All things have an end.. It’s an unfortunate reality that every pet owner will have to deal with at some point. When your cat is in its final days, it’s only natural that you start looking for ways to provide some comfort in those last moments. But what can you do to ease the suffering?
A trip to the vet
It’s understandable that you want to do everything you can to make your sick cat is as comfortable as it can be at home. But first, before you do anything by yourself, consider paying a visit to your vet. Dying cats are often in pain. Since veterinarians can prescribe very effective painkillers, they can be of tremendous help in alleviating some of that pain.
Whilst we have a lot laid out for you in this article, your vet may also be able to provide you with some general tips to help prepare for things you’ll have to deal with in the coming days and weeks, such as incontinence and a loss of appetite.
Loss of appetite
Cats that are towards the end of their life may lose all interest in food. One of the ways to take care of a dying cat is through force-feeding. If this sounds cruel or unhelpful, try to think of it as a way to help your kitty be less hungry.
You can force-feed with your bare hands or by using a syringe. A bland diet may be a perfect choice here: things such as baby food or some soft-boiled chicken are easy to chew, swallow and digest.
If you can’t get bland foods, another possibility is to throw a regular meal into a blender or food processor with some water added. The resulting mix is a lot easier to swallow and digest. Since most cats don’t drink enough, this will also help your poor kitty stay hydrated.
Grooming & hygiene
If your sick cat becomes incontinent, it’s important to provide it with a clean bed at least once, but preferably several times a day. We recommend using something soft and comfortable, like Chewy’s orthopedic pillow with removeable cover. Alternatively, you can also use some extra soft towels. Throw these into the washing machine often to wash out any bad odors.
Your cat is probably not a massive fan of water (unless you own a Maine Coon or a Bengal), but it is also important to wash any urine out of the coat to prevent infections. When you make a clean bed, be sure to wash the belly and sides with a mixture of lukewarm water and a few drops of pet shampoo (make sure it’s vet recommended, like this one)
If your cat is too uncomfortable with this procedure, it may help if you pet your cat and speak affirmations in a gentle tone of voice. If that also fails, your vet might be able to provide you with some special diapers for sick cats.
A quiet place
Cats have a natural inclination to remain solitary whenever they are in pain. Take note of the fact that a severely sick or dying cat is, therefore, more comfortable when no other people or animals are around.
Biologists believe the reason for this voluntary confinement is to be found in history. Out in the wild, cats face threats from predators looking for a chance to invade their territory. A wounded animal makes for an obvious target, so to a cat’s mind, it can’t afford to show any signs of struggle or weakness to others.
To accommodate a dying cat’s wish for silence, be sure to put it in a quiet area in the house. An ideal place is one where your cat can’t be disturbed by children or other pets.
Double-check that the room is warm enough. A sick cat is often not able to maintain its body temperature. So make sure the area is at least 68 F (or 20 C) throughout the day. Installing a small heater could prove useful if your ideal room is on the chilly side during this time of year. Don’t place the heater right next to your cat, as that could lead to increased dehydration!
Additional reading: 5 tips to help a dehydrated cat drink & pee more often
Food and other resources
When it comes to needs, dying cats are best granted easy access to their key resources:
- Fresh water
- Fresh litter
Wet or dry food?
Wet food is often more palatable and easier to digest. If your cat always eats dry kibble, you can try to mix a little wet food into their meal and see what the response is.
A sick cat may struggle to get up, so make sure that all the vital resources can be reached easily and are within eye sight. Water, food, and the litter box should all be accessible without having to maneuver around obstructions.
Cats experience stress when having to compete over resources. If you have any other pets around the house, it’s probably a good idea to close off the room in order to prevent them from coming in and eating or drinking from the bowls, or using the litter box.
Words of comfort
One of the things that many cats have a hard time doing is showing you that they want affection. We humans can use our words and our body language to show others that we feel bad. But cats are not nearly as expressive. So there’s a good chance that you may have to take the initiative here and offer some words of comfort for your cat yourself.
Since most people don’t know how to comfort a sick cat, here are some guidelines. First, try to imagine how you would like to be treated when you are in pain. Your cat probably wants the same things! You can help it be more at ease by spending time with it, and by gently stroking and talking.
Cats may not understand your words, but they can definitely pick up on the emotions that are reflected in them.
When it’s time to let go
Even with the best possible care, a terminally ill cat will eventually pass away. If you visit a veterinarian (which we always recommend when a cat is ill), he or she will probably want to evaluate the cat’s overall health frequently.
Difficult as it may be, you should definitely skip your own judgment and leave this to a vet. Even with your best intentions, you can’t make these kinds of evaluations on your own.
The vet may conclude that there are more good days yet ahead. But if your specialist determines that your cat has stopped eating completely, or has developed serious respiratory issues, it’s probably time to let go.
And then.. ?
You lost a friend. A companion who was always waiting for you after a long day at work. Perhaps your cat even cheerfully welcomed you every time you came through the door?
It’s perfectly normal to go through a period of grief after losing a beloved pet. Some people even experience feelings of guilt after having to make the harsh decision of euthanizing their pet, which certainly isn’t unnatural.
You should allow yourself the time to process these emotions. If you have supportive friends or family, be sure to lean on them for emotional support or a listening ear.
Decide what to do with the body
Some people choose to bury their cats themselves, but you may also enlist a burial service at the pet cemetery instead. This will give you a place to visit and remember your dear friend.
The other option is cremation. While it does not leave a place to visit, cremation does allow you to do something memorable with the ashes. For example, you could buy a beautiful urn to store them in, or have a piece of jewelry made with them. Some people even get a tattoo that contains their pet’s ashes.
Frequently asked questions
A dying cat wants space, but it should not be left to suffer. Sick cats need to be looked at by a veterinarian to see if painkillers or other medications are required. You should also follow the steps in this article to make your cat as comfortable as possible at home.