10 Subtle Signs Your Cat May Be Sick

signs your cat may be sick

Cats can’t tell us when something is wrong, and they are masters at hiding signs of illness. This is a throwback to their wild origins: in the wild, a sick animal easily becomes prey. Because of this, it’s up to cat guardians to know what to look for. Any changes in your cat’s normal routine, behavior and attitude could be the first indicator that something is wrong.

Cat guradians often don’t realize that problems can develop slowly and cats don’t show symptoms until a disease is already advanced. Early detection is important: there’s a much better chance that the problem can be treated successfully, and you’ll also save yourself money by avoiding costly veterinary fees for treating an advanced illness.

The following ten signs may be cause for concern:

1. Decreased energy or activity level

If your cat suddenly refuses to engage in normal play behavior or seems lethargic, this could be a sign that she’s not feeling well.

2. Changes in appetite

If your cat suddenly starts eating voraciously, or refuses to eat, it can be an indicator of a serious problem.  Complete anorexia (not eating) is especially dangerous in cats and can lead to hepatic lipidosis, a potentially life threatening form of liver disease, within 24-48 hours.

3. Increased thirst and/or urination

Increased water intake can be a sign of kidney disease or diabetes. An increase in the amount of urine output, or an increase in the frequency of urination, can be a sign of urinary tract disease.

4. Changes in behavior

If your cat starts to hide, refuses to play, or becomes aggressive for no apparent reason, these changes may be caused by a physical problem.

5. Vomiting and/or diarrhea

While a single bout of vomiting or diarrhea may not be cause for concern, ongoing vomiting and diarrhea can be sign of a serious gastro-intestinal problem.

6. Inappropriate elimination

If your cat all of a sudden refuses to use the litter box, ruling out a medical issue should always be your first step.

7. Weight loss or weight gain

Sudden weight loss or weight gain is always a cause for concern and requires veterinary attention.

8. Poor hair coat, hair loss or excessive scratching or grooming

Poor hair coat can be caused by any number of conditions. Excessive scratching and grooming may be caused by allergies or parasites.

9. Foul odor

A foul odor coming from your cat’s mouth, ears or skin may be the indicator of dental disease, infection, or other problem.

10. Abnormal vocalizations

If your cat starts to vocalize in ways that are not normal for her, this can be a cause for concern.

Don’t dismiss any subtle change to your cat’s normal pattern. Schedule an exam with your cat’s veterinarian at your earliest convenience if you notice any of these signs.

FTC Disclosure: This post is sponsored by PDSA, also known as the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a well-liked animal charity based across the United Kingdom. Not only do they offer pet health advice, they also offer various PDSA Approved Cat Insurance. I was paid to feature this content. Regardless of payment received, you will only see topics on this site that I believe are of interest to my readers.

15 Comments on 10 Subtle Signs Your Cat May Be Sick

  1. Stacy Lein
    July 9, 2017 at 7:57 pm (3 months ago)

    What could it mean when your three-year-old cat drinks water and afterwards starts coughing and sounds really congested does this all the time

    • Ingrid
      July 10, 2017 at 5:18 am (3 months ago)

      It could be any number of things causing this, Stacy – you need to take your cat to the vet.

  2. Diane Chiasson
    May 14, 2017 at 3:09 am (5 months ago)

    What about feeling cats nose? Is warm nose a sign as well?

    • Ingrid
      May 14, 2017 at 5:27 am (5 months ago)

      The common belief that a cat’s warm nose (or a dog’s, for that matter) is a sign of illness is false.

  3. Sammy
    April 5, 2016 at 11:25 am (2 years ago)

    This is a great list, and one that any cat owner should refer to. You are correct, cats are very good at hiding their sickness, so we as owners must be extra vigilant!

  4. David Nickerson
    February 25, 2015 at 3:49 pm (3 years ago)

    Take your index finger and slowly point it towards your cats nose. If your cat leans in towards your finger tip to smell your finger….that is a good sign of your cat feeling good and is just plain curious. On the flip side, if your cat doesn’t respond to your finger, something is wrong with your cat. I have performed this simple test a thousand times over with all my cats.

    • Ingrid
      February 25, 2015 at 4:24 pm (3 years ago)

      I can honestly say that this is the first time I’ve heard of this, David. Interesting.

  5. Michelle Wolff
    February 25, 2015 at 3:07 pm (3 years ago)

    This is so important! My friend’s cat nearly died recently of a severe UTI, she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until the normally “feisty” tortie suddenly became affectionate and wanting to be on her and she noticed her heartbeat was erratic. Very scary how well they can hide!

    • Ingrid
      February 25, 2015 at 4:24 pm (3 years ago)

      Oh no, that’s so sad, Michelle.

      • Pebbles Brown
        February 25, 2015 at 8:17 pm (3 years ago)

        I didnt know our male cat was very sick with a UTI until he was lying in the hallway crying out in a way I had never heard a cat cry from pain. He almost died. He had many more but we now knew the 1st signs and sadly it was a UTI and kidney failure that took him from us at age 8. We had him pts , he was still purring while looking into my eyes. <3 The unconditional love of a pet.

        • Ingrid
          February 26, 2015 at 7:24 am (3 years ago)

          I’m so sorry about your cat. He was so young when you had to let him go!

  6. Sue
    June 14, 2014 at 8:47 am (3 years ago)

    Changes in normal routine could be something like wanting to be with another person in the house.
    My cat Spicy would always stay with me and sleep against my back. Then she started getting very determined to lay on my husbands lap and would sit there waiting for him to come back if he gets up.
    Now I got worried because while she loves him, she always preferred me.
    It took me longer than normal to see she was sick because at the same time I broke my foot and was on crutches, so I thought that was the reason for the change!

  7. Sometimes, Cats Herd You
    June 12, 2014 at 8:44 pm (3 years ago)

    Such good information! It’s so easy to overlook the subtle signs that a cat isn’t doing well. Early intervention is always best for any illness, so best to catch things as early as possible by being alert to potential signs.

  8. Sue Brandes
    June 12, 2014 at 2:01 pm (3 years ago)

    Thank you Ingrid. I knew these too except some of the what they could be a sign of I have not heard of. Good to know.

  9. Diane Ricciardi Stewart
    June 11, 2014 at 11:39 am (3 years ago)

    I knew these, but it’s ALWAYS good to re-read them — keep them fresh in my mind. . . thanks for the reminders!! <3


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