It is common for a cat to lose his or her appetite as death approaches. The organs are shutting down, activity significantly drops and the need for food diminishes. A dying cat may be experiencing nausea, pain or difficulty swallowing. The role of the caregiver is to provide support for the cat to ensure he or she remains as comfortable as possible.
Should I force-feed my dying cat?
Do not force-feed a dying cat. Forcing a dying cat to eat can cause gastrointestinal disturbances (vomiting and diarrhea), bloating, nausea, choking, aspiration and difficulty breathing.
How to encourage a dying cat to eat?
- Offer small meals or snacks of something tasty such as tuna or cooked chicken
- Provide several small meals a day instead of one or two large meals
- Wet food is preferable to dry food as it has a higher water content and is easier for the cat to chew and swallow
- Offer food by hand
- One study has found that warming food is more appealing to ageing cats, as it releases compounds and enhances the flavour profile
- Speak to your cat’s veterinarian about appetite stimulants or high-calorie supplement gels such as Nutrigel
- Most importantly, allow the cat to decide if he or she wants to eat
When is it okay to provide nutritional support?
Nutritional support in the form of feeding tubes is routinely utilised in veterinary medicine to provide nutritional support for critically ill patients who are not able to or interested in eating. The difference here is that the goal of nutritional support is to provide nutrients to help the cat recover from an illness such as hepatic lipidosis, pancreatitis, broken jaw or panleukopenia.
A cat who is terminal and is in the late dying phase has no hope of recovery. Supportive care to manage symptoms is important to ensure the cat remains as comfortable as possible.
How long will it take a cat to die when they stop eating?
By the time a cat with a terminal disease stops eating, death can be expected within a day or two.
Dying is unique for each cat, and therefore it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen to an individual cat. Food is required for energy, and the dying cat no longer has this requirement. Trying to force a cat to eat will not extend its life. Focus on providing a comforting environment during this time.
People associate food and nourishment with love and care. As hard as it is, we must accept that death is near and the body no longer requires nutrients. It is human nature to want to do everything we can to support our loved ones. There are other ways we can help during this time by providing love and comfort at the end.
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