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7 Subtle Signs Your Cat is Sick

Posted: 05/23/2023 | BY: Erin Cain | Categories: Cat , Health problems , Pet care

Most cat owners are very in tune with their cats. We know when they’re happy, when they’re playful, and when they’re just lazy. But sometimes, even the most attentive cat owners can miss signs that their kitty is sick. This blog post will discuss seven subtle signs that your cat is sick and the steps you can take to get her back to her happy self.

Why do cats hide their illnesses?

Cats are experts at hiding their illnesses. Their wild ancestors instinctually hid this weakness to protect themselves from predators. As a result, cats often won’t show any signs of pain or sickness in an attempt to avoid being viewed as weak by an animal that may harm them.

In the early stages of illness, only a cat’s owner often notices that he is quieter than usual and may be more withdrawn. Unfortunately, these behavioral changes mean your cat may feel unwell long before you realize it. Here are seven easily missed yet commonly subtle signs that your cat is sick.

Signs Your Cat is Sick

1. Changes in social interaction and energy levels

Cats are typically social creatures, especially with their owners and family. However, changes in that social behavior are the first signs that something might be wrong with your kitty’s health. Some cats become more attached and needy when they feel sick, while others get grumpy and isolate themselves. Sometimes behavioral changes stem from an illness which has caused your cat to become depressed.

If you notice your cat is sleeping more than usual or playing less, it could be a sign of illness. These changes in behavior can happen due to low energy levels and a reduced appetite for food, making them feel sicker over time. If your cat has difficulty moving around or jumping up on furniture, he might need to see the vet for an arthritis diagnosis. If a cat can no longer use his back legs, immediately take him to the veterinary emergency clinic.

2. Inappropriate urination and elimination

Knowing how to care for your cat’s litter box cannot be understated. Inappropriate urination and defecation are often symptoms that an underlying medical condition may exist, as these problems will not happen “just because.” No cat avoids using a litter box out of malice or spite; instead, it’s their way of showing you that they don’t feel well.

Taking your cat in to see the vet if they are urinating outside of their box is essential. This could indicate that something is wrong with them, such as a urinary tract infection, lower urinary tract disease, or diabetes mellitus. It can also be a sign of arthritis, a joint disease that makes getting into and out of litter boxes difficult for cats.

Suppose you see your cat struggling to urinate in the litter box with little or no results. In that case, there is a high possibility that the cat has an obstruction or blockage of the urinary tract. This issue can be treated but must receive immediate veterinary care. Otherwise, fatal complications will develop.

3. Changes in grooming behavior

Cats groom themselves primarily to keep their skin healthy and protected. If they don’t, the hair will become dull, messy, or have a greasy or matted appearance. These changes in grooming behavior can signal problems such as skin disease, parasites, allergies, or mange. Cats who no longer groom themselves well can develop clumps of loose hair or mats of fur. Look for lack of shine in the coat and any signs of excess dandruff.

Some cats who are unwell over groom to alleviate pain and anxiety due to parasitic infections (mites and ringworm), intestinal parasites, bladder infections or arthritis, or stress. Cats who excessively groom often lick in one area of the body, leading to hair loss, bald spots, sores, rashes, and hot spots.

4. Bad breath and drooling

The average adult cat has nearly 80% of their teeth covered with plaque by the time they are three years old. Unfortunately, dental disease is a silent disease, progressing quietly and causing severe damage, such as infections, tooth decay, and gum disease, throughout a cat’s life.

Early signs of dental disease in cats are mild bad breath and excessive drooling. These symptoms result from tooth decay or an oral infection that has gone untreated for too long. Both conditions require immediate veterinary care, especially if the foul odor from your cat’s mouth is noticeable and severe. Bacteria from decay and infection will spread throughout the body, leading to health problems with the heart and other organs.

Prevent poor dental health and periodontal disease in your cat by taking him to the veterinarian to have the cat’s teeth checked. The vet can recommend treatment for early signs of dental disease before it develops into a full-blown infection.

5. Unexplained weight loss or gain

Weight change isn’t always related to appetite. A cat with hyperthyroidism or diabetes mellitus can lose weight despite good appetites. Many other diseases cause an increase in the desire for food and rejection, too.

Weight loss in cats can be an indication of cancer or thyroid disease; some other conditions, like pyometra, might cause belly bloating and weight gain. Long-term weight gain leads to obesity, which causes cats to develop tumors and arthritis, as well as a shorter lifespan.

Any unexplained weight loss or gain is a serious problem. The difference between a healthy weight and an unhealthy one can be the difference between life and death for a cat. If you’re unsure what your cat weighs, take him to the vet for an annual examination, so his weight is on record.

6. Decreased or increased food consumption and increased thirst

Watch to see if your cat is suddenly eating more or less food or if he is chewing differently than usual (which may indicate a dental problem). Increased cat food consumption could mean a cat has diabetes mellitus or hyperthyroidism, both diseases which require medical attention. Decreased food intake may indicate cancer or kidney disease.

If you have more than one cat, and they eat from the same food dish, set up a separate feeding station for the cat you suspect is ill. Otherwise, it won’t be easy to see whether he is eating normally.

Water consumption changes may not be as easy to notice in a cat that spends time outdoors or drinks from toilets and sinks. Increased thirst and urination can signify that your cat is sick, possibly with a thyroid, diabetes, liver, or kidney function issue.

7. Changes in sleeping habits

When cats sleep for overly long periods, it can indicate that they’re not feeling well. On the other hand, if your cat is constantly up at night, roaming around and loudly vocalizing, that may be a sign your cat is sick.

Knowing your cat’s sleeping patterns is key to understanding if he is displaying signs or symptoms of reduced activity or hyperactivity. An average adult feline may spend 16 to 18 hours per day asleep, but he will spend much of that time in normal napping rather than deep slumber.

Your cat should be able to respond quickly from napping when his name is called, or he hears the sound of food being prepared. If your feline is sleeping more than usual, or has discomfort regularly getting up and down from a lying position, he may be sicker than you realize.

Protect your cat with pet insurance coverage.

Cats can’t tell cat parents when they are unwell or in pain, and because they rarely show their discomfort, owners tend to think their cat is fine. Unfortunately, because they are experts at hiding illness, cats may not see a veterinarian in time to treat a medical condition or disease. If you see any of these subtle signs your cat is sick, make an appointment for him with your vet right away.

Aside from taking your cat to an annual veterinary examination, you can purchase a pet insurance plan to help with veterinary care and costs. Get a free pet insurance quote through Pet Insurance Review, and find out how you can give your cat a healthy future.


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The information contained on this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet's health care or treatment plan.

The authors of this blog are not veterinarians and do not claim to be experts in pet health. The information provided here is based on our own experiences and research, as well as information from reputable sources. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information.

We encourage you to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before making any decisions about your pet's health.

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