Watching my old cat slowly decline until her eventual death

My cat Lina, age 17, died last week on January 7, 2021.

The experience with Lina’s declining health was much different than when her littermate Kilala died in 2019.

Why am I sharing her story?

  • Writing helps me process things.
  • Some people what to know all the details of “what happened.”
  • Maybe this will help someone.

Note: If you think your cat is dying, please contact your vet right away for any possible treatments, advice, and end of life care. I am not a veterinarian. 

Please do not rely solely on online lists or advice (which may not be written by a vet). I didn’t find any “signs your cat is dying” lists that exactly matched Lina’s situation.

For example, besides two skipped meals, she maintained an interest in eating and drinking (even on her last day).  Some of the lists maybe for the last hour of a cat’s life. The articles were not clear on this, and Lina declined slowly across several months.

Having your cat evaluated by a vet is best. 

What follows is the story of what happened with my cat.

Links to cat products are affiliate links.

The TL;DR Summary

Lina was my cat that I adopted from a friend’s barn in 2003.  In 2020 she had chronic sinus problems. Eventually, her decline included poor grooming, weight loss, behavior changes, and litter box issues.

When her tiny body was failing, and when there was no hope of recovery, she was euthanized.

If reading about bodily functions gone awry upsets or bothers you, you may not want to read the story.

The start of the decline

I don’t remember exactly when we noticed that Lina wasn’t grooming herself as much. I was aware that poor grooming could be one of the first signs that your cat is starting to decline.

a cat with a before and later picture showing how the cat's grooming declined over time.

In May 2020, Lina started to have chronic sinus issues. While she had struggled with allergies years ago, she never had sinus problems.

We took her to the vet and began treatment. Looking back, that was when we stepped onto the slowly dying cat roller coaster, not knowing that the only way off would be death about seven months later.

Lina would never fully recover from the sinus issues. Some days were better than others with it. She would have sneezing fits of 10-20 sneezes.

She refused to eat one meal in May or June, probably from being so stuffed up that she couldn’t smell the food. This caused my first breakdown and a long night of tears and holding Lina (her sister died at home after skipping wet food only once).

But Lina was a strong cat! She ate breakfast the next morning and then didn’t skip a meal until Christmas Eve.

As the months went on

Throughout the summer, we adjusted to hearing her snort of food. She had her annual checkup in the summer and only weighed about 5 lbs (if I remember correctly).

She was treated a few more times for the sinus issues, but it got to the point where the medicine from the vet wasn’t helping much at all.

Then I found Nose Relief drops on Chewy, which did help her some.

Since I began working from home 100% of the time in March due to the pandemic, I spent lots of time observing and holding Lina.

Also, for the last few months, she wanted to be held whenever she saw me. She loved to lay across my chest (or Ted’s). She held the record for most appearances on work WebEx calls.

Some of what happened between April and December is a blur, but it was mostly the sinus issues.

Very slowly, her grooming deteriorated; she lost more weight and began to sleep more. She also became more demanding with insisting on being held when she was awake.

I bought a bunch of slicker brushes to help with her grooming. I planned to do a review video of them with her, but it felt too sad to say on a video with her that she needed grooming help.

As she declined, the amount of food, snot, and water that came out of her nose increased.

Change in drinking behavior

Lina didn’t lose interest in drinking like some old cats do while declining. But she did become quirky about it.

For years she had the habit of drinking from the bathroom sink when someone was in the bathroom.

Lina drinking from the sink
Lina drinking from the sink

And then she ONLY wanted to drink from sinks. It was very odd to see this.

So we would leave the faucet running for her just a bit when she was awake during the day and fill the basin for overnight.

And then she wanted to drink from the kitchen sink too.

Her jumping and balance abilities started to decline in the fall, so I was worried about failing to jump to the sink or falling off.

I found a water fountain that mimicked the flow of water from a faucet. Lina started in the video review of it as after a few weeks, as she had successfully transitioned to only drinking from the new fountain.

The final weeks

I started to Google “signs of dying cat” much more often.

Lina was getting weaker and skinnier and sleeping more. I felt like I needed to know where she was whenever she wasn’t with me.

When returning home, I would check on her to see if she had died while I was away.

At this point, it was just a general feeling of demise and not a specific incident.

Eating pate food became harder for her, but she loved it. Her little tongue would compact it into the bowl, and then I would scrap it up to fluff it for her so she could eat it.

I noticed that she was no longer removing her claws from my sweatshirt when I moved her to put her down. We trimmed her claws, which helped.

A few times, I thought she smelled a little and thought maybe it was the foul odor I had read about, but it wasn’t consistent or strong.

Christmas Eve

The first major incident came on Christmas Eve.

Lina sat on me while I was on the couch just after Ted made a special Christmas dinner. I usually hold Lina while we eat (it was easier to hold her than not to hold her).

I asked Ted, “do you smell poop?”

And I noticed poo on my finger.

What the heck?

Lina had runny poo stuck to her backside.

Gross.

We grabbed the cat butt wipes and cleaned her up!

Note: we had cat butt wipes leftover from when Buster had poo issues in the past.

And then we found little poo spots on a blanket on the bed where she liked to lay.

I had recently scooped a golf ball size turd that looked very unusual (it was very dry and looked like a small loosely bound rubber band ball), and now I am assuming it was from her. I had not seen anything like it before (and I’ve been scooping since Lina was a kitten).

Lina had been eating and drinking, so I couldn’t see how she could be dehydrated (dehydration can be a problem for a dying cat).

Her self grooming had become worse. She had only been cleaning her face and front paws for a while, but her paws were getting crusty after wiping her nose.

And Then…

I was very afraid that she would die that night as she didn’t eat or drink that evening (remember, her sister died after skipping only 1 meal). I slept on the couch with her all night.

In the morning, she ate breakfast as nothing had happened!

But then, I noticed her straining in the litter box with nothing coming out.

Not good.

But on the 26th, she seemed more normal. On the 27th, she was back to straining, which was a Sunday with just some juice coming out. And I found little poo spots in a cat bed she was sleeping in the basement (very unusual for her to sleep in the basement).

My vet is awesome and agreed to let me bring her into the clinic that day.

She weighed just 3.5 lbs (when she was a thriving adult, she weighed 8-9 lbs).  He gave her 3 shots. The next day she had blood work done.

He said he “treats cats as long as they are showing the will to live.”  And she was eating and drinking (showing will live).

Her white blood count was very high, she was a little anemic, and her kidneys were starting to show signs of failure.

The blood results looked horrible to me, but he thought maybe she would recover with treatment.

He put her on two more meds after seeing her blood results. She seemed to improve at first.

We noticed she had stopped eating dry food (it seemed too hard for her), so we increased her wet food intake.

We bought a new kind of wet food with lots of gravy (she ate the chunks too) and let her eat it alone in the bathroom (the other cats got the leftovers).

I thought she was gaining some weight back.

For those wondering how I was able to cover these sudden cat expenses, you can read my how to have money for the vet guide).

two cats sit on a lady
Heid with Lina and Kilala in 2016 (when they were both at healthy weights!)

She was improving until she wasn’t

And then, on January 5th, she had diarrhea, not near a litter box on the basement floor, and she was found sleeping on blankets in the basement with poo stains on them.

At the time, I was probably in a little bit of denial. I justified it by saying I gave her too much CatLax (which she loved) and Lactulose (which we have on hand for Charlotte). But now, I think it was a  sign that her body was failing.

In general, she seemed weaker when sitting on me when she would stand to change positions.

On January 7th, I noticed she was having trouble walking and some balance issues with her back legs. And she sat near the heating vent in the bathroom while I made breakfast (her usual spot was in the kitchen staring at me or on the coffee table).

While I was at the vet buying wet food (Buster needs a prescription, so all the indoor cats eat it), Lina peed on herself. Fortunately, Ted was home and cleaned her up really well.

But I knew it wasn’t a good sign, and the crying began.

Ted said, “why don’t you call the vet?” as he was leaving for his job. He also petted her and talked very sweetly to her just before he left.

I managed to say my name on the phone but couldn’t get the words out to describe Lina’s problems through my tears.

So I sent the receptionist an email and requested her to find out from the vet if Lina should come in. She replied almost immediately that I should bring her in later that afternoon (she would be the last appointment of the day since we didn’t really have an appointment).

I spent the afternoon holding her close and trying to work to stay distracted.  She ate and drank a little! I thought she wasn’t ready to give up even though she was wobbly.

cat sitting on a cat lady's shoulder
Lina in her favorite shoulder sitting position

The Final Hour (or so)

I arrived at the vet with Lina in the cat carrier. The number of people in the waiting room is limited due to the pandemic, so I knew I would be waiting for a while. There were six or seven cars in the parking lot, and we would be the last to go in.

With the expected long wait, I decided to get Lina out of the carrier.  I wasn’t worried about her getting loose in the car in her condition.

When I placed her on my chest, I quickly realized that she had wet herself in the carrier. She had NEVER done that before. I kind of knew then that there was a good chance that she would not be coming home.

With my coat soiled from her urine, I held her the best that I could and let her look out the car windows.

Once they called me to come inside, I placed her in the cat carrier. The fear of her jumping out of my arms in the parking lot was too great for me to risk it.

I was the only one in the waiting room and was able to get her out and hold her while we waited our turn. She watched the traffic. I cried.

The vet could tell by touching her that her body temp was too low. He checked it twice, and both times, the thermometer was 98 (it should be around 102 for a cat).

She had not gained any weight as I thought, And I described her problem with her legs and not urinating on herself that morning and in the car.

He said her little body was failing, and her organs were shutting down, and he recommended euthanizing her.

There was no hope for a recovery.

The End

This was my first time to be in the room for the euthanasia process.

When stray cat Lily (mentioned only in the 2019 annual year-end cat letter),  was euthanized I was extremely emotional as we thought she was a pregnant cat.  Then we found out at the vet that she was a very sick male cat that was already in the natural shutdown process. I had known him for less than 24 hours, so I didn’t stay with him and now regret it now that I’ve seen the end of life process.

My vet explained what would happen in detail, and I had to sign a paper with my consent. The vet and vet tech were very gentle.

I had 10 minutes alone with her after she was given the first shot to help her relax and go towards sleep. We snuggled.

Then the final shot was administered, and Lina took her last breath.

Related Posts:

The day my cat died: What happened?

A tribute to the feral cat that changed my life

About The Author
Heidi has been living with cats since 2003 and sends exclusive count in the weekly Caturday Newsletter. You can sign up for it here. It's free!

6 thoughts on “Watching my old cat slowly decline until her eventual death”

  1. Such an amazing story!!! I appreciate ur openness. I had to stop several times n dry my tears. 😭 My heart breaks for u my friend. 💔❤

    Reply
  2. Hi Heidi,

    Your story resounded with me and my cat Casey. She was a British Short Hair and lived a long life of 17 years. I knew the time was coming that she was dying as her health started to decline. She also had troubles using the litter box, runny poo and troubles grooming herself. We could tell she was in pain if touched on the lower back or around her legs. As this was my first cat I found this helpful – https://emergencyvetsusa.com/signs-your-cat-is-dying/

    Reading stories like your story is also helpful to the grieving process but also to remember the good times with Casey. I was also there when she was put to sleep by our vet. Not sure I could do that again as it was extremely difficult but since Casey was with me for 17 years I needed to be with her until the end. She died peacefully and is no longer in pain. She will always have a special place in my heart.

    Thank you so much for writing your story.

    Reply
  3. Hi Melissa,

    Thank you for sharing about your Casey. She sounds like a wonderful cat and very loved.

    The link you shared was not one that I had come across when I was trying to determine if Lina was dying. Perhaps it will help someone else who comes across this.

    We have 10 other cats. I am glad that no one told me how hard the end was when we started out with 2 kittens (Lina and Killa) in 2003.

    Reply

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