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Cat Bladder Cancer: When to Euthanize (Vet Explained Signs & Advice)

Written by: Dr. Sharon Butzke DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on April 23, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

vet checking bengal cat

Cat Bladder Cancer: When to Euthanize (Vet Explained Signs & Advice)


Dr. Sharon Butzke Photo


Dr. Sharon Butzke

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Having to make the decision to euthanize a beloved companion is one of the hardest parts of being a pet parent. Even if your cat has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, knowing exactly when to say goodbye is tricky. Naturally, we want to keep our fur babies with us for as long as possible, but we also don’t want them to suffer.

If your cat has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, this article offers guidance for monitoring their quality of life, signs that it may be time to consider euthanasia, and links to some pet loss support resources.

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How Long Can Cats Live With Bladder Cancer?

Unfortunately, the prognosis for bladder cancer is not very good in cats. A retrospective study of 118 cats reported the following median* survival times after diagnosis:1

  • Cats who did not receive any treatment: 46 days
  • Cats who received medical treatment only (no bladder surgery): 176 days
  • Cats who received bladder surgery +/- other treatments: 294 days

*All cats in the study: 155 days. Median means the middle point between the lowest and highest number

While these numbers are disheartening, they can be helpful in setting realistic expectations for the timeline of this disease.

Image Credt: PRESSLAB, Shutterstock

A Guiding Principle for Euthanasia

Some people may find it comforting to think about the meaning of the word euthanasia, which is “good death”. Most veterinarians feel that being able to offer the option of euthanasia is a privilege, because it enables them to end a patient’s suffering. Ideally, the goal when planning the timing of euthanasia is to prevent unnecessary suffering.

A lot of the guilt pet parents feel when choosing the timing of euthanasia stems from concern about cutting their pets’ lives short: what if they were euthanized too soon? How much longer might they have lived? This is where the concept of quality over quantity comes in.

Many veterinarians counsel that it is better to euthanize a little early than too late. Feelings of regret most often result from having waited too long to make the decision, and knowing that your pet suffered.

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All Feelings Are Allowed

All of that being said, the timing of euthanasia also has to be right for you and your family. Give yourself permission to feel all the emotions that come up for you and take time to process them, from the time your cat is diagnosed with cancer to the moment you know in your heart that euthanasia is the kindest choice for them.

Grief can show up in many different ways, for example, anger, denial, or depression. Having to choose to say goodbye to a much-loved family member is incredibly difficult, and all of your feelings are valid.

woman hugging a cat
Image Credit: Alek_B, Pixabay

How Will I Know If/When My Cat’s Quality of Life is Declining?

Cats are notoriously good at hiding their discomfort from us, so understandably you may be wondering: how am I supposed to know if my cat has a good quality of life? Fortunately, veterinarians have developed some very practical resources to help make this assessment a bit more objective.

Dr. Alice Villalobos, a hospice veterinarian, created the HHHHHMM quality of life scale, with a simple scoring system. The letters stand for:

  • Hurt
  • Hunger
  • Hydration
  • Hygiene
  • Happiness
  • Mobility
  • More Good Days than Bad

Each item is rated out of ten, with one indicating poor and ten being excellent. As a general guideline, a total of more than 35 points is considered to reflect a reasonable quality of life.

It may be useful to go through this exercise at the time of your cat’s cancer diagnosis, and then repeat it periodically to help you identify changes in their quality of life.

The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center has also created a quality-of-life assessment questionnaire with a scoring system, which you can find here.

How Will I Know When It Is Time to Euthanize My Cat?

Your veterinarian can provide guidance that is more specific to your kitty but, with reference to bladder cancer, general signs of deterioration to watch for may include:

  • Frequent trips to the litter box but only peeing small amounts
  • Straining to urinate (pee)
  • Meowing or crying when using the litter box
  • Dribbling urine
  • Decreased appetite or vomiting
  • Coughing or difficulty breathing (if the cancer has spread to their lungs)

One of the biggest concerns with bladder cancer is that the tumor can block the flow of urine (pee). If your cat is unable to pee, this is an emergency requiring urgent veterinary attention!

Deciding on the exact time to schedule euthanasia can be difficult. It may bring you some comfort to know that cats do not spend time their time thinking about the past or future, and they do not likely have any concept of how long they “should” live. They live in the moment, which is why we should focus on how many good vs. bad moments (and days) they are having.

vet checking up a cat
Image Credit: brodtcast, Shutterstock

Where Can I Find Pet Loss Support?

Your veterinarian may be able to guide you to a local support group, or you might prefer to seek help from a professional pet loss counselor.

The Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Canada offers some excellent written resources, including how to help children navigate their grief, which you can find here.



If your cat has been diagnosed with bladder cancer, your veterinarian will do everything they can to keep them comfortable for as long as possible. They can help you monitor your kitty’s quality of life and guide you through the decision-making process when it is time to consider euthanasia.

Saying goodbye to a beloved pet is never easy, and it can be especially difficult to have to choose the exact timing of that goodbye. Hopefully, however, you may find some peace in knowing that you can make sure your loved one doesn’t suffer.

Featured Image Credit: Zhuravlev Andrey, Shutterstock

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