When a cat isn’t feeling well or is ill, instinctively she lies low. This is to avoid bringing attention to her infirmity because in the wild, to alert a predator to weakness makes her vulnerable.
All of which creates a dilemma for the responsible cat guardian. How do you tell if your cat is under the weather or just doing what cat’s do. . . sleeping?
The short answer is to trust your instincts. If you feel that your cat isn’t well – because of subtle changes in her behaviour or any physical changes – then she probably isn’t, and you should seek veterinary advice.
When to Visit the Vet
Here are 10 signs to look for when trying to determine whether your cat needs to visit the vet.
1. Change in Activity Level
Both lack of energy and an excess of energy are signs something’s wrong. From the cat that fails to greet you anymore, to the senior who becomes kittenish again; these are clues to a problem.
Whilst a lethargic cat may lie low to hide illness, the hyper-cat may have overactive thyroid glands pushing out an excess of thyroid hormone. A vet visit to confirm what’s going on and seek treatment is essential.
2. Drinking More
Cat ancestors were desert dwelling creatures with little access to water. Their legacy to our modern day felines are kidneys that are super-efficient at recycling water. For example, a cat on a canned diet (where the food can be 80% water) barely needs to drink at all.
This means that if you notice your cat drinking more, then something isn’t right. Increased thirst is an important sign not to be missed, giving clues to a range of problems including diabetes or kidney disease.
If you’re not sure if your cat is thirsty, think about their recent litter tray habits. Large puddles and getting through a bag of cat litter more quickly are a giveaway your cat is drinking (and therefore peeing) more.
3. Altered Appetite
Just like Goldilocks and the three bears, your cat’s appetite should be ‘just right’: Not too much, not too little, but just right.
Changes in appetite are another take-notice-of signal. The problem could be something as simple as your cat protesting about a new food which isn’t quite to her liking. But it could also be a sign of an illness which is making your cat feel nauseous or a fever which suppresses appetite.
Then there’s hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid glands). Thyroid hormone drives the metabolism fast and hard, meaning a cat burns through calories which then need to be replaced. This shows itself as a cat that constantly meows and demands food but never puts on weight. Unfortunately, hyperthyroidism strains the heart and kidneys, so controlling this condition is important.
4. Weight Loss or Gain
With regards to weight, again, consistency is key. If your cat’s waistline is shrinking or expanding for no obvious reason, then seek your vet’s advice. Weight loss is usually the result of appetite loss or tummy upsets, which may need medication or natural supplementation to resolve. Whilst weight gain could be the result of pregnancy, it can also indicate heart disease or even cancer.
5. Litter Box Habits
When your cat doesn’t quite seem like herself, it’s often a good idea to play detective by seeking vital clues that are left in the litter box. Litter box deposits may show signs of diarrhoea or constipation, or blood in urine, and these are nuggets of gold when it comes to uncovering a health problem.
Likewise be vigilant and watch how your cat behaves in the litter box. A cat that is straining to pass urine (especially if male) needs to see a vet urgently.
6. Lumps and Bumps
Brushing your cat regularly is important for many reasons, not least of which is it helps you to spot any new lumps and bumps. If a lump is tender, growing in size or looks angry then don’t hesitate to seek advice. From an abscess to cancer, bumps need to be taken care of.
For existing lumps, it’s a great idea to monitor their size, shape, and consistency. If anything changes, especially if it’s a rapid change, then it’s always better to be safe than sorry and get a vet check.
7. A Bad Smell or Discharge
Does your cat smell bad, really bad? An unpleasant odour is often a sign of infection. Common seats of infection are ears and the mouth, with dental disease being a common source of problems.
Don’t put on a brave face and ignore the smell, but try to track its source and if there’s a discharge, tenderness, or inflammation then a vet trip is essential.
8. Lameness and Limping
Limping is a clue that your cat is in pain. In younger cats, bite wounds are often the cause, whilst in older cats arthritis is surprisingly common. If your cat has been limping for a while, then watch and observe to see if she can still get up onto her favourite sleeping spot or whether her habits have changed.
Many cats with long term joint discomfort simply change their habits, rather than draw attention to the pain, so be alert for this and speak to your vet about appropriate pain relief.
9. An Unkempt Coat
Cats are fastidiously clean creatures and constantly grooming, so when their coat condition slides it is a significant sign. A dull, knotted coat should not be ignored and should prompt you that perhaps something is wrong.
A cat that suddenly stops taking pride in her appearance could have arthritis in her spine which makes it difficult to twist and turn, or be suffering from toothache which makes it hurt when she grooms.
10. Changes in Behaviour
Last but not least, be alert to any changes in your cat’s normal behaviour regardless of how subtle these might seem. You could be dealing with a behavioural problem e.g. as a result of being bullied by another cat, or a more serious medical problem which needs to be explored.
Cats are creatures of habit, so if your cat starts acting differently, there is a reason why. If you can’t work out why, then see someone who can. . . make an appointment to visit your vet.
The ten signs we’ve listed are by no means a comprehensive list of when you should visit the vet, but are intended as a helpful basic guide.
The first rule still applies; if you are worried about your cat for whatever reason (even if it seems like something small to you), then at the very least pick up the phone to your vet clinic and discuss your concerns.