How Can I Tell if My Cat is Sick

Picture of cat laying on a rug

Telling that your pet is sick can be somewhat difficult for a variety of reasons. If your cat or dog is young and you never were a pet parent before, you might not know what signs you should be on the lookout for. Besides, animals don’t have the ability to tell you what’s wrong or where their pain is located.

Furthermore, cats are significantly better at hiding illness compared to their canine counterparts. Dogs will often show several symptoms such as loss of appetite or lethargy, both of which are a compelling sign that you at least need to check their temperature. But with cats, it’s a bit harder to tell whether something is wrong or not.

Many cats sleep for as many as 16 to 17 hours in a day, drink little to no water, and if they aren’t particularly enthusiastic about their food, they will even eat a small amount. Let’s look at some things that can indirectly tell you that your cat needs be seen by a vet.

Eating, Drinking, and Urinating

Many illnesses cause increase or loss of appetite, and even though cats don’t eat as much as dogs or aren’t particularly interested in food, you can notice a variation in her feeding habits. If your cat is suddenly ravenous even though you’re feeding her the same thing, something’s fishy.

Increased urination and water consumption can be a sign of diabetes or kidney disease, both of which have to be diagnosed as soon as possible. Unsuccessful attempts to urinate can be a sign of urinary blockage (very common in unneutered male cats) or a urinary infection.

The actual inability to urinate is a life-threatening condition. The uric acid that doesn’t get eliminated from the body in this way can go into the bloodstream and eventually affect the pet’s lungs and brain. Once your cat starts to eliminate the uric acid through breathing, the likelihood of it getting into the brain is very high and happens extremely fast, so that’s why you have to keep tabs on any change in urination habits.

Call your vet right away if there’s any blood in your cat’s urine.

Digestive Issues

Healthy cats don’t vomit, regurgitate, or even have diarrhea, not even once in a while. Constipation is more common in pets who only eat dry food and drink a small amount of water, or in older cats.

If your cat vomits right after eating, the animal could have a stomach or intestine blockage or could have been poisoned. Of course, hairballs have to be expelled naturally once to twice a week depending on what cat breed you own. However, even with these, if the attempts to vomit happen more than twice in a day, your cat probably has to see the vet.

If vomiting is associated with diarrhea, lethargy, or a general reluctance to move, medical attention is required as soon as possible.

Diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors ranging from intestinal parasites and infections to food sensitivities or a change in water or food. Go to the vet right away if you notice blood in your pet’s feces or diarrhea.

Coughing and other changes in breathing

If your cat starts coughing and it happens for several times over the course of 36 hours, your pet might need medical assistance. Coughing can be caused by hairballs, for example, but it shouldn’t happen more than twice in a day. Otherwise, it could be a sign of asthma, lung disease or any respiratory issue and even foreign bodies in the digestive tract.

Other changes in breathing range from shortness of breath to wheezing. You need to go to an emergency clinic if you notice any wheezing, especially, as it could be a sign that your cat is suffering from asthma and as you might well know, asthma is life-threatening if it is not treated right away.

Changes in Grooming

Some cats love to groom themselves more than others, so it is up to you to notice any modification in this sense. Overgrooming can be a behavioral issue, but its lack or decrease can also signify a problem. Your feline companion really cares about being clean, and if grooming is neglected, there could be pain in an area or something even more serious might be going on, like a chronic condition that has gone unnoticed by you until now.

Changes in Your Cat’s Appearance

There are some things you can tell if you spend a little time with your cat every day and enjoy petting him or her. First of all, you can easily identify the presence of swelling in any area of the body or whether there’s something new like a scratch, or even a tumor, in older cats or female cats predisposed to breast cancer. Swelling in the belly area should never be ignored, and if a neoplasm is at the root of the problem, it needs to be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

Female cats with breast tumors can develop metastases in the lung or the liver, depending on the location of the neoplasm. Needless to say, a superficial tumor is far easier to treat compared to one that has spread to another organ.

Your cat’s appearance can also be modified in the sense that you could notice that she is limping or having trouble jumping. While these two symptoms could be an indication that the animal has arthritis, they could also be a sign of a rare type of bone cancer.

Nose and eye discharge and ear debris

Some cats might have eye discharge as a consequence of their anatomy (Persian cats are an example), which means that you have to use a mild cleaning solution every day. However, if both nose and eye discharge are noticeable, they could be a sign that your cat is suffering from an upper respiratory infection. In turn, this condition will affect your cat’s appetite, and worse, it could pass from one cat to the next, if you have several.

Ear debris and discharge can be a sign that your cat either has an infection (otitis) or is the unfortunate host of parasites such as ear mites. Left untreated, both a bacterial and parasitic disease in this body area can ultimately affect the eardrum permanently.


If your cat has undergone trauma, has difficulty breathing, her gums are pale, white, or blue, or if she has collapsed and isn’t reacting to any stimuli, you have to call your vet. Other emergency situations range from seizures to bleeding of any kind.

Cats that are in pain can cry out loudly (and continuously) or be aggressive when touched. If you have the hunch that your cat was exposed to a poisonous substance, you have to go to the vet clinic as soon as possible, even if she hasn’t ingested it — you have no way of knowing that.

Your cat’s body temperature can be another sign that something is wrong. If the temperature is under 99 or over 104, you can start worrying. It’s very likely that your cat has an infection if the temperature is too high, and hypothermia can be caused by either exposure to cold or very severe situations such as shock and toxic shock or hypothalamus lesions.

Preventing Disease

Whether your cat has always been healthy or not, it’s a good idea to go to the vet’s once a year for a checkup, just as you go to the doctor annually. It is a stressful experience, but seeing that it happens only once per year, the rest of the time your cat will be unstressed.

Feed your cat a healthy diet with as little artificial colors and preservatives as possible. A diet low in carbs and high in protein is highly recommended by most vets, and you can choose natural dry food that’s grain-free to make sure that your cat gets the right nutrition.

Routine parasite prevention is very important, especially if you have an outdoor (or partially outdoor) cat. Some parasites can be dangerous to humans, too, such as Toxoplasma gondii. Not just internal parasites have to be dealt with, however, given that from spring to autumn, your cat can get ticks or fleas.

Use your common sense to make sure that your cat never gets sick. Provide fresh and clean water, food that’s as natural and safe as possible, and several litter boxes throughout the home, if you have multiple feline companions. Also, don’t forget to clean the litter every day. If your living space is smaller and you’re worried about offering your cat enough room to explore, make it cat-friendly by providing wall shelves, cat trees, and other types of vertical space.



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