HEALTH & CARE

How to Tell If Your Cat is Sick: Quickly Decide If You Should Take Her to the Vet

cat lying sick with termometer
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

Cats can be quite chatty. They meow when seeking attention, they reply to you when you talk to them, and they chatter when they are excited. Unfortunately, cats can’t tell you when they are sick. In fact, they tend to withdraw into themselves. Cats are masters at hiding their own discomforts. To see through their tough front, you’ll need to learn exactly how to tell if your cat is sick.

Sickness is a part of life, and your cat will fall ill at one point or another. The good thing is that most illnesses have visible symptoms that will help you identify the state of your cat’s well-being, as long as you know what you’re looking for. Your cat’s life may depend on your ability to be able to tell when he or she is sick.

sick cat in red scarf

We have enumerated some important qualities that you should have to be able to deduce your cat’s current condition correctly. This article will show you three methods that you can use to figure out when your cat is sick. Some of the steps under each method are preventive while others are reactionary. We will also explain some tips that you can use to keep your cat comfortable while ill and awaiting medical attention.

3 Ways to Tell If Your Cat is Sick

We are all wired differently on how we see things, especially subtle things, and there’s no better way to describe a sick cat, considering they are masters at disguising their own pain. To make sure you’ll be able to see through your cat’s tough front no matter the situation, we’ve provided different methods on how to tell if your cat is sick. These methods can be used in isolation or as a combination.

Method #1: Changes in Physical Appearance and Behavior

cat sleeping a lot

 

This is the first step. Do you know your cat? You should be familiar with your cat’s habits, personality, activities, likes, and dislikes. If you notice changes in her physical appearance or behavior, know that those are commonly the first and most telltale signs of a sick cat. They include the following:

  • Sleeping Habits: When the pattern of sleep of your favorite fuzzy friend changes, there may be some medical issues underlying the change. Changes in sleeping patterns are usually the first signs of a sick cat, considering they sleep for around 18 hours per day. A cat who sleeps a lot less or more than usual should be taken to see the veterinarian whether there are other symptoms manifesting or not.
  • Toilet Habits: Cats are creatures of habit. If your cat begins to use her litter box more often than she usually does, that could be a bad sign. Diarrhea is easily noticeable. On the other hand, if you notice that her litter is still fresh and unused after a few days, she may be suffering from constipation or some sort of blockage. Another giveaway is if she begins to urinate or poop outside of the litter box. This one is tricky; she may be doing that because the litter box is not cleaned properly. If you have done your cleaning well, but she is eliminating waste outside of the litter box, then have her checked out. Cats can be prone to urinary tract problems.
  • Appetite: Overeating and under eating—neither one is acceptable. Overeating may be caused by an underlying medical condition. It could be a thyroid problem. Undereating could be because your cat is in pain or because of other diseases. When your cat starts doing any of these, you should be concerned. The rule of thumb is if your cat has not ingested any food in 24 hours, take her to the veterinarian fast. It is suggested that you weigh your cat weekly so you will be aware of any sudden weight loss.
  • Dehydration: If your cat suddenly becomes lethargic, it could be a sign of dehydration. You can check by grasping her at the ruff of the neck. Lift her skin with your fingers; the skin should fall back in place, but if it does not, then she is dehydrated. It could be any disease; please see a veterinarian. The same goes for drinking too much water. Excessive thirst is associated with kidney disease, diabetes, or an infection.
  • Coat: Most cats have shiny, smooth coats. When their coat becomes dull or matted, something is wrong. Cats take time to groom themselves except when they lack the energy to do so because they are sick. In some cases, it could be overgrooming that results in bald patches on the coat. It could be anxiety, or a flea attack, or some sort of infection. Either way, you should take your cat to the vet as soon as possible.
  • Temperament: If a chatty cat suddenly becomes quiet and reserved or, on the reverse, a quiet cat becomes more vocal, it could mean that the cat is dealing with pain or trying to get your attention to ask for help. Get her to the veterinarian for a checkup. If your normally bold and friendly cat suddenly disappears and goes into hiding or you find your cat sitting still for long periods and especially in a hunched position, there may be an underlying condition. Your feline may try to cover her pain by becoming aggressive and sensitive, uninterested in anything, and she just wants to be left alone. Some things may be going on with her health. Do not hesitate to talk to the veterinarian about it.

If you just got yourself a cat, it may be impossible to tell if something’s wrong with her. You need to spend some time together and get to know your feline friend better. How fast you can get familiar with the cat depends on several factors:

  • The Playtime: You’ll need to spend some quality time together—the more often you can do that, the better.
  • Your Keen Observation: You have to be observant when you have a cat. Observe how they sound when happy, recognize their cry for help, what their litter box looks like every morning, the way she walks, and so on.
  • Reading Your Cat’s Body Language Right: Cats talk but not the way humans do. They talk with their body—mostly with their tail movement and expressions. They can communicate with meows too, and every cat’s meow is distinct.

Method #2: Searching for Symptoms

examining cat's eyes

This second method is usually employed after you’ve concluded that something is not right with your feline friend using the first method. The telltale signs are obvious, but you want to be sure of what you have suspected all along: that your cat is sick. You may also want to do this before visiting the clinic so that you’ll have something to report to the vet to help them diagnose your cat’s condition quickly. Below are some symptoms to check for:

  • Look for Abnormalities While Grooming: Abnormalities like lesions, tumors, or lumps should come to light if you pay attention while grooming your cat. If what you find is discharging pus, is painful, or smelly, then it could be a sign of something serious. Have the vet look at it.
  • Check for Bad Breath and Breathing Difficulties: Your cat should have a normal breath—not sweet and minty but definitely not foul and stinky. If it is the latter, it could be a sign of infection or the beginning of periodontal disease. If you have been brushing your cat’s teeth weekly at least and this problem of bad breath is persisting, then get your cat a dental appointment. Respiratory problems where your cat is breathing through her mouth or using a lot of effort just to breath and her stomach muscles are heaving in the process should be taken seriously. Labored breathing is not a good sign.
  • Gauge Her Activity Level: If your older cat who is laid back and taking it slow because of her age suddenly becomes active, you should have her checked out by the vet because it could be a thyroid problem. If it is an energetic young cat who becomes weak and less active, you should check her out as well. It could be a sign of arthritis or other illnesses. Activity levels of cats do not change suddenly without a reason—except if there have been changes in her diet, lifestyle, or environment.
  • Check for Disorientation and Awkward Head Tilts: If you notice your cat walking in a funny way or looking disoriented, she may be dizzy or manifesting signs of neurological disorder. Clumsiness and a one-sided head tilt may be signs of low blood pressure or a brain tumor, particularly in cats who are usually active, lithe, and agile. A trip to the vet is necessary
  • Look Out for Vomiting: Vomiting occasionally to cleanse their system or sometimes because of hairballs is a normal part of a cat’s life. However, when vomiting happens several times in a day, that indicates a health problem. If your cat becomes lethargic and refuses water and food, you should rush her to the clinic. If you notice blood in the vomit, it is definitely a serious health problem, and your cat should be given immediate medical attention.
  • Check Their Litter Box: Diarrhea cannot be hidden. The poop is liquid and runny, unlike the normal sausage-like shape that your cat expels. If your cat is experiencing diarrhea, the consistency of the poop and the frequency of elimination are the giveaway signs. You should wait 24 hours to see if it will correct itself or not. It may simply be an upset stomach. Serious diarrhea should be treated. Rush to the vet if you notice mucus or blood in the poop.
  • Pay Attention to the Eyes: Eyes are the window to the soul. They say a whole lot. If your cat’s eyes are red or droopy with a lot of discharge around the corners, that could be a sign of infection or an allergic reaction. If her nose is also dripping, then it could be a sinus infection. If there are other symptoms such as lethargy, excessive urination, or excessive thirst, and a dull coat, it could possibly be kidney failure. If your cat’s eyes stay in a dilated state for a long time, take her to the veterinarian.

Method #3: Specific Illness Manifestations

You should familiarize yourself with the symptoms of illnesses and diseases that are common in cats, so you will be able to react quickly if you happen to notice any. Below are some common diseases and the symptoms they present:

Common Feline Illness #1: Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

cat peeing in litter box

It is a group of diseases that have multiple causes. It can affect both male and female cats. It usually affects cats who are stressed, overweight, or those who eat dry foods. FLUTD symptoms include:

  • Bloody urine
  • Urinating accidents
  • Crying while passing out urine
  • Straining to urinate—taking a long time in the litter box
  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Excessive licking of genitals
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feline diabetes

This disease can affect cats of any age, although it is more common in older and obese cats. Quickly take your cat to the vet to have a blood and urine test done. You shouldn’t delay treatment if you suspect FLUTD because it is very painful and your cat’s condition can deteriorate quickly.

Common Feline Illness #2: Tapeworms

They live inside the cat’s small intestine and can grow up to 2 feet long. The tapeworms break apart when expelled because they are segmented. The symptoms may not be noticeable, but if you examine the feces of your cat, as well as her anus and beddings, you should see things that look like little grains of rice or sesame; those are the worms.

Symptoms include weight loss and vomiting. This problem usually results from swallowing a flea. It is advisable to treat your cat for the fleas before administering tapeworm medications.

Common Feline Illness #3: Skin Problems

cat itching and scratching

Excessive scratching, frequent licking, hair loss, irritated skin, infections, and flea dirt on the skin are visible symptoms of a skin problem. Skin problems can be caused by fleas, ticks, or fungal infections. Especially when it’s fleas or ticks, if it is not treated, it can cause your cat to suffer from anemia.

There are oral, powder, foam, and topical medication that can be used to treat these problems. You can consult the vet to decide on a treatment method that will suit your cat.

Quick Tips to Care for a Sick Cat

holding cat gently

When you notice any of the symptoms listed in this article using any or all of the methods stated above, the best course of action is to go to the clinic or at least phone the veterinarian and get professional advice on what to do. If, for some reason, you cannot reach your veterinarian, here we have some general tips that may help your cat and ease her pain:

  • Keep calm and access the situation before taking any action
  • Approach your cat slowly and gently, because cats in pain may sometimes become aggressive
  • Don’t give any human medicine to a cat
  • If your cat is having breathing difficulties, handle her very carefully and gently. Keep her warm and keep talking to her in a soothing voice

Wrap Up

doctor examining cat

In conclusion, you are responsible for your cat’s overall well-being. You will agree that it is very vital to be able to know when your furry companion is sick so that you can give her necessary care at such periods.

If you think something is wrong with your cat, you are probably right. The intuition of a parent is usually correct. So take your cat to the vet immediately. Better be safe than sorry. Ensure you maintain good hygiene and feed your cat quality food and fresh water. We also recommend keeping her as an indoors-only cat to minimize her exposure to common diseases.

What made you suspect your cat is sick? Has your cat suddenly shown signs of illnesses before? How did you handle it? If we missed any crucial information, please share your personal tips and tricks in the section below. Your information could end up saving a life.

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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