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Dear Dr. Jorden: How do you know when it's time to let a cat go to "kitty heaven"?

My Siamese is 18 years old. He adopted us around the age of 4 and is neutered.

It is getting harder for him to climb stairs. Going down is easier. He does not wash himself well, and there are many matted areas of fur on his body.

He is losing weight and has been for a while. He seems to eat and drink all the time. He doesn't like being held or even picked up anymore and hisses at almost everyone and everything.

What are some signs I should be looking for? I don't want him to suffer unnecessarily.

Dear Reader: There are a lot of 16-year-old cats but very few that make it to 18 years old. Of course, there are always the exceptions, like two 23-year-olds that both were active and healthy.

At any rate, your cat is getting near the end of his life.

The best place to start is to find out what the issues are concerning his health status.

Most cats in their old age die because their kidneys give out. The kidneys just seem to be made to work for about 16 to 18 years, and then they quit. All the other organs do fine, but that doesn't matter if the kidneys fail.

Eating all the time and drinking a lot but still losing weight are both symptoms of kidney failure or diabetes.

I would suggest that you first have your veterinarian do some blood work to determine what condition the major organs of the body are in. This requires only a small blood sample to be taken and tells us a lot. This knowledge will help you make your decision.

Old kidneys can sometimes be nursed along merely with a diet change and occasional fluid therapy.

I have had cats last for years by having fluids administered under their skin on a regular basis. Many owners learn to do this at home, so the cost is very minimal.

When kidneys fail, they often quit retaining water as they should. The body gets weak from dehydration, and nothing works very well. Replacing the fluids before dehydration gets bad makes a big difference.

Your cat's attitude is mostly because he doesn't have energy and doesn't feel good.

Your first goal should be to see if you can change all of that and see how he does. If there are major problems that show up in his blood work or, if the care he will need is way out of your ability to afford, then euthanasia is more of a possibility.

Everyone has a different feeling for when euthanasia is right or wrong. Ultimately, the decision is entirely yours.

I always refused to euthanize an animal if the reason for doing so wasn't valid.

I would just encourage you to pursue finding out if there are some solutions that might help your aging, longtime friend to be more comfortable so he can enjoy the last months or years of his life. If that doesn't seem possible or if he has major issues that can't be helped, then relieving his suffering is a must.

Euthanasia has never been easy for me in all my years as a veterinarian, even when there was a good reason for it.

As you decide, you should realize a deep reverence for life in your heart and only make the decision with the best interest of your cat in mind.

Have questions about pets? Write to: PetVet; c/o The Billings Gazette; P.O. Box 36300; Billings, MT 59107-6300. Questions of general interest may become topics of future columns.

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