Cats are notorious for hiding signs of illness. Though your feline friend probably spends most of their time curled up on the sofa rather than prowling the jungle, domesticated cats have retained many of their wild ancestors’ mannerisms. In nature, sick cats are easy targets for larger predators. It only makes sense that they would want to hide signs of illness and perceived weakness.
Unfortunately, this means that pet owners often do not realize that something is wrong until a problem has become serious. As veterinarians, we frequently see feline patients suffering from late-stage disease and have to deliver heartbreaking news to their owners.
You do not have to be a vet to recognize when something is not quite right with your pet, though. By learning to recognize the signs of sickness in cats, you will be better equipped to detect problems with your companion. And when you detect signs of trouble early, we can begin treatment much sooner and – often – offer a better prognosis. We’ve rounded up seven signs your cat may be sick that you should watch for at home, and shared them below.
1. Changes in Appearance
If your cat is not feeling well, they may not look quite right. They may sit in a more hunched position or move with less grace than usual. Tilting the head or carrying the tail differently could indicate that something is wrong, too.
Cats who feel unwell often do not groom themselves as well as usual.
Some of the signs that your cat isn't grooming themselves as well as they usually do are as follows:
- A greasy, unkempt coat
- Increased matting
- Clumps of loose fur
- The coat may appear less shiny
- An increase in dandruff
In many instances, there is not just one change that stands out. Rather, there are several subtle changes. Keep a close eye on your cat, and consult with their veterinarian if you begin noticing changes in their appearance.
2. Increased Vocalization
When a cat who is normally as quiet as a church mouse turns into a chatterbox, they could be trying to tell you that something is wrong. It is especially concerning if the behavior lasts for more than 24 to 36 hours.
Increased vocalization can signify many things. It could mean that your cat is in pain, has an upset stomach, or is even suffering from a neurological problem. While it could also have a relatively harmless meaning, like their food bowl is empty or their favorite toy has gone missing, a cat who meows more frequently than usual for more than 24 to 36 hours could have a serious underlying health problem.
3. Decreased Socialization
Cats are stoic creatures that hide discomfort and pain with remarkable grace. If your normally friendly feline suddenly wants nothing to do with you, though, it could be a sign that something is amiss. Cats commonly hide or avoid socialization when they are not feeling well, so it is a change in behavior that should not be ignored.
4. Excessive Thirst
In many households, getting cats to drink enough water is challenging. They typically are not drawn to water and are unlikely to lap it up with the same gusto as their canine counterparts. If you notice that your cat’s water bowl is being emptied faster than usual or your feline friend is seeking water from unusual sources – like the toilet or faucet – it could be a serious problem.
Endocrine disorders like diabetes and hyperthyroid disease cause excessive thirst and are common, especially in older cats. The good news, though, is that such disorders are highly treatable when detected early. If your cat is drinking like a fish, schedule an appointment with your vet.
5. Refusal to Eat
Refusing to eat is never a good sign for pets. If your cat is turning up their nose at their favorite food or – gasp – treats, do not ignore it. While an occasional upset tummy is normal, avoiding much-loved foods and snacks for more than 24 hours is a serious cause for concern. If your cat will not eat, it could be due to a damaged tooth or oral infection. It could also be a sign of cancer or a wide range of other serious health problems. From respiratory disease to foreign body ingestion, there could be many reasons why your cat is not eating. It’s best to err on the side of caution and make an appointment to see your veterinarian.
6. Frequent Vomiting
It is not terribly uncommon for cats to vomit up the occasional hairball or throw up immediately after eating. If they are vomiting frequently – especially for two or more days – it could be a sign of serious problems, though. Keep in mind, too, that vomiting that persists for more than two days could lead to dehydration.
If your cat vomits, pay attention to what it looks like and how frequently it happens. If it has an unusual appearance, contains blood, or happens repeatedly, a visit to a veterinarian is in order.
Frequent or unusual vomiting could indicate:
- Liver disease
- Intestinal blockage
And when left untreated, all these issues can lead to serious complications.
7. Weight Loss
While dropping a few pounds generally is not a big deal for humans, it can be a serious problem for a cat who only weighs around 10 pounds in the first place. If you notice that your cat is losing weight, have them screened for dental health problems, internal disease, and other issues that could be causing the problem. Monitor their food and water intake and litter box usage, too.
As a pet parent, you know your cat better than anyone else. If you notice behavioral or appearance changes or just get the feeling that something isn’t quite right, it is always best to go with your gut and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Even the most subtle sign of illness in cats can indicate a serious problem, so there is no such thing as being too cautious.