It’s never easy to face the reality that we’ll likely outlive our pets. Indoor cats can live anywhere from 12-20 years of age (and sometimes longer), so it’s no wonder cat owners get particularly attached. There’s no “one” experience cat owners have during their pet’s final days or weeks, but there are a few signs to look for that may be an indication that the end is near. Please consult your veterinarian if you have notice any of the following in your cat.
Loss of Appetite/Thirst
For all animals, illness often culminates in a lack of interest in food or water. This is because an animal’s body knows it takes work to process any food or drink, and sometimes a cat is simply too sick or tired to expend the additional energy. Dehydration can set in rapidly during a cat’s final days.
If your cat is ill, even if you don’t realize it, he will probably become very weak as his body tries to fight off whatever is ailing him. You may notice weakness particularly in your cat’s hind legs, and you also may notice him sleeping a great deal more than he usually does.
Lower Body Temperature
Body temperature doesn’t usually drop until a cat’s final days. As death nears, your cat’s overall body temperature and particularly the temperature of his extremities like his ears and paws will become cooler, sometimes under 100 degrees.
Cats spend a lot of time and energy grooming themselves when they’re healthy, so it makes sense a cat with less energy to burn simply can’t keep up. Dying cats might begin to look messy and unkempt, and might even develop a detectable odor. The odor is usually due to toxins building up in the body as a result of illness.
Cats are known to hide when they are gravely ill. Why? Because they instinctively know that in the wild, a sick animal is a target. They are likely trying to protect themselves by “hiding” from any threat that might take advantage of them in their compromised state.
Clinginess/Odd Social Behavior
Some cats don’t hide but in fact do the opposite as the end-of-life approaches. They become clingy to their human (and animal) companions and can seem more affectionate than usual. On the flip side of the coin, some cats completely withdraw socially during their final moments, appearing introspective and totally disinterested in engagement, but not necessarily aggressive.
It is very difficult to accept when the end is near for your cat and those final few days and weeks are fraught and complicated. If you're concerned, speak with your cat's veterinarian about your cat’s health, pain level, or even about humane options for saying goodbye on your own terms.