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Palliative Care for Cats

When your best feline friend is nearing the end of their life, you want their remaining days to be comfortable, peaceful, and reflective of the way they lived in better days. This time can be so difficult, and we feel your pain. We offer this information to support you as you think about ways to honor the role your cat has played in your life and the love and care you will be providing to see them through.

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It's OK to Share Your Feelings With Your Cat


Knowing your cat is nearing the end of their life is an emotional time, and often we find ourselves grieving before our cat is actually gone. It’s okay to be sad, angry, or feel lost, but try to avoid completely detaching yourself from the situation in your grief.

Share your sadness with your cat, nestle your nose in their fur, and let them lick away your tears, but allow yourself to still experience all the moments of joy they bring you during their remaining time with you.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is sometimes called hospice care or end of life care. It’s the care and medication options we can provide for cats with conditions that we can’t cure or treat. Palliative care almost always includes pain management medications, but can also include:

  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Therapeutic laser treatment
  • Physical therapy
  • Nutraceuticals (also known as supplements)

While it’s often heartbreaking to think about our cat’s illness or advanced age, palliative care gives you options to keep your pet comfortable in their final days.

Why Is Palliative Care Needed?

Often, palliative care is provided for:

  • Cats with terminal conditions like cancer
  • Cats with advanced diseases that impact their mobility or other normal functions, like end-stage arthritis
  • Cats where disease or trauma treatment is not an option for their family
  • Cats who are old, frail, or have dementia-like conditions, but don't have any major disease or conditions that aren't under control
  • When you aren't able to say "goodbye" just yet, or your cat is still experiencing many good days, but you want to help them with the "not so good" days.

What You Should Do If Your Cat Has Been Prescribed Palliative Care

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions on giving medication (if prescribed), diet, environment changes, and activity level. It’s important to talk to your veterinarian and your family about your cat’s disease, how it's expected to progress, and the best ways to assess your cat’s quality of life.

You may find it helpful to keep track of your cat’s activity, appetite, litter box usage, and overall comfort each day so that you can quickly notice if their condition, mood, or quality of life is declining.

If your pet is taking multiple medications, a pill dispenser can come in handy. Be sure to keep it out of reach of any pets or children in your home. 

Keep Your Cat Comfortable

Because your cat doesn’t feel well, you may want to provide them a quieter, safer area of your home (away from small children and other pets). Ensure their spot is a comfortable place with their favorite bed, and their litter box, food and water close by – avoid making them go up and down stairs if you can. 

Because cats are heavily influenced by smells, you may need to warm up their food to make it extra smelly (but not too hot, though) or try a few varieties your veterinarian recommended in order to get them to eat. Be sure to clean their food and water bowls to remove any lingering smells, gunk, or bacteria. And if they love treats, feel free to pamper them.

Consider a low-entry litter box, and potentially adding another box, to make it easy for your cat to a) get to the box quickly and b) get into the box more easily. Scoop the box every day to ensure they always have a clean place to go. Of course, one of the best things you can give your cat during this time is your love and attention. Carry on with play, enrichment, and new things just like you would if they were well. Have gentle play sessions if your cat has the energy for it. Provide physical touch, such as gentle petting or massage if your cat enjoys these. Talk to your cat and be present in the moment with them.


How Do You Know Things Are Under Control?

Your cat should be more comfortable within a few days of starting palliative care, particularly for pain management. While it can be common for cats to be more sleepy when on pain medications, this can be a temporary adjustment period. Your cat should be eating, drinking, using the litter box normally, and more receptive to petting and attention. They may be able to move with greater mobility, particularly after the first several days.

How Do You Know When Things Are Getting Worse? What You Should Do.

If your cat is not eating or drinking, having difficulty standing, not able to use the litter box, or if they are vomiting or having diarrhea, reach out to your veterinarian to see if there are medication adjustments that can be made.

Unfortunately, eventually, all palliative care options are not enough. You and your family may need to make some decisions about your cat’s quality of life and ending their suffering with humane euthanasia. If you haven’t had to make this decision before, ask your veterinarian to explain the process and discuss the options available so that you can be prepared when the time comes.

Read more – Knowing When It's Time and What to Expect


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