I know you love your cat, and you know how to provide companionship. But we never think or prepare about the last days for our cats.
One of the things that’s important to know is how to comfort your dying cat.
We’ll give you the nitty-gritty on how to keep your dying cat hydrated, nourished, mobile, and in a minimum of pain.
But first, we have an important reminder about companionship and play.
Companionship and Play for Your Dying Cat
A helpful thing to do when you get bad news about your cat’s health is to make a list of your cat’s favorite activities, favorite treats, and favorite toys.
Then go down the list and choose the activities, treats, and toys your cat can still enjoy.
Your cat may not be able to enjoy active games or complicated toys, but she may still play with teasers, like a fake mouse on a string—don’t make the “mouse” too hard to catch—or a scratch box, spring, or a chute toy.
Sick cats enjoy familiar hiding places, particularly if they include a blanket with familiar scents.
They may enjoy just sitting on a windowsill in the sun, as long as a larger, intimidating animal doesn’t come up to the window to stare inside.
Or they may still enjoy just sitting in your lap to take a nap.
Terminally ill cats naturally shun company.
It’s a defense mechanism. In their native habitat, hiding increased survival time.
But don’t hesitate to enjoy the time you have with your cat as much as you can. If you are gentle, playtime is good for your cat and good for your own morale.
Make Sure Your Cat is Properly Hydrated
Making sure your cat gets enough water is an essential part of pain control.
Dehydration at a cellular level brings on headaches, muscle aches, and vision problems. It makes any loss of appetite even worse, and it saps your cat of the little energy he has.
When a cat’s body can’t absorb water from the digestive tract, it takes water from urine and feces.
This makes the cat extremely constipated. The lack of urine to flush the cat’s urinary tract sets up infections.
Your cat’s skin becomes dry, and the linings of their mouth, ear canals, and nasal passages dry out and crack.
Cells that are not adequately hydrated don’t receive oxygen and nutrients efficiently. Dehydration accelerates death. But rehydration may require pet parents to acquire some nursing skills they have never used before.
If your cat can still drink water, you may only need to place the water bowl on a small stand so he does not have to bend down to drink. You will need to make sure the water in your cat’s bowl is clean and fresh.
What if the cat is unable to drink water?
The usual way to give water to cats that can no longer drink it is through a vein.
Most pet parents who aren’t health professionals aren’t comfortable giving their cats shots. However, it is possible to keep your cat hydrated by injecting water under the skin.
Cats need about 30 ml of water per pound of normal body weight every day. (If you use the metric system, that’s about 60 ml per kilo of body weight per day.) If your cat normally weighs 10 pounds, she needs 300 ml of water daily.
Your vet can give you a syringe with a needle that you can use to give your cat purified water by injection.
Usually, your vet will advise you to give your cat about 1/10 of daily water needs with each injection. If your cat weighs 10 pounds, that’s 10 to 30 ml of water up to 10 times a day.
(You may have heard that giving cats injections can initiate a process that causes cancer called feline injection-site sarcoma. This doesn’t happen with injections of water.)
If you are not a health professional, follow your veterinarian’s instructions.
Your veterinarian’s instructions for this procedure will probably be something like this:
- Bring purified water to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius), no more than one or two degrees cooler or warmer. You could microwave a cup of water for15 seconds, take its temperature with a thermometer, and let it cool down as needed.
- Fill a syringe tipped with an 18-gauge needle with 10 to 20 ml (about a tablespoon) of the warm water.
- Gently make a tent of skin on your cat’s back. Insert the syringe and slowly inject the water under your cat’s skin. This should not hurt your cat. There should be minimal bleeding.
- Expect to see a lump of water underneath your cat’s skin. It can move around and slide down your cat’s side until it is absorbed.
Again, do not attempt to give your cat injections of water or saline IVs unless you have veterinary advice.
But if you are willing and able to do this, it will give you cat comfort and extend your cat’s life.
Give them Nutrition through the Food they Enjoy
Cats are obligate carnivores.
They cannot survive, even if they are healthy, on a vegan diet. They need the concentrated protein that only meat and fish can provide. Why?
- Cats don’t naturally eat grains or other high-carb foods like those humans eat to make the glucose that fuels every cell in the body. Cats break down excess amino acids in protein food to make the glucose sugar that fuels their cells. (Humans can also do this.) Their bodies can’t stop breaking down protein into sugar. If it’s not in the diet, their bodies break down healthy tissues.
- Cats cannot make vitamin A from beta-carotene, which is found in vegetables like carrots. They have to get their vitamin A from animal fat.
- Cats need the amino acid arginine to detoxify their bloodstreams. If they don’t get arginine in their diet, they can become very sick in as little as 24 hours.
Sick cats should be given the foods they like.
The end of life is not the time to try to reform your cat’s eating habits or to force a special diet that isn’t even designed for cats.
Make it Easy for them to Move Around
We’ll get right to the point. Dying cats can’t always make it to the litter box.
Making a mess isn’t their fault. Don’t scold your cat for soiling your floors or furniture.
Instead, make using the litter box easier for your cat.
You can move the litter box closer to your cat’s bed. You can make sure your cat doesn’t have to go up and downstairs to pee or poop.
You can alter your cat’s litter box so he doesn’t have to jump up to use it, and you can make sure the opening to the litter box is big enough that your cat does not have to squeeze through the entrance.
Changing the litter several times a day encourages your cat to use the box.
There is one other thing you can do to make mobility easier for your cat: Keep their nails trimmed.
Of course, you should never cut a cat’s nails if there is any risk of splitting them or drawing blood.
But keeping nails from getting too long helps your cat’s joints move together.
When your cat has mobility problems, she will stay in one place. Make the place for your cat cozy, padded, safe, and warm.
Optimizing Your Dying Cat’s Comfort
Some other ways you can keep your cat comfortable during her final days include:
- Pain control – Never give a cat any pain reliever intended for human consumption. Over the counter medications like aspirin and Tylenol can cause fatal kidney and liver reactions. Your veterinarian can give you pain medications for your cat and instructions on how to use them.
- Grooming – Dying cats may not have the energy to keep their coats clean. Combing their coats, cleaning up dried saliva and urine, and maintaining flea and tick control will keep your cat in better condition.
- Dealing with feline distress – Yowling at night can be a sign your cat is in severe pain. If pain is the problem, pain relievers will make it better. Yowling at night can also be a sign that your cat has gone blind or lost hearing or smell, or is suffering from feline dementia. You can deal with this problem by getting up and making sure your cat knows you are there. It can also help your cat to have cloth toys or blankets that carry the scent of the people in your family or other pets your cat loves.
At the end of life, many cats need multiple medications.
Ask your vet if a feeding tube would make giving food, water, and medication easier for your cat.
Making Decisions About the End
There may come a time in your cat’s life when you realize that just because something can be done to extend your cat’s life doesn’t mean that something should be done to extend your cat’s life.
You may decide that your cat is having a lot more bad days than good days and pain control just isn’t working.
This is the time to speak with your partner, your kids, and your vet about euthanasia.
It’s always best to give children time to process the death of a pet.
Let them know that your cat is seriously ill as soon as you find out from the veterinarian.
If they are old enough to understand death, let them know that your cat may not be with you much longer.
We don’t recommend home euthanasia kits. It’s always best for a veterinarian to administer the drugs that will end your cat’s suffering.
It’s usually possible for your veterinarian to give your cat a drug that puts them to sleep before giving them the second, final injection.
This makes it easier for you to be with your cat until the very end.
Don’t Feel Bad If You Didn’t Realize Your Cat Was Sick
A diagnosis of terminal illness at a routine trip to the vet often comes as a shock to cat owners.
The reason even the most caring pet parents may not know that their beloved feline companion is sick is that cats are naturally secretive about how they feel.
Cats have only been living with humans for about the last 9500 years.
For thousands of years before cats became pets, they were tiny hunters of rodents and insects in the wild.
Although a cat may be a fearsome predator to a mouse, there are many larger animals in natural settings that do not hesitate to feed on cats.
As a result, cats conceal their weaknesses. They dare not let larger animals, including people, know they are sick.
They seldom show any sign of pain. They will curl up in a hiding place before they will reveal a limo or a serious wound.
You may have to spend a lot of time with your cats even to realize they are hurting.
But once you know your cat needs you, give them all the attention you can.
The care you give your cat during her last days will make your memories of good times all the more precious.
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