let her go © The Cat and Dog House

How To Provide Comfort To Your Dying Cat

#1. Create A Calm And Safe Environment

When your beloved feline friend is in his final days, it’s essential to create a calm and peaceful environment for him. 

This will help him feel more secure and at ease. 

Practical tips for creating a soothing environment include:

  • Reduce Noise And Stressors: Keep the environment as quiet as possible to minimize loud noises and disruptions that can cause stress to your cat. Try to keep the room calm and peaceful, free from any bright lights, loud music, or TV noise.
  • Maintain A Consistent Routine: Establishing a predictable schedule can help your kitty feel more secure and comfortable. Try to maintain a consistent routine for feeding, medication, and other activities so he knows what to expect and when to expect it.
  • Provide A Warm And Cozy Resting Place: Offer your cat a soft, padded bed or a cardboard box lined with soft bedding in a quiet area where he can rest comfortably. Consider a heated cat bed to keep him warm and cozy and ensure his body temperature doesn’t drop. Make sure the bed is in a peaceful area away from any disturbances.
  • Maintain Cleanliness And Hygiene: Keep your cat’s bed and litter box clean to ensure his comfort. Age and illness can cause cats to have difficulty using the litter box, so it’s important to offer assistance if needed. You can make sure the box is easily accessible, and even cut away a section to make it easier for him to walk in and out. A clean environment will help your cat feel more at ease and reduce the risk of infection. He may also need some help with grooming, so you can use a dampened face flannel to gently clean his face, eyes, ears, and rear end.
  • Collaborate With A Palliative Or Hospice Care Team: Consult with a palliative or hospice care team to manage your cat’s pain effectively. They can provide guidance on pain management and other supportive care measures to help your cat feel more comfortable.

#2. Emotional Support

Make sure to set aside dedicated time to be with your cat, engaging in gentle interactions, offering reassurance, and generally spending quality time. 

This may include sitting quietly with your cat, speaking to him in a soothing tone, and letting him know you are there.

Offer petting, brushing, and gentle massage if that is something he finds comforting.

On the other hand, if he wants to be left alone, it’s important to respect that.

It is also important to take care of yourself. 

Reach out to friends and family, or pet bereavement support services if needed, and allow yourself to prepare for what’s to come. 

#3. Pain Management

Pain management is a critical aspect of end-of-life care, and your veterinarian will be able to assess and manage your cat’s pain effectively. 

They may prescribe appropriate medications to alleviate your cat’s pain, and it’s important to follow their instructions for administering the meds to ensure your cat’s safety and comfort.

In addition to medication, alternative therapies like acupuncture or therapeutic massage may help ease your cat’s pain. 

These complementary approaches can be used in conjunction with traditional pain management methods to provide your cat with the best possible care.

#4. Ensuring Hydration And Nutrition

Maintaining your dying cat’s hydration and nutrition levels is crucial to keep him as comfortable as possible during his final days. 

Encourage him to drink water by providing fresh water in an easily accessible bowl or drinking fountain

You can use a syringe to administer water if needed, but only a little at a time. 

In addition to water, offer small portions of wet food to your cat. 

Wet food can help keep your cat hydrated and provide him with the necessary nutrients. 

It’s best to offer him smaller meals that are easy to consume. 

If he is having difficulty eating on his own, consider alternative feeding methods, such as assisted feeding with a syringe. 

You can also offer baby food or tuna water.

When our cat Jeffrey was losing his battle with chronic renal failure, I used to blend his wet food with water and then syringe feed him a small amount every couple of hours

Our veterinarian also prescribed him sub-cutaneous fluids to help keep him hydrated and anti-nausea medication to boost his appetite.

Tabby and white cat sitting sideways on
When Jeffrey was in his final weeks with chronic kidney failure, we kept him as comfortable as possible with anti-nausea medication, sub-cutaneous fluids, and syringe feeding © The Cat and Dog House

#5. Monitoring Comfort

Closely observe your cat’s behavior and physical cues to identify signs of distress, discomfort, or changes in behavior. 

For instance, if your cat is hiding more than usual, it may be a sign that he is feeling unwell. 

Similarly, if your cat is grooming himself excessively or experiencing difficulty breathing, it may be an indication that something is wrong.

Adjusting the environment can also help make kitty more comfortable. 

Consider making modifications, such as providing additional warmth or adjusting lighting. 

It’s also important to ensure that your cat has easy access to his litter box and soft food, especially if he has a poor appetite. 

Evaluating A Cat’s Quality Of Life

It can be extremely challenging to determine when is the right time to let go of your beloved pet, but evaluating his quality of life can help you make an informed decision.

When evaluating your cat’s quality of life, consider the following:

  • Ability to eat and drink
  • Ability to enjoy activities and interactions
  • Level of engagement in everyday life
  • General comfort level

Take note of the frequency of good days versus bad days, as well as any sudden physical or behavioral changes, or downturns.

Chronic kidney disease, cachexia, and congestive heart failure are examples of terminal illnesses that can severely impact your cat’s quality of life, but, sadly, there are many more.

If your cat is spending most of his time sleeping and has lost much of his energy, it may be a sign that his quality of life has declined.

Every cat’s end-of-life journey is different, and there is no one “right” way to approach it. 

Trust your instincts and do what feels best for your cat. 

Tempting though it is, try not to hang on for too long.

In my experience, however many years you have spent with your cat, there is never enough time.

You always want more.

But in the end, it is far kinder to let go a few days early than leave it too late.

It’s an impossible decision, and for that reason, I think pet parents are among the bravest people I know.

Black cat resing on brown hemp cat bed
Magnus got sick very suddenly and without warning. He stopped eating and was having difficulty moving. The vet diagnosed an irrecoverable thrombosis and we had no choice but to let him go on the spot © The Cat and Dog House

Cat Dying Process And Options

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and emotional when your furry friend is approaching the end, but there are some different options available to ensure your pet receives the best care possible.

Palliative Care And Hospice Care

Palliative care and hospice care involve managing pain and symptoms to ensure sick cats are comfortable during their final days. 

These services include pain medication, dietary strategies, and human interaction, all of which can help your cat feel more comfortable and at ease.

If you’re considering palliative care or hospice services for your cat, you will need to find a veterinary clinic or organization that specializes in end-of-life care for pets, although sometimes the care can continue at home too.

Your primary veterinarian may be able to provide palliative care or hospice services, or they may be able to refer you to a specialist who can. 

Additionally, there are national networks of pet hospice and palliative care providers that can help you find a provider near you.

Both options aim to provide your cat with the best quality of life possible to the very end.

Euthanasia 

Euthanasia is the final option available when your cat is suffering from a terminal illness, has a poor quality of life, is in severe pain or discomfort, or is simply dying of old age. 

It’s a humane way to end his suffering and provide him with a peaceful transition. 

Euthanasia can be performed at home or in a clinic, and your veterinarian or pet hospice and palliative care team can guide you through the process.

Wherever possible, I have always had my animals euthanized in their home environment.

This removes the stress caused by traveling in the car and being in an unfamiliar environment at the vet’s office. 

On occasions where there has been no option but to go to the vet, I always take the cat’s bedding and an item of clothing that I have worn, so he is surrounded by comforting, familiar scents.

The Process Of Euthanasia

During euthanasia, your cat will first receive an injection to sedate him. 

Usually, the vet leaves the room at this time, allowing you to spend some final precious moments with him.

After 5-10 minutes, the vet will return to check if your kitty is fully sedated.

They will then administer a second injection.

After this second injection, your cat’s heart will slowly stop beating and he will pass peacefully away. 

For some cats, this can happen quickly.

For others, it can take several minutes before their breathing slows and then stops altogether.

Your vet will check one final time for a heartbeat, and then inform you that your cat has passed.

Generally, the vet will then leave the room so you can spend some final moments with your kitty, say your goodbyes, and, if you’re like me, cut off some of his fur as a precious keepsake.

They may also offer you different options for burial or cremation, including whether you would like a private burial or cremation. 

If you select the private cremation option, you may also be asked to select an urn so your cat’s cremated ashes can be returned to you.

This usually takes at least a week or two, and there will be an additional charge for the service, on top of the fee for the euthanasia.

The larger the animal, the higher the cost.

Staying With Your Cat During The Euthanasia Process

Although it’s very hard, I personally believe it is essential to stay with your cat during the entire euthanasia process.

He can quite likely hear your voice, smell your scent and feel your gentle touch, providing essential comfort and reassurance during those last moments.

But I won’t lie, it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do.

In my experience of having to euthanize different cats over the years, some cats accept it unflinchingly, while others rebound (usually from stress) to the point where you think you’ve got the timing wrong. 

None of it is easy, but the most important thing is your cat’s well-being.

As heartbreaking as it is, euthanasia is an act of love because it allows your cat to pass away without further suffering. 

It’s important that you make the decision with both your head and heart so you can find solace in knowing that you were always doing your very best for your cat. 

Pretty tabby cat sitting in brown furry cat house
Mini Me was having difficulty breathing and although the vet drained fluid from her lungs it kept coming back. She was very sick and yet when the time came for euthanasia, she perked up and made me second guess my decision. She wasn’t ready to leave but the vet assured me she was suffering and that it was the only humane course of action © The Cat and Dog House

Coping With Grief And Loss

Losing a beloved cat can be an emotionally devastating experience. 

Everyone grieves differently, and there is no right or wrong way to cope with such a profound loss. 

Some people find comfort in creating a memorial for their cat, such as planting a tree or creating a scrapbook. 

Others may find solace in donating to an animal charity or volunteering at a local animal shelter.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that it’s okay to take the time you need to grieve. 

Be kind to yourself and take things one day at a time. 

Here are some suggestions for self-care activities that can help you navigate your grief:

  • Seek support from friends, family, or support groups who can provide understanding and comfort during this challenging time.
  • Engage in hobbies or activities that bring you joy and help you to relax.
  • Take care of your physical health by getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly.
  • Compile a photo book with some of your favorite memories of your kitty.
  • Find a special way to memorialize your cat, such as planting a tree in their honor or posting your tribute on a pet memorial website or social media group. 
  • Don’t be afraid to cry and express your emotions. Let yourself feel the sadness and pain associated with this loss, because it’s part of the healing process. 
  • Remember you are not alone; many people have experienced the loss of a beloved pet. Reach out to those who can support you and offer comfort during this difficult time. 
Pet loss memorial mantra flags hanging between two trees
When our big tabby cat George passed suddenly and unexpectedly, we hung pet memorial mantra flags in our front yard as a tribute to him © The Cat and Dog House

Can Cats Sense Death?

It’s difficult to know exactly what cats understand about death and dying. 

While they may not have a full comprehension of the concept, cats are aware of changes in the physical state of other cats.

Cats may exhibit certain behaviors in response to a sick cat or changes in their environment. 

For example, they may become more clingy or withdrawn, or they may avoid the sick cat altogether. 

Some cats may also become more vocal or exhibit changes in their eating or litter box habits.

Recommended Books For Pet Parents Who Have Recently Lost Their Beloved Cats Or Are Coping With The Difficult Decision Of Euthanasia
Ellis, Colleen - Pet Parents - A Journey Through Unconditional Love And Grief book cover
Heck, Julie - Facing Farewell book cover

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Some Physical Symptoms That A Cat Is Dying?

As cats approach the end of their life, they may exhibit some physical symptoms. 

These can include decreased appetite, lethargy, difficulty breathing, changes in gum color, and a decreased heart rate. 

If you notice any sudden physical changes or changes in behavior, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the best course of action.

How Do You Know When It’s Time To Say Goodbye To Your Cat?

Making the decision to say goodbye to your cat is never easy. 

However, there are some signs that can help you determine when it’s time. 

If your cat is no longer able to eat or drink, is experiencing extreme pain, or has a poor quality of life, it may be time to consider euthanasia. 

It’s important to consult with a veterinarian to discuss your options and make the best decision for your cat.

Should You Stay With Your Cat When He Is Dying?

It’s up to you whether or not you want to stay with your cat during his final moments, but I think it’s important to do so if you can. 

Some people find it comforting to be with their pet during this time, while others may find it too difficult. 

If you do choose to stay, make sure to provide comfort and reassurance to your cat.

What Can You Do To Make Your Cat More Comfortable During His Last Days?

There are several things you can do to make your cat more comfortable during his last days. 

Providing extra bedding, keeping him warm, and offering soft, wet foods can all help. 

Additionally, you may want to consider providing pain medication or consulting with a veterinarian about other options.

What Are Some Things You Can Do To Honor Your Cat’s Memory After He Passes Away?

Losing a beloved pet can be incredibly difficult. 

There are many ways to honor your cat’s memory after he passes away. 

You may want to create a memorial, plant a tree or flowers in his honor, or make a donation to a pet-related charity. 

Take some time to reflect on your cat’s life and the memories you shared together.

Are There Any Resources Available For People Who Can’t Afford End-Of-Life Care For Their Pets?

If you’re struggling to afford end-of-life care for your pet, there may be resources available to help. 

Many animal welfare organizations offer financial assistance for veterinary care, including end-of-life care. 

Additionally, some veterinarians may offer payment plans or other options to help make care more affordable. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you need it.

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