As a cat enters his or her senior years, a number of age-related diseases can develop. Many of these can be managed if they are caught early enough, but eventually, there will come a time where treatment is no longer an option and palliative care must be instituted. The goal of palliative care is to manage symptoms and keep the cat comfortable until the end.
Most pet owners struggle to define when the right time is, but there are
How long does it take a cat to die?
Dying occurs in two phases, pre-active and active dying. The dying phase is highly variable for each cat and can vary depending on the underlying disease.
The pre-active dying phase lasts approximately three weeks. During this time, the body begins to shut down and will have good and bad days.
- Waning thirst and appetite: The cat may be reluctant to eat, or eat less than usual. Hand-feeding strong-smelling food can help.
- Lethargy: Spending more time sleeping, and generally less active.
- Restlessness: The cat may be unable to find a comfortable position due to pain or discomfort.
- Withdrawal or clingy behaviour: Some cats will withdraw into a quiet part of the house on their own, other cats prefer constant attention.
- Loss of interest: No longer participating in day to day activities he or she once enjoyed. Playing, greeting you at the door, chasing insects.
- Grooming less: The cat spends less time grooming, longhaired cats may develop mats.
- Sleeping more: During the final weeks, many cats will spend more time sleeping.
The active dying phase in cats lasts up to three days. At this point, the body is actively shutting down and death is near.
- Complete loss of appetite: As the body is in the active phase and is shutting down, it no longer requires nutrition for energy. Do not force the cat to eat if he or she does not want to.
- Decreased urine output: By this stage, the cat is no longer drinking and the organs are not functioning effectively, urination may decrease or be absent.
- Urinary or fecal incontinence: As the muscles in the pelvis relax, the cat may urinate or defecate. Incontinence pads placed under the cat are recommended. Remove as soon as soiled to protect the cat’s skin.
- Cognitive changes: Cats with liver failure can experience changes to cognitive function as toxins build up in the body, this may include seizures, agitation and confusion.
- Lethargy: The cat is now spending most of his or her day sleeping, and has little energy to walk to move.
- Blue/grey gums: Reduced blood oxygen levels and decreased circulation can lead to a blue/grey tinge in the gums.
- Drop in body temperature: The body is less able to regulate body temperature as the cat nears death. Maintain a stable temperature in the home.
- Changes in breathing: Breathing patterns may change, sometimes the cat may breathe quickly or the onset of apnea, with pauses between breaths.
- Death rattle: As the cat loses his or her ability to swallow, secretions build-up, which causes the characteristic death rattle.
Is it okay to let my cat die naturally?
Nobody wants their cat to suffer, unfortunately, most life-ending diseases do involve pain and discomfort. While many of these symptoms can be managed, there comes a point where palliative care is no longer effective and we must make the decision to give our cat a peaceful end. This can cause immense conflict among caregivers. When is the right time? Is it too soon or too late? By the active phase of dying, treatment options have run out and we can give our cat the greatest gift of all by ending their suffering by euthanasia, which means ‘good death’. The cat may live a day or so longer if allowed to die naturally, but there is no quality of life left.