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How To Tell If Your Cat Is Sick: Signs Your Feline Friend Isn’t Feeling Well
Cats are pretty notorious for hiding signs of sickness. So how can you tell if your cat is sick in the first place? In these cases, it helps to watch out for changes in their behavior.
As a loving cat parent, you might’ve noticed a change in your feline friend’s behavior and wondered: is my cat sick? And if yes, how can I tell? Because if it’s one thing cats are notorious for – it’s hiding that they’re sick in the first place. But by paying attention to subtle changes in their behavior, you’re on your way to helping yours live a long, happier, healthier life.
So if you’re unsure about the signs your cat is sick, we’ve got you covered. In this post, we’re going to detail some of the main changes in behavior you should keep an eye out for. So you can get your cat the love and care they need, exactly when they need it.
Table of contents
- How to tell if my cat is sick? Signs & symptoms
- How do I know if my cat is sick – from changes in their typical behaviors?
- Why do cats hide that they’re sick?
- How activity tracking helps you catch on feline health problems early on
- Give your sick cat the love & care they need – right when they need it
How to tell if my cat is sick? Signs & symptoms
Cats are independent little creatures, aren’t they? So it’s more likely they’ll mask their signs of illness. You might immediately notice more obvious signs of sickness like vomiting or a fever. But being attuned to these changes in your cat’s behaviors can help you pick up on when they’re feeling under the weather.
For example, some signs your cat is sick might include a change in their:
Healthy cats groom themselves to have a neat, shiny coat. They also tend to have good energy levels throughout the day. You might notice a gradual change in your cat’s coat appearance – like if it’s dull, matted, or unkempt.1 In other cases, they might be shedding excessively and/or have bald patches. These signs could indicate nutritional deficiencies, skin allergies, or other underlying health issues.
For example, if your cat is suffering from an allergy that leads to itchy skin, they might groom themselves excessively. Over time, this can actually lead to lesions in their skin and fur loss. This might be due to a number of environmental allergens that cats are sensitive to – including pollen, parasites, and even some food products.
Many times, chronic feline health conditions manifest in slow, gradual ways. So it’s easy to miss out on them. So if you’re noticing a change in your cat’s appearance and posture, make sure to keep an eye out for any other health symptoms as well. For example, sick cats might come across as less alert, tired, hunched over, or generally exhausted. They might not lift their heads up properly or even carry their tails differently.
A change in your cat’s appetite and eating habits is another key sign that something’s wrong.2
- An increase in appetite might be a sign of parasites in your cat’s gut, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or another digestive system disease that makes it difficult for them to absorb food properly.
- On the other hand, a decrease in your cat’s appetite might indicate nausea, fever, digestive problems, or even dental problems.
If you’ve noticed your cat skipping mealtimes for at least a few days in a row, get in touch with your vet immediately. They might be at risk for developing health conditions like hepatic lipidosis (or fatty liver).3
If your cat is experiencing difficulty breathing or their breathing sounds more labored than usual, pay attention. Overweight cats and some breeds (like Persians) are likely to develop sleep apnea, which might turn up as snoring.4
While some noises during sleep aren’t cause for concern, keep an ear out for rapid or raspy breathing. Because left untreated, sleep apnea and other forms of sleep-disordered breathing can lead to hypertension and heart disease down the line – both in humans and cats.5
Your cat’s drinking habits might also change due to medical conditions. For example, if they’re drinking more water than usual, it could firstly be due to the heat or if they’ve had a long, active day. But once you’ve ruled out these factors, a change in your cat’s drinking habits could indicate something’s wrong.
- Certain medical conditions might make cats drink water excessively, including diabetes, urinary tract infections (UTIs), chronic kidney disease, and liver disease.
- On the other hand, if your cat isn’t drinking water, it could indicate cancer or even periodontal disease.
Does your cat’s yawn seem to smell a little…off? Signs like bad breath, drooling, or refusing meals could indicate that your cat’s teeth might not be in the best shape.
Cats are vulnerable to dental problems including gingivitis and periodontal disease. Regular dental care with cat-friendly products helps your cat’s gums and teeth stay healthy.5 Get in touch with your local vet to figure out some medically-approved options.
While cats do sleep long hours, it’s a concerning sign if yours suddenly seems more lethargic than usual. If they seem less limber and active or are even limping or can’t jump or move like normal, these might indicate an injury or other mobility-affecting conditions like arthritis.
On the other hand, your cat might also seem more restless – especially at night. Some health conditions like hyperthyroidism might even increase your cat’s energy levels. So they might meow or pace around anxiously, keeping you and your family awake.
It can be difficult to accurately share your cat’s day to day sleep and activity habits with a vet – especially if you’re relying only on memory. But with the right tools, you can catch any changes in their behavior immediately. Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features help you get a picture of your cat’s overall sleep and activity levels – so you can identify issues early on and give your cat the loving care they need.
Track your cat’s wellbeing
See how they’re doing at a glance with Wellness Score. Know if they’re getting enough exercise. Spot nap patterns. Detect issues early and keep them healthy.
If your cat is shaking their head excessively or constantly scratching at their face and ears, they might be suffering from an ear infection or ear mites. Watch out for discharge or excessive wax from their ears. If you notice any redness, swelling, or unpleasant odor from your cat’s ears, get in touch with your vet immediately.
Your cat’s eyes are especially vulnerable to infection. Which might turn up as droopy eyelids, colored discharge, squinting, or changes in their pupil shape. Similarly, if your cat seems to be experiencing a watery discharge that looks like tears, they might be suffering from environmental allergens or an ocular disease like conjunctivitis.
Sick cats might also trigger their “third” eyelid – it’s located beneath their lowered eyelid and is meant to protect their eyes by covering part of the eyeball.6 Make sure to drop by your vet immediately, as ocular diseases can result in blindness.
Cats’ normal body temperatures tend to fluctuate between 100-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (or 37-39 degrees Celsius).7 Get in touch with your vet immediately if their temperature drops below 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius) or soars above 103.5 degrees Fahrenheit (39.7 degrees Celsius) – and persists for a few days.
Litter box trips
You might have been advised to give your cat a little privacy for their litter box trips – and that’s generally a good idea. But do keep an eye out for changes in how frequently (or not) your cat is visiting their litter box.
- Diarrhea can indicate intestinal parasites and other digestive problems. Left untreated, it can dehydrate your cat.
- If your cat is urinating too or less frequently, peeing outside their litter box, or crying out in pain while urinating, they might be experiencing a urinary tract infection (UTI). We’d recommend being extra mindful if you notice they’re visiting their litter box multiple times but don’t seem to be urinating too much. We cover the signs and symptoms of UTI in cats in greater detail.
In cases like these, make sure to schedule a full check-up at your local vet immediately.
Cats are highly sensitive to pollen, mildew, dust, and even some household cleaning items. If you notice they’re seemingly “crying” tears or experiencing discharge from the nose, it could be a sign of a respiratory infection. They might also cough, wheeze, or sneeze excessively.
If you notice any redness, swelling, or discharge around your cat’s eyes and/or nose, get in touch with your vet immediately. Feline respiratory infections tend to be contagious, especially to other cats.
Any kind of swelling in your cat’s body might be a wound that’s now been infected with bacteria. In other cases, it might include an infection of your cat’s internal organs – like their bladder or kidneys – or even a tumor.8 If this area is hot and painful to touch, get in touch with your vet immediately.
Some amount of vomiting and purging is actually quite normal in cats. (Like when they’re coughing up a hairball.) But if they’re vomiting repeatedly within a short period of time, it could indicate that something is seriously wrong.9 Be mindful of other symptoms like lethargy, changes in appetite, or litter box trips.
If your cat is experiencing unexplained weight loss or weight gain, it could indicate health conditions like thyroid issues or a metabolic disorder.10 Make sure to regularly weigh your cat and get in touch with your vet if you notice any sudden changes.
In general, watch out for sudden changes in your cat’s regular habits and behaviors. Some of these symptoms (like occasional bad breath or a bit of snoring) aren’t necessarily an emergency. But by staying informed and taking a proactive approach, you’ll be better prepared to address your cat’s needs and keep them healthy and happy.
How do I know if my cat is sick – from changes in their typical behaviors?
Since cats have a high tolerance for pain, they usually don’t draw attention to their health issues. But a change in their usual behavior is a key sign. Besides the physical symptoms we’ve covered, watch out for an increase in:
If your cat is meowing excessively, it’s usually because they’re trying to get your attention. In most cases, they might just want some extra cuddles, food, or playtime. But in more serious cases, they might meow or even cry to draw your attention, so that you can help them get the care they need.
So if your cat is now meowing up a storm but you’ve been giving them enough attention, make sure to keep an eye out for medical issues.
In other cases, your cat might even hiss when you approach or try to pet them or touch them. Hissing cats aren’t trying to be aggressive – rather it’s a defensive reaction. In some cases, it can indicate that your cat is experiencing pain or discomfort due to a health condition and needs your help.
So give your cat a little space and approach them again when they’re calmer. Forcing an interaction might make them bite or scratch in defense.
Sick cats might also hide in quiet spaces when they’re experiencing health issues. Along with their tendency to mask their discomfort, this might make it easy for you to miss out on their symptoms.
So be extra mindful if your normally sociable cat isn’t around to greet you once you’re home. They could be soldiering through the pain alone when they could be coming to you instead.
Why do cats hide that they’re sick?
Cats tend to hide their sickness because of their evolutionary instincts.11 For example, cats in the wild tend to hide or react defensively when injured or sick. This is because sick, weak, and old animals make easy targets for other predators.
As a result, cats have evolved to mask any signs of illness, weakness, or pain. So they might be reluctant to approach you for any help at first.
- Cats who are sick generally tend to have lower energy levels. So they might be more likely to hide and try and manage their discomfort by themselves.
- Other cats, who might be more sociable, might grow more clingy and demand your attention instead.
So pay attention to changes in your cat’s behavior – especially as they grow older and more vulnerable to chronic health conditions.
How activity tracking helps you catch on feline health problems early on
It can be difficult pinpointing a change in your cat’s behavior exactly when it begins. Your cat might mask their signs of discomfort and seem healthy overall. But with regular activity tracking, you get a clear picture of dips and spikes in your cat’s level of movement – and whether there’s been a sharp drop. Which can help you intervene, check them up, and get them medical attention right away, if necessary.
One of our Netherlands-based pet parents shared how Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features helped her catch her cat’s illness early on – and how it’s such an indispensable tool for our pet’s health and wellbeing.
With the Tractive GPS, I found out one night that she’d only made one little trip to the park, slept all night – and didn’t really do much during the day. On the second night, she didn’t leave the garden at all. Which struck me as odd, since she’s an outdoor cat and on the move quite often.
So I decided to check her up to see if she was sick – or had something else going on. When I picked her up, the pus oozed over my hand from the abscess bursting!
Without Tractive, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all – I would still see her walk around to drink and feed and think everything is okay. I might only have noticed when I didn’t see her stroll over for a whole day. At which point, she’d probably have been dangerously sick.
We went to the vet a few hours later – she had a serious fever, a big abscess, and was pretty sick already. So we got it in time. A whole week of antibiotics – and now she’s herself again.
Tractive is also very handy for when you need to give your pets their medication. Two evenings ago, my cat was out and about – and all I had to do was check where she was and call her over to give her the antibiotics.
Give your sick cat the love & care they need – right when they need it
It can be heart wrenching watching your feline friend suffer. But recognizing these signs and symptoms can help you understand if your cat is sick or not. In some cases, your attention and care might even save your cat’s life.
By being mindful of your cat’s changes in behavior, appetite, grooming habits, and other indicators, you can prevent any sickness from worsening and take action early on. And with Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features, you now have data on your cat’s sleep and activity levels – so you can take an informed decision.
As a responsible and loving cat parent, you’re now better informed about the signs your cat is sick. So give your feline friend an extra cuddle today as you help them on their journey towards a long, happy, healthy life together.
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