There comes a time in every pet owner’s life when we are tasked with caring for a pet as they approach the end of their lives. Even though every animal is different, cats tend to be quite particular in dealing with illness. They are easily stressed by handling, mask their discomfort, and may react aggressively when in pain. Which may make caring for them a bit more difficult.
Taking care of your beloved pet near the end of their lives is always a challenging situation. And it’s normal for you to feel overwhelmed and sad. Knowing what to expect can go a long way towards making this situation a bit easier. So here are some of the most important things to consider.
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Adapting daily routines
Be it disease progression or just the consequences of old age, daily routines that used to be effortless quickly become things that need special attention.
Pain, discomfort, medication, and sensory loss can all contribute to reduced interest in eating. When faced with an ill or debilitated cat that has stopped eating altogether, the most crucial thing is to get them eating again without delay as their metabolism cannot handle too long without food. If you cannot do this in under 24 hours, do not hesitate to call your vet for help.
If the situation is less dramatic but your cat isn’t ingesting enough calories and micronutrients daily, you need to make it as easy and as enticing as possible for them to eat. Changing food texture (from dry to wet food or vice versa), changing brand or flavour, and adding diet-appropriate treats are small changes that can go a long way.
Moving around the house:
Mobility and energy are two things that will inevitably reduce with old age or prolonged illness. As cats are prone to hiding when they are feeling unwell, it’s up to us to understand when they are struggling.
Keeping our pets comfortable as their health declines requires a little attention. Depending on their condition, it’s a good idea to arrange their bowls, beds, litter tray, and toys in a singular, easily accessible space.
Using the litter tray:
Losing the capacity to use the litter tray is a source of great distress for both pets and owners. Figuring out why your pet is having repeated episodes of incontinence is crucial to managing it properly.
It might be a problem as simple as your cat can no longer get into the litter tray properly. Or it might come as a consequence of an underlying health or behaviour problem.
House-soiling is frustrating but try to accommodate your pet’s new needs. Be patient with them as it is just as stressful for them as it is for you.
The most crucial part is that you continuously adapt your furry friend’s living space and routines. This is so they continue to have autonomy and comfort for as long as possible.
Chronic kidney disease, osteoarthritis, dental disease, hormonal conditions, and cancer are problems that often affect cats as they grow older. Managing these conditions, most of which are chronic in nature, is very important, even as the end of your pet’s life is near.
Owners are an active part of managing illness, giving medication, keeping an eye out, and enjoying those precious last moments. But it can be overwhelming.
It’s important to remember you are not alone in this process. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your veterinary team for help with anything you might be struggling with.
Giving cats medication is often dreaded by pet owners and, sometimes, by cats as well. But with time, patience, and a lot of bribery, it’s possible to get your cat to accept medication. It can even be an enjoyable experience.
If you realise that medication times are too stressful for your pet, give your vet a call. They will help you find strategies to reduce stress and ensure your cat is receiving the treatment they need.
Acute periods of illness:
Even though your cat might have already entered the terminal phase of their disease, chances are they will be stable for a while. However, even the most stable and well-controlled chronic illness can have moments where it turns acutely severe.
Learning to recognise when your cat has had a significant decline in their health will help you to know when to seek veterinary help.
When the time to say goodbye comes, nobody is ever really ready, and it is, understandably, a very distressing time for all of us.
For some pets, passing away can happen naturally. But for most, the decline of their health and quality of life may lead you to consider euthanasia.
These appointments give the opportunity to understand what will happen next and ask any questions you might have about the procedure, what to expect and all the arrangements you wish to make after your pet has passed away.
Don’t hesitate to let your veterinary team know of your expectations and of all the special needs your cat may have to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
There is no easy or right way to process grief. Bereavement is an intensely personal process, and the loss we feel over our pets is the same as for losing any other family member.
Fortunately, there are plenty of resources to help you and your family during this time and you can choose to do so in the way that best fits your circumstances.
Take all the time you need to process losing your beloved pet, and don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family for help.