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My elderly mother has an elderly cat (technically mine) who is not so steady on her paws these days. She can get about, but walks with duck feet at the front and very stiff back legs - doesn't look right at all. She has other health problems too. Friends of my mother's think she ought to be put to sleep (the cat, that is) and I've been asked what I think. I really can't figure out whether she's in pain. She seems totally unfazed by her non-functioning paws and just as contented as ever, but the internet says they tend to hide their pain. It says you have to look at their behaviour and that if a cat is in pain, it may sleep more (she does sleep a lot, but then she's 18), groom less (she does, but then those hard to reach areas are now impossible to reach), engage with people less (no change there) and be more irritable (if anything, she's less irritable). Her behaviour has definitely changed over the years, but I think she's basically behaving like an old cat and it's not necessarily a sign of pain. Still, I look at the way she walks and think that's got to hurt.

I don't want to put her down if she's still enjoying life, but then I don't want to veto it if she's actually in pain and just not showing it.

What would you guys out there do?

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    Take the cat to a vet. Something clearly isn't right, but only an expert can determine what exactly is wrong and what actions could possibly be taken. – Kai Jun 16 at 0:11
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Please do not be afraid of taking your cat to the vet; not a single vet I know of wants to put an animal down if it can be avoided.

Your cat's pain can be treated by daily pain medication and it will help your cat live a better life, so take your cat to the vet to get the pain and other age related problems treated.

NEVER EVER GIVE YOUR CAT (or other pet) PAIN MEDICATION FOR PEOPLE! It will kill your cat, as most types are highly hepatotoxic (liver damaging) to cats and dogs.

It is safe to assume that all cats will develop pain in the joints and lower back when they get old, but this can be treated with medication or manual therapy.

Take your cat to the vet once a year when it is young and twice a year when the cat is 10+ years; this is to find and treat problems before they get serious.

And remember the vet wants to help your pet. He/She does not want to put your cat down. A good vet will give you advice about what is best for your pet.

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As you point out, cats are incredibly "stoic" and will hide pain behavior. If your cat is visibly in pain that is often an indication that they are in significant pain.

In other words, by the time you are noticing changes in behavior it may already be severe. You should go to the veterinarian as soon as you can.

Based on your description, it may be geriatric degeneration not any different from humans. And since their life span is compressed it may be perceived as quick. But only a vet can tell your for sure.

If there is no specific issue or medical problem, it may simply mean elderly cat support including making changes to the environment (like adding stepping stools and other supports), dietary changes, and cat appropriate pain medication which may allow you to spend a lot more time with a happy animal.

Eventually you may be making the call if a major medical issue is discovered, when the pain cannot be abated, or if the treatments are out of reach or too expensive, but that isn't necessarily now.

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