Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works with dogs, cats, exotics, and livestock.
Is My Cat Just Sick or Is He Dying?
When presented with the question of whether a cat is nearing death, the first thing to do is figure out if the cat is just sick and in need of health care.
10 Signs of Illness in Cats
Here is the American Association of Feline Practitioner's list of the 10 signs of illness in cats: (1)
- Inappropriate elimination behavior (usually not using the litter box, either because it is upstairs or in the basement and hard to get to, difficult to climb into, or the cat just does not have time to reach it)
- Changes in interaction (cats that feel sick do not want to wrestle with other cats or play with their human family)
- Changes in activity (cats with arthritis are not likely to jump up on the couch or go up and down steps, cats with hyperthyroidism pace frequently)
- Changes in sleeping habits (hyperthyroid cats may stay up most of the night howling)
- Changes in food and water consumption (many diseases cause changes, including eating more, like hyperthyroid cats, or eating a lot less like cats with kidney disease)
- Unexplained weight loss or gain (cats with hyperthyroidism eat more but still lose weight)
- Changes in grooming
- Signs of stress
- Changes in vocalization (cats with hyperthyroidism may howl all night but many sick cats in pain will vocalize more often)
- Bad breath (kidney disease can cause changes, and many gum and oral diseases are easier to treat if taken care of early, so if you notice a change in your cat's breath take them in for an examination and bloodwork)
There are a lot of changes you can make with feeding and other things around the house as your cat gets older and is more likely to get sick. (2) If your cat is a senior, look into making changes so that their life is more comfortable.
Read More From Pethelpful
9 Possible Signs That Your Cat Is Dying
If your cat has been sick and you have been treating them appropriately but things are still not going well, how do you decide the end is near? It is different for everyone, since some families will continue with life-saving efforts even as the cat gets worse. No matter what you do, however, here are a few signs that things are getting worse and it may be the end of your cat's life.
- Seizures (some seizure conditions can be treated and one seizure is not going to destroy your cat's brain cells; unfortunately repeated seizures are one sign of severe end of life changes) (3)
- Sleeping all the time (hiding under the bed or in the tub when it is time to take a nap are also indicators of a problem)
- Labored breathing (not necessarily a death rattle, as cats near the end of their life will stretch their necks out and hold their mouth open as they struggle to get enough oxygen into their lungs)
- Failure to groom (some cats near the end will not have the energy to clean themselves or the flexibility to do so)
- Behavioral changes (hiding, no interest in other pets around the house)
- Severe weight loss (cachexia is the loss of body mass during chronic illness, something we see in cats with cancer where the disease begins to consume the pet's body)
If you see the symptoms of illness or signs of impending death, be sure to take your cat to your regular vet. Sometimes, there may be things you can do to restore the quality of life—other times not—but that decision will be left up to you.
- Rodan, I., & Sparkes, A. H. (2012). Preventive Health Care for Cats. The Cat, 151–180. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7158338/
- Dr. Mark, Taking Care of Your Senior Cat , Pethelpful, https://pethelpful.com/cats/geriatric-cat-home-health-no-vet-available
- Dingledine, R., Varvel, N. H., & Dudek, F. E. (2014). When and how do seizures kill neurons, and is cell death relevant to epileptogenesis?. Advances in experimental medicine and biology, 813, 109–122. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4624106/
This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2022 Dr Mark