When to Put Your Senior Cat to Sleep in Renal Failure

By Theresa Bettmann

Renal, or kidney, failure is the leading cause of death in older cats. Approximately one in five cats around 15 years of age has some form of kidney disease. The condition progresses gradually but is always eventually fatal. For some cats, improved nutrition and veterinary care can slow the progression of the disease, yet others survive only a short time after receiving the diagnosis. At some point, most owners will face making the difficult decision whether or not to put their senior cat to sleep.

Renal Failure in Cats

Kidneys filter blood and remove toxins from the body, as well as balance water and salt levels. Toxins begin to build up in the body when kidneys are no longer able to remove waste, eventually leading to uremic poisoning and death. Renal failure does not usually exhibit symptoms until it reaches advanced stages. Common symptoms include poor appetite, weight loss, dehydration, lethargy, depression and increased thirst and urine production. Additional signs may include poor coat, vomiting or bad-smelling breath. Blood and urine samples are used to initially diagnose and monitor the disease. Treatment includes feeding a low phosphate, reduced protein diet, fluid therapy, close monitoring and sometimes even dialysis. There is no cure for this disease and will eventually be fatal.

Quality of Life

Treatment for renal failure is aimed at minimizing symptoms and maintaining a decent quality of life for as long as possible. Many cats appear to still enjoy life and cope well, while others experience considerable discomfort. Each cat is different and pet owners must determine what is considered a good quality of life for their individual cat. A good quality of life generally includes the cat's desire and ability to interact with its family, and the ability to rest comfortably. If treatments cause more side effects or discomfort than benefit, or if the cat is suffering and the veterinarian can no longer control pain or discomfort, it is time to consider euthanasia.

Considering Natural Death Versus Euthanasia

Many pet owners wish to allow their pet to die naturally whenever possible. In some cases cats with kidney failure can gradually fall into a coma and die a gentle death. However, congestive heart failure, seizures, breathing problems and ruptured cysts are all possible complications associated with renal failure. With these added complications natural death might bring about unnecessary pain and suffering. Discuss all aspects of the cat's condition with the veterinarian in order to help make the most appropriate choice. Depending upon the individual cat, the vet may recommend euthanasia before the cat begins to experience suffering.

When to Euthanize

No single indicator exists to signal when it is the right time to euthanize. When the disease has progressed to a point where treatment is no longer effective, it becomes a personal choice often made with the guidance of the veterinarian. Usually when the cat no longer desires to interact with its surroundings, will not eat or drink, cannot eliminate, is seriously incontinent or exhibits pain and distress, it is time to consider euthanasia. Euthanasia is performed by veterinarian administered injection, designed to sedate the cat and peacefully stop its heart. Pet owners can choose if they wish to be present or not for the procedure.