7 Signs Your Cat Is Dying: What To Look For

Updated Jun. 26, 2024
A senior cat sleeps on their couch.

Andrey Zhuravlev/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

As pet parents, we all fear the loss of our beloved feline family members.

While you may hope that your cats will age gracefully and pass away peacefully, most cats will ultimately pass from a chronic, debilitating, or terminal illness. Thankfully, we have the option of providing hospice care and euthanasia to help relieve them of pain and suffering.

Here are some signs to watch for as cats near the time for palliative care and a decision of cat euthanasia, and how to tell if your cat is dying.

Signs Your Cat Is Dying

The physical signs that your cat is dying include:

  1. Lack of consciousness

  2. Dilated and unresponsive pupils

  3. Eyes that no longer blink when touched

  4. Shallow/irregular breathing

  5. Unwillingness or inability to move or walk

  6. Urinating on themselves

  7. Lack of proper grooming/not grooming at all

If your cat is showing some of these signs, have them evaluated immediately by your veterinarian.

If a terminal disease is diagnosed, it may be ideal to work with your veterinarian to establish a hospice or euthanasia plan for your pet.  

Common Causes of Death in Cats

Cats pass away from a large variety of problems, but older cats tend to suffer from long term (often initially treatable) conditions that eventually become too much to control, including conditions such as:

Evaluating Your Cat's Quality of Life

It’s also important to monitor your cat’s quality of life as they age. Questions about a cat’s overall quality of life should include several considerations:

  1. Is your cat still eating and drinking?

  2. Are they still able to enjoy the same activities and interactions with their human and animal companions?

  3. Is your cat comfortable at home and able to move about and rest without experiencing pain?

  4. Are they having more good days than bad?

If the answer to these questions is no, then you may need to consider the next steps for your cat, including palliative and hospice care or euthanasia (either at home or in the clinic).

Dying Cat Stages

Humane euthanasia allows you to say goodbye to your pet before their quality of life becomes unacceptable or their pain becomes unbearable. Your veterinarian can help you to determine what options are best for your pet.

Euthanasia is generally a very peaceful way for your pet to pass on, in which they generally fall asleep and don't wake up. Your veterinarian will administer medication (a sedative) to your pet to relax them, usually followed by a final injection (an overdose of an anesthetic).

The transition to death comes when the cat stops breathing and their heart stops beating. 

After death, there may be some brief muscle twitching, a last deep exhale, and loss of bladder and bowel control as their muscles relax.

Euthanasia is generally a very peaceful way for your pet to pass on, in which they generally fall asleep and don't wake up.

This can be very troubling for pet parents to watch, because they may mistakenly believe their cat is still alive. Your veterinarian will listen to your cat's heart to ensure they have passed.

Having a humane euthanasia plan in place can help prevent your cat from passing painfully at home.

In the final stages of death, a cat’s breathing may continue to falter, and cats may appear to be gasping for breath. Their body temperature will begin to fall, and their extremities may feel cooler to the touch. Cats are typically unable to rise and will typically show no interest in eating or drinking.

Do Cats Know When They Are Dying?

Cats seem to be aware of the concept of death and do understand when they are feeling ill, but it is hard to know if they understand the finality of their own passing. It is not uncommon for an ill cat to begin to hide as their time draws near, but this could be a symptom of their worsening illness and not a direct sign they know the end is coming.

Many cat parents find it surprising that cats may purr more when they are beginning to pass.

Since it isn’t common, this is not something vets truly understand. Purring may be used as a form of communication, a sign of hunger, or even a calming mechanism, instead of only being a sign of contentment when a cat is happy.

What to Do if You Think Your Cat Is Dying

If you are concerned that your cat may be dying, it is very important to have them seen by a veterinarian immediately.

One of the best gifts we can offer our pets is a peaceful passing when their time has come. If your cat is not eating, is extremely weak, is not getting up to use the litter box, is not drinking, or seems to be in pain, have them seen by a vet right away.

How to Comfort a Dying Cat

Keeping your cat comfortable during their final time is not always easy. At home, you can ensure they have access to a comfortable bed in a warm place.

You may need to help your cat maintain their cleanliness by brushing and promptly removing and cleaning any messes. Keep your cat in a calm and peaceful environment free from rambunctious pets, kids, or other disruptions.

Your cat may prefer to spend their time quietly curled up on their own, or they may want to snuggle up close with family.

Remember, you know your cat best. Most importantly, work with your vet to ensure that your cat is kept as pain-free as possible.

Signs Your Cat Is Dying

How long will it take for a cat to die?

Some cats may show signs of failing days or even weeks before they eventually pass. Others may cross very suddenly and unexpectedly—within a matter of moments, depending on the underlying cause of death. 

When a cat is euthanized, the final injection takes effect quite quickly, and most cats pass from being sedated and asleep to dying in a minute or less.

Do cats hide when they are dying?

Many cats are not feeling well when they are in the process of dying. In nature, an ill animal that can’t defend itself is at high risk, and so the instinct is self-preservation. Therefore, many cats that are feeling weakened will hide, whether they are in the process of passing.


Stephanie Howe, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Stephanie Howe, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Stephanie Howe graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2011, after receiving a Bachelor of Science...


Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?


Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health