If your cat is very old or facing a serious illness, you may be wondering how you will know when it is time to say goodbye. Dr. Alice Villalobos, a veterinary oncologist, created the Feline Quality of Life Scale to help caregivers determine when it is time to make an end of life decision.
As difficult as it is to say goodbye, no one wants to see their beloved companion suffer.
Having one or two of the following signs does not necessarily indicate your cat’s time is approaching, but you should consider speaking with your vet about a peaceful end of life plan if multiple symptoms are present.
It is normal for an aging or sick cat to experience some degree of pain. The important thing is to determine how severe your kitty’s discomfort is and whether or not it can be managed. For example, does she seem to perk up after taking her pain control medication? Is she still able to do the things she loves like eat, groom herself, and walk across the room to lay in the afternoon sun? A cat’s quality of life is definitely decreased when it become too painful to enjoy these simple pleasures.
2. Changes in Appetite & Thirst
For many cats, mealtime is the highlight of their day, making a loss of appetite especially concerning. A cat reaching the end of her life may try unsuccessfully to eat or display a total lack of interest in food. Some also go off their water, while others drink excessively, never seeming to get enough. Excess thirst and dehydration are common in cats with advanced kidney disease or unregulated diabetes.
Healthy cats sleep up to 16 hours a day. Those reaching the end of their lives tend to spend even more of their time resting. They often remain in the same spot all day rather than changing to various nap spots throughout the home or following you from room to room. In extreme cases, these cats may even stop going to the litter box and food/water bowls.
4. Weight Loss
Aging cats may lose or gain weight based on their diet, health, and activity level. Weight loss is most concerning when it is sudden or there seems to be no reason for it. Illnesses like kidney failure, thyroid disease, and certain cancers can cause extreme weight loss even in cats that appear otherwise healthy.
5. Unkempt Coat
There are few reasons a meticulously clean cat will stop grooming its coat. Obese and arthritic kitties may have trouble reaching certain parts of their body, while sick cats may feel too tired or unwell to bother with this task.
Many gravely ill cats experience “accidents” outside of their litter box. Excessive urination and the inability to hold their urine often occur in kitties suffering from renal failure or diabetes. Several conditions and medications cause chronic diarrhea, making it difficult for your cat to reach her litter box. Other kitties are simply too weak or in pain to make the trip to their litter box.
In addition to odors caused by lack of grooming and incontinence, cats experiencing organ failure often carry the smell of internal toxin buildup on their breath. Those with cancerous tumors or severe dental disease may also have the odor of infection.
Cognitive dysfunction is rarely diagnosed in cats, but it can certainly occur with advanced age. More commonly, cats experience confusion and disorientation in their final days due to a build-up of toxins in the body impairing normal brain function. Cats with liver failure, anemia or certain tumors may also suffer from seizures.
9. Loss of Interest/Social Withdrawal
As the end of a cat’s life draws near, they often withdraw from their owners and fellow animal companions. Some cats will seek out an isolated hiding place in order to avoid contact. They may also stop greeting you at the door, begging for food, or gazing out the window, completely losing interest in what is happening around them.
10. Mood Changes
In addition to loss of interest, some gravely ill cats experience behavioral changes related to their mood. They may become depressed or even aggressive, growling or lashing out at you when touched. It is also common for a kitty to purr as her time approaches. Researchers and veterinarians believe they do this to comfort themselves.
You can help alleviate the pain and stress of these symptoms by offering palliative care in the form of medications, adaptations to your routine, and additional attention.
Make sure your cat has a warm, clean sleeping spot with her food bowls and litter box close by. If getting up has become difficult, try elevating her bowls or offering food and water by hand, but do not force her to eat or drink. If dehydration is an issue, your vet can show you how to administer fluids at home.
Let your cat be your guide as to how much or how little care she wants/needs from you before her time arrives.
H/T to Cat-World