Cats are masters at hiding signs of illness, which is why regular veterinary exams are so important. All cats should get annual exams, and cats seven or older should be seen by a veterinarian twice a year. However, the most important person in keeping your cats healthy is you! You know your cat better than anyone, and it’s up to you to watch for any changes in your cat’s normal routine, behavior and attiude. They could be the first indicator that something is wrong.

Many pet guradians don’t realize that problems often develop slowly and cats especially don’t show symptoms until a disease is already advanced. If you can detect things early, you have a much better chance of addressing a problem successfully, and you’ll also save yourself money by avoiding costly veterinary fees for treating an advanced illness.

Look for Subtle Signs of Illness

Most signs start with a subtle change in your cat’s behavior, routine or attitude. Watch for

  • Decreased energy or activity level
  • Changes in appetite or water intake
  • Changes in behavior: hiding, refusing to play, becoming aggressive
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or straining to urinate and defecate
  • Inappropriate elimination
  • Poor coat quality, patchy hair loss, or excessive scratching
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Foul odor coming from the mouth, ears or skin
  • Abnormal vocalizations

Is Your Cat ADR?

Don’t dismiss even subtle changes in your cat’s normal pattern – they could be an indicator of a bigger problem. In veterinary medicine, there’s actually a “technical term” for this: ADR, which stands for “Ain’t Doing Right,” and yes, you will actually see this notated in veterinary medical records. If your cat seems ADR to you, don’t put off taking her to your vet for a complete exam.


81 Comments on Signs of Illness in Cats

  1. Yesterday My cat, 8 months old, came back from somewhere and he looks chills and especially his back ( around sacrum and lumber region ) are dirty with mud. I cleaned the mess and I feel air bubble cracks around that are. He did not eat but drink a little water and all day sleep. Less active and his hair are poor now. He can urinate and walk slowly. Actually our place has few Vet doctor and weak in Surgery and investigation procedure. What can I do for him? Please give me advice. Thank you

  2. My 14 yr old cat lost about 3 lbs. He seems perfectly normal until I put his food down. He stands away from it, slight mouth breathing and body heaving. When it passes, he eats. all else is perfectly normal. He had a very thorough check up including xrays and all came out fine. I am giving him prescribed Prednisone thinking he may have asthma. Vet said another cat with same simptoms and required a complicated follow up including Ozone Therapy. This would be done or checked out in NY. We live in CT. My vet is wonderful, but this is a puzzlement. My cat stresses out big time getting to a vet, so we must have one come to the house. Going to NY, etc is asking too much of my cat. Not to mention me as well.

    • My cat used to do this when he didn’t like the food I put down. He literally would gag. What are you feeding him currently?

      • Thank you Stephanie but it applies to ALL food including his favorite. I’ve been boiling chicken and shredding it up. He loves it, especially the juice, but the symptoms start before he even knows what I am giving him. As his vet suggested, he appears to react because he senses that whatever he eats is going to cause discomfort, but we can’t figure out what. A full exam plus xrays, blood work, showed nothing. His elimination is normal, litter box changed everyday. Signs of asthma, but why only at meals or one evening, thanks to stress because I was away for a week.

        • Hi, please get Nux Vomica a homeopathic remedy you can give ten minutes before will make a big difference

  3. Update on Vera. Starters, she was yelling more than usually n constantly running to the litter box n only showing pea size drops of urine. She was also rubbing her but or tush on the carpet like a dog n I saw blood on the carpet. Had her lab tested n it was her Anal glands were full again. Last time couple yrs ago this happen they busted n she had a hole by her bottom!! Poor Vera also has E-coli. So, she is on antibiotics now. It seems she cross contaminated by licking herself back there. How n the world n have u ever heard such as this for a cat? Plus, the Anal glands have me freaking out for I am afraid she will have another hole again. The vet said to bring her in every 2 months to have them checked. Is their anything that can prevent this from happening? She is now on total CANNED food.

    • Even though anal gland problems are more common in dogs, as you’re seeing with Vera, some cats are affected, too. A canned diet should help.

    • Also adding canned pumpkin to her diet could help. Royal canin also makes a food called fiber response that could help.

  4. Great article. After last year I am paranoid Magellan leaves a crumb behind. I examine everything-the litter box etc.

  5. My cat Tiggatoo is 18 months old, i can’t get him to drink, i leave water for him every day but he never touches it. Occassionaly he will drink a little from a dripping tap or sometimes i’ve spotted him lapping water from a muddy puddle. I’ve tried him on cows milk ,also on goats milk but he won’t drink that either, i bought him a drinking fountain hoping that will work, but it doesn’t. He is fed mostly on wet cat food as he won’t eat biscuits,only dreamies can i get him to drink?

    • If he’s eating canned food, he may get enough moisture from the food, Joy. You may want to experiment with different styles of fountains to see if you can entice him to drink more.

    • I use 2 different fountains for 10 cats. They have all been driking much more sice I started using them

  6. One other subtle symptom I didn’t see in the article, is the cat seeking you out for affection or comfort when they normally do not, or when they don’t very often. Another is changed posture when relaxing…for instance I could tell my cat was not feeling well due to his posture of head tucked down, nose down on front paws…he never lays like that. I felt him and took his temp and sure enough he had a fever.

    Remember stress alone can trample all over a cat’s immune system and actually trigger various types of illness. Watch your cat closely and carefully and don’t be shy about checking out the litter box contents to see if everything’s ok on the output end of things! If you have multiple cats and need to keep track of one’s poo, isolate him for a day or two with clean litter and a separate box so you can really see what is happening.

  7. My cats behavior changes every day. Sometimes they tear through the house like monkeys in the trees and other days they sleep all day long. lol! I’m pretty good at observing though and when I found my Ryder crying when he peed, I bought a fountain and he quit crying. I think he wasn’t drinking enough water and with the fountain he drinks gallons more. I’m sure his urine was much too concentrated and it was burning to eliminate. You are quite right though. They are very good at hiding their symptoms. My cats are both due for their yearly vet visits and boosters this april and I plan to get them immunized for two more common cat diseases that I have recently learned that they can pick up but which are preventable with immunizations. One is feline leukemia and the other is feline herpes. They are both nasty and miserable for cats and the leukemia is deadly and incurable.

    • The feline leukemia vaccine is only indicated for outdoor cats or indoor/outdoor cats. The feline herpes vaccine is usually included in the FVRCP vaccine (often referred to as feline distemper vaccine). Current AAFP guidelines recommend vaccinating against FVRCP only once every three years. Immunity studies have shown that immunity lasts even longer than that.

      • I live out in the country and my cats are indoor/outdoor in the summer time so the leukemia vaccine would be a good idea. They have had their FVRCP vaccine so I will double check with my vet if the herpes vaccine was included for sure when I bring them in. I have recently seen a mama cat and her whole litter of kittens die from feline leukemia and it was so sad! Vets don’t always give you all of the information about what to vaccinate for when you bring them in. I wish they would. Thanks for your information. I love my kitties and am very protective of them.

  8. I know that my cat, Barney, is ill when he bites me. He is ill-tempered. Anybody know how cure his problem? And don’t say that I need to play with him. He gets plenty of that.

    • It varies by manufacturer, and it’s not always disclosed on the label, so you may have to call the company. Ash content itself doesn’t tell the whole story, though – it’s actually the magnesium that is part of ash that may be implicated in some urinary tract problems. Many products don’t list magnesium separately either, so again, you’ll have to call the manufacturer to find out.

  9. My orange tabby, Jakey, started pooping outside of the litter box a couple of years ago and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I moved and soon after, he had a ton of mats on his back. I took him to the vet to get them shaved off and found out he was diabetic. I gave him insulin 2x a day for about 5 months. I thought things were going better because I had stopped giving him dry food and I was significantly decreasing the amount of insulin I was giving him and his blood sugars were great. One Saturday, I noticed he was breathing heavy. I took him to the vet 4 days later and left 30 min later without him because I had to put him to sleep. They think he had a tumor and had fluid everywhere which was why he couldn’t breathe. It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. Broke my heart. He was only 8 yo. The vet said the tumors can develop quickly and seemingly out of nowhere so there was no way I would have known.

    Now my calico, Sadie, who is 10 yo has suddenly become even more aggressive than usual. She’s never been a “nice” cat (I know that’s how calicos tend to be) and never wanted to be around anyone except me (and not even me sometimes!!) but I feel like it’s gone too far. About a week ago she had me pinned up against the wall and then stuck in my bathroom for 15 min because she was hissing, growling, snarling, swatting, and trying to bite me everytime I tried to leave it. I’ve been placing my broom around my apartment strategically so I don’t get stuck again. It’s been about 5 months since Jakey passed away and I live by myself. I haven’t noticed any changes in her appetite, litter box use, grooming, etc. I can’t even establish a pattern to the aggressive behavior – sometimes it changes in a second and I haven’t done anything different. I did call my vet and they want to run blood tests and said they might have to put her on Prozac, but I can’t even get her in the carrier. They said I would have to call Animal Control then to help but I don’t want to do that. Any thoughts or suggestions??

  10. My 9 yo was diagnosed with pancreantitis. All other blood work came back just fine, no liver problems. Little dehydrated. She was given fluids, a shot of anti nausea & appetite stimulant & I am giving her the pill form now. Question….anyone with experience with this? She has improved, and except for her still not eating or drinking a lot, she looks and acts fine. Anything I can do to make her eat, drink more? Tricks, tips, or any other signs I should watch for?

  11. I have a little black cat and she’s a sprayer. She is “fixed” but she’s one of seven rescues we have and she doesn’t pay well with others. We have tried lavender, Jackson’s calming drops, and even kenneling with a litter pan to teach her better habits. She only sprays tho. She goes outside for get bowl movement and doesn’t pee puddles. Just marks the walls and curtains…

    • My cat does this too! She is spayed, about 2 years old and doesn’t squat to pee, she stands up and sprays. We have gotten huge litter boxes that have high sides so it doesn’t leak out where the lid and base connect. She will randomly pee on stuff we leave around the house too–a towel left on the bathroom floor (thanks to my 13 year old), a tote bag left out, the Christmas tree skirt, curtains–random things in different rooms of the house.

    • My cat does the same thing. I have 3 females and one won’t stop peeing on the furniture. I’ve tried every spray. I have 2 litter boxes and she will not go near them. She goes outside in the yard! Everything else seems normal. Any suggestions?

      • Inappropriate elimination, spraying, and marking are challenging problems. The first step is always a trip to your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues. Once medical issues have been ruled out, you may want to consider working with a feline behaviorist to address the behavioral aspects. Unfortunately, it is not possible to address what is usually a complex issue in this type of a forum.

    • Head to walmart and pick up the Adams diffuser for cats. It plugs in and emits a pheromone. WORKED WONDERS IN MY HOUSE. We moved and one female was peeing and pooing outside the litter box. Plugged the diffuser in and in one day she stopped. Tried to ween her off it at the end of the month, in a few days she started again. So I got a refill and next day back to normal. Worth the money in my house.

  12. I discovered that my seal-point showed signs of a terrible infection long before I realized it. The fur on her face began getting white very quickly. Was this an isolated case or something that happens with many cats?

  13. Pandora was like that. It took something extremely subtle for me to realize something might be up. I noticed she was starting to to get mats on her belly which meant she wasn’t bathing herself. She normally spends hours bathing herself. I took her to the vet for a check up. It turned out she has chronic pancreatitis and early stages of kidney disease. I think because it got caught early and we began treatments with antacids and better foods for her. She’s thriving after a year and a half and has returned to her old self where she bathes constantly and at 15 is still extremely playful. Her kidney levels are borderline normal and her enzymes are a lot better . I am extremely grateful that I trusted my gut and got her to a vet. I sincerely believe she is still alive because of it.

  14. In this last month I lost 2 cats to heart problems. Onset came with one vomitting and a trip to the emergency found an enlarged heart and days he was gone. The other female cat started with unbalanced and with hours she was gone. My 15 year old cat is still going strong and I am questioning the genes of various cats. With all the medical science we have why is it so hard to detect?

    I wish there were better testing to find heart problems in cats.

  15. What frustrates me is I took my 1 year old boy to the vet and unfortunatly they have no idea. They wanted to refer me to a cat nuerologist but that is something I cannot afford. His x ray showed nothing so they need an MRI. They did a partial panel but he needs a full at this point. He has terrible hyperesthesia and is so bothered by it. He flips himself around and over and nips at his flank. He also sits with his head down (ventroflection) and his tail is NEVER up. I have started giving him potassium in case he has a deficiency but have yet to see any improvement. I want to rule out allergies and diet as an issue. He also has an abnormaly large sacral area in his back/spine. Somthing is up and it’s disheartening to watch him suffer.

    • I’m sorry your kitty is having these problems, Kelly, but I do hope that your vet approved the administration of potassium. Over or under-supplementation can be life-threatening.

      • Thank you Ingrid! I believe I am administering the right dose however I will consult with her right away.

  16. I am worried about my 10 year old. She hasn’t lost weight, but her fur, which is long has become rough and much more easily matted. She used to have a beautiful mat free coat. Any suggestions? I just had her to the vet about a month ago for a suspected eye problem, which cleared up immediately after I put the drops in her eye.

    • We noticed that some of our cats were having rough and dry-looking fur, just lackluster. We started feeding two of our cats moist food daily because they both had tooth and gum issues that made it difficult to eat the dry food we kept out for them. In the process, the other cats wanted it to so we started a daily routine of giving all 7 of our cats a little moist food every day after work. Imagine our surprise when after awhile we noticed all of them were getting shiny fur and nicer, softer coats. We discovered that cats need moisture in their diet and the serving of moist food every day made their fur prettier and healthier. If you feed your cat dry food, even if its good stuff like Science Diet or Iams (we use Iams), try adding a little moist food too and I bet you will see their fur improve.

  17. I have what I think is a Turkish Van, but maybe he’s just an American short hair. He started out with diarrhea in July 2012, got that under control with special non allergen food (expensive). Lost my job the day he got the diarrhea! Been super broke since then. Have not been able to afford the xray/CT the vet wanted to give him. Since April 2013 Sparky has been licking his left front shoulder area and then his front legs, to the point of taking fur off his legs. He doesn’t play anymore, not even for like 5 seconds. I can’t even get that look like he WANTS to play in his eyes anymore! Since about October of 2013 I have noticed he is peeing a LOT more than usual – almost twice as much. I only got a job last month and it’s only 3 days a week , so I am having a hard time financially, to say the least.
    Reading all the comments about kitties who died is breaking my heart, and making me SO much more worried about Sparky than I was before (and I HAVE been worried, because I see signs he isn’t himself). Oh god I am soooo worried for my baby. I wish there were some agency that could help with this kind of situation. 🙁 Does anyone out there know if there is? I am in Northern Califonia.

  18. Herbie seemed fine until we took him in for a tooth cleaning. Our vet runs a blood test before anesthesia to check for any potential problems. Herbie had early stage kidney disease. He had absolutely no symptoms of anything!!!

    Since then, he ONLY eats prescription food. I don’t want to take any chances that I might feed him something that will make things worse at all. So far, so good. His last two tests have come out good. 🙂

  19. I have a 3 year old cat that is just HUGE! at 6 months old she weighed 6 pounds, at a year old she weighed 18 pounds, since I had her spayed she keeps all the fur on her lower belly pulled out, some down her hind legs. She is rag doll with long hair. Is this ok? as she has done this since she was spayed at 6 months old. She is not real active, but never has been real active. She was a rescue that was found with her brother at around 10 weeks old out by the Williamette river banks. She eats well and drinks plenty of water. She is now about 25 pounds, not fat, just very big.

  20. We all need this reminder. I adopted a pure breed Siamese a few years ago and after a few weeks I noticed some weight and behavior change. I initially thought it was him reacting to being in a shelter for months and a new home. Upon finding him lethargic in the floor one morning I scooped him up for an emergency vet visit….glad I did. He was diabetic and had gone 6 months with no insulin! We battled the damage done for the next year and half before he passed. I wish I had known! I still would have adopted him!!!!!!!! It has been 4 yrs and I still cry every time I dust his urn.

  21. Our Tuxie, Lucky passed from heart issues brought on by thyroid trouble last Februrary. His only symptoms were excessive energy and affection. Really. Otherwise we really had no other signs, until the morning he died he was lying there panting in pain. He had no changes in appetite, litter use, anything. Just was constantly constantly begging to be held and petted and playing (he was 10 years old). We thought he was feeling insecure from a recent addition to the household so lavished him with the attention we thought he needed. I felt awful though when I found out that those can actually be symptoms of thyroid trouble. It was like he was asking us for help and we didn’t really hear him. 🙁 so add uncharacteristic increases in energy to that list. It may not be your older kitty experiencing a 2nd kittenhood.

  22. What about constant circling? We have an older black male cat, about 16-17 who has a ravenous apetite but is losing weight or barely maintaining at around 7 lbs and just walks in circles any time he’s upright. We’ve had several (expensive) blood tests, had his blood pressure taken a few times and ruled out hypertension, thyroid issues, diabetes and pretty much everything besides maybe a brain tumor. It’s maddening! We just want him to be comfortable in his senior years.

    • My Balinese @22 years demonstrated circling. Vet said she had thrown a blood clot and had a stroke. Thank God for my vet..the best!

    • our dog sammie “chow” did that when she got old, they say it’s old age and they are like old people, so instead of dementia, they do that pacing thing, ask your vet ?s please, best of luck.

    • I have a cat who is exhibiting the same symptoms as your older black cat. I know it’s been many years but could you tell me what became of the situation? Did your cat recover? Did you find out what the cause of his illness was? Any details would be much appreciated.

  23. I really try to watch my kitties closely especially since I have some that are up in age. My oldest eyes were wide as saucers and it seemed like he couldn’t see. Got him in and he had high blood pressure. Under control now. He does have some sight back but; not full sight. He is 21 with high blood pressure, arthritis, and thyroid disease. For his age though he is doing pretty good. I really love your posts like this as I always learn something new. And they know so much more today then years ago.

  24. My tortie licked and licked her legs till they were almost bald. She never showed signs of any other symptoms. One day she jumped off the chair and died. Have you heard of the excessive licking and could I have done something to prevent her death?

    • I’m sorry about your tortie, Kim. It’s impossible to tell whether there was a connection between her excessive licking and her sudden death. Excessive licking can have many causes: allergies, stress, or pain. Sudden death is most frequently caused by a heart-related issue.

    • I just wanted to let you know that my cat did this when he was stressed out, I was working away from home a lot. Chances are this was unrelated.

    • I had a Russian Blue that showed absolutely no signs of illness at all. I would come home everyday and he would cry for me to pick him up so he can bump heads with me and rub my face. I came home one day from work and he was crying more then usual for me to pick him up. I did, he rubbed my face purring like nothing and then just slumped over let out a loud meow and passed away in my arms. It devistated me because I felt I could’ve have done something to prevent this. After speaking with my vet he said most likely he just had a massive heart attack. He was 3 1/2. I rescued him from outside in the streets as a baby. He was vet checked up to date on all shots and nuetered. There was nothing to detect that there was anything wrong. The vet explained sometimes there are underlying issues that are not known and there was nothing to do to prevent it that I haven’t already done. The only comfort was that he said he did go quickly and that he was basically in the best place in my arms rubbing my face as if to say goodbye. I do miss him, but truthfully with heart attacks there isn’t much to do…I am sorry for your babies loss. My comfort for him is I have rescued others from the streets and they are very much loved as he was and I also work with a tnr rescue to socialize, rehabilitate and adopt out ones that we can and the others are taken care of outside. I do this in his memory because he really touched my heart. God bless.

      • I’m so sorry, Chrissy Marie. What a horrible way to loose a beloved cat. At least you were with him when he passed – that must provide some comfort.

      • I am SO sorry! I KNOW that you still tear up hu? I had a cat,one of the MANY I have had, who I was extremely fond of because he KNEW if I even had a headache and he would LAY RIGHT where it hurt, same with an ear ache. He would jump up on my lap and sit with one paw on each side of my neck and look RIGHT into my eyes! He’d stick his NOSE in my ear and purr, odd as it was. I LOVED that cat! I was with my daughter at her home with her new baby, and he passed away at home with my son and husband. I STILL tear up over him! They get in your heart and STAY there! God bless you!!!

  25. Such an important topic! I’d just want to add one thing to the list: not grooming properly. Of course, that results in poor coat quality, but for one of our kitties, the first sign of illness (with 20/20 hindsight) was simply that he’d stopped grooming properly after meals.

  26. My cat, Sophie, last year had crystals in her urine and I became suspicious when she was excessively licking herself. A little over a week ago she pretty much stopped eating – everything. I took her to the vet right away and she had a large amount of crystals. Both times no infection or stones, just crystals. And both times, different behavior. I’m just so grateful that I know my cat well enough to detect when she “ADR”!

      • one of my cats was diagnosed with FLTDS. Male, neutered, B/W – worse possible combo – hadn’t noticed he wasn’t drinking till one night god almighty scream – night visit to vet – poor bugger was completely bunged up from his bladder to his pinky – over 3 months was cathed 3 times – each time vet said he won’t make it – he’s still here – steamed white fish and steamed chicken – for over 6 months solid – he had to drink 250 ml of liquid a day to flush his system – one slight problem was that he had been straining to urinate he could not so used to leak accidentally – had lots of towels – he now is fine for a 14 yr old – but all my cats (they are house cats with cat flap to a 13Lx6Hx2.5W ft run) have steamed chicken and white fish (although one prefers panfried salmon steak) – no hard tack – no crappy dry treats –

        The Natural Food Pet Cookbook: Healthful Recipes for Dogs and Cats – if you all google this can download for free

    • I had a cat who was on medication twice a day for 13 years for urine crystals – the vet said that this was due to the ash content in manufactured cat food! Now I have another baby who was diagnosed with diabetes 10 yrs ago! What’s up with that? If it’s not melamine from China, it’s tainted meat from somewhere else! 12 IU/day of Insulin, plus syringes gets expensive!!

      • My vet gave the same reason-ash content in the dry food-for the urinary blockages. Had one cat years ago that had to have the surgery, my current cat had 4 different overnights for blockages, he’s been on the prescription Purina UR for about 5yrs now and no more blockages. The food is expensive but worth every cent for my Nikki : )

  27. We always have to be careful and pay close attention to our cats as you said they are really good hiding their illness. Thank you for remind us such an important precaution measure.

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