Could your cat be unwell? Cats are the masters of disguise when it comes to showing they are unwell. Today of course they are very much a part of the human clan, but their survival instincts still run strong. As they originated as wild animals they were very much a part of the food chain and this created instinctive behaviour to mask signs of illness, as any sign of weakness would reveal them as easy prey. Birds do this extremely well too. If anyone had a budgie growing up they may have experienced a chirpy happy bird one day and a ‘dropped dead’ bird on the floor of the cage the next. Sad, but unfortunately true. Cats can be very similar.
So given a cat’s genius to mask their illness, how can we tell their sick before it’s too late? Here’s 9 ways you can tell when they are still putting on a good front:
- Change in appetite: Both under eating or overeating can signify health changes. Most cats will manage their own weight balance and as such food should be offered for them to graze. If you notice signs of change – which is unusual or different to the normal intake – keep an eye on the other end to make sure things are still moving through and healthy. It’s normal to see an increase in appetite as colder weather approaches and often a small drop in high heat, however if you suspect changes, get it checked. It could be linked to feline diabetes or Thyroid issues which are both quite common causes for appetite changes.
- Smelly breath: If your cat has bad breath or halitosis then it can be a sign of many things and investigation needs to be made into possibly gingivitis, infected or decaying teeth. This can cause them to be off their food or refusing to eat despite being hungry. It can also cause general malaise, a ‘ungroomed’ or even smelly coat to more severe complications such as kidney disease or diabetes. Sinus infections are another possible cause so keep an eye out for any nasal discharge as well. If bad breath is a concern, it’s best to get them checked over by your vet.
- Urinating or defecating outside of the litter box: Sometimes it’s easy to blame bad behaviour or stress as to why a cat will go outside their litter tray, however, there may be health reasons which should also be considered. Poos outside the litter tray could indicate Constipation – which has many causes and may be the reason you find faeces in the wrong place or even on the floor around the outside of their tray. Diarrhoea can also cause them to ‘miss’ which will be evident with liquid stools that may be foul smelling. Both may require veterinary attention if the cat seems to be distressed or it persists more than 24 hours. Monitoring their urine output is important too. If they appear to be straining, or using the litter tray more frequently this could indicate a bladder infection or even bladder blockage. Some cats can develop small crystals or stones in their kidneys and bladder which can block the urethra and cause either pain on urination or occlude their urethra altogether making it impossible to pass urine. This is a life threatening condition and should be treated as an emergency. Keep an eye out on your cat and check to see things look ‘normal’ in that department. If not, its time to visit the vet.
- Weight change: Cats, as mentioned earlier, generally do a good job of maintaining their weight with slight seasonal fluctuations and depending on their fussiness and quality of food they are being fed. Any significant drop in weight should be checked by the vet and the causes can be wide ranging. Look for other behavioural changes that accompany the weight loss as well as appetite and output. If your cat has gained weight without explanation, then it would be a good idea for your vet to do a health check. Often weight gain can be a pre-cursor to diabetes or other significant disease conditions that generally have a mid or later in life onset. If you’re not causing your cat to overindulge by offering temping ‘too good to refuse’ treats between meals, then it’s best to get them checked. Any significant drop in weight, of course needs investigation.
- Behaviour change: This can take many forms but if you’re tuned into your cat’s normal behaviour, then noticing changes can be quite easy. If your cat won’t settle, seems irritated or pacing, this can be a sign something is wrong. You may need to watch for other signs to put the pieces of the puzzle together, but it can be a sign of some kind of distress. Hiding is another indicator that something could be wrong. Just as animals in the wild will hide to stay safe and off the predator’s dinner menu, if a cat is genuinely unwell, it’s not uncommon they will want to hide. Cat’s when they are unwell or in pain, will sit hunched and will not curl up or lie on their sides.
- Grooming change: If your cat stops grooming this is never a good sign. If their fur starts to separate, or is smelly, this would be a good reason to get checked out. Appearance is a big part of animal psyche and also a good indicator of overall health. If your cat’s fur has changed, thinned, looks patchy, skin is scabby or dry, or greasy then these are often symptoms of an unwell kitty.
- Voice or talk change: We are probably familiar with our cat’s normal conversations and noises so tuning in to changes is important when we assess their general health. People often assume that purring is a sign of a happy cat, however even very sick cats will purr almost as a self comfort, so this is not a reliable indicator of health. If your cat has a higher pitch than normal and you live in a Paralysis Tick area, this can be a sign your cat has a tick. Any other changes, for example your normally chatty cat becomes quiet, or your normally quiet cat starts mewing or being unusually vocal, it’s worth a checkup.
- Eyes: Sometimes your cat may appear as if it has a skin across the insides and lower third of their eyes. Cat’s have a ‘third’ eyelid that will come across the eye when the cat is unwell. It can be a sign of a serious health condition or general malaise which is common if your cat carries a heavy parasite burden. Remember to worm your cat regularly (every change of season for adult cats and every month for kittens up to 6mths) with a good vet quality de-wormer. If this persists, best to get a check up. Some species of parasitic worms need a higher dose of a particular de-wormer to get rid of them, however this is best diagnosed and treated under your vet’s direction. They can also rule out any other concerns that may be causing this.
- Vomiting: It’s not unusual for cats to vomit and many people are familiar with this to rid themselves of the odd hairball or have eaten dry food, followed by a big drink of water and up it all comes. However, a cat that is repeatedly vomiting, vomiting yellow bile liquids or clear liquid and accompanied by any other symptoms we’ve talked about above, it should be checked by their vet as soon as possible. There are many causes of vomiting in cats which is why repeated vomiting should be investigated further. In the most serious, kidney failure, tumours, blockages, poisons or toxicities can be potential causes and taking the ‘wait and see’ approach may not be the best course of action. A cat that throws up once (or shortly followed by a smaller vomit) that contains either a small amount of food or hair is quite common but should not happen more than once a week or even a fortnight. If you’re seeing more than this, it’s best to check.
Hopefully this is helpful when assessing your feline friend’s health and remember it’s a great idea to have Pet Insurance to help with the increasing medical costs of owning and caring for your pet. A little each month for your policy will help out in the event of your pet becoming seriously unwell and requiring diagnostics, surgery or other medical treatment. You can find out more about the best policies for your pet through your local vet. All going well your pussy-cat will live a long and uneventful life well into their teens or even twenties. From all of us at Cat’s Meow we say cheers to your cat’s continuing good health.