Is it time to put my elderly cat down?

by Heather
(New Brunswick, Canada)

Hi Doctor,

I have an 18 year old cat who we have been struggling to keep healthy over the past couple of years. We almost lost him last year to an illness that caused extreme diarrhea and vomiting, weight loss, behavioral and litter box problems. We were able to save him with medication and a change in his food, but now, about a year later, we are noticing that some of those symptoms have returned.

In the ten years I have had him, my cat’s weight had remained constant at 12 pounds, and now he is down to 9.5 pounds. He still eats and drinks well, but he urinates in the sinks and counters, as well as my clothes and purses (but he still goes in the litter box as well). My cat will also vomit up to 4 times a day. I haven't seen him groom himself in a long time, and although I have seen our younger cat groom him, my cat’s fur is oily and his skin is flaky. Differently from his last cat illness, however, he does not have diarrhea.

His cat behavior has changed somewhat, although not has badly is it was during his last cat illness. He is demanding more attention and will often sit on me for longer periods of time than is normal for him. He is more pleasant around guests (he has always hated strangers), but when alone, I noticed that my cat will just hunch down and he looks miserable.

I have taken him to his veterinarian to rule out a feline urinary tract infection, and his urinalysis came back fine. I am reluctant to pay for blood tests and x-rays due to his advanced age. His vet gave me some antibiotics and anti-inflammatory cat medications to see if they would help, but they have not.

Could it be time to let him go? I loathe the thought of losing him, as he has been my constant cat companion for many years. But I am worried that my cat is in pain and I am missing the signs.

Thanks for listening!

Dear Heather,

I’m sorry to hear that your elderly cat is not feeling well. However, I could not begin to recommend euthanizing any cat, regardless of his age, without doing bloodwork and x-rays.

With the cat illness symptoms you have described, your cat could have something very treatable, such as cat diabetes, feline hyperthyroidism, or kidney disease, just to name a few. In many of these conditions, simple medication and/or a change in diet could control his cat illness symptoms.

Furthermore, I would hope you are not becoming discouraged due to the lack of improvement in your cat’s condition with the medications your veterinarian prescribed. Without bloodwork to know what you are trying to treat, a basic antibiotic and anti-inflammatory cat medicine would not necessarily make a difference.

If this were my cat, I would certainly want bloodwork as soon as possible, and would even proceed with x-rays if the bloodwork was inconclusive. But in any event, I would not be comfortable euthanizing or recommending euthanasia for a cat that does not first have a diagnosis and is otherwise eating, drinking, and acting okay.

All the best,
Dr. Neely

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