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Because of several symptoms (tilted head, occasional bouts of coughing and infection around her eyes), I brought my 13 year old cat to the vet and was told that sadly she has cancer, untreatable. The vet told me the only thing to do now was to "end her suffering" (and not by curing her) and was very sure about it.

I didn't want to do it then and there, so the vet gave me antibiotics and steroids which reduces infection and pain.

But the more I think about it, the less I think she's in as much pain as the vet seems to think. She doesn't groan or meow as I'd expect, she eats a bit, and comes looking for food at meal times, and while she's slower and less mobile than she would have been, she can put up a decent fight when I try to give her the pills.

Now the obvious answer is it's because of the pain killing steroids, but this isn't a change from before I brought her to the vet. Sure she's more tired more than before but I don't feel she's suffering a fate worse than death.

Would it be obvious if she was in pain or suffering that much, or could I be misinterpreting it altogether?

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Honestly, with cats it can be pretty hard to tell if they are in pain. It sounds to me like your cat is in pain. Here is a list of some (but by no means all) signs your cat is in pain:

  • Cats don't typically groan or meow from ambient pain.
  • Eating less than normal.
  • Sleeping more than normal.
  • Not interested in things that normally interest it, like play.
  • Does not behave normally.
  • Moving around looks more difficult. They'll refrain from jumping, take stairs slowly, and so forth.
  • Not to say they are incapable of moving quickly, as they may also be quick to swipe at you if some particular area is tender, and they don't want you touching it.

The fact that your cat was showing symptoms at all such that you noticed and brought it to the vet is pretty much a sign that your cat is probably already in pain.

With the caveat that I'm not a vet, I believe vets advise to euthanize as soon as cancer is discovered for two reasons:

  1. It's usually only discovered once the animal has visible symptoms, but animals, especially cats, usually only have visible symptoms once the cancer is so advanced they can no longer hide their illness.
  2. Cancer tends to progress faster in pets than in humans. It can be very sudden that the animal goes from being in pain to obviously really badly suffering.
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    This is a good answer but i want to add this,a cat in pain will often hide more(this is covered in the answer) a cat in pain might also react by beeing more affectionate and start to purr more than normal,it is very hard to see if a cat is in pain they will try to hide it as good as they can so you will have to look for changes in their behaviour. – trond hansen Jun 15 at 4:09
  • Agreed. The ancestors of our pets were feral hunters (wild cats and wolves) who had to hide any injury, illness or other ailment as much as possible to survive. This trait is still effective in domesticated pets and makes it hard to diagnose pain. Any visible symptom at all is a very strong indication that your pet is suffering from more than mild pain already. – Elmy Jun 15 at 7:37
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I am so sorry you and your cat are in this difficult time. I know how heart-wrenching it can be. As you know it is difficult to tell when cats are in pain let alone how much pain.

If the bigger question you are asking is “how do i know when my friend’s suffering is so great it should be ended” I use the following as a guide:

1) Can you see that their illness has progressed to the point they have to be in a lot of pain?

2) Is it a real struggle for them to move around, get to the litter box or food?

3) Are they having a lot of difficulty cleaning themselves or are soiling themselves / their bedding?

4) Have they lost all interest in play or doing the activities they like?

The more these become true, the more the animal’s quality of life is approaching zero and it is time to end their suffering. Another way to think of it is when they reach a point where they would have absolutely no chance of surviving in the outdoors as a wild animal, then it is time. Maybe think what would have to he true for you to want people to let you go?

Some end it a little sooner than what I suggest so the rest of the household doesn’t have suffer as well. Others wait a little longer. People have to decide what is right for them, the animal and thier household.

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