Unfortunately, cats are notorious for trying to hide their illnesses. All too often, pet parents don’t realize that something is wrong with their feline friend’s health until it’s serious. Obviously, a cat can’t tell you when he’s feeling ill. There’s no way to decipher those meows and purrs to get an idea of what’s going on inside, so you may be overlooking some clear statements your cat is making about his health.
While there’s no substitute for the advice of your veterinarian (and you shouldn’t hesitate to call with your concerns), you can gauge your cat’s health by paying close attention to his behavior and appearance. This includes making a general once over part of a routine, perhaps by working it into grooming or another regular activity. It’s important to be “dialed in” and cognizant of your cat’s behaviors. That way you can find out what’s normal for your cat and be more aware changes in your cat’s behavior and potentially catch minor problems or illnesses before they become major ones. There are also warning signs that might tell you there’s something going on with your cat that warrants further investigation.
By being mindful of your pet’s behavioral changes, if you decide that a visit to the vet is in order, you can provide crucial information that will help your vet make a diagnosis. Often a cat will “act funny” at home, but he’ll be so nervous at the vet’s office that he won’t do anything. The more accurate your report, the better your vet can determine what’s going on. And, since describing your cat’s condition to be “funny” or “sick” is a little too vague, you’ll need to be able to be more specific.
Having a sense of your cat’s health and recognizing important indicators of potential problems are the best ways to share your findings with your vet. If you think your cat might be sick there are some warning signs to watch for as well as a number of things you can do in order to gather useful information that you can take with you to your vet:
Common Cat Illness Symptoms – Know What to Look For
1. ELEVATED TEMPERATURE – If you feel concerned your cat may be ill, begin by taking the cat’s temperature rectally. A cat’s normal temperature will be between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees. Due to the natural variation in normal body temperature, take your cat’s temperature when she’s healthy to get an idea of her healthy baseline temperature.
2. GUM COLOR – A cat’s gum color should be pink, and by examining your cat’s gums you may be able to spot problems quickly. Pale gums, grey gums, yellow gums, blue gums or brick red gums are all sign of a serious illness. A healthy cat’s gums can vary significantly when compared to another individual cat, so it’s useful to know what the cat’s gums look like when she is healthy (also known as the cat’s baseline).
3. LETHARGY – A lethargic cat is usually a sick cat. This can result from illness, infection, disease, dehydration, internal bleeding, anemia, and poor appetite, among many other causes. Lethargy in a cat is a common symptom of illness.
4. VOMITING OR DIARRHEA – Diarrhea and vomiting can be signs of a life-threatening problem, like poisoning from a toxin, or an illness like salmonella. Secondary problems, like hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and dehydration, can cause seizures, collapse, and even death, so it’s important to get a cat to the veterinary clinic as soon as possible if she stops eating and drinking. A cat with bloody diarrhea or vomit should get immediate attention at a local 24-hour veterinary clinic. Outdoor cats are particularly prone to hunting down and eating rodents who have been poisoned with rat and mouse poisons, like warfarin. When a cat eats a poisoned rodent, the warfarin toxin that was ingested by the rodent is then absorbed by the cat’s body, resulting in bloody diarrhea, among other symptoms. There are other causes of blood in a cat’s diarrhea or vomit, but this is a particularly deadly situation that’s most commonly seen in cats.
5. SHIVERING, DROOLING OR PANTING – Shivering, drooling and panting are all signs of stress, pain and discomfort in a cat. A cat that is exhibiting these symptoms is in extreme distress—a sure sign of a serious feline illness, injury or another potentially deadly feline health problem.
6. NO LONGER ENJOYING FAVORITE ACTIVITIES – A cat that enjoys to cuddle, or a cat that likes to play, will exhibit very different behavior when sick. Refusal to play, socialize, or seek attention are common signs of a sick cat. If your cat is acting strange and/or refusing to take part in her favorite activities it’s likely due to discomfort from an illness, disease or injury.
7. COUGHING OR SNEEZING – Coughing and sneezing are common symptoms of illness in cats. A cat with an upper respiratory infection will not recover on her own; a visit to the veterinarian will be required. And remember, cats and dogs don’t get colds like humans do!
8. NOT USING THE LITTER BOX – A cat that suddenly refuses to use the litter box may be sick. There are some cases where changes in the cat’s home life can cause the cat to stop using the litter box, but this is a behavior that should always be investigated as a health problem. A cat with a urinary tract infection, or crystalluria, may refuse to use the litter box; therefore health-related causes for litter box problems should always be investigated. Don’t assume it’s a behavior problem.
9. EATING AND DRINKING – When a cat is sick, she will often eat and drink less. It’s also not uncommon for a cat to stop eating and drinking completely when she’s ill. This is cause for serious concern, as the cat can begin to suffer from hypoglycemia and dehydration within a matter of a few hours.
Remember, your pet relies on you to take care of him or her. Be a responsible pet owner and be aware of changes in your animal’s behavior or habits. Want to read more on this topic? Check out this link with information and things you should look for when determining whether your cat is ill: