Is My Cat Sick?

Recognize these signs that it's time for your cat to see a veterinarian.

By Marty Becker, DVM, and Janice Willard, DVM

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Standing Maine Coon Cat -- Is My Cat Sick?
Watch for these five signs to tell if your cat is sick.
Cats are both predators and prey by nature, and signs of illness make them a target for predators. This leads many sick cats to become quiet and withdrawn, and makes it hard to tell when your cat is sick.

If your cat has been healthy, look for changes in:

  • activity 
  • appetite
  • weight
  • behavior
  • frequency of litterbox use
  • stool consistency
  • urinary output
  • time sleeping
  • interactions with you
  • coat
  • breathing rate
  • mobility
  • the sound of his voice
  • the sound of his breathing
  • the way he smells

If you suspect that your cat is sick, ask yourself: What am I noticing now that I didn't notice before?

5 Signs Your Cat Is Sick

1. Food and Water Intake
A sick cat might eat less or eat more, or drink more water. Don't assume that a hearty appetite means that the cat is fine. Hyperthyroidism and diabetes are often accompanied by symptoms of excessive appetite.

2. Bodily Fluids 
Look for changes in the litterbox. Have your cat's bowel movements changed in consistency? Is there diarrhea or constipation? Has the cat started urinating more?

Other discharges are also not normal. Does the cat have a runny nosegoopy eyes or gunk in his ears? Is he salivating excessively or is there blood in the urine? Have you noticed any odd odors?

Is your cat's hair falling out or does he have flaking skin? Is there swelling or pus draining from a wound?

3. Movement and Activity 
What has changed about your cat's movement? Has his activity rate decreased or increased? Is he reluctant to jump onto things that used to be easy or has he altered how he jumps? Is he shaking his head or scratching his ears a lot?

4. Overall Appearance
Sometimes there isn't any one thing, but the whole picture that looks off to you. Your cat might be sitting hunched up. There might be an expression of pain on his face. His coat might have lost its luster and pliability.

5. Sudden Changes 
In general, any abrupt or severe change is cause for immediate concern. For example, a cat that suddenly becomes unable to use his hind legs needs to see his veterinarian right away.

Recognize an Emergency
Once you decide to seek veterinary care, you might have to choose between seeing an unknown emergency veterinarian after hours or waiting until your cat's regular veterinarian is back on duty.

Here are some signs that always warrant immediate care.

  • Any trouble with breathing, seizures, protracted vomiting, paralysis, hemorrhage, or straining to urinate may represent life-threatening emergencies, says Julie Levy, DVM, assistant professor at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • More subtle signs include jaundice (yellow tint to the gums, eyes, and skin), pale gums indicating anemia or shock, [and] abnormally high or low body temperature, Levy says. Delaying treatment for these disorders, if even for a few hours, can make the difference between recovery and death.

Trust Your Instincts
There is much to be said for an attentive owner's instincts. Sometimes you can't identify what is wrong, but an alarm bell goes off inside you. This is also a good time to see a veterinarian, who is trained to put the medical puzzle together.

No one knows your cat better than you do. You are the best judge of your cat's attitude, activity and behavior, says Alice M. Wolf, DVM, professor at Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine in College Station, Texas. Because signs of illness can be very subtle, if your cat does not seem right to you, then it is best to err on the side of caution and to make an appointment to take him or her in for a veterinary examination as soon as possible.

Even though our cats can't talk to us, they have many ways of telling us when something is wrong and they need our help. We just need to give them our full attention using sense and all our senses.

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Is My Cat Sick?

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Reader Comments

Tiffany    Sachse, TX

4/20/2014 1:32:53 AM

Can cats snore? I can't tell if mine is wheezing or just snoring. His attitude
Has been a little off, territorial and just all around acting slightly different. If it had all started happening months ago, I would chalk it up to our new cat, but she's been with us for 4 months. Puss (in boots), the one acting weird has always laid by me but now she's nuzzles way in to my arms like a baby. Thanks in advance for any advise. Also, I was told that indoor cats do not need rabies shots,etc just yearly check up. Is this true?

Tiffany    Sachse, TX

4/20/2014 1:28:47 AM

Can cats snore? I can't tell if mine is wheezing or just snoring. His attitude
Has been a little off, territorial and just all around acting slightly different. If it had all started happening months ago, I would chalk it up to our new cat, but she's been with us for 4 months. Puss (in boots), the one acting weird has always laid by me but now she's nuzzles way in to my arms like a baby. Thanks in advance for any advise. Also, I was told that indoor cats do not need rabies shots,etc just yearly check up. Is this true?

GracieLove    Reno, NV

1/2/2014 9:13:22 AM

Good to know! Thank you!

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